A Nuanced Approach to Craft Brewing

Story and Photos by Robert Salas

CEO of HoneyMoon Brewery, Ayla Bystrom-Williams.

If you’ve been in a health food store—or any grocery store, for that matter—within the last decade, then you’ve probably heard of a fizzy, tea-based, gut-booster called kombucha. Although the health benefits of kombucha remain scientifically unconfirmed, anecdotally people rave about its ability to improve digestive health, enhance energy, promote weight loss, and detoxify. HoneyMoon Brewery in Santa Fe is running with the growing popularity of kombucha and taking it to the next level, brewing the first “hard” or alcoholic kombucha in the Southwest.

The notion of brewing hard kombucha is nothing new, but it’s been confined mostly to homebrewers’ kitchens. To make any kombucha, a SCOBY, or symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast, is added to brewed tea and cane sugar. The concoction is then left to ferment for a week to a month. Most kombuchas are then fermented for a second time, where additional flavorings from fruits and spices are added. Kombucha naturally produces alcohol as a byproduct of the fermentation process, but the alcohol content of most kombucha at the store is miniscule, typically containing no more than .5 percent alcohol by volume. To make a “hard” kombucha, which some alcoholic-kombucha brewers claim share the same health benefits of its non-alcoholic counterpart, the tea mixture is fermented for a second time with additional yeast and sugar added, which produces the higher alcohol content. As we live through the golden age of craft beer, with a new brewery popping up every week, a little change could be a good thing. Santa Fe native and CEO of HoneyMoon Brewery, Ayla Bystrom-Williams, agrees.

Bystrom-Williams loves fermented foods and is an avid enjoyer of craft beer. She says that kombucha and craft beer aren’t that different from each other, but kombucha offers more custom variation when it comes to the brewing process. “It’s kind of like a Belgium-style beer in that we welcome wild yeast and spontaneous fermentation,” she says of her hard kombucha. “With such a low starting pH, we are able to be more fluid and flexible during our brewing process as opposed to the beer brewing process.”

Bystrom-Williams’s initial interest in brewing kombucha sprouted from her passion for yoga and health foods. She wanted to relax and imbibe before her yoga classes, but found that beer was a bit too heavy. So she turned toward kombucha, which at the time wasn’t regulated and contained more alcohol than today’s store-bought versions. “I needed something that would be able to give me a little buzz and something that was more health focused,” Bystrom-Williams says. “After experimenting with homebrewed craft beer, I decided I wanted to give it a go and brew an adult version of kombucha.”

In 2014, Bystrom-Williams and her business partner and head brewer, James Hill, decided to do some market research to see if opening a hard kombucha brewery was a viable concept. They learned that  people wanted alternative options to craft beer, but still wanted to enjoy the social and community driven aspects of brewery culture. 

“We wanted to offer something special to all of the underserved markets: gluten-sensitive drinkers, low ABV drinkers, kombucha fans, sour beer aficionados, and anyone just looking for a refreshing twist on their night out,” says Bystrom-Williams.

With help from the Los Alamos Small Business Assistance Program, Bystrom-Williams and Hill were finally able to make their dream a reality. HoneyMoon Brewery officially opened in December 2018. Bystrom-Williams says they couldn’t have done it without the resources provided by the incubator program. “The Los Alamos Business Assistance Program really helped with providing the technical expertise we needed to get started. They truly care about building small businesses and cultivating a strong local economy,” she says.

HoneyMoon Brewery is bright and warm with chic, eclectic décor. According to Bystrom-Williams, almost all the furniture was made locally. Paintings and photographs by renowned artists from around the globe hang on the walls. “We intentionally did not want to have TVs on the walls,” she says. “We want to create an open, welcoming and somewhat minimalist space where people can enjoy each other’s company and truly have an organic human-to-human connection.”

Head brewer Hill has created a diverse menu of hard kombuchas that range in flavor from citrus and fragrant to sweet and fruity. The lemon-ginger Camellia Blanca is a good option for kombucha lovers who want to try the hard version. The lemon comes through strong and tart while the ginger adds a pungent spiciness. With an ABV of 5.4 percent, you can experience a subtle warmth from the alcohol. If you’re looking to try something different, Hill has created a hard kombucha that takes the flavors of a classic margarita and mixes it with the muskiness of kombucha. This concoction is lime-forward with a bit of a salty finish, similar to a gose-style beer. 

“We wanted to create something that kombucha drinkers could already relate to while at the same time creating brews that are really approachable for crossover drinkers, like those who are used to drinking craft beer.”

HoneyMoon offers flight options and, for those who do not yet want to stray from craft beer, HoneyMoon also offers a selection of rotating local craft beer guest taps. Bystrom-Williams says that HoneyMoon is a place where craft beer and hard kombucha can collide in harmony and create a space where all are welcome.

“As a new mom, I want people to know that everyone is welcome here,” she says. “And that having a kid doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a night out with your friends and family.”

907 W Alameda, Santa Fe, 505-303-3139

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