I am super excited about this episode of my Behind The Scenes post series, as this is the first story I am sharing from Finland. I recently discovered that in my city there is an awesome brewery, called Ohakune, that specialises in non-alcoholic soft drinks and produces kombuchas and hops-infused lemonades in various flavours.
After reaching out to the company's founder, Matti Kukkonen earlier this year, we arranged a visit when I had the chance to see the brewery and ask Matti about the products, upcoming launches and the brand's mission.
All is started at a place far-far away...
One of our first impressions of a product is the branding, and particularly the name, so I was very interested to hear, what's the story behind Ohakune.
Nearly two years ago Matti and his girlfriend have been travelling in New Zealand, and all of a sudden, they found themselves in the middle of global restrictive measures triggered by the COVID pandemic. Because there was such a big crowd of people who tried to get back to their home countries, the couple got stuck in New Zealand and spent a few weeks waiting for their flight in a small village, called Ohakune. This time allowed Matti to reflect on his future plans, and as a result, he came up with the idea of his own business producing kombucha brewed drinks.
After getting back to Finland, he established his company in 2020, which he decided to name after the place where the core idea of the soft drink brewery has come to life.
On the map below you can check Ohakune village of New Zealand.
What is kombucha?
People brew kombucha for nearly two thousand years. The drink is originated in China, then got utilized by Japan and Russia before reaching Europe in the early 20th century. The popularity of kombucha is at its peak around the world thank to its positive health-impacting and energising qualities.
In a modern world where sourdough baking is more popular than ever, you won't be surprised by the fact that kombucha is another awesome result of a fermentation process.
The method of creating your own kombucha culture is simple. You will need water, sugar, tea, the mysterious wild yeast that can be found in everything around us, and of course - as with every fermented product-, patience.
After a week or so, living organisms start forming and working together in the liquid: yeasts eat sugar and produce alcohol, bacteria consume and convert alcohol into acids such as acetic and lactic acid. These changes of the fermentation process are expressed as a fresh, slightly sweet and sour taste. Just to mention another, widely-consumed fermented product: the same thing happens during the transformation of milk into yoghurt, but here, the result is a drink that contains living bacteria.
The living organisms form a film on top of the sweet tea-based liquid, which we call SCOBY - that stands for Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast, while sounding kinda cute. Think of SCOBY as it would be your sourdough starter, that you can use to ferment more kombucha. As time goes by, this thin film layer of SCOBY grows quite thick while feeding on the sugar in the tea.
The fermentation activity of kombucha significantly slows down at cold temperatures, this is why the proper, non-pasteurized kombucha drinks need to be kept cold at all times, so our refresher is not turning into vinegar in the bottle. Make sure to pick your kombucha at the store directly from the fridge!
Some of the most direct health benefits of consuming kombucha are the probiotic effect sponsored by the lactic acid bacteria and the vitalizing effect of its B-vitamin and low caffeine content. Nowadays it is also important to highlight that it is fully vegan.
At Ohakune, the traditional craft brewing method of kombucha-making is used in production, the only difference between making kombucha drinks at home and doing the same in the brewery is the size of equipment: they can make several hundred or even a thousand litres at a time, but the principle is the same, as previously mentioned: water + sugar + black & green tea + SCOBY.
They applied an extra twist by seasoning the base kombucha drink with natural flavourings such as fruit juices and spices. The production started with three flavours: Green apples, Citrus infused with hops, and Berries infused with rosemary, and they recently launched two new kombucha flavours last week: Ginger infused with lemongrass and Strawberry infused with mint & hibiscus.
The alliance of lemonade and hops
As an extension of the product line in 2021, lemonades have also become available in three different flavours: Ginger & hops, Green tea & hops, Lime & hops.
These refreshers contain 30% less sugar than average lemonades and are made with organic beet sugar and lemon juice.
The unique character of aromatic flavour, citrusy and fruity taste notes are provided by selected hop varieties through a multi-day extraction process. In the lime and green tea lemonades, you can taste the Citra hop variety and in the ginger lemonade, you can try the Mandarina Bavaria variety, as these are the type of hops that are not over-dominating the other flavours of the beverages but create a great harmony instead.
After finding out that one of the ingredients is hops, you might wonder: - If these beverages taste any similar to fruit-infused beer?
I never tried hop-infused soft drinks before, so I had a slight preconception that I might gonna experience a similar bitterness that can be found in beers... but I was so wrong! As Matti explained to me, in the lemonades, there is no malt or grain that would bring the characteristic bitterness, so the well-known beer flavour is completely missing, there is only a slight bitterness provided by the hops.
I highly recommend trying these lemonades, even if you are not a big fan of beer, as the flavour of hops is expressed in a very unique way in the lemonades of Ohakune!
The small, yet highly skilled team at Ohakune's own brewery in Juvanmalmi, Espoo is constantly developing and experimenting with various new products and creating more innovative non-alcoholic soft drinks.
However the brand is not making so-called 'health drinks', their set principle is to create products with high-quality raw materials, use natural ingredients, and minimize the level of anything unhealthy in the drinks, such as sugar and additives. This provides anyone who picks a bottle of Ohakune drink from the shelf with the opportunity to enjoy better-tasting soft drinks as part of their healthy everyday life.
Hey... these guys are even squeezing the ginger juice used for the products in-house... this is what we call dedication!
During my visit, Matti talked about his long-term goals. He purposely turns away from the old operating models of the industry and concentrates on combining innovative solutions with precise manufacturing methods that result in high-quality products. He would like to have an impact not only on the drink industry but also on the drinking habits of people, by encouraging them to choose healthier soft-drink options from a shelf that are still overloaded with refreshers that contain a high level of sugar.
I captured the two, freshly launched Ohakune kombucha products in my studio too, so you can see some of the results, with the styled drinks below.