Fernie Alpine Springs – kombucha so pure, you might as well chop down a pine tree and chew on the branches.
Ami Lee and Simon Lefrancois recently started their new business in Fernie, but have been brewing for much of their lives.
As a part of Lee’s Korean culture, she has been fermenting fruit since she was a girl.
Lefrancois’ background stems from Normandy, where they have been brewing apple cider since time immemorial. In 2017, Lefrancois came in third place for his “High on Skunk Cabbage” hopped cider at the Great Lakes International Cider and Perry Competition in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
“This has thousands [of years] of history,” said Lee.
The brewing couple moved to Fernie in September, 2015. They had practiced and experimented with their brew for two years before releasing it. Fernie Alpine Springs was launched on Canada Day, 2017. During the summer, they mountain bike up to their favourite trails, picking huckleberries and spruce needles, a key ingredient for one of their kombucha flavours. They make sure to pick in small quantities, to leave plenty for the bears.
Prior to moving to Fernie, they lived in Montreal for a year, and before this they were in Tunisia, Madagascar and the Dominican Republic.
Since 2004, they have been traveling around the world. While doing so, they were able collect ancient recipes from many different places.
“Our focus has been brewing, it’s always been brewing,” said Lee. “We get to learn about all these sacred recipes from all these different islands and their brewing techniques.”
“We ask questions, what do you produce locally? What is that little tweak or something special?” said Lefrancois, speaking about their time in the Dominican Republic. While there, they learned how to make Mamajuana, a drink made from a particular combination of bark, wood, and herbs.
“They put this in rum to make a powerful drink for men,” said Lefrancois.
Some of their drinks contain exotic ingredients. One of their blends, contains a vanilla bean pod from Madagascar.
“Every country brews something, it’s their tradition” said Lee.
Together, they have a mutual goal of ‘spicing up the industry’ with their exotic, uncommon recipes. They believe in bringing back the flavours which have existed for thousands of years, and get away from the simple, common flavours like strawberry and chocolate.
Their drink, Gentle Soul, is produced by peeling and cold pressing ginger, adding kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass.
“When you drink our kombucha, you’re in for a refined taste,” said Lefrancois. “You’re very far from what you can find on the market.”
Lefrancois has been brewing for years, but was pleasantly surprised when he tried out kombucha. He is now brewing a non-alcoholic beverage for the first time.
“It’s really exciting,” he said.
The couple does brew kombucha, but not in the traditional way. Instead they use techniques associated with brewing wine and cider. They use wine filtration and slow fermentation.
“We’re using all the knowledge he has from brewing, and combining with fermented food,” said Lee.
The couple originally started brewing for the summer market in five gallon drums. The weekend after, they doubled this, and the weekend after doubled again. Now, they brew in a 55-gallon drum.
In one day, Lefrancois produces around 13 kegs of kombucha.
Fernie Alpine Springs can be bought from three tap stations in three different cities. In Fernie, you can find their kombucha at Freshies. On top of this, local restaurants are reaching out to the kombucha couple, with the intention of introducing their product into their menus.
“We’re working hard to make it happen,” said Lefrancois.
The couple say the local support has been phenomenal. Right away, they were accepted into the farmers market, where they met many encouraging locals. The next step after the Sunday market was the Wapiti Music Festival.
“I felt like Fernie was welcoming us,” he said.