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Nick Dubois, Ryan Appleby and Frank Donnelly with BUCH Hard Kombucha Seltzer in St. Louis Park. The three Minnesota Army National Guard veterans opened a kombucha business last summer. 

Local veterans find niche with ‘healthy’ brew

Whether it’s beer, wine, cider, whiskey or seltzer, various forms of locally brewed alcoholic beverages have dramatically grown in popularity in the last decade.

BŪCH Hard Kombucha Seltzer is hoping to catch the latest craze with its boozy fermented tea.

“Hard kombucha is the next wave to hit,” co-founder Frank Donnelly said. “On the West Coast, it’s on tap in most establishments out there. It’s heading this way slowly. There are some companies out in Colorado and Montana. We’re a bit ahead of the curve.”

Made in a warehouse in St. Louis Park, BŪCH is the result of years of brewing, drinking, refining and dreaming from founder Ryan Appleby and his co-founders Nick Dubois and Donnelly.

Appleby has a personal training background, so he’s naturally health conscious. He said he’s spent a decade brewing beer and fermenting kombucha.

“I enjoy drinking, but I want to be healthy, so I wanted to combine these two,” he said. “I thought, ‘What was the way to make the healthiest way to consume alcohol?’”

He would spend his free time mixing kombucha and other alcoholic spirits with various flavors and botanicals. He was looking for something that wouldn’t give them the bloat of an IPA or looming danger a tequila hangover.

“Over the years, people would come over, friends and family, they’d try (alcoholic kombucha) and absolutely love it,” Appleby said. “My wife kept poking at me to bring this to market.”

After spending several nights chatting with friends and fellow Army veterans Dubois and Donnelly, they dreamed up what BŪCH would eventually become.

They started brewing 5-gallon jugs in the garage before they quickly realized they needed something bigger.

They found a location in a St. Louis Park business park near Copperwing Distillery and The Dampfwerk Distillery Cocktail Lounge. The area has “great symbiosis” with what they want to do, Donnelly said.

“We perfected our general recipe from homebrew status last winter to a commercial level,” Dubois said “We ran lab tests to make sure it was to spec. We learned a lot about the equipment. We got a lot of help.”

They launched their first flavor in mid June. Now it’s available in 13 locations and counting.

Kombucha is made by fermenting sugared tea using a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast known as a scoby.

Kombucha by itself is filled with healthy probiotics. BŪCH also includes electrolytes and vitamin C to “help negate some of the effects of drinking,” Appleby said.

When made with certain types of scoby, kombucha naturally has some alcohol. BŪCH adds an alcholol base to the mix to raise the alcohol by volume to 4.5 percent.

“There’s other hard kombucha that are like 8 percent,” Dubois said. “You can only drink one or two. Other hard kombuchas have a lot more of a bold flavor. Ours is geared more towards that thirst-quenching, enjoy-it-on-a-hot day feel.”

The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, Donnelly said.

The initial grapefruit ginger concoction has made people with the fussiest of pallets fans.

Dubois said they find when they’re out giving samples at liquor stores and other events, “people say they don’t like hard seltzer, or kombucha, or grapefruit, or ginger. We just say, ‘Hey, just try it.’”

After a sip, they’re hooked.

BŪCH recently added three new tanks to operations to keep up with demand and they plan to bring more flavors to the lineup.

They have cherry rosemary on tap at Charlie’s on Prior in Prior Lake.

“We’re testing other flavors,” Donnelly said. “We want more complex flavor profiles. We’re not just going to do ‘mango’ or something. Drinks with a fruit base paired with some kind of botanical, that’s what we’re going for.”

One reason behind their success is the fact they’re already friends who have faced some serious challenges together. They are part of the same unit within the Minnesota Army National Guard.

“I think part of the reason we work so well is when (bad things) happen, we’ve learned to accept it and move on,” Appleby said. “We’re open to criticizing ideas. There’s no egos attached to it.”

Dubois brings a mechanical background to the group, Appleby is the entrepreneur, and Donnelly is the marketer.

So what’s next for BŪCH?

Aside from bringing more flavors to market, the business plan includes a taproom.

“We need something larger,” Dubois said. “Ideally we would open something in spring or summer. We could also expand our manufacturing and a taproom would also allow us to test out smaller batches.”

They’re hoping to also bring in some healthy food options to their potential taproom.

“We want it to have the community gathering space feel,” Donnelly said.

They plan to sell scoby cultures and offer classes on how to make kombucha.

“We may even bring in some yoga classes,” Donnelly said. “We’re all about that healthy lifestyle.”

For now, BŪCH can be found at Liquor Boy Wine & Spirits in St. Louis Park, Ombibulous liquor store in Minneapolis, and MGM Wine & Spirits in Minnetonka. It’s also available at the 1029 Bar, Barrio and First Draft Taproom & Kitchen in Minneapolis. It’s can be found on tap in a few suburbs such as Prior Lake (Charlie’s on Prior), Falcon Heights (Stouts Pub & Grill), Bloomington (NorthStar Tavern) and Eagan (Union 32 Craft House).

There’s also a tap at Insight Brewing in Minneapolis, a business that “has helped us out a lot,” Appleby said. “The brewing community has embraced us.”

The Lab, a taproom located in St. Paul that offers pilot brewing and laboratory services, has also been an inspiration.

Perhaps their favorite place to drink their product is the Uptown VFW Post 246, though.

“It’s really come full circle for us,” Appleby said. “It’s really special for us to share this with veterans.”

For more information on BŪCH visit buchbev.com.

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