Postprandial somnolence, or “the Itis”, is the state of low energy as a result of the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system in response to the presence of mass in the gastrointestinal tract. Put simply, it’s a food coma. The drowsiness you feel after a large meal isn’t in your head; it’s a physiological response. In less productivity driven cultures this phenomenon is addressed in a variety of ways e.g. the all-too-necessary post-meal siesta. Unfortunately, this practice isn’t as readily accepted in the American workplace, necessitating alternative means to overcome this hurdle.

Picture the scene: It’s midday and you’re sitting at your desk. Lunch is coming to an end and the various members of your office begin to make their way back to their stations. Their bellies full, lethargy begins to set in and the last half of the day looks bleak. You want to help your employees feel their best and achieve their full potential in the face of physical and mental deterioration, but what can you do? The dedicated researchers at Whalebird have a solution: a strong serving of the fermented, lightly effervescent, black or green tea commonly known as kombucha.

If you’re reading this you’re probably already comfortable with the concept, but you may not have a full understanding of the overwhelming benefits of this light, bubbly beverage. The moderate level of caffeine present in the base tea is transferred to the finished product, providing energy and heightened focus without the inevitable crash/cognitive impairments associated with libations containing higher levels of caffeine and sugar. Additionally, kombucha contains a variety of organic components that aren’t present in basic tea preparation as a result of the extensive fermentation process necessary to make the drink. B-vitamins, vitamin-C, glucuronic acid, glycerol, and lactic acid, useful organic molecules integral to metabolism and energy production in the body, neurotransmitter development, tissue repair, heart, eye, and skin support, as well as added antioxidant properties, all come to light in the kombucha making process.

Getting down to brass tacks, office kombucha bars are simple, straightforward, environmentally feasible and seeing huge growth within the food and drink industry. Additionally, the kombucha bar can be adjusted to fit any building size and any business needs. From a full-blown multi-tap delivery system, all the way down to a compact kegerator no bigger than your average water cooler, Whalebird can design a system to suit your needs. Best of all, once the heavy lifting is done, upkeep is nearly automatic. Apart from the occasional wipe down, there’s almost no work necessary on the part of the business owner/office manager. With automated keg deliveries shipped out weekly, and a team of Whalebird and Joyride draft techs able to troubleshoot any and all issues only a phone call away, a newly installed kombucha tap can provide an endless amount of the healthy, delicious beverage while blending seamlessly into the workplace and requiring minimal attention.

The more environmentally aware office manager will also be able to rest easy at night, as the stainless steel kegs used to transport this drink of kings, as well as the glass growlers used imbibe the bubbling goodness are 100% reusable. Paper and plastic waste can be heavily reduced with office kombucha bars, in some cases up to 85 pounds per person per year. Meaning, an office of 25 people would cut down on more than 2000 pounds of plastic waste per year by installing just a single kombucha tap. Not too shabby for some fermented tea.

So when the day seems to be drawing on and the collective energy in the office is lower than low, where can you turn? We hope you’ll turn to us, Whalebird Kombucha, for that midday pick-me-up, liquid siesta. Tasty, healthy, cost-effective, environmentally sustainable, and incredibly easy to set up, an in-office kombucha bar may be just the answer you need for increasing the overall health and productivity of your team Do it for you, do it for your people. WHALEBIRD


Draft-forward kombucha brand called WhaleBird that sports winged whale as icon and exhorts customers to “dive deeper, fly higher” has been expanding thru Calif from its base in San Luis Obispo, riding Joyride distributor into SF, LA and San Diego with its Dry Hopped Pamplemousse and other distinctive flavors.  Brand is operated by founder/ceo Mike Durighello, former tech sales exec who’s last of 3 original founders back in 2012, joined by partners Jake Pritzlaff, Lee Wilkerson and Dustin Oswald, all deeply into aquatic activities like spearfishing and surfing and committed to using stainless kegs and glass growlers as sustainable packs.

