What’s in a name?

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When visitors enter our brewery, one of the first things they encounter is a large white board which hangs outside the production room.  The board is a record of our batches that contains lots of data like pH measurements, code dates, inventory, etc but what is most intriguing are the relatively obscure names that represent the sturdy stainless steel tanks which we use to hold our brew during the fermentation process.   “So what’s with the names?” is a question we frequently hear.  When we initially drafted our facility diagram, we had listed FT #1, FT #2, FT #3, etc. as the designation for our tanks.   While this was fine for a schematic, we really felt the facility needed some personality and good karma.  Hence, our tanks bear the names of our foremothers;  strong women who were resilient in the face of adversity.   Here are their stories …

Virginia was born in Milwaukee in 1917.  She grew up during the Great Depression and recalls wearing the same dress to school every day and washing it every night.  Needing to work to support her family, Virginia quit high school and entered the workforce.  She was married (for 60 incredible years) and raised three children (one, who was me, much later in life).  Age age 79, she was diagnosed with a deadly form of cancer.  After two surgeries and radiation treatments, little else could be done.  Miraculously, Virginia celebrated her 96th birthday this year.   She remains independent and filled with positive energy and, YES, she drinks Karma Kombucha daily!

Irma was born in Milwaukee in 1893.   As a young child, she lost her father to an aneurysm, which occurred shortly after an arm wrestling tournament.   Alma, her mother raised Irma and her sister on her own which was very unusual at the turn of the 20th century.  Irma attended grade school but starting working at a young age to support her family.  She later married (for 66 years), raised two children (Virginia and a brother), and lived a long life to age 91.  I recall her always saying “if you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all”.

Katherine was born in Hungary in 1897.  She immigrated to the US as a young girl with her aunt but was rejected at Ellis Island due to pink eye and sent back alone.   She later returned to the US and settled in Milwaukee.   She married at age 17 and worked her entire life alongside her husband, first in the tavern business, and later as a farmer.    She worked long days, often frying fish all day just to attract nickel beer customers and farmed into her 70’s.  Katherine was a cancer survivor too and lived to be 89.

Gladys was born in northwest Indiana in 1922.   She lived a hard life during the years when she raised her children.   Married to an alcoholic who was abusive to her and the boys, she worked in factory jobs most of her life to support her family.  The abuse finally ended when a heart attack took her husband at the age of 39, but the damage had left a lasting scar on her and the boys.   Always strong-willed and scrappy, Gladys was never one to bite her tongue again.  Gladys is still with us today at the age of 91 and continues to speak her mind.

Lucille was born in 1921.   She and her husband of 52 years were farmers in northwest Indiana.   They had two children and then tragedy struck.   Lucille was pitching hay from the barn loft one day.   When she finished, she threw down the pitchfork which had a broken handle and scurried down the ladder.   Skipping the bottom rungs, she unknowingly hurled herself directly upon the pitchfork.  Bleeding profusely, Lucille dragged herself from the barn to the county road to hail down anyone who might pass by.   She was rushed to the hospital and told she’d never have any more children since her uterus had been perforated.  Miraculous, Lucille gave birth to two more children after a seven year lapse.   We sadly lost her to heart disease at the age of 70.

While their stories are not necessarily all that unique, they are the inspiration that propels my work ethic, dedication, and strength.  When I’m having a bad day and am struggling to find motivation to carry on, I just think about all the women who have come before us and I realize I am capable of most anything.   I feel their spirit and grit and know that the sky’s the limit.

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KombuchaKon 2014

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Having just returned from the first ever gathering of the Kombucha Brewers International trade association, I wanted to try to capture the essence and energy of the day to share with all of you.  During the entire conference, I experienced goosebumps on top goosebumps resulting from shared stories of how many of us got into the industry, the potential of synergistic opportunities at the local, regional, national and global levels, and just simply, the beauty and diversity of our association.

Our organization currently has 44 founding members from across 21 states, Canada, and Australia.  Throughout the event, we sampled several different brews that members brought and I was intrigued by the vast array of tastes, textures, packaging, and personas.  Despite our differences, we came together with one common vision:  to work in cooperation to promote, protect, and pioneer our kombucha industry.    At the end of the day, I think we accomplished intangible yet even more powerful outcomes.   Inspired by sharing our trials and tribulations, hearing the dynamic message from Greg Koch of Stone Brewing Co., and in actively working towards common goals and action plans, I have a fresh perspective based on a spirit of collaboration.  As an industry, we need to check our brands at the door, get over ourselves, and work in harmony to effectively and efficiently address issues that impact all of us.   I left having forged many new friendships, a feeling of community rather than isolation, and with so much hope and commitment to build a strong, cohesive, and responsible industry.     Looking ahead, I’m honored and excited to serve as a director on the board and actively participate in establishing our strategic vision for the future as well as being a liaison to the Research and Education sub-committee.    Locally, we hope to partner with other Midwest kombucha brewers to promote our category at beer festivals and other events … so keep watching our posts.  The possibilities are endless!

I also want to send a shout out to Hannah Crum and Alex LaGory of Kombucha Kamp for their vision and in bringing us all together.   They have put considerable thought, time, and energy into making this all a reality.

ImageLarge or small, our diverse kombucha culture harmonized by a collective vision, will leave footprints in the sands of time.

Goodbye 2013, Hello 2014

With the Polar Vortex descending upon us, today seems like the perfect day to compose the first ever blog post for Karma Kombucha.  It’s also an appropriate time to look back over the past year and review our accomplishments and learnings as well as set goals and plan for the much anticipated year ahead.

2013 was a year of growth, not only in new accounts but equally important, new learnings.   With 20 months of brewing experience, we now have much greater knowledge.  Our product quality has seen incremental improvements over time as we learn more about brewing techniques and better bottling consistency.  We hit our sustainability goals and made further changes that positively impact our environment:

(1) In October, we converted from PVC tamper-evident bands to a greener material (PET) that is recyclable and is less dangerous to workers in the plastic industry.    Ideally, we wish we could eliminate them completely but that’s not the world we live in.

(2) We hit our goal of composting of ALL spent tea leaves and SCOBY’s.   Every bit was returned to the earth to further enrich our soil.

(3) We streamlined our brewing process to reduce energy consumption.

(4) While maintaining strict sanitation and USDA-Organic protocols, we decreased the usage of cleaners and sanitizers.

As we look ahead to the new year, we are excited to continue to expand, learn, and make positive contributions.  Later this month, the inaugural meeting of the International Kombucha Brewers Association is taking place in Santa Monica.   Karma Kombucha is excited to be a founding member and to share our knowledge.  We will contribute to providing retailer/consumer education, keeping up-do-date on the latest research supporting kombucha health benefits, and helping to build a strong, cohesive, and responsible industry.  In addition, we continue to spend lots of time in our creative kitchen working on new flavors.   We remain committed to ongoing sustainability efforts by exploring potential new packaging options and energy reduction.  Community involvement is also very important to us and our first sponsored event of the year will be the Shelter Shiver, a Lake Michigan plunge (rescheduled for March 9), to support Alive Rescue and The Little Barn adoption center in Roscoe Village.  Look for us at the Good Foods Festival again this year  … UIC Pavillon in Chicago March 14-15 … and other events throughout 2014.

Thanks for a great year and all your ongoing love and support!   Your comments and input are important to us so please drop us a message anytime.  And be sure to check back as we promise to continue posting you with updates and insights.

- Susan Fink, Founder and Brew Master