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    Thursday, August 18, 2022

    To a tea: The Brannan family from Ledyard establishes the first kombucha brewery in eastern Connecticut

    Mike Brannan of 860Kombucha assembles tubes to a vessel to brew kombucha in his family’s new facility in Mystic. The tea base brews at 210 degrees Fahrenheit before fermentation. The Brannans started brewing kombucha in their home before opening a brewery. (DANIEL PASSAPERA/Special to The Day)
    The Brannan family from Ledyard establishes the first kombucha brewery in eastern Connecticut

    Siblings Ashley and Mike Brannan grew up in Ledyard, and they each live in California now. She is in San Diego and works in marketing. He is in Los Angeles and works in financial data analytics for Google.

    In the Golden State, they have become fans of kombucha, a fizzy, fermented tea beverage that is hugely popular out there.

    “It’s almost like coffee here. Every café will have it,” Mike says on a virtual call from the West Coast. “It’s interesting because you can actually make it yourself at home. It’s almost like a little weird science project that you can have in your kitchen. It’s just like a little glass jar, it’s almost like you’re making a lemonade.”

    You make a batch of tea, then mix it with SCOBY (which stands for the symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast). Mike says it’s like good bacteria for a person, and he compares it to yogurt, which has live probiotics that help with digestion.

    Mike had bought his own kit and was making it at home.

    Then, during the pandemic, Ashley and Mike returned to the Ledyard house where their parents, Dave and Tammy, live. Of course, everyone was searching for entertaining activities to do while homebound then, and making kombucha became something the Brannans enjoyed doing, as they experimented every week and tried different flavors.

    While California boasts lots of kombucha breweries, Connecticut doesn’t. There is one in Danbury and one in Norwalk; that’s it.

    While there are no breweries in the eastern half of the state, grocery stores like Stop & Shop and Big Y do have a kombucha section.

    “Kombucha is now becoming its own category of beverage, like the seltzers, the soda. So now you have kombucha,” Dave says.

    Those kombucha items in grocery stores, though, all come from other states, not from Connecticut.

    After noticing that, Dave says, “That’s when we kind of took the jump.”

    The Brannans are starting their own brewery, dubbed 860Kombucha, with a launch event on July 7 from 5 to 7 p.m. at Bank & Bridge Brewing in Mystic that is free and open to the public.

    The brewery is based at an industrial park site on Noank Ledyard Road in Mystic, but the Brannans will be selling their product at farmers’ markets in the area and events like Sailfest in New London and the beach concerts at Esker Point in Groton. They’ll be approaching local restaurants about serving their kombucha as well.

    The public will be able to order growler fill-ups at the www.860kombucha.com website.

    The prices will be around $4 per cup if people are buying it at an event and $10 per growler.

    Using items from local farms

    Dave is the brewmaster. Both Mike and Ashley can work remotely and have flexible jobs, which makes the collaboration on 860Kombucha easier. Tammy is involved with the business in a lot of ways, but primarily in community outreach.

    The Brannans named their business 860Kombucha in part to be representative of the towns within that area code.

    “We’re making tea, and then making it with fruits and herbs. If we can get those fruits and herbs from local farms and sell them at local restaurants, local bars, local markets, then it’s all kind of self-sustaining within the 860 (area),” Mike says.

    For instance, they have gotten elderberry from Fat Stone Farm in Lyme and lavender from Holmberg Orchards in Ledyard.

    Healthier alternative

    “There are not very many healthy drinks in this flavor profile out there,” Mike says. “A lot of things that are fruity are also not good for you. This is a very healthy alternative to that … It’s something that tastes good, but you can kind of be guilt-free when you’re having it.”

    (While kombucha makers and devotees of the drink speak of their experiences with its health benefits, scientific studies on the subject have been scarce.)

    On a recent day, the Brannans had made one version that mixed elderberry, lemon and ginger, and another version that was a ginger-lavender amalgamation. Both were delicious, serving up a slightly more tart flavor than sugary-sweet fruit drinks.

