Food & Drink: RISE Kombucha media event

I first tasted kombucha several years ago. It was the RISE Chlorophyll kombucha. It was alright. Kombucha is like a fine wine - it is an acquired taste. My husband had already acquired the taste (because he worked, at the time, for a trendy tech company in Montreal that had a RISE account and always had RISE kombucha available to drink) so he would frequently add kombucha bottles to our household grocery order and every now and then I would have a glass.

It wasn't until a year or so later that I became a daily kombucha drinker. I was 38 years old and had never, in my entire life, had a yeast infection. I wouldn't say I would "brag" to my friends, per se, but let's just say that they all stopped complaining about their yeast infection woes to me after hearing how I "couldn't understand" their discomfort. Then I got my first yeast infection. And then I had one every single month for the next 6 months. Karma truly is a vindictive, conniving *@!*! ...

Someone then mentioned to me that the curative properties of kombucha help to stabilize vaginal pH balances and will effectively fight candida (the bad yeast). I have been drinking a daily dose ever since and have never had a yeast infection since. 

But that is my story. And this is Montreal: the land of freely flowing kombucha. What else can kombucha do? And why is it so freely available in Montreal and so hard to find everywhere else? And how/why did RISE "rise" to the Montreal Hall of Fame for businesses (can I just apologize now for that pun plus all the ones to come?!?!)

So when asked to go to the RISE launch event for their two new flavors (which excited me on its own considering I have tasted all the flavors and always resort to the same two!), I was not only ready and willing, I was armed with the questions to which I have been dying to get answers ....

I arrive at La Grande Roue de Montreal and I am quickly ushered into a beautifully, on-brand decorated space. Not to mention the fact that, at La Grande Roue, any interviews happen while RISEing to interesting Montreal heights (in a gondola!). Having been on both the hosting/planning end and the receiving/being-hosted end of these types of events, I can appreciate when it is well done. Without shamelessly plugging the PR agency, I will say that they know how to be creative and tie it all together with a beautifully, branded bow.

The space is all "greenery" and "flowers" with a sprinkling of balloons to add the effervescence of the kombucha experience. From a PR and brand perspective: bravo! Then RISE president, Julian Giacomelli, takes the mic to talk about the company, the brand, the new flavors, and why kombucha is such a Montreal-centric phenomenon.

Wonderfully trendy words are sprinkled into the speech: "artisanal", "quality-centric", "trendy yet timeless". But I want the nitty-gritty! I want to know more than the buzz-wordy, PR-approved-4times-over words. So here is what I was able to figure out about the mysterious, oft-hyped, over-sold world of kombucha.

Lesson #1: NOT ALL KOMBUCHAS ARE CREATED EQUAL:
So yes, kombucha has scientifically-proven health benefits. One of which is the balancing of pH (so hurray for yeast-infections-no-more!)! Gut health is, of course, the other main benefit of daily kombucha intake. But in listening to Mr. Giacomelli's speech, not all kombucha drinks can actually claim these benefits. The percentage of kombucha becomes important. Another new fact of which I was not aware is the presence of alcohol in certain kombucha drinks. RISE has an alcohol percentage of less than 0,5% (which is essentially non-alcoholic) but other companies can't claim the same. I had no idea. Although, in retrospect, it makes sense. The process of making kombucha is, in actuality, a fermentation process. And we all know the beauty of what happens to grapes and potatoes when fermented ... *SIGH*

So my first lesson is to learn that reading the label is very, very important when choosing a kombucha.

Lesson #2: I DID NOT IMAGINE IT. KOMBUCHA IS A MONTREAL THING.
We have poutine. We have bagels. We have the most exquisite non-pasteurized cheeses (who needs pasteurization anyway?). And apparently, we have kombucha. When asked why kombucha seemed to be absolutely everywhere here in Montreal, from gas stations to restaurants to grocery stores (you can even get kombucha mojitos in certain hotspots!), and yet perplexingly hard to find everywhere else, Mr. Giacomelli humbly accredited this to RISE. And my use of the word humbly is not being used in a sarcastic fashion. It was a bold statement for him to make. Yet he's not wrong. RISE did, in essence, appear in the mainstream market very boldly. RISE took "kombucha" out of the "health-nut" and "hippy" stores and made it accessible to "monsieur et madame tout le monde" (as he so correctly quipped).

Lesson #3: KOMBUCHA IS A DELICATE BALANCE BETWEEN ART & SCIENCE
The mystery to why I love kombucha so much has now been solved (other than the no-more-yeast-infections thing!). I am a sucker for that blends art and science! Mr. Giacomelli compared creating RISE kombucha to the brewing of artisanal beer. He explained that, like beer, the recipe cannot simply be doubled in order to increase the quantity. Each batch needs to ferment extremely precisely otherwise it will be too strong, or turn alcoholic, or be too bitter. He attributed the RISEing success of RISE to it's intense, and sometimes too obsessive, quality control over each and every batch.

I truly enjoyed learning about RISE and kombucha in general. I liked learning about this Montreal start-up that is, 10 years later, 100 employees strong. 100 Montrealers are working for a home-grown and operated business that is looking to expand in other North American markets. Success stories such as this should be celebrated and shared, in my humble opinion. If I can be one of the influencers that helps to RaISE this Montreal company to higher heights, I am proud to do so. But, on a personal level, I also truly enjoy the product. I have literally tasted every kombuch drink that I can get my kombucha-greedy hands on (almost like I am searching for a RISE replacement) and there simply isn't one. M. Giacomelli was correct when he stated that the quality control of the RISE product was leaps and bounds above the competition. It is simply a beautifully-crafted, "artisanal", work of science-meets-art.

Sarah Birtwistle is a mom of 3, a self-proclaimed foodie and trend-spotter, and the owner of One Third Lab.  

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