Zip Kombucha’s Tilted Taproom
By Sue Todd
You’ve seen it on tap at Girdwood Brewing Company and possibly other breweries. You may have seen it in cans. Now you can see it where it is brewed. Zip Kombucha is now being served in its own taproom.
Only a few years ago, it began with a successful Kickstarter through Congregation Beth Sholom, a midtown Anchorage synagogue, where Owner Jessie Janes was brewing experimental batches. Newly licensed in May 2016, he began brewing in Organic Oasis’s commercial kitchen. The brew was sold at farmers markets or through direct sale to taprooms. Its growing popularity drove Janes to seek a larger facility.
He temporarily closed Zip Kombucha in August 2018 while he sought a new location. His closing came as a surprise to me, as I was sure I had seen it on tap at Girdwood Brewing during the down time. Janes told me that Girdwood Brewing had planned ahead and bought several barrels before he closed. (Smart thinking, Marencos.) It took about a year to find a place, obtain the proper approvals and licensing, renovated and set up equipment.
In September 2018, Janes opened the doors to Zip Kombucha ‘s Tilted Taproom. Located on Arctic just north of 36th Ave., the taproom offers more than just kombucha. Beer, wine and cider are also available as well as Glacier Bowl and Poke food offerings. Unlike other taprooms, Zip Kombucha is not required to close at 8:00 p.m. Nor is the pour limited to 36 ounces.
House brewed Plain Jane, Blueberry Mary, Ginger Rogers, Mandy Mint, Ginger Beet, and Ginger Turmeric are available on tap. For an interesting twist, ask for refreshing sangria. Bartender River is happy to create custom sangria garnished with fresh fruit and ginger. I hear rumors there is a wine rum sangria on tap as well. The combinations are endless. I imagine a kombucha/cider would be quite tasty.
If you are unsure what you like, you can purchase a flight for four or six samples to taste a wide range of flavors. At the time of this writing, several breweries and the local cider house were represented on the taps: Cynosure, Double Shovel, Odd Man Rush, Girdwood, Midnight Sun, and Denali. As a side note, most of them also offer Zip Kombucha in their own taprooms.
Janes gave me a tour of his brewing operation to teach about the process of making kombucha. It starts with filtered city water in a heated tank where he brews 30 barrels of tea. The tea is pumped into a mixer, where he adds 20 pounds of sugar per barrel to create essentially what is Southern sweet tea. It is then cooled through a heat exchanger and transferred to a fermenter, where he adds SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast.) The fermenter is fed air to keep it aerobic while the yeast eats the sugar and creates ethyl alcohol, and the bacteria eat the alcohol, producing acetic acid. To make a more tart concoction, there would be a second fermentation, and that step may be in future plans.
When the correct pH is achieved, he pushes the fluid through a filter, though he leaves about 15 to 20 percent of the original brew in the fermenter at all times for the next batch. Then he moves the batch to beer break tanks where it is refrigerated and finally kegged or canned. From start to finish, the process takes about three weeks.
The canning operation he showed me was impressive. Cans are de-palletized and pushed to a conveyor where they are rinsed and sanitized, then filled, capped, rinsed, dried, and labeled with a date code six months out. Janes told me what a game changer the canner has been. On a recent morning, he was able to get 32 cases put together by himself. I marveled at the efficiency.
Events take place regularly in the taproom- open mic every other Monday, bands on Friday, Kizomba dancing (no partner required) twice a week, and First Friday art shows. Bigger bands play on Fridays, sometimes Saturdays.
Quite by accident, the day I arranged to speak with Janes coincided with open mic night. This afforded me the opportunity, once I was done with the interview, to enjoy live music while I sipped my sangria and had dinner. Lucas Ellis hosts every other Monday from 6-8 or 9 p.m., depending on the number of musicians. The acoustics are perfect, the talent is varied and Lucas is always open to new contributors.
I asked Janes what he envisions for the future. He explained that his long-term goal, as indicated by the name, is to open in other zip codes – specifically Washington, Oregon and Hawaii. In the near term, he wants to extend distribution. While he is currently represented at New Sagaya and several Three Bears stores throughout Alaska, he hopes to break out in the bigger chain grocery stores, such as Fred Meyers and Carrs.
Production will ramp up after he installs two more 30-barrel tanks in the next month. He is definitely poised to grow. He claims that in 2016, when he opened, kombucha had a $500 million market. By 2020, it is projected to be $2 billion. Naturally, he wants a piece of it.
Glacier Bowl is providing the food from a kitchen within the brewery. Orders are placed at the bar. Ahi, brown sugar steak, red crab or chicken are served with rice, Hawaiian guacamole and seaweed salad, with your choice of sauce. Or you could step it up a notch by adding calamari salad. Like magic, fresh, bright food appears at your table, made to order and served with a smile. Appetizers consist of chips with guacamole or poke, or a poke sampler. All items are reasonably priced.
The dining room is small. There are only five or six tables and a buddy bar near the taps, but overflow seating is set up in the brewery when needed. I asked Janes if he planned to increase the seating capacity by moving outdoors in the summer or expanding his dining room in the future. He explained that while he is open to the idea, seating capacity permitting is tied to parking availability. Therefore, before he could do anything, he would need to secure more parking capacity.
Speaking of parking, it can be a bit of a mystery to the first time visitor. The building opposite Zip allows parking, regardless of the tow-away signs. Additional parking beyond the building is available, so if the paved slots are full, keep going.
A very friendly staff, a relaxed atmosphere, delicious food, and plenty of entertainment make this a wonderful place to spend an afternoon.
3404 Arctic Blvd, Anchorage
4-9 p.m. daily
(907) 351-7821 if you want to order ahead