By Maria Surma Manka
Photography by John Linn
“I like the mad science behind making kombucha,” explained Shawn Hopman, owner of Ya-Sure Kombucha. A former pop drinker, Hopman was looking for a healthier beverage that had flavor and carbonation.
Kombucha is a fermented tea drink made from sugar, yeast and bacteria. A colony of live bacteria and yeast, also known as a SCOBY (for symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast), is added to the tea and left to ferment for a few weeks. The result is a slightly tart and sweet liquid that’s separated from the SCOBY, mixed with other ingredients if desired, and bottled.
“Kombucha is rich in probiotics, which give you good gut health and are an immune booster,” Hopman explained. He started making kombucha one gallon at a time, but eventually was producing more than his family could drink. When he took it to gatherings with family and friends, people loved it so much they encouraged him to start a business.
“I brushed off that idea at first,” said Hopman. “But eventually my wife and I asked ourselves, ‘Why not?’”
Ya-Sure Kombucha (yasurekombucha.com) launched in late 2019 and is sold at retail stores, taprooms, breweries, convenience stores and restaurants from Fargo to Brainerd. It recently opened a 5,000-square-foot location and taproom in downtown Brainerd. We talked with Hopman to get a look behind the science.
- Fermenting Flavor Hopman, who is mostly self-trained, starts with a sweet black tea. “We ferment it once to make the plain kombucha and a second time with the added fruit for flavor,” he said. “After it ferments with the fruit for a few days, we carbonate it and bottle it.” In 2020, the team brewed about 80 gallons at a time, creating thousands of gallons during the year. They hope to triple or quadruple that volume now that the taproom is open.
- Bottled Benefits Ya-Sure is bottled in beer bottles, which has sparked heartfelt reactions. “People who don’t drink alcohol can order our beverage and feel like they fit in,” said Hopman. “It’s so psychological. They don’t want to feel alienated because they’re not drinking alcohol.”
- Bubble Up Before launching Ya-Sure, Hopman was a regional beverage gas salesman serving restaurants, bars and breweries. Kombucha was a side project that became a full-time job when his position was eliminated due to COVID-19.
- Sweet Sensation Hopman’s flavor choices are inspired by childhood foods and favorite desserts. Ya-Sure’s most popular kombuchas are blueberry crisp, blueberry ginger and apple crisp. “A lot of kombucha out there tastes very vinegary,” said Hopman. “We came up with a brew and a process that makes it taste better. I’ve had people say they hate kombucha. But they try ours and walk out with a six-pack.”
- Taproom Basics The Ya-Sure taproom doesn’t serve alcohol or food, but guests can order from downtown Brainerd restaurants or bring food. The Last Turn Saloon, which shares a door with Ya-Sure, offers guests a full menu and delivers orders. Hopman envisions the taproom as a hangout place after work, a Saturday destination for families, or a stop for a to-go cup in the morning. “We want this to feel like a brewery with the acceptability of a coffee shop.”
- Startup Support As a new business owner, Hopman knew he had a steep learning curve. Enter the Initiative Foundation’s Enterprise Academy, which is a 12-week course that provides training, lending and one-one-one advising services to help aspiring entrepreneurs start and grow small businesses. “I had so much to learn and do,” said Hopman. “In the end, it’s what helped me bring Ya-Sure to the next level.”
ENTERPRISE ACADEMY BY THE NUMBERS
- 2018 Year of the first Enterprise Academy cohort
- 84 Total number of graduates across 9 cohorts
- 9 Businesses received financing from Enterprise Academy
- $307,000 Amount of Enterprise Academy loans distributed
- 3 Regions served: St. Cloud, Brainerd, and the Greater Mille Lacs Tribal Economy
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