6 questions with Thrive Brew founder, Elijah Webster

Elijah Webster behind the bar at his kombucha brewery

Elijah behind the bar at Thrive Brew’s brewery | photo by LEXtoday

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Thrive Kombucha, Lexington’s first + only kombucha brewer, recently went through a rebrand and is now known as Thrive Brew.

We caught up with founder Elijah Webster to learn more about the bubbly beverage, and how Thrive went from a kitchen counter to shipping nationwide in just three years.

For those that might not be as familiar, what is kombucha?

Kombucha is often seen as a better for you soda, or alcohol alternative. You either start with a green, black, or white tea, then you add sugar, water, and a culture of bacteria + yeast that transform the sugars into healthy acids giving you that tangy, bubbly, kombucha taste. After that, it’s like painting a canvas where you add in different flavors.

Take us back to the beginning, how did Thrive Brew get started?

Like many things in life, I never woke up + thought I’d grow up to be a kombucha brewer. In one way, it came out of left field, but it also kind of developed very organically.

When I first tried kombucha I actually hated it. My wife Annie loved it and was always trying to get me to like it. But like coffee, wine, beer, all those things, you don’t necessarily love them the first time.

I eventually fell in love with the beverage + we were drinking so much of it that we realized we had to figure out some way to get a better supply without, you know, breaking the bank.

So, we bought a little homebrew kit, and started brewing one-gallon glass jars on our counter, just for us. We’d always share it with dinner guests or take it to parties + it just kind of naturally grew from there. A few people wanted some on a weekly basis so we bought more jars and upped the process.

Fun fact: Thrive Brew now produces 200-300 gallon batches each week.

Tell us about the rebrand.

The word “thrive” has been with us from the beginning, it’s a simple word that is a personal kind of mantra, even outside of kombucha. To thrive, just means to prosper, to flourish, to promote growth — just kind of want to be on that pathway for the rest of life — to live a thriving life, realizing you only get one shot. You know, let’s suck the marrow out of life, so to say, as best we can, but also enjoying the process.

We added brew to our forward-facing name to showcase the craft of the beverage + brewing process of what we do. because kombucha goes through a four to five-week journey.

What is the process like for creating a new flavor?

I kind of think about it in the sense of like songwriting, they all start from different places, and with different inspirations. Sometimes we just have a concept in our mind — like our mango tajin, which is an homage to the Mexican culture. Other times we’ll have an ingredient that we harvest from my farm yard + we’ll do special one-off batches of those flavors.

In Lexington, we wanted to create familiarity with the product somehow + bring in some sort of an on-ramp to the category. We are trying to kind of stay local to our roots a little bit of way. Our Kentucky Mule flavor is kind of that homage to where we’re from, to bourbon culture, it’s our local roots and where we’re from.

And we have high ideals for our flavors. The ingredients are fresh + organic. Say we’re doing a pineapple flavor, it’s organic, fresh pineapples that we press right into it. We have a cold press that we do in-house.

Tell us about your podcast.`

Well, we record right at this table. It’s been a fun way to kind of add to the industry at large. There’s such rich, like coffee culture communities and rich microbrewery communities, they all kind of know each other, they’re in the same circle. Even though we’re the only kombucha brewery in Lexington, we have found community across cities, other places around the country, and even the world through the podcast. It’s been a fun little element to kind of increase knowledge and awareness.

One of our values is transparency. This podcast is a way that we can be long-form transparent about our process, ingredients, sourcing, how things come to be, how we’ve got to where we’re at, and mistakes along the journey. New episodes come out every Thursday.

So why Lexington?

So my wife and I actually moved here to be a part of a church. It’s been about seven years, but we moved here and just fell in love. It’s got the big city amenities but the small town feel. Once you live here two or three years you run into people around town all the time.

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