Group has followed familiar startup trajectory, starting in garage using brewing techniques they picked up on Youtube, graduating to shared kitchen and then their own 2,400-sq-ft space.  In early days, Durighello sometimes made deliveries of 65-lb kegs on his bicycle.  Tho it still self-distributes to accts like Lassen’s Market in SLO and Santa Barbara counties, WhaleBird recently recruited Joyride Distributors to take its brand into SF, LA and San Diego.  With Joyride embarking on plans to build big facility in Bakersfield, Mike also has designs on testing whether WhaleBird can fly in Central Valley towns like that and Fresno and Visalia.  But for foreseeable future, in synch with brand slogan, plan is to go “an inch wide and mile deep” within Golden State, hitting all key metros by 2020.

WhaleBird aims to offer kombuchas that are “approachable but with character,” as Mike put it, balancing sweet, sour and dry notes.  Using black or green tea base, core flavors include fruity and floral Jasmine Bliss, spicy Ginger Sarsaparilla and earthy Dry Hopped Pamplemousse, using Citra and Cascade hops and edible grapefruit essential oils.  Crew is happy to take suggestions from consumers, as with Mango Coconut Cayenne entry, and has also done CBD-infused entry called Purple Rain.

Tho they’ve grown staff to fill functions like  “SCOBY zoo keeper,” “cellar samurai” and “kombucha flow master,” Durighello and partners plan to take it a step at a time, pulling in modest capital rounds last year and this year via Slow Money program, which pools local lenders for low-interest loans.  Durighello cites as one role model the yerba mate pioneer Guayaki, with its build-it-slow approach, without recourse to institutional money, and its priority on creating living-wage jobs and environmental sustainability

published 100+x a year
Vol 15 No 175 | November 16, 2018
Publisher: Benj Steinman | Editor: Gerry Khermouch | Senior Editor: Jim Sullivan

With a growing trend in health conscious habits amongst West Coasters, there is no surprise that kombucha’s popularity has been, pun intended, mushrooming. But according to Mike Durighello—the CEO of Whalebird Kombucha—you don’t have to be a yogi, a hippie, or health conscious at all to enjoy a bottle of their kombucha. Kombucha, the ancient fizzy, fermented drink that originated in Asia, is a probiotic tea infused with yeast and beneficial bacteria to create fermentation.

The many health benefits of the drink include probiotics that improve gut health and immunity, antioxidants that decrease inflammation, and organic acids that fight against bacterial growth as well as promote detoxification. And if that weren’t enough, many kombucha aficionados, including Mike who drank an average 6 bottles a week while he was a student at UC Santa Cruz, claim that the drink gives them energy boosts, a curbed appetite as well as a strengthened ability to focus.

Have you ever seen a Whalebird? Mike and Jake, avid Kombucha brewers and the minds behind Whalebird Kombucha, hadn’t either until the summer of 2014 when their lives were changed forever. It was a foggy morning in on the Central Coast when the duo jumped into the ocean after their morning pint of Kombucha for an ordinary spearfishing excursion. While diving amidst a thick cluster of kelp, Mike saw what appeared to be a huge whale move quickly through the water, breach the surface, then disappear from view as if it sprouted wings and flew away, the only reasonable explanation. After that fateful day, they decided to dedicate their budding Kombucha brewery to the tale of the Whalebird and their mission became clear: Make the best Kombucha the world has ever seen and spread its fizzy goodness across the coast in the hope that one day the wonderful and mysterious Whalebird will be found.

Today, with the help of a small but passionate team, they handcraft an uncompromising, full-bodied Kombucha from the heart of San Luis Obispo.  Whalebird Kombucha combines the rich flavor of a full-bodied, traditionally fermented Kombucha with essential oils and infused botanicals to create a wonderfully balanced, small batch brew.

Thanks in part to native strains of bacteria and yeast, Whalebird Kombucha is sessionable and refreshing while maintaining the low sugar, strong probiotic culture, and beneficial organic acid that makes
Kombucha so good. Beyond the brew, sustainability is key. The Whalebird team hopes you enjoy the taps, kegs, and growlers that can all be reused hundreds of times without creating excess packaging waste and recycle the cans which are perfect for enjoying on life’s daily adventure. 

Here at Joyride, we work with partners who share JOY in their work. For this reason we are THRILLED to be adding Whalebird Kombucha to the #craftondraft family. Whalebird exudes JOY in what they do and how they do it. Check out this video for more of the Whalebird story.

