A decade ago, hardly anyone in Australia knew what kombucha was. In 2019 it’s in the fridges of major supermarkets, on cafe menus and in people’s homes. Some of our best chefs, sommeliers and cocktail makers are even making their own.

Luke Ashton is one of those people. A co-owner of Sydney’s This Must Be The Place, one of Australia’s most awarded bars, Ashton and his team started making their own kombucha a few years back as a way to design new cocktails.

“We wanted to start on some ferments because we saw it as a way to unlock new flavours in ingredients we had already been working with,” he says. “The process of fermentation creates nuances of flavour and acid you can’t create with bottles from the back bar.”

This Must Be The Place made its own because the commercially available standard was, well, “pretty shit” says Ashton. “They lack flavour and just tasted acidic and fermented.” While he has current exceptions to the rule, such as Mailer McGuire “wild hops” Kombucha and Black Radish Kombucha (the same producer who supplied the Noma Australia pop-up), the low bar was enough to get the renowned mixologists dreaming up their own.

Where most commercial kombuchas are green-, black- or white-tea based, the team at This Must Be The Place has experimented with coffee, various tea blends, tisanes and fruit juice-based ferments. “Because we’re not adulterating or modifying the flavour of a plain tea-based kombucha we’re able to create ‘booches with a greater depth and intensity of flavour,” he says. For an award-winning cocktail bar it was always going to lead to spiking them with a bit of spirit.

Ashton says kombucha in cocktails works as a lengthener and a more complex, tart substitute for soda. His team focuses “on creating a delicious ‘booch and then trying not to adulterate it too much, maybe adding just a spirit or a spirit and a modifier.”

In a general sense Ashton recommends pairing your kombucha with a white spirit. “Vodka, gin and pisco especially,” he says. Some dark spirits will work but, as always, the best method is to taste test your way there and find a spirit that will enhance, not mask the flavour of kombucha.

There are two main things to avoid mixing with kombucha: citrus and sugar. “Your ‘booch will already have some acidity and sweetness to it, so there is no point in doubling down on these ubiquitous cocktail ingredients as your drink will just end up tasting of them,” he says.

And if you really want to learn more, “buy a book on fermentation,” says Ashton. “Not only will this have the best information and step-by-step instructions, you will also have another book in your house. Which makes you infinitely more sexy, because people who read books are hot.”

We asked Ashton for three cocktail recipes using kombucha – one for trying in-house at This Must Be the Place, two to try at home.

Black on Black
Makes 1 serving. Approx. 1.4 standard drinks.

Ingredients:
45ml Johnnie Walker Black
10ml roasted peanut shell syrup
150ml TMBTP Coffee Kombucha
Dash of salt

Peanut-shell syrup

Ingredients:
Peanut shell 5g
Water 250g
Sugar 250g

Method:
Preheat oven to 180°C. In a food processor, blitz peanut shells to break into small pieces. Lay shells in a thin layer on baking tray. Roast in oven for 8–10 minutes or until shells brown and become aromatic. Add water and peanut shells to a sous vide bag, seal and sous vide for 1 hour at 70°C. Once finished, strain the ingredients through a muslin cloth or coffee filter and discard shells. Weigh remaining peanut-shell tea and add sugar, equal parts by weight, and stir to combine. Pour into glass container or jar and let cool. Lasts in the fridge for two weeks.

Method:
Combine all the Johnnie Walker, peanut-shell syrup and the salt into a highball and stir briefly to combine. Fill glass with ice and top with kombucha. Stir gently and serve with a metal straw.

48 Roses
Makes 1 serving. Approx. 1.4 standard drinks.

Ingredients:
40ml citrus vodka
5ml Cointreau
10ml sugar syrup (1 part sugar dissolved into 1 part water)
0.5ml organic rosewater
140ml kombucha (berry- or hibiscus-flavoured kombucha similar to This Must Be The Place’s Egyptian Ice Kombucha)
Dash of salt

Method:
Combine all ingredients, except for the kombucha, in a stemless wineglass and stir briefly to combine. Fill the glass with ice and top with kombucha. Stir briefly to combine and garnish with a rose geranium leaf.

Greenlite
Makes 1 serving. Approx. 1.6 standard drinks.

Ingredients:
45ml pisco
30ml cold-pressed green-apple juice
25ml kombucha (citrus and ginger kombucha reduced by ¾ i.e. 400ml reduced to 100ml, similar to This Must Be The Place’s Inhale Exhale Kombucha Reduction)
10ml orange muscat
A few drops of salt solution (1 part salt mixed with 4 parts water)

Method:
Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Fill the shaker with ice and shake briefly to combine ingredients and chill the liquids. Strain into a pre-chilled coupette and garnish with a lemon myrtle leaf.

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