There’s something extra special about enjoying something with the flavour of your ‘home’ town. Marketers trade on this, so adding the word ‘Byron Bay’ to your product’s name can mean little more than being ‘inspired’ by ‘Australia’s celebrity hotspot’ (check out the Byron Bathers Club in Dubai if you want a hilarious example).
But Jake Miller’s ‘North Wall Kombucha’ is the real deal. It’s named after the north wall at Brunswick Heads, a favourite surfing spot; his first customer (apart from his surfing mates) was Old Maids burger place in Bruns and locals know that it’s pretty bloody good! North Wall Kombucha is a small, boutique business, distributing in the local area from Jake’s factory in the Mullum Industrial Estate.
Jake, who grew up in the gorgeous home that would later become the Kiva Spa in Mullum, and who has enjoyed surfing the waves in Bruns for the past 30 years, is a true artisan. He often picks the fruit for seasonal brews himself. He is also the brewer, the bottler (although lately he’s got a mate to help a couple of days a week), the delivery guy and he’s in charge of marketing too!
‘Growing up in Mullum in the 1980s and ‘90s there was always a jar or three of old Kombucha on the bench, but then it disappeared for 20 years. When it came back, and people started brewing it with care and started making it actually taste good, I started home brewing, and I’d home deliver six bottles like an old-style milkman.’
‘When Cassie from Old Maids in Bruns saw me doing it, she tried it and said “I need to get that into my fridge straight away”. So, I went away and made a label for it so that I could sell it.’
North Wall has three core kombucha flavours that Jake developed or his side verandah in Brunswick Heads, but he also gets out to source seasonal ingredients, which become seasonal brews sold in kegs to places like The Source in Mullum/Byron/Lennox, where you can just bring in your bottle and fill up from the tap. ‘This is ideal from an environmental perspective,’ says Jake, ‘as it removes all the single-use elements like labels, lids etc’.
When Davidson’s plums came into season recently, he just went out to Nimbin and collected some. His core group of flavours, which took him years to come up with, are Chilli Pineapple, Apple with Ginger, and Turmeric with Passionfruit, and they are sold in bottles, but the other benefit of his seasonals is that, because they’re sold in kegs only, he can pick the ingredients and have the kombucha on sale in a matter of weeks, without waiting for new labelling etc for bottles.
And, whilst his kombucha tastes nothing like the 1980s version, it is still a very healthy alternative. ‘We don’t use any preservatives,’ says Jake, ‘this is like it was brewed thousands of years ago in China, with wild ferment, or on the kitchen bench. But I stop it fermenting while it still tastes good by refrigeration, I have a huge amount of fridge space in my factory! It just goes from my fridge into our van, and straight into our customers’ fridges.
‘Whilst you can mix it up into a cocktail (for example the Chilli Pineapple tastes pretty good with tequila), a lot of my customers drink it as a way of exchanging for alcohol. Instead of having a glass of wine or beer they will have a kombucha. They will fill up a nice-looking bottle at a refill station, then pour that into their glass at dinner instead of a bottle of wine. Because it’s a natural ferment it has the sort of flavour and character that you could sip at a dinner party, although if you’re really thirsty after a surf It’s easy to chug back a litre!’.