Whalebird’s small batches, organic ingredients, and edible essential oils have enabled them to provide some of the best tasting Kombucha on the market! All Whalebird Kombucha flavors start with a base of organic Flowery Orange Pekoe Black Tea and our proprietary blend of wild yeast and probiotics. Like a sourdough starter, Whalebird’s Kombucha culture is a product of wild fermentation and it can only be created in the heart of the California Coast. Some of their flavors include Manguava, Dry Hopped Pamplemousse, Jasmine Bliss, Lavender Lemonade, Passion Green Tea and Ginger Sarsaparilla (Current Seasonal)

All Whalebird Kombucha flavors contain 5g of sugar and 30 calories per 8oz serving. Each flavor is fermented using our organic Flowery Orange Pekoe Black Tea and is slightly caffeinated with 15mg of caffeine, the equivalent to a quarter cup of black tea. All of Whalebird Kombucha ingredients are organic, vegan, and gluten free. Reverse osmosis water is used as a base to ensure there is no fluoride or chlorine in the brew.

Molly Barker lifted what looked like a slippery tortilla out of a jar of pungent tan liquid. She smiled as the smell of vinegar filled the air and the slippery disk dripped like a jellyfish out of water. Barker placed it back in the jar and drained the liquid. She was making her own kombucha.

“It’s kind of like drinking beer for the first time,” agricultural systems management senior Barker said. “It just sort of grows on you. Now I’ve come to really enjoy the vinegary taste to it.”

What is kombucha?

Kombucha is a slightly vinegary fermented beverage made from brewed tea leaves. It has a low alcohol content (on average less than 0.5 percent) and bubbles lightly. Barker makes it using a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY), the jellyfish-like catalyst for making kombucha. She lovingly refers to “him” as “Scobes.”

“If you’re comfortable, he’s comfortable,” Barker said about finding the right temperature for brewing kombucha.

Graphic by Alison Stauf

Barker said the temperature is an important part of the brewing process, which involves making tea first, letting it cool and adding the SCOBY. Barker sometimes adds fruit to make different flavors of kombucha. Once all the ingredients are in, she keeps them in a jar out of the sun and lets the mixture ferment.

For those who don’t make their own kombucha, the drink can be found at many local vendors. Local brewery Whalebird Kombucha recently started selling its product at Whole Foods, Kreuzberg and even on campus at 19 Metro Express, located within the atrium of 19 Metro Station.

A look inside Whalebird

Founded in 2012, Whalebird Kombucha sits on the fringes of San Luis Obispo, nestled on the corner of Empleo Street, off of busy South Higuera Street. The scent of vinegar wafts from the distillery room as dark amber liquid ferments in 50-gallon vats. Ceiling-high steel vessels line the walls of a space just beyond a rustic front tasting room where an energetic college student serves samples to customers.

Graphic by Alison Stauf

Up a neon green ladder is a loft space above Whalebird’s tasting room. A punching bag, colorful cartoon-style art and hanging-hammock chairs reflect a playful company culture. Here, CFO Jake Pritzlaff, with a curling moustache like a silent movie villain, told the story of Whalebird.

“You look at Whalebird and instantly it makes you feel happy. It’s this funny little whale with a little sideways smile kind of smirking at you,” Pritzlaff said. “Kombucha is kind of quirky; it’s two different things making a fermentation, it’s bacteria and yeast.”

Pritzlaff related this marriage of bacteria and yeast to the company’s brand.

“A whale and a bird are another two things that you wouldn’t think go together,” he said.

Alison Stauf/Courtesy Photo

Kombucha’s growing popularity

The drink originated in Asia hundreds of years ago, but has recently become more popular. Kombucha sales increased by 29 percent from 2013 to 2014, according to CNBC.

Whalebird CEO Mike Durighello began Whalebird’s predecessor, Komplete Kombucha, in 2012 with two other founders — Alex Narodny and Molly Hemler — who have since left the company. When Narodny left the company in 2012, Pritzlaff joined as the company’s analyst. Durighello and Pritzlaff became more serious about their kombucha brewery in 2015 after making $10,000 from a Kickstarter campaign.

Video by Monica Roos

“At that point in time, kombucha, was very niche. It was drank by people who were in the yoga scene, the health and wellness kind of industry, and it had a vibe of something that maybe hippies drank,” Pritzlaff said.

