THOMAS & SONS DISTILLERY
BROTHER FROM ANOTHER KOMBUCHA MOTHER
W R I TT E N BY M A R GA R E TT WAT E R B U RY
P H O T O S P R OV I D E D BY T H O M A S & S O N S D I S T I L L E RY
any distilleries have mascots, but Thomas & Sons Distillery in Portland, Oregon might be the only distillery to rally behind a sloth. “We love Otis,” says Rob Nollenberger, head of marketing, as he gestures towards a well-executed oil portrait of a sloth dressed in a blue collared shirt, beige blazer, and neatly knotted tie. “Because we’re kind of like sloths: We don’t do anything fast, but when we do something, we do it right.” Otis is just the beginning of Thomas & Sons’ quirkiness. The distillery is part of Townshend’s Tea, a Portland-based tea company that also makes Brew Dr. Kombucha, one of the nation’s leading kombucha brands. And a few years back, Brew Dr. had a problem. Its kombucha, a live-culture soft drink made by fermenting sweetened tea with a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY, for short), was developing too much of an unwanted component: alcohol. They weren’t the only kombucha makers with the problem. In 2010, another major brand was temporarily removed from store shelves after testing unexpectedly high in alcohol. Since then, kombucha makers across the country have been acutely aware of the need to minimize their products’ alcohol content. “Kombucha will naturally make alcohol,” says Ray Nagler, operations manager. “But kombucha is also a health product. Our consumers are kids, pregnant women, people who are taking medication, recovering alcoholics. And if you’re not expecting it, at 1.5 percent alcohol, you can get a bit of a rush.” Other kombucha brewers were using one of two strategies. Either they’d arrest
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