Springfield, Missouri’s booming brewery scene gets a lot of attention. Lately, however, another fermented favorite is generating buzz: Spring Branch Kombucha, Springfield’s first and only commercial kombucha brewery. Chris Ollis opened Spring Branch in 2017 alongside his wife, Jessica. “I was brewing beer at home and having a good time with that,” he says. “I came across a book about how to brew kombucha – I had been drinking it on a daily basis at that point – so I thought it’d be interesting to try out.” Ollis started by brewing a one-gallon batch of kombucha, but quickly scaled up to accommodate his own daily cravings. Soon, he was brewing 5-, 10- and 15-gallon batches for friends and family. It wasn’t long before kombucha-swilling Springfieldians found out about the product.
In response to the demand, the Ollises broke ground on a production facility on Springfield’s west side in 2017. While the facility doesn’t currently house a tasting room, Spring Branch is available on tap at Farmers Market of the Ozarks, where fans can purchase the fizzy goodness on tap or to go in growlers. Kombucha connoisseurs can also sample Spring Branch at more than a dozen Springfield destinations including MaMa Jean’s Natural Market, Tie & Timber Beer Co. and Van Gogh’s Eeterie, in addition to small businesses like Firehouse Pottery.
The company produces flavors including blueberry-thyme, strawberry-sage and watermelon-mint.
Spring Branch currently offers eight flavors in rotation, including the operation’s first two flavors – lemon hops and blueberry-thyme, both still wildly popular – as well as several new summer flavors including hopped lime, ginger-turmeric and cucumber-jalapeño-mint. As the flavor options expand, so does the operation’s fan base. While kombucha drinkers are still a relatively fringe group, Ollis acknowledges that the product’s popularity has nowhere to go but up. “Nationwide, [kombucha recognition] is only at about five percent,” he says. “Still, as we meet more and more people, we’re creating new kombucha fans in the area every day.”
What is your favorite ingredient to brew with and why? I’m getting really excited about bringing back the summer flavors from last year. They’re light, refreshing and really enjoyable as the seasons change. Peach-mint was a huge hit at the farmers' market; it’s really a super refreshing drink. My personal favorite is cucumber-jalapeño-mint. It wasn’t quite as popular as peach-mint last year, but the flavor combination is so interesting and really worth trying.
What's your perfect day of eating in Springfield? On Saturdays, as soon as I get done with my setup at the farmers' market, I usually have some time to kill. I can browse around and either get something from Nelly’s Peruvian [Peruvian and South American Food by chef Nelly Baxter, available at Farmers Market of the Ozarks], Keen Bean coffee truck or London Calling [Pasty Co.] for breakfast. For lunch, if I can get over to the northwest side of town, I’d eat at Van Gogh’s Eeterie a lot more often. I also really enjoy the Derby Deli in the Brown Derby International Wine Center for lunch. For dinner, we hit The Wheelhouse pretty frequently. In between all of that, if I can break away and hit a microbrewery, that’s another treat. I do bounce back and forth between Tie & Timber and Four by Four – not just because they carry our product, but because they brew really exceptional beer.
How has the local beverage scene evolved over the past year? The diversity has gone through the roof. Not only do you have all of these awesome new microbreweries opening that have captured really loyal and dedicated followers; people are also lining up for the ones that haven't even opened yet. We also have locally-brewed cider, and we have mead from Leaky Roof [Meadery]. We’re definitely not the only beverage at the farmers' market – you also have a couple of liquor distillers there. Overall, I think we’re just getting started. We’re gonna have some really unique and exciting options as we move forward.
If you could tell homebrewers one thing, what would it be? You’ve got to get your temperature stabilized at about 75, preferably 78, degrees. That’s the number one spot where homebrewers fail. If they can get that temperature up to just under 80 degrees, the success rate for kombucha will be significantly higher. It’s not an easy thing to do in your home. Unless you go out and start buying equipment, you just have to stick it in the top of your closet or find another spot that’s consistently warm.
What inspires your kombucha? How do you approach R&D when you’re brewing? It’s totally seasonal. Most of the flavors we offer started with walking around the farmers' market or MaMa Jean’s [Natural Market] and finding high-quality organic produce available on a seasonal basis. For example, flavors like peach-mint are harder to do on a year-round basis, but you can pretty much get blueberries year-round now. From there, we’ll look at other kombucha flavors and decide what we can do to set ourselves apart. We don’t want to recreate someone else’s flavor, which is why we’ll do things like add thyme to blueberry or combine raspberry and basil.
What are your future plans? It’s tricky because we’re starting to see the need for the tasting room. For example, when I go to a new town, I’ll search for microbreweries and go and try to find really cool places. I think that a lot of people want to be able to have that experience to sit down and try a flight. The tasting room had to get shelved because we didn’t have enough storage space. Still, as we’ve come up with other storage solutions, adding a tasting room is not completely out of the realm of possibility, although we don’t currently have a plan for it.
Spring Branch Kombucha, Springfield, Missouri, facebook.com/springbranchkombucha