People tout the probiotics and do-it-yourself nature of kombucha tea, a fermented beverage having a national moment. But health and DIY are just two facets of kombucha's story. What you'll learn if you imbibe at Farm & Craft in in Old Town is that kombucha can make for an electric alcoholic drink.
To create kombucha, you add a SCOBY — symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast — to tea. Fermentation kicks off, converting sugar into carbon dioxide (bubbles) and ethyl alcohol (booze). Yep, kombucha consists of up to 1 percent alcohol. It's fizzy, flavorful, and spiked from conception.
From newly brewed kombucha, we're mere a step or two away from a refreshing cocktail.
Darryl Cuilla, president of Farm & Craft, gladly takes those steps. He oversees a drink program built on healthy building blocks, chiefly kombucha and fresh-pressed juice. He has built his drink program this way for a health angle, for simplicity (kombucha and juice don't need much doctoring), and for pure flavor. When you first read Farm & Craft's drink menu, you may need time to process the offbeat combinations.
Kale juice and vodka?
Kombucha and tequila?
But the drinks work. They work because they hum with the same health-based style as the Old Town eatery's food. They work because you feel better about your boozing when you're ingesting probiotics, minerals, and liquefied leaves. Most of all, they work because they taste good.
The point of a cocktail is to deliver a spirit in a softer, more flavorful form. Contemporary mixologists get there, and they tend to get there in Ferraris and helicopters.
Farm & Craft gets to the same endpoint — a great tasting cocktail — through simpler means.
The menu starts with cocktails made from freshly pressed juice. Vodka, the most invisible of spirits, vanishes into juices like watermelon and kale. Vodka is by far the most common ABV hammer used in Farm & Craft's drinks. "Cocktails are like food — you've got to go sweet and sour," Cuilla explains. "Vodka is very easy for going sweet and sour, even spicy."
Cuilla further adjusts flavor using acid (lemon and lime juice) and sugar (agave nectar or local honey). Gentle aromatic touches, such as an addition of elderflower liqueur, lend teases of complexity that push the flavors a half-step beyond those of your juice bar.
Some of these neon juice cocktails arrive in hollow fruit.
Cuilla sourced a nifty fruit-coring machine from Malaysia. The contraption set him back $2,000. It pierces the rind of grapefruit and watermelon with a metal bore that, spinning quietly and hypnotically, subtracts the juicy, fleshy interior from the rind you grab and sip from.
The drink program's juicy spirit even extends to shots.
Each shot is some .75 ounces vodka or tequila, some .75 ounces potent fruit blend. One shot combines Prairie Organic vodka with strawberry, lemon juice, pomegranate liqueur, and muddled basil. We're not talking a shot that rushes you at 100 percent liquor, true. But we're talking one that tastes 100 percent better.
The juice-and-fruit-based cocktails are lush and satisfying, but the kombucha drinks reach higher.
They are the tangy, fizzy heart of Farm & Craft's drink lineup. The restaurant makes 2,000 to 4,000 kombucha libations a month, using kombucha from the producer GT's, a raspberry-ginger infusion you can find on refrigerated shelves at grocers like Whole Foods. (Try to mess up a cocktail with this stuff. It's almost as forgiving as ginger beer.)
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The drinks start with one-fourth a glass of this kombucha, poured from a tap. This GT kombucha is a solid base that can support a lot of structure, with the zap to stand up to bourbon and habanero vodka in an assertive way that most fruit juices can't. (Kale, I'm looking at you.)
One kiwi-garnished kombucha cocktail builds flavors that may have you seeing beaches and jet skis in a ruddy, turgid glass of cucumber-infused vodka, elderflower liqueur, ginger beer, lime juice, and kiwi. The drink is bright, like hard sun on salt water, making for the kind of lush sipping that makes you sigh.
A kombucha cocktail done like Farm & Craft's isn't a tiki remix, a penicillin riff, or a shot into the highest echelons of mixology. But it's something just as good: a short path from vodka to delicious.
Farm & Craft, 4302 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale; 480-568-9890
Monday to Friday 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.