You know about kombucha, the scoby-formed, mildly effervescent wonder drink. But do you know kvass? Jun? Tepache?
Turns out folks all around the world have been fermenting bacteria in sugar water and drinking it in various forms and derivations for thousands of years. It's time to meet kombucha's global tribe of delicious cousins.
Water kefir (not to be confused with kefir, the probiotic dairy drink) starts life as a tiny, grainlike cluster of bacterial crystals. When added to water, flavored and left to ferment, you get a beautifully dry, low-sugar drink that tastes mildly effervescent and just slightly viscous, like kombucha cut with coconut water.
Where to try it: Pick up Portland's own Goodwolf Water Kefir in flavors like lavender hibiscus and coconut lime (my favorite) at Zupan's Markets, People's Co-Op and Food Fight.
Jun is a kombucha variant with a murky history—some claim it came from Tibet, others from Korea. What's known for sure is that Jun is formed by a magical combination of green tea, raw honey and scoby. Honey is the differentiator here, which gives the Jun a smooth, clean taste.
Where to try it: Pick up Soma's line of Jun in flavors such as blueberry ginger and fennel pear at all Portland-area Whole Foods locations, or at Soma's unmanned kombucha depots in St. Johns and on Southeast Belmont Street.
Hailing from Eastern Europe, kvass is made using fermented bread as a starter (typically, but not always, rye bread), which is then flavored with ingredients such as raisins, caraway seeds and tree sap. A gluten-free version can be made using beets. In Russia and the Ukraine, it's used both as a soft drink and as a cooking liquid.
Where to try it: Pick up some Oregon Brineworks Beet Kvass at World Foods in the Pearl District or on Southwest Barbur Boulevard.
Hailing from one of the world's great beverage cultures—Mexico—tepache is made using fermented pineapple rind, sweetened with raw brown sugar, spices and sometimes fruit flavorings. Less a probiotic health beverage and more of a party starter, tepache can be served as a tequila back, with ice cream or as a mixer with various styles of beer.
Where to try it: Reverend Nat's makes a nationally regarded tepache each summer, clocking in at just above 3 percent ABV. Pick up yours at bottle shops around town as summer approaches, or at Reverend Nat's cider bar on Northeast 2nd Avenue at Hancock Street.