From Russia, With Love
by Emily Kovach
For a kid growing up in Soviet Russia in the 1980s, treats were nearly impossible to come by. “We didn’t have soda or desserts,” says Olga Sorzano, owner of Baba’s Brew. “But my great-grandmother brewed kombucha and always had it in the house. This was really fun for me—a sweet fizzy drink!” Sorzano harbors vivid memories of her Baba, now the namesake of her company, using her special tasting spoon to test her brew and murmuring, “Two more days, Olga, two more days.”
Kombucha is a carbonated tea beverage, fermented with a pancake-shaped SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast), and has been regarded in some cultures as a health tonic for thousands of years. It is relatively easy to make at home, and after moving to the United States from Southern Siberia in 2000, Sorzano began brewing on and off as a hobby. She brewed more consistently starting in 2008 while pregnant with her first child—the kombucha helped alleviate her nausea.
“I’m also a huge wine drinker, so I was looking for something to drink that was nonalcoholic,” she says.
Though educated as a veterinarian, she worked as a private chef and would brew kombucha for her clients. In 2014, Sorzano and her husband went to a fermentation festival in Santa Barbara, California, and were blown away by the many kombucha companies in attendance. When they came back, they decided to go all in on their own enterprise. They started Baba’s Brew in February of 2015, and launched that spring at the Phoenixville Farmers’ Market. At first, they sold 16 ounce bottles, but in response to their customers’ interest in sustainability, began kegging and selling 64 and 32 ounce glass growler fills.
“By the end of the season, we were selling nine or 10 kegs per day,” Sorzano says.
Baba’s Brew is headquartered in West Chester, working out of the Artisan Exchange incubator kitchen. They supply to 40 wholesale accounts, including to Di Bruno Bros. and Crime & Punishment Brewing Co. in Philadelphia. Their small team produces 190 gallons of kombucha per week and they hope to more than double that by the end of 2016. Their effervescent brews come in year-round flavors like chamomile honey and hibiscus as well seasonal specials like watermelon mint, and are made with organic, fair trade and local-when-possible ingredients. Her family has a kegerator of kombucha at home, and goes through a keg each week.
“The neighborhood kids come and help themselves—all the neighbors enjoy it,” she says. “Nothing is more exciting than the labor of your passion being accepted and being loved.”