Pritzlaff and Durighello wanted to make kombucha more mainstream.

“We wanted to take it and make it something for people who were into craft beer, who were into soda, energy drinks, iced tea — that kind of thing,” Pritzlaff said. “We felt like we’d do some good in the world if they were picking up a kombucha instead.”

In 2015, Pritzlaff and Durighello rebranded from Komplete Kombucha to Whalebird.

With 30 vendors on the Central Coast alone, Whalebird is slowly dominating the local market for on-tap kombucha. Its distinguishing feature is that the product is never bottled, meaning it’s only available from a tap, like a keg of beer.

Alison Stauf/Courtesy Photo

Spark Yoga in San Luis Obispo is one of Whalebird’s vendors. Owner Steph Young has been selling Whalebird for two-and-a-half years.

“Kombucha, the concept, when you talk about it,  sounds frightening and disgusting,” Young said. “But I’m a believer in it, I feel like it does help with your overall GI (gastrointestinal) health and it tastes good which is awesome.”

The good, the bad and the probiotics

Barker said there isn’t a lot of science that supports the benefits or negative effects of kombucha, so she doesn’t buy into the probiotic craze behind it.

“There’s cases of people who have died from home-brew because it grows some toxic mold and they didn’t realize it,” Barker said. “But there are some other people that say it’s cured AIDS. If it makes you feel good, you should drink it.”

Pritzlaff, however, thinks the bacteria in kombucha can be helpful in digestion and gut health.

“There’s a lot of research coming out on the nature of probiotics in general; so eating kimchi, sauerkraut, probiotic yogurt and drinking kombucha — they’re all part of a healthy balance of gut bacteria,” Pritzlaff said. “The more beneficial bacteria you’re putting in your gut, the better your digestion, which heavily influences your overall health and wellness.”

But nutrition professor Lisa Nicholson said it’s not that simple. Nicholson said the word “probiotic” doesn’t always imply a positive effect on the body.

“The word biotics reminds us of something that is alive,” Nicholson said. “These are the bacteria that live alongside us. ‘Probiotic’ is the term that has come into use that just means these live microorganisms.”

Nicholson said each person has a different balance of bacteria in their body and the intake of different probiotics can either help that balance or throw it off.

“If we have them in the right amount, we get a health benefit,” Nicholson said. “When you have ‘bacterial overgrowth’ where you get too much of one type of food substrate, then they kind of get out of balance and out of wack in your system.”

Barker said she only drinks a maximum of one glass a day because if she drinks too much, it could make her stomach hurt. But agricultural communication junior Alissa Loftus said she has a different experience.

“I like to drink it whenever my stomach feels off or especially whenever I have to take antibiotics,” Loftus said. “All the good bacteria in there is basically the equivalent of taking a probiotic pill.”

When it comes to kombucha, it’s good to have a brand name that stands out from the crowd. Perfect case in point is San Luis Obispo-based WhaleBird. That flying whale is hard to miss! But that’s not the only thing memorably about this booch. These are imaginative, nuanced flavors that are completely different from any flavors we’ve tried before.


All photos property of Kombucha Hunter. Please request permission for use.

All photos property of Kombucha Hunter. Please request permission for use.

Lavender Lemonade, far left, has that nice tartness of lemon with the smooth finish of lavender. The citrus note lingers, making it light and crisp, and perfect for those impending long summer days and nights. Ginger Sarsparilla, middle, is super unique. The rootsyness of sarsparilla with the mild kick of ginger at the end really satisfies. There’s a depth and pleasant sweetness to it, with a soft vanilla note. Jasmine Bliss, right, has a strong floral flavor and almost tastes like liquid candy—but a candy that’s good for you! There’s a strong cherry note, and the ingredients include rose hips, hibiscus, black currants and raisins.

We chatted with co-founder Jake Pritzlaff about the story behind the name, and more!

Kombucha Hunter: Why did you decide to change the name to WhaleBird?
Jake Pritzlaff:
 It was a change we had been gearing up for since the end of 2014 and a lot of thought was put into it. We realized early on that our original brand entirely blended in with some of the other most popular kombucha brands and didn’t give us any distinctiveness. For a long time Kombucha has been marketed pointedly and directly to the ‘enlightened’ or ‘new age’ subculture. Brands often use images reminiscent of sacred geometry or eastern religious iconography as core branding elements. By no means is our intention to shun this subculture (all our partners are involved in yoga and love the subculture), BUT we feel that we will have done some good in the world if we can bring people into the Kombucha fold who otherwise would gravitate towards soda, energy drinks, or craft beer and cider. 

