Step foot inside the Lenny Boy tap room and it’s as if you’re kicking back in a friend’s cozy living room. Charlotte’s first and only Kombucha Tea brewery – named after owner Townes Mozer’s faithful dog – is tucked inside a nondescript commercial strip in the QC’s historic South End district.
The space is brightly lit with three taps, a flat screen TV sure to have the Panthers game on (for now the tap room is open Sundays from 2-8pm) and a neat industrial section of the brewery where the magic of fermentation takes place.
An interesting back-office finding was that Lenny Boy is presently going through an organic certification process, and once completed, would be the only certified organic Kombucha brewery in the Southeast. If you’re unfamiliar with this ancient elixir, Kombucha is a non-alcoholic fermented beverage made from sugar, tea, water, and a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. An all-natural, organic detoxifying brew full of probiotics; most who drink it say it gives them an extra boost of energy that works with the body’s immune and digestive systems (from Lenny Boy’s Q&A section).
After an evening of patronage at a Charlotte brewery, Queen City Brewers Festival was eager to put the powers of Kombucha to the test.
It starts with our house SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast), which is sometimes misconstrued as a large mushroom cap. This is really just a clump of bacteria and yeast – it kind of looks like a big pancake – that forms on top of our organic herbal tea. On top of being the yeast starter, it also acts as a protective layer for the culture during the fermentation process. Unlike beer where the brewer can use a variety of yeast strains to achieve different flavor profiles, there is just one Kombucha culture, which we culture ourselves.
Though Kombucha has been around for centuries with origins in the Far East, what are the challenges in educating and building your consumer base today?
Well firstly, it is a foreign term so getting comfortable with pronouncing it properly requires some practice (laughs). We’ve also found that 65-70% of our customers had never even heard of Kombucha, which can make for a rather lengthy discussion during tastings. But that’s also the beauty of it because over time we’ve been able to build a following that’s doing the teaching on our behalf so it doesn’t get more genuine than that.
Another challenge is that in this area most tea drinkers are so used to sweet tea. Kombucha has more of a tart flavor so the transplants from New York have been quicker to accept Lenny Boy (laughs).
The last piece, like any consumer product, is awareness. Awareness not only from a brand perspective, but also the health benefits associated with drinking Kombucha and how consumers are supporting local farmers by supporting Lenny Boy. We put a huge emphasis on using local ingredients in the brewing process; so much so you’ll find us harvesting fresh produce like sweet potatoes, watermelons, strawberries and peaches right alongside the farmers that supply Lenny Boy.
Aside from home base in Charlotte, what are Lenny Boy’s plans as far as distribution?
This is an exciting topic for us. We recently invested in equipment enabling increased production, which is necessary given an agreement we’re thrilled to have with Tryon Distributing. Not only will this help us supply health food stores like Earth Fare, Whole Foods and Fresh Market, but it also opens the door to bars and restaurants which is where the product can literally become part of the conversation. We’re seeing Lenny Boy becoming a more prevalent part of the mixed drink menu at Fern and come January we’ll be on Heist Brewery’s drink menu.
As far as geo-distribution is concerned, the Triangle Area and college towns in general are becoming a hotbed for us.