The Raspberry Peach Boocharita Photo courtesy of Root Wild

I remember when I first heard of kombucha. A friend was raving about it, so I asked what it was. Her description of “fermented tea with bacteria added for gut health” did not exactly entice me to follow in her footsteps. When she saw the look on my face, she clarified “think of it as a vinegar soda.” Yeah, you’re not helping. I decided that kombucha and I were not meant for each other, so I moved on and existed happily without it.

But then I learned that people were using kombucha in cocktails. Even better, they claimed that the cocktails were healthy (or at least healthier) because kombucha is lower in calories and sugar than fruit juice or tonic water and because of its gut health benefits. Fine, I’m listening.

To learn more, I turned to Reid and Kate Emmerich, owners of Root Wild Kombucha on Washington Avenue. Root Wild doesn’t have a liquor license, so they don’t make or sell cocktails, but when the pandemic started Kate began posting photos and recipes for kombucha quarantinis on their Instagram account (@rootwildkombucha). Every Saturday at 5 p.m,. she posts a new cocktail – she hasn’t missed a week yet.

The cocktails highlight whichever kombucha flavors are on tap that week; they have a rotating selection of eight draft lines. They also sell several consistently-popular varieties by the can. Regular customers fill growlers with their favorite flavor and take them home to drink plain or make into cocktails.

Here are a few of those quarantini recipes:

Make a cosmopolitan with kombucha from Root Wild. Photo courtesy of Root Wild

Cosmopolitan: juice of one lime, 1 ounce orange liqueur (Triple Sec, Cointreau, Grand Marnier, Gran Gala, etc.), 2 ounces vodka and 2 ounces cranberry kombucha.

Maine Coast Sea Breeze: 2 ounces vodka, 3 ounces grapefruit kombucha and a generous splash of cranberry juice.

Raspberry Peach Boocharita: 2 ounces tequila, 1 ounce lime juice, 1 ounce orange liqueur, 3 ounces raspberry kombucha, and a muddled-together mixture of half a very ripe peach and a handful of raspberries.

If you’re interested in branching out into kombucha cocktails, the Emmeriches recommend starting with a basic ratio of one part spirit, one part sour (usually citrus or a dash or two of bitters), one part sweet (simple syrup or a sweet liqueur) and three parts kombucha. Depending on which flavor kombucha you use, you may need to adjust the sweet or the sour element.

Get Cocktail Mary’s kombucha cocktail, Marty Washington, to go. Photo courtesy of Cocktail Mary

The Emmeriches aren’t the only local fans of kombucha cocktails. Cocktail Mary uses grapefruit kombucha in the Marty Washington, one of its most popular cocktails. “Marty” was owner Isaac MacDougal’s nickname for his late mother, Martha, and “Washington” because both the kombucha and the gin (Hardshore) are produced on Washington Avenue. At $24 for two full 16-ounce cocktails, the Marty Washington also contains maple syrup and Luxardo Aperitivo, Luxardo’s take on Aperol or Campari. MacDougal sells the Marty Washington mix in a separate bottle from the kombucha because of the need to preserve the kombucha’s carbonation. For that reason, bartenders recommend always adding the kombucha as the final ingredient immediately before serving.

The Portland Zoo also offers a kombucha cocktail, a $12 mixture of grapefruit or ginger kombucha and your choice of gin, vodka, or tequila. Co-owner Mark Miller said that, since they have such limited space, it was really their only cocktail option, but it was so popular that it quickly became a go-to for many of their customers who wanted something other than beer. My only complaint? They really should refer to it as komzoocha.

Angie Bryan is a former diplomat who is enjoying getting acquainted with her new home in Portland, one cocktail at a time.

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