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Move Over, Spiked Seltzer: Hard Kombucha is Here

Luna Bay Booch, which debuted last month, is Chicago’s first high-alcohol kombucha.

Photo: Andrew Glatt

White Claw and other boozy seltzers were the drink of summer 2019, but Claire Ridge and Bridget Connelly were a step ahead. While everyone else was slamming cans of Claw, the business partners were betting that they knew the next big thing in booze: hard kombucha.

Regular kombucha already has slight amounts of alcohol (up to 2 percent), and with Luna Bay Booch, the duo elevates the alcohol to 6 percent ABV. White Claw is 5 percent ABV, and both drinks are lower in sugar, calories, and carbs than beer, so it’s another product offering an alternative to the beer market.

Luna Bay launched in September out of Pilot Project, Logan Square’s brewery incubator for up-and-coming beverage concepts. It’s available in three flavors: Palo Santo Blueberry, Hibiscus Lavender, and Lemon Ginger, which Ridge and Connelly make by blending yerba mate tea with fresh-pressed fruit juices and adding yeast to ferment it.

Connelly first got the idea when she was living on the West Coast, after she says she saw “juice and smoothie bowl crazes from California start to take off in Chicago at places like Real Good Juice and Left Coast.”

“I saw this market for hard kombucha start blowing up in San Diego, so I thought, how do I get ahead of this and start something?” she recalls.

Cue Ridge, who for years has been home-brewing batches of regular kombucha flavored with produce from the Lincoln Park Farmers Market. After a mutual friend linked the two, they began making Luna Bay with local ingredients in the recipes. For instance, the Palo Santo Blueberry uses Illinois-grown berries infused with palo santo wood chips.

“[It’s] similar to the way that people extract the flavors from a wine barrel,” Ridge explains.

Luna Bay Booch is available on tap at Pilot Project and in cans at Foxtrot, 3 Greens Market, and Whole Foods. It’s behind the bar at seven Chicago eateries: Paradise Park, Hub 51, Aster Hall, Sidebar, 80 Proof, Ranalli’s, and Kirkwood.

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