    The plan is to shift flavor profiles after the summer, where raspberry, strawberry and mango will likely be part of the mix, to more fall flavors like apple and chai.

    “When the kids first got me into it, it was a little different taste (for me),” Dave says. “They talked about health benefits, good gut health, how it helps your gut process all the other healthy foods you eat. I tasted it, and it’s a little different. Each kombucha is different. If one brewery gives you a recipe and you make it, it might taste a little bit different because of the location that we’re in, the water that we use, our culture (meaning the SCOBY).”

    A love for Ledyard

    The Brannans came to southeastern Connecticut when Dave was stationed in Groton. He left the Navy in 2000 and went into the technology field; he now works in client success for a global technology company.

    Ashley graduated from the University of Connecticut two years ago and now, as previously mentioned, is working in marketing.

    “But I’ve always been a really big foodie,” she says. “I’ve never worked in the beverage industry or anything, but I’ve always wanted to work in some type of food and beverage space. So this has been a lot of fun and a good adventure for us.”

    Mike graduated from UConn in 2015 with an accounting degree. Being from the finance world and having more of a business background, he says, “I’m just making sure we stay in business.”

    Dave says that one of the wonderful things about this project was going into business with his children. It’s a startup, but it’s also a family business. They have formal business meetings where they talk about budgets, finance and marketing. And when they’re on opposite coasts, they can video chat whenever they need to.

    “I feel like we almost talk to each other more now. We’re spread across the country, but we talk to each other all the time,” Ashley says.

    Mike and Ashley both grew up in Ledyard and went through all the town schools. Ashley was involved in the music program in the Ledyard schools, taking part in groups like a chamber choir and an a cappella group.

    She and Mike were both on the golf team, and Mike did basketball and cross-country as well.

    Dave, who notes that he was a “military brat” growing up, explains that one of the reasons he got out of the Navy was so his family wouldn’t have to keep moving. When they kids were young, he and Tammy decided they wanted to raise them in one place and found in Ledyard a great town to do that.

    They have been quite involved in town. Tammy has worked for a long time in the Ledyard school system, where she is currently a secretary at the Ledyard Middle School. Dave coached basketball and volleyball.

    When Mike and Ashley went to college, Dave took a job in New York City and he and Tammy moved to the western part of Connecticut. But, he says, “we realized after being gone for two years that this is not what we wanted. We wanted this hometown feel of being able to drive somewhere and having people know who you are. It’s just a good balance here (in Ledyard). I’ve lived all over, and this place is a good balance of hometown feel plus all of the different activities (in the region), whether you want to go to Boston, Providence …”

    How it’s made

    Kombucha, which Dave notes originated around 2,000 years ago in China, is made with water, tea, sugar and the SCOBY. The Brannans source their tea from a company called Teatulia that is based in Colorado and grows its tea in India. It’s all organic, and 860Kombucha uses a blend of black tea and green tea.

    They steep the tea like you would any regular tea, Dave says. Then they use organic cane sugar and add the SCOBY. That mix ferments for between 14 and 21 days.

    Once they have the kombucha, they infuse it with the fruits or fruit juices.

    A bonding experience

    Ashley says that developing 860Kombucha “has been an amazing bonding experience for our family to get to work together this closely. We’re constantly problem solving and coming up with new ideas, and it has been really fun to work together.Especially since we live so far away, it’s been something that connects us all. It’s incredibly rewarding to see all of the progress that we’ve made in such a short amount of time, and we cannot wait to share it with the rest of the community!”

    From left, Dave, Mike and Ashley Brannan (Submitted)
    A glass of 860Kombucha’s kombucha. (DANIEL PASSAPERA/Special to The Day)
    860Kombucha, a brewery startup in Mystic, flavors the kombucha before refrigeration. The family-owned brewery plans to have 12 different flavors during a launch event in July. Ingredients such as lavender, elderberry and more are sourced from local farms. (DANIEL PASSAPERA/Special to The Day)
    860Kombucha kegs and cools their kombucha in a fridge after fermenting and flavoring them. (DANIEL PASSAPERA/Special to The Day)

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