PESHASTIN — The Scoby is temperamental: It needs to be kept between 68 and 72 degrees, fed a diet of organic honey and massaged regularly to help it shed outer layers.
But tend to a Scoby — symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast — well and it’ll reliably produce kombucha: A fermented tea known for its probiotics and punchy flavor.
Peshastin-based Huney Jun has been brewing its drink with the same Scoby since the business launched in 2017. It’s one of the only brewers in the United States that makes jun, a kombucha produced using green tea and honey, rather than the more common combination of black tea and cane sugar.
The company’s production has doubled each of the last two years, co-owner Beau Carrillo said last week. It now brews between 5,000 and 7,500 gallons of the carbonated, non-alcoholic drink per month.
Huney Jun comes in six flavors and is carried by dozens of retailers across the Pacific Northwest, Carillo said. Their growth is reflected globally, where the kombucha industry is expected to reach $1.6 billion in 2020, up from $600 million in 2015, according to business analyst Markets and Markets.
“We like to think of it as compared to yogurt,” Carillo said. “When yogurt hit the market in the ‘60s, there was no yogurt anywhere and now there’s 40 feet of yogurt (on shelves) in every store.”
Huney Jun started as a small-batch, garage-brewed passion project for Carrillo. He’d worked in the beverage industry for years and was fascinated with the jun variety of kombucha.
“I was really familiar with kombucha, but when I first tasted jun kombucha I remember discovering it and thinking ‘Wow this is made with honey, how cool is that?’” he said.
So Carrillo and his roommates began brewing it in five-gallon batches in their Leavenworth garage, he said.
“One day we were all sitting around in the garage and we were drinking it and thinking it was the most amazing beverage we’d ever had,” he said. “I was like, ‘OK, let’s make this happen,’ so we decided to open the brewery right here in Peshastin.”
They began leasing a small garage bay in a commercial building on Main Street in Peshastin. They outgrew that space within six months and expanded to a neighboring garage bay. They expanded again this year, picking up another part of the building for refrigerated storage and office space.
The kombucha-making process resembles a mix between beer and wine fermentation, but only takes about a week.
First, several hundred gallons of green tea is brewed. Then the Scoby cultures and honey are added to the mix. It’s allowed to ferment for a few days before being transferred to 500-gallon stainless steel tanks.
That’s when flavorings, including herbs, juices or other teas, are added. After a second fermentation in those tanks, the kombucha is carbonated and bottled.
“We’ve tried to automate it as much as possible,” Carrillo said. “There’s so many variables with this type of thing, and with so many flavors it’s a big deal to manage the labels.”
The kombucha’s core brewing and bottling process can be done by three people, Carrillo said. After it’s boxed, the brew is refrigerated and delivered to retailers.
“We’re cold-chain all the way to the store so it never really heats up ever after that,” Carrillo said.
The process requires about 2,000 pounds of organic honey a month. Currently, that has to be imported from Canada due to a lack of organic honey producers in the U.S, but Huney Jun is exploring the idea of starting its own organic honey farm near Plain.
Using high-quality honey is key to developing the flavor and probiotics levels that come with jun kombucha, Carrillo said.
“The probiotic count in our product is the highest that we know of in the market. It’s actually incredible, and the reason we think that is is in the honey,” he said. “We think the honey creates a ‘prebiotic’ environment that allows the bacteria to multiply and thrive in a better way.”
Through lab testing, the company has found there’s 4.27 billion colony-forming probiotic units per cubic millimeter of its kombucha, according to its website.
“So there’s trillions in a bottle — that’s a pharmaceutical-grade probiotic,” Carrillo said.
Along with planning a foray into the honey business, Huney Jun is now planning another facility expansion — this time to the former Peshastin mill site.
That property was purchased by Jennifer and Bill Goebel from the Port of Chelan County in 2015. One of several tenants, Huney Jun will have 8,000 square feet, Carrillo said. They hope to move in next summer.
“It’ll just allow us to grow into the future and never really have constraints with space and production,” Carrillo said.