Kombucha, straight up

Chicago's Nathan Wyse offers three cocktail-inspired twists for your healthy homebrew.

Prohibition-era cocktails? Been there. Artisanal bitters? Done that. In the age of cocktail one-upmanship, what's a forward-thinking mixologist to dream up next? At Chicago's eco-chic restaurant Prasino, it's a kombucha program — a nonalcoholic cocktail menu that takes the fizzy, fermented health-food staple to new heights.

"Kombucha is a great medium for making cocktails," says Nathan Wyse, who provides Prasino with his micro-brewed kombucha line, Arize. "It’s effervescent, dry, slightly sour and great for carrying flavors, almost like using soda water with lemon." But better, because it’s actually good for you, too.

"Kombucha is fermented from good bacteria and good yeast cultures, so it is basically a liquid version of yogurt without the possibility of dairy allergy," says Jeffrey Morrison, M.D., a member of the Equinox Health Advisory board. "I recommend it to patients on antibiotics as a way to prevent yeast overgrowth. Also, it's considered an alkaline beverage, so it's good for improving detoxification."

Wyse started off like any kombucha enthusiast: Enamored with the natural food movement, he ordered a kit and started making his own version at home. He immersed himself in Chicago’s health food scene, selling his homebrew at street festivals and concerts and eventually supplying Prasino’s two restaurant locations.

These days, Wyse produces his kombucha out of Chicago’s The Plant, a self-sustaining, zero-waste facility that reuses all of its own waste for everything from generating electricity for the building to producing more food. Chicago-area locals can order bottles directly by emailing brew@thrivekombucha.com. Everyone else, hit up your local Whole Foods or get adventurous and make your own using a home brew kit. Then mix in some juice and herbs for a healthy pick-me-up. Try these recipes from Prasino:

basic kombucha recipe

3 quarts water
1 c. sugar
2 tbsp. black tea
Kombucha culture

Steep the tea, dissolve the sugar and let it cool to room temperature. Add kombucha culture, cover the mix with a breathable cloth or linen. Let it ferment for two weeks in a dark, warm place. Then pour it off; it should taste slightly effervescent and tart.

ginger lemon cocktail

Muddle a quarter of a lemon and a thinly sliced, thumb-size chunk of ginger. Pour 2 oz. of kombucha in the glass to loosen the mix; strain it and top off your glass with more kombucha. Add 1 tsp. sugar or agave to sweeten.

pomegranate cocktail

Use pure pomegranate juice concentrate from a health food store (not the sugary kind). Mix 1 oz. pomegranate juice with 9 oz. kombucha in a 10 oz. glass. If desired, add a spoonful of frozen juice concentrate (i.e., orange juice) and stir.

apple mint cocktail

Muddle 2-3 large mint leaves with 2 tsp. agave nectar. Add 2-3 oz. apple juice. Swirl together then strain the mix into a glass. Top it off with kombucha.