Lake State Kombucha
Hey booch fans, I’m Philippe Trinh, and I'm quite delighted to be featuring another kombucha interview. Today we're going to Minnetonka, Minnesota and we'll be talking to Drake Ellingboe, founder of Lake State Kombucha. We'll learn about this entrepreneur's unique story of how he started home brewing in his mom's kitchen to creating his unique family owned kombucha brand. With their mission to help people live healthier lives, they want you to see that eating healthy can be fun and actually taste good too!
Thank you for talking with us today and giving us the opportunity to learn more about you and your amazing brand. Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Professionally - I grew up working for my parent’s construction company doing a lot of drywall, framing and mudding and did that while I worked through my undergrad at the University of Minnesota. This actually ties into how I ended up finding kombucha. While I was working construction and doing school, I was drinking a TON of red bull to try to stay awake and fuel myself. We ended up working on a chiropractor’s office who happened to be making kombucha and he introduced us to it. From there on I fell in love and started brewing it at home with my mom just for fun. After I finished college, I went to work for the Schwan Food Company in their corporate marketing department (frozen food company that makes mainly pizza, pies, and eggrolls). Here I learned what I needed to successfully start up a beverage company. I started LSK while still working at Schwans and eventually moved to part time, then ultimately was able to leave to brew full time.
As for family life, I am the oldest of 4 boys (my mom is one tough cookie) and am married with a 3 month old daughter. My family is very active and does a lot of weight lifting, martial arts and recreational sports. This plays into why we don’t add carbonation to our product as we all like to avoid feeling bloaty.
When did you start home brewing, and what made you want to home brew?
We started home brewing in about 2011 and didn’t start up commercially until early 2015. That would put me at 19 when I started home brewing. Making kombucha was just a way to save money since it was a little expensive to buy as much kombucha as I wanted to drink (1-2 bottles per day). As we got into it though, I discovered that I loved the actual brewing process and enjoyed sharing my creation with friends and family.
I can’t even remember how I got my first scoby. I think I purchased it from a website I googled and they sent it over in a small vial and I grew one from there. One of my favorite things about making kombucha is that I can help people through the product I make. My family is big on helping others and this has been a huge motivation for us - providing a truly beneficial product to the world.
What kind of flavors did you first start to home brew?
I didn’t actually do much for flavors at first. Pretty much just stuck with different tea blends. Once we decided we wanted to start a company, that was when we started trying out different flavors. We started with Original, Ginger and Orange Mango as our base flavors and I think it fit really well with what was available at the time. As we go forward now with new flavors, we are trying to bring in profiles closer to Minnesotan local favorites. (we have a few in the works I’m super excited about!)
We have a lot of booch home brewers as fans, do you have any tips for avid kombucha home brewers?
A few practical tips that I get questions on all the time:
If you’re booch is really vinegary/tart and you don’t like that – try doing a blend of black and green tea. A full black tea booch can get fairly strong while the green will help lighten it up.
When handling and cleaning scobys, make sure to use lots of white vinegar to keep your hands clean.
Kombucha is way more hardy than people realize. Scobys can take a lot of abuse before they go bad. Definitely treat them nice but don’t feel like you have to start over just because something minor happened.
At what point did it click that you actually had something special and that you could make a business out of brewing kombucha?
Probably about 2 years into homebrewing. This was before kombucha was super popular though and it was easy to see that the market was moving towards kombucha becoming mainstream so that helped make the decision a lot easier.
I grew up in an entrepreneurial family and so it’s kind of in my blood to want to start a business. After looking at the market, praying a lot, and talking with family, it all seemed to line up and make sense to go for it.
How did you come about naming your kombucha, Lake State Kombucha?
I wanted something that reflected my MN roots. MN is known as the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” so Lake State was a play off that. Boiling it down, I want to help people in everything I do and was so impacted by kombucha that I wanted to bring this amazing product to the community.
What makes you different from your competitors in MN? Is there are lot of kombucha brands there currently?
The biggest thing that differentiates us from local and even national brands is that we single ferment and do not add any carbonation. We also never pasteurize or add sugars/sweeteners after ferment. Right now there are about 8 companies in MN.
What is your mission or message you want people to leave with after trying your kombucha?
Eating well can taste good! It’s getting better but there has been such a stigma that good food tastes bad which just isn’t true.
What's your best selling kombucha flavor?
My favorite is also our best seller – blueberry hibiscus. It’s super pretty to look at and blueberry is a very midwestern flavor. I do tend to jump around though as to what my favorite is. Once it gets warmer, I will probably drink a lot of our mint lime.
Many people always ask us about sugar and kombucha. What advice can you give people that are concerned with sugar contents in kombucha? Is there anything one should look at in a kombucha label or ingredient list?
