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Sour Power

Fermented and cultured brews offer a naturally fizzy alternative to soda

Author Lora Shinn Photography Luis Garcia


Fueled by the modern drive to get back to our farmhouse roots, the fermentation craze has brought housemade pickles and probiotic-rich sauerkraut to menus across the country. Now, the trend is hitting the bar, as mixologists experiment with healthful fermented and cultured sips—effervescent brews that get their fizz from microorganisms, like bacteria or yeast, rather than carbonation. Here, a primer on soda alternatives that health nuts are buzzing over. 

SHRUB Fruits and vegetables are fermented with sugar and vinegar for spicy, sweet, or tart flavors. 

TRY IT At San Diego’s Zymology 21, the “shrub flight” consists of five test tubes containing flavors like pomegranate- beet and blueberry-apple-honey, served with water, soda, or champagne. 

KOMBUCHA This tart, vinegary tonic is made by fermenting tea with a gelatinous “mother” or SCOBY, short for “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.”  

TRY IT Fresh kombucha is on tap at The Fermentation Bar at Healdsburg Shed, in Healdsburg, California.

SWITCHEL Once popular with colonial-era farmers, switchels are made with vinegar and water flavored with molasses, ginger, or brown sugar.

TRY IT Bartenders at Louisville’s Proof on Main swap in verjus (unripe grape juice) for the traditional vinegar and combine it with rosemary, ginger, and sorghum in the Proof Switchel. 

LASSI This creamy Indian drink—served salty or sweet—can be made with yogurt or buttermilk enhanced with fruits, herbs, and spices. 

TRY IT The mango lassi at Nashville’s Chauhan Ale & Masala House is made with fresh mango pulp, yogurt, sugar, and milk and served over ice. 

LABAN Ayran This chilled, frothy yogurt drink from Turkey is often flavored with mint and garlic. 

TRY IT New York’s Souk & Sandwich pairs housemade yogurt with dried mint, fresh-pressed garlic, and kosher salt. 

GINGER BEER A spicy drink that gets its fizz from a “ginger bug,” a fermented or bacterial starter (a critter in name only). 

TRY IT House-brewed, non-alcoholic ginger beer is made with organic ginger root at Be Love Restaurant in Victoria, British Columbia. 

KEFIR Originally made with camel’s milk in the Caucasus, this yogurtlike drink involves infusing animal or non-animal milk with kefir grains (small globs of bacteria and yeast).   

TRY IT The Kefiry in Sebastopol,  California, makes non-dairy kefir in flavors such as Tulsi Rose, Lemon Gingerale, Guayusa Kola, and Turmeric.

KVASS This fermented potion hails from Eastern Europe and is traditionally made from rye bread or beets and flavored with fresh or dried fruit.

TRY IT At San Francisco’s Bar Tartine, the savory rye-beet version of this  drink is enhanced with caraway, fennel, and dill and served straight up or with a pickle-brine chaser.

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