Kombucha, Straight Up

Chicago's Nathan Wyse offers three cocktail-inspired twists for your healthy homebrew.

Prohibition-era cocktails? Been there. Artisanal bitters? Done that. In the age of cocktail one-upmanship, what's a forward-thinking mixologist to dream up next? At Chicago's eco-chic restaurant Prasino, it's a kombucha program — a nonalcoholic cocktail menu that takes the fizzy, fermented health-food staple to new heights.

"Kombucha is a great medium for making cocktails," says Nathan Wyse, who provides Prasino with his micro-brewed kombucha line, Arize. "It’s effervescent, dry, slightly sour and great for carrying flavors, almost like using soda water with lemon." But better, because it’s actually good for you, too.

"Kombucha is fermented from good bacteria and good yeast cultures, so it is basically a liquid version of yogurt without the possibility of dairy allergy," says Jeffrey Morrison, M.D., a member of the Equinox Health Advisory board. "I recommend it to patients on antibiotics as a way to prevent yeast overgrowth. Also, it's considered an alkaline beverage, so it's good for improving detoxification."

Wyse started off like any kombucha enthusiast: Enamored with the natural food movement, he ordered a kit and started making his own version at home. He immersed himself in Chicago’s health food scene, selling his homebrew at street festivals and concerts and eventually supplying Prasino’s two restaurant locations.

These days, Wyse produces his kombucha out of Chicago’s The Plant, a self-sustaining, zero-waste facility that reuses all of its own waste for everything from generating electricity for the building to producing more food. Chicago-area locals can order bottles directly by emailing brew@thrivekombucha.com. Everyone else, hit up your local Whole Foods or get adventurous and make your own using a home brew kit. Then mix in some juice and herbs for a healthy pick-me-up. Try these recipes from Prasino: