When I walk into the True Büch brewery I immediately notice two things: a simultaneously sweet and sour smell in the air and about 20 metal vats labelled with names of dead celebrities. Those vats are actually fermenters, co-founder Conrad Ferrel tells me. Bob Marley was the first fermenter to be named (and is also the name of True Buch’s Chief Dog Officer); others include Gord Downie, Aretha Franklin, Chet Baker and James Brown. It’s going to be a fun interview.
We’re standing on a cement floor in their nearly 4,000 square foot facility in Calgary talking about SCOBYs (an industry abbreviation for symbiotic cultures of bacteria and yeast) when Louisa Ferrel arrives. Louisa is True Büch’s other founder and is married to Conrad. The two of them finish each other’s sentences as they describe the kombucha making process to me.
“We brew a really traditional kombucha,” says Conrad/Louisa. The base is made with green and black tea, organic cane sugar, filtered water and a SCOBY. The SCOBY feeds on sugar and tannins in the tea and in turn gives kombucha its beneficial bacteria and enzymes, Louisa explains. The mixture ferments for a few weeks at a warm 25 degrees Celsius before heading into the conditioning tank, which the team has outfitted with gigantic googly eyes for amusement. The kombucha is flavoured, cooled and carbonated in the conditioning tank and then it’s ready to go. True Büch is a raw kombucha, meaning there’s no additional processing or pasteurization so those probiotics and enzymes stay intact.
But this story isn’t just about kombucha, because kombucha is not all that True Büch is about. It’s quickly clear that Conrad and Louisa are as much into their community as they are into kombucha. They use local suppliers whenever possible (all the teas in their kombucha come from The Naked Leaf in Kensington), they donated 8,984 meals just this year through Meal share and they can’t give enough shout outs to ATB Financial for helping them buy their first bottling machine. But what may be more impressive is their commitment to the environment.
“We started on the draft side because we wanted to be waste-free,” says Conrad. When True Büch began in 2014 it was only available in kegs for customers to order by the glass or growler. Since there was no one else selling local kombucha at the time, sales went even faster than they expected. In fact, Conrad and Louisa got a call from their first-ever retailer two days into a Hawaiian vacation saying they had already run out kegs. The company had a really great start, Louisa confesses; they couldn’t keep up with demand for the first year or two.
Eventually they began bottling their buch as demand grew for a more portable option, and those bottles hit Sunterra’s shelves in early 2017. To offset the bottle impact, True Büch reduces their carbon footprint and in the past two years have displaced nine tons of CO2 with Bullfrog Power. They also plant 1,000 trees a year in partnership with TreeEra, with each tree offsetting about 1 ton of carbon emissions in its lifetime.
“We want to have an impact on the communities we’re associated with, ”says Conrad. “True Büch means being true to our community and true to the traditional way of making small batch, SCOBY brewed kombucha.”