Style: Sour Beer / Kombucha
I suspect that a love of sour beer has inspired many beer drinkers to dabble with kombucha as their day-time thirst-quencher of choice. That's basically what happened to me, and now I'm brewing both beverages: one for my mornings and one for my evenings. Kombucha is also wonderfully versatile, and while the fact that it won't get you drunk is part of the point, there's a strong appeal to the idea of a beer/kombucha hybrid.
From a fermentation standpoint, there are a number of ways you could approach such a hybrid. The bottle states that Mava Roka is gluten free, which indicates that there's no malt in this; the listed ingredients are vanilla rooibos tea, maple syrup, sorghum extract, and hops. Perhaps that makes the status of this as "beer" a bit questionable, but I guess this could be considered the world's first gluten-free sour ale. Because, lack of actual malted grains in the recipe aside, this is remarkably close to a pale sour beer in character. A good one, too. All the right notes are there: puckering bright sourness that's significantly closer to that of a tart, lemony lambic than fruity, vinegary kombucha. The nose and flavor push funky Brett character like no kombucha I've ever had; another check in the "beer" column. Before opening the bottle, and for a few minutes after, I wasn't sure what role the "vanilla rooibos" would serve. But the flavor is so reminiscent of traditional sours, I started to wonder if this was oak-aged or barrel-aged, even though the bottle doesn't mention it. Where else could that backing vanilla character come from... oh. Clever, clever Beyond Kombucha.
The main thing marking this as a beery impostor is the lack of body and head retention, despite high carbonation (my bottle was a semi-gusher, though saved by my quick pouring skills). However, sour beers are already very light in body; this isn't far off from their crisp presence, and the zingy, tart carbonation rewards you with the same refreshing mouthfeel and effervescent quality. I honestly have no idea what sorghum tastes like, but the maple is extremely hard to pick out. My one minor complaint about Mava Roka — and it's not even so much a complaint, as another indicator that this is not actually a sour beer — is the slightly odd, almost-cloying sweetness the beer finishes with when warm; it's not a maple flavor, and the stickyness does not contrast well with the crisp, tart beverage that previously graced your tongue.
Beyond Kombucha is doing some great things here, pushing the envelope in ways I've never seen before. Kudos to them for their experimentation. I do have to note, though, that I purchased two bottles of Mava Roka at the same time, reviewing the first bottle and setting aside the second to refresh my memory a few days before posting this review. The second bottle, sadly, was the victim of some weird bottle conditioning mishap or infection. It was totally flat, and tasted unpleasantly, unnaturally sweet (I'm guessing it was meant to bottle condition and never did, leaving that residual sugar unfermented). It also suffered from some unfortunate off-flavors that were nowhere to be found in the first bottle, and were exaggerated by the weird sweetness. Hopefully this is not a common issue and I just had the misfortune to purchase a rare bad bottle. I won't hold it against them; Beyond Kombucha is a very small operation, and accidents like this are bound to happen on occasion.
Availability: Seems to be a year-round release, but extremely limited. Beyond Kombucha lists a couple grocery stores in Astoria, Queens that carry this.