Style: Sour Beer / Kombucha
There are a surprising number of kombucha beer hybrids out there now for a style that hardly anyone is aware of — many craft beer drinkers I speak to have never even tried kombucha itself. But given the sudden popularity of sour beer, it makes perfect sense that brewers are seizing upon the overlap between these two delightful beverages. Brewers like New York's Beyond Kombucha are pioneering tasty, malt-free, lambic-like creations, while others are actually blending lambic and kombucha together together. As a new concept — with half a dozen different ways to go about it — brewers have only begun establishing the mold for this fledgling style. The potential is there, and it is exciting.
Meanwhile, out in Michigan, they're already getting weird with it. Not content to do something so unique as a mere kombucha / beer blend, this "Kombucha Pale Ale" is double hopped, aged in bourbon barrels, and blended with juniper berries and a touch of grapefruit. Clearly no one has warned Unity Vibration against doing too much at once — K.P.A. sounds wild enough to put Dogfish Head to shame. Almost more bizarre than that description is the fact that this hybrid brew is actually really good, a perfect marriage of flavors showing not-a-sign of its seemingly over-complicated recipe. Tasty, balanced, and totally coherent, this is work as both a kombucha and a beer, and even better as a hybrid of both.
The nose is floral and fruity, and while I can't parse out much hop aroma, there's a creamy oaky sweetness that leaves no doubt as to whether this was barrel aged. In the taste, this is even sweeter — surprisingly so for a kombucha-based beverage — with more of that creamy, oaky character, and subtle vanilla. Both hops and juniper hit as a bit of sharp spice, adding a distinct bite and bitterness that immediately sets this apart from any other kombucha I've had before. Carbonation is high, head retention is low, and K.P.A. is decently full bodied for both a kombucha and a sour beer. Sourness is relatively mild, more of a tartness, but the addictive kind that's best matched with high carbonation. The contrast between sweet and sour and creamy and dry gives this a really beautiful balance. Using both hops and juniper still seems kind of redundant to me, but the herbal bitterness is a nice background contrast to all the other rich, strong flavors playing off each other.
While the sourness is understandably not as complex as that of a great sour beer, it's unique enough to justify K.P.A.'s existence, and tasty enough to ensure that it disappears rapidly from my glass. Mr. Wizard up there isn't messing around. Too bad I had to drive to Maine to buy this bottle — if Unity Vibration were in New York, I would absolutely pick this up again soon.
Availability: 16 ounce bottle.