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Petaluma company making kombucha, with a kick

Kristine Weeks liked drinking kombucha, the probiotic fermented tea that is popping up on shelves of Whole Foods, Sprouts and even some mainstream grocery stores.

She also liked going out for an adult beverage with friends.

What if she could drink both at the same time, she thought?

Two years ago, the Petaluma resident was talking with her sister in Southern California about this, and the women hatched Hoocha Kombucha, the first hard Kombucha maker in Sonoma County.

“My sister was seeing interest in higher alcohol kombucha,” Weeks said. “She said we should make one, and I said ‘Great idea.’”

Weeks, her sister, Cathy Dean, and Andrew Floraday, a friend and the head brewer at Dempsey’s that Weeks recruited, have spent the past two years getting business permits, alcohol licenses, brewing space and perfecting their recipe.

They start with a sweet tea blend of black and green tea with sugar. Then they add a SCOBY, or a culture of bacteria and yeast. This ferments the concoction, making it alcoholic, which all Kombuchas are. But Weeks’ team bumps it up a notch, taking the fermentation to 5% alcohol, or about level of a beer.

“The trick is how do you get the alcohol without losing the good natural kombucha. We played around with it,” Weeks said. “The nice thing is it’s got all the nice things kombucha has naturally, we just make it more fun.”

The kombucha is brewed in 50-gallon barrels in a warehouse off of East Washington Street next to CVS. Hoocha (a portmanteau of “hooch” and “kombucha”) adds to Petaluma’s reputation as a craft beverage incubator, a distinction started by Lagunitas and since expanded to other breweries and distilleries.

Ingrid Alverde, Petaluma’s economic development manager, said the startup can benefit from an ecosystem that includes other alcoholic drink makers such as Griffo Distillery, Sonoma Portworks and 101 North Brewing Co.

“People like being from Petaluma. It gives them that cachet,” she said. “They’ll be around other entrepreneurs and they can support each other.”

Weeks, who is originally from Southern California, moved to Petaluma a decade ago to work for Camelbak. The mother of two boys left to start a cycling shoe cover company, where she still works alongside getting Hoocha Kombucha off the ground.

The plan is to slowly grow the self-funded venture, Weeks said. Hoocha makes four flavors of hard kombucha: raspberry, ginger and crisp apple to go along with the tart original brew. Weeks said the plan is to sell both cans and kegs to local restaurants and grocery stores.

A launch party is planned for Aug. 2 at 4 p.m. at The Block. The event, open to the public, will include tasting flights, food and a live band. A pre-launch event at The Block was a success, Weeks said.

“It was awesome to see people try it,” she said. “They loved it.”

While hard kombucha isn’t exactly a health drink, it does contain all of the probiotic bacteria that attracts health-conscious consumers, and unlike beer, it is gluten-free.

“It’s tough to make a strong claim on being healthy, but that’s what we’re trying to do,” Weeks said.

(Contact Matt Brown at matt.brown@arguscourier.com.)

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