Kombucha microbrewers offer Zen in a bottle

College friends take the plunge after reviewers offer overwhelming support.
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Two home brewers in Grand Rapids hope to help people find their Zen with the launch of Zenned Out Kombucha, a kombucha microbrewery coming soon to e-commerce.

Co-founders Kyle Manning and Matt Hoff met each other through a mutual friend, at a time when both of them were leaving college — and trying to leave behind poor health choices that come with it — for a more health-conscious lifestyle.

Matt Hoff

Hoff started drinking kombucha about five years ago and discovered a positive impact on his personal health. The experience inspired him to want to share the health benefits with as many people as possible, and he and Manning, who were gym partners at the time, began to devise how to turn kombucha brewing into a business.

“We started with home brewing. It took us about a year before we were giving it to our friends and family,” Manning said. “Matt’s roommate was our first guinea pig, so he drank some of the ‘bucha that wasn’t quite up to scratch.”

Getting started in Beer City USA also helped, considering kombucha also is a brewed beverage. Kombucha, however, is nice for consumers who would rather make more healthful choices than going out for a beer after work.

“Part of the name of ‘Zenned Out Kombucha’ is we want to be able to offer healthy alternatives,” Manning said. “It’s been a building block of living a healthier lifestyle for both of us.”

The process is very similar to brewing beer, except the pH of kombucha does not allow bacteria to thrive, so the brewing vessel for kombucha does not have to be 100% sanitary.

“It’s simpler than brewing beer in that you don’t need all the sanitation and everything, although obviously we sanitize all of our stuff,” Hoff said.

Once Hoff and Manning decided they had the recipe down, they were confident what they were brewing tasted better than what they could get on store shelves. After an overwhelmingly positive response from friends, family and colleagues, they started their certifications with the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) and other regulatory agencies.

“That was probably the first real confidence booster,” Manning said. “Friends and family have a bias to tell you it tastes good even if it doesn’t, but with both of us having different networks, we got overwhelming response from people saying this was better than the other brands, from people who drank kombucha regularly, and that gave us the confidence to go through the MDARD procedure.”

Kyle Manning

One of the feedback comments that stood out for Manning was Zenned Out Kombucha didn’t have a synthetic taste profile from artificial sweeteners and preservatives found in other kombucha.

“There’s a difference in taste between when you do it with live cultures and sugar and all of that,” Manning said. “The national chains, some of them use kombucha from starter, which makes the process go faster, but you’re essentially using a concentrate to start your brew.”

Additionally, Zenned Out does not filter its brew of kombucha cultures. While it does filter out the yeast, the resulting brew comes packed with more probiotics than some commercially available kombucha.

The best reviews, Manning said, came from tasters who tried kombucha before and didn’t like it, but enjoyed Zenned Out Kombucha.

“That might be a bit harder to put into words as to how they find it different, but those are the best reviews for us,” Manning said.

Hoff said he believes Zenned Out’s tea blend is a major factor in positive consumer reviews. Zenned Out uses green tea, rather than black tea, resulting in a lighter flavor profile.

“It’s not as sharp, maybe, for people who wouldn’t like kombucha to begin with,” Hoff said. “A lot of the black teas have higher tannins in them, which gives it a ‘deeper’ flavor, which is not a bad thing, but it kind of doesn’t appeal to a broader amount of people.”

Zenned Out Kombucha recently secured space at the Grand Rapids Downtown Market incubator kitchen and is in the process of moving in. The operation’s current capacity is about 30 gallons per brew, and with the new space, Manning and Hoff hope to increase their capacity to 60 gallons, once they plan to go live in March.

The company will be fully e-commerce to start but will offer wholesaling to eventually set itself up for brick-and-mortar retail. The company has one distributor locked in, and Zenned Out’s product also will be available at Juice By J in downtown Grand Rapids.

Zenned Out also will offer a monthly delivery subscription via zennedoutkombucha.com to directly sell to consumers. Benefits include lower prices, free Zenned Out merchandise and free samples of new flavors before they are released.

Non-subscribers in West Michigan still will be able to enjoy delivery service with a minimum quantity of one six-pack per order.

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