The backroom of Red Star Kombucha in Larimer is a laboratory of sorts: white, sterile and filled with five-gallon jars of bubbling liquid.
It’s a stark contrast to the front of the building at 6620 Hamilton Ave., which is dark blue and boasts a bar, two chandeliers and a foosball table.
Naomi Auth is the mad scientist behind all this. She’s been experimenting with the fermented tea since 2005. In 2012, she rented a production space in Troy Hill and started selling her kombucha at farmer’s markets and distributing to bars and restaurants throughout Pittsburgh.
After outgrowing a tiny storefront in Market Square, she moved the entire operation to Larimer. On Feb. 25, the new 3,400-square-foot brewery and taproom opened right down the street from KLVN Coffee Lab.
Kombucha dates to 221 B.C., when Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang touted its youthful properties. After adding sugar to green or black tea, it is fermented with a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY). This carbonates the beverage and produces nutrients, B vitamins, alcohol and probiotics that aid digestion. It can be flavored with fruits, herbs and botanicals. The whole process takes about two weeks.
Years ago, Auth tried a friend’s homemade kombucha in New Orleans. She wasn’t crazy about the sour taste, but liked the way it made her feel. A lifelong interest in cooking inspired her to further explore the world of fermented food and beverages.
Right now, Red Star offers six kombuchas, which range from 2.5% to 4.5% alcohol by volume, specialty cocktails and several beers. Guests are welcome to sample each flavor before committing to a full pour. Growler fills also are available.
Cran Citra Hop is the most popular; it’s dry, with a bit of champagne essence to it. Wombucha, originally made as a Fresh Fest Beer Fest collaboration with YOGAMOTIF, a yoga studio in East Liberty, contains herbs that support womb health.
In the coming months, Auth plans to release more varieties, offer kombucha-making classes and host food trucks and pop-up dinners at the site.
Longtime customers Jen Dobberstein and Justin Rivers, of Bloomfield, first sampled Red Star Kombucha at the public market in the Strip District. They had just finished a CrossFit session and were looking for refreshments — with a kick.
“It’s a healthy alternative to going to a bar,” Dobberstein says.