I get this question a lot as well! Sugar has to be in kombucha as it is the fuel for ferment which of course is what produces all the beneficial bacteria and acids etc. When the sugar goes through the ferment, most of it is consumed by the yeast. Whatever is remaining ends up being partially digested as its halfway broken down so its much easier for your body to deal with. Definitely not the same as the sugar you’d find in a soda etc.
Its definitely good to check out ingredient lists. The key thing is to look at where the sugar is on the ingredient list. If it’s part of kombucha, i.e. if its listed in parenthesis after the word kombucha, that means it’s the sugar used in ferment. If sugar is listed as a separate item however, that means it was added in just to sweeten the product and this is something I would avoid.
On other thing to watch out for is the amount of juice a lot of national brands are using in their booch. Some are at 10%. This will definitely up your sugar content.
For people that still reach for those sugary energy drinks in the beverage aisles- what do you have to say?
The best way I’ve heard it is that kombucha gives your body energy (via living healthy bacteria and acids) while caffeinated beverages take from your body to give you energy. Caffeine causes your adrenal glands to work when they probably shouldn’t be (aka that morning cup of coffee). Over time this can cause what is known as adrenal fatigue and a host of other issues that I experienced from drinking so many energy drinks. These beverages also have ungodly amounts of sugar which demolishes our gut flora. The vast majority of our immune system lives in our gut so it’s extremely important to avoid excess sugar.
For any kombucha novices out there, what's your best advice for someone wanting to make the switch over to booch?
I think the best advice I can give is consistency. Kombucha is not a one-shot cure, but rather a supplement to an overall healthy lifestyle. I think a lot of people expect massive results from one bottle and that is just unrealistic. But, when you are consistently feeding your body living fuel like kombucha, it will make an impact and you will feel it. I would recommend trying different brands and flavors and don’t be turned off just because one flavor wasn’t your favorite. There is a huge variety of what kombucha tastes like across brands so don’t let one experience define kombucha for you.
One difference I noticed with your kombucha is that you don't force carbonate. On a scale of 1-10 how carbonated is your kombucha and why did you choose not to carbonate?
1 being tea and 10 being pop (soda) we are at about a 2-3 depending on the batch.
I’ve never liked super bubbly things and as someone with an active lifestyle, I never liked how it made me feel bloaty. We also are starting to find some research showing how our bodies actually aren’t able to process C02 in high amounts as it can cause issues with our digestive tracks. Another reason is simply to be different and provide consumers with options. Right now there isn’t much for options if you want kombucha but aren’t in to carbonation.
You have a tagline "always smooth", could you tell us more about what that means?
That is an effect of not adding carbonation. It gives the kombucha this crazy smooth mouth-feel that you can’t get any other way.
I noticed on your Insta feed you also have a bunch of recipes for food and fermenting with Kombucha. When did you start experimenting with using kombucha in other recipes?
So this was actually all my mom/co-owner Michelle. Our family has a pretty solid background in cooking and she began messing around with this about a year ago. One of the things we talk a lot about is “thinking outside the kombucha bottle.” This is a phrase Michelle coined and it has really stuck! We don’t want people to feel limited to consuming kombucha only in a bottle when in reality, it is crazy versatile.
We love using kombucha as starters for fermenting and pickling too since it helps to kick start the fermentation process. What makes using kombucha in fermenting unique or different to you? Is there an added benefit to using kombucha or kombucha vinegar instead of regular vinegar?
One of the big reasons we like to use kombucha in fermentation is to avoid using any dairy starters that are out there. It also just really amps up all the raw goodness of fermented veggies.
Before we conclude I’d like to ask you one final question. For many luck has played a part in their success. How much if any of this success was from luck and why?
As a Christian, I don’t really believe in luck but I do believe this is what God has called me to do in this life. Looking back at how things have played out, what accounts we’ve gotten, people we’ve met, etc. I can’t take the credit even if I wanted to.
If you liked Drake’s story and love kombucha and fermentation as much as we do, check out Drake’s yummy recipe below!
Kombucha Fermented Asparagus
1 bunch of asparagus -snapped off
3-5 garlic cloves - peeled
2-3 Tbs Original kombucha
1 1/4 Cup filtered water
2Tbs celtic or himalayan salt
Wash and snap off woody ends of asparagus
Place in jars spear side down
Add garlic around middle of the jars
Mix water, kombucha and salt together and pour over asparagus (add extra water if needed). Leave 1” space in jar for air.
Weigh it down with a ferment weight or a cabbage leaf and seal with lid. Leave on counter out of direct sunlight. Release air a couple times a day until bubbles are gone. Ferment for 7-14 days.
Store in fridge for about 2 months.