Whidbey Island is home to an array of produce and food products: fruits and vegetables, beer, bread bakers, etc. One of the few things the island was missing was its own kombucha brewer — until now.
The fermented tea drink is now brewing on South Whidbey at the hands of the island’s first wholesale kombucha business, Amrita Kombucha. The drink is made by fermenting tea using colonies of cultures and yeast, much like yogurt, beer and apple cider vinegar. The brewing process demands know-how in the mycology field. It’s a very scientific process, and Amrita owner Shawn Prickett likes to keep his methods secret.
Amrita is starting to distribute its product to more stores on the South End. Prickett started the company in Langley on his own back in February with close to nothing in his pocket. With multiple batches brewed and bottles, designs, a website and flavors set, Prickett is ready to launch his product beyond the Bayview Farmers Market, where he has been selling his fermented tea product. The Greenbank store, Greenbank Farm and Whidbey Pies also sell his kombucha.
Additionally, Pickles Deli at Ken’s Korner started serving Prickett’s kombucha on tap last week, according to Prickett.
Prickett is bringing different flavors to kombucha. Amrita’s products, brewed at the fairgrounds in the Coffman Building, takes tropical flavors from Prickett’s childhood years in Hawai’i and incorporates them into the kombucha in a rare combination of flavors. Amrita carries flavors such as lavender lilikoi, hopped hibiscus and turmeric ginger papaya in addition to the raw flavor.
Prickett is highly knowledgable on the science behind kombucha brewing from extensive research. Thirsty Crab Brewery owner Bob Stallone, a brewing mentor of sorts to Prickett, says his friend has done a lot of research on what he needs to know to brew it the right way.
“In high school I was really into mycology and the interest came from that,” Prickett said. “I’ve brewed kombucha in my house in jars and I just became passionate about it. Amrita is my baby, basically.”
Prickett says South Whidbey’s demographics point towards kombucha selling well in the community. The top selling food products in the area, he says, are tea, coffee and beer. And with the supposed health benefits from drinking kombucha, he thinks the South End will receive the product well.
The Chinese call kombucha the elixir of immortality due to these health benefits. Although they aren’t scientifically proven, ancient cultures in India, China and Japan have consumed the fermented tea drink for years for these reasons. Prickett samples this aspect of kombucha tradition with his company’s name: Amrita, which means immortality in Hindi.
“There’s definitely a demand for it; it’s a very healthy drink,” Pickles Deli owner Kim Bailey said. “We have one on tap from Oregon and to have one that’s produced locally is important.”
Bailey said with the addition of an island-based kombucha brewer, almost anything she can think of is produced on the island. Prickett says keeping the scale of production small and local preserves the desired taste, whereas mass-produced kombucha often doesn’t taste as natural. He says you can taste the difference between his product and the big companies’ products, something that Bailey agrees with.
“To me, Amrita’s stuff tastes more natural and earthy,” Bailey said. “You could say it has a little taste of the island.”
Prickett is operating on such a small scale largely due to his lack of available funds to put into the business. He says he’s received help and guidance from various local businesses and friends, including Stallone. Stallone understands the difficult task ahead of small business owners striking out on their own, so he’s offered Prickett advice and lent him brewing equipment since the brewing processes of kombucha and beer are similar. Prickett also singled out Louise Long, owner of Perfect Time Events and Eric Tunnel of Dig it Tattoo as business owners who have supported him throughout the early days of the business.
“He really knows what he’s doing with kombucha, but he needs a little help with everything around it like kegging and mechanical things that he needs to produce and bottle his products,” Stallone said. “Since he’s challenged financially, it’s tough for him to get going, but he’s on his way.”
While he is a ways from it, Prickett has ideas to kickstart a possible expansion should he get that far. He eventually wants to brew kombucha beer, a product that isn’t widely produced and sold to vendors.
In the meantime, Prickett says he wants to nail down every aspect of kombucha brewing to make the highest quality and natural product possible in order to drive business. People seem to like his kombucha as well; Stallone said his product is “miles better than the commercial stuff he’s given me.”
“I’m passionate about this, so I’m just going for it.” Prickett said. “Throughout this I’ve received a lot of help and support from numerous businesses and friends on the island like Whidbey Pies Cafe, Thirsty Crab Brewery and of course my parents.”