We chose a flying whale as our logo because we wanted something easily recognizable and unique. Myself, Mike, and our third partner Lee all have a special love for the ocean and the seemingly contradicting elements of a whale with bird wings seemed to perfectly encapsulate a feeling we wanted to cultivate. Just like the flying whale, Kombucha is made from elements that seem quirky, or strange, but blend beautifully into something special and unique. 

KH: How did you get into brewing kombucha?
 Myself and my partner Mike Durighello met through a mutual friend while both of us were working in tech companies. Mike had already begun to make Kombucha on the side by the time I met him. When Mike’s original partner, Alex, left to pursue a career in real estate, I jumped in and together we got our first warehouse and started really ramping up production. Soon after, our third partner Lee, who is an engineer, joined the team and we’ve been growing strong since. 

KH: Any plans to start bottling?
 We’ve seriously considered bottling on multiple occasions and every time we do we arrive at the same place: right now we’re able to sell every drop of Kombucha we can possibly make though kegs with no end in sight to the demand. We’re servicing a really cool part of the Kombucha market by offering it entirely on tap. While we’re not opposed to someday bottling, we’re holding off from pursuing that until we reach the limit of where we can grow with kegs, it may be next year and it may be never!    

KH: We loved Jasmin Bliss! Can you tell us a bit about it?
 It’s s a permanent flavor and in fact is one of our most popular! It’s got Jasmine green tea, Hibiscus, Rose Hips, black currants, and raisins. We use all organic ingredients for our kombucha, source our ingredients locally when possible (all the ingredients in Jasmine bliss except the jasmine green tea comes from a tea shop in San Luis Obispo), and don’t use any juices or concentrates to flavor the kombucha. We do a traditional fermentation with black tea, and when fermentation is finished we steep flavor ingredients in the finished kombucha for 24 hours, naturally infusing the flavors like a tea, so every drop is pure kombucha. In our opinion it gives a more full bodied flavor.  

Sam and I have been fans of this wholesome brew for quite some time now.  Whether we are logging computer hours at a local coffee shop while sipping on a pint, or whether we are grabbing a quick sushi fix at Wholefoods while sucking down a glass of the healthy beverage, we have been routinely enjoying kombucha for years now.  Actually, it’s a little embarrassing that us self-proclaimed DIYers have not attempted to ferment and play with the process of making our own kombucha.  Nope, not feeling a need to conquer that task when the guys over at Whalebird are doing such a bang-up job!

If you have not heard about Whalebird Kombucha before, then I guarantee that after reading this post you are going to be surprised.  I think you might start seeing it everywhere.  At least, they seem to be popping up in all of my fav coffee shops and restaurants up and down the Central Coast.  And the best part is I can bring my growler and get it tanked up at all the locations!

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Meet Jake & Mike, the creative brains behind this delicious brew.

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Why are we excited about Whalebird?  Whelp, their product is stellar, for sure.  But we are also stoked on a local business that is getting major traction because of their pursuit of quality, their creativity, and their cheeky marketing tactics!  No zen-like, new age graphics for this company.  Nope.  Their memorable logo is that of a flying whale.  I like it!  Kind of the embodiment of the entrepreneurial life, where even things of impossible mass can transform into flight.  After all, choosing to even start your own business and beat to your own drum is purely an act defying gravity at times, right?

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Jake and Mike are so inspired by their work, that they were more than ready to share their knowledge and educate us.  Their process was simple and true to the entire natural process of brewing kombucha.  These large barrels of black tea are kept at the perfect temperature while the cultures work their magic.  Kombucha, much like a yogurt or kimchi, is a naturally fermented food that is chock-full of beneficial organisms that make for full flavor and many health benefits.  I’m sure you are familiar with the term “probiotic”…well, count kombucha in your arsenal for digestive health along with yogurt or acidophilus pills.  This stuff is delicious and really supports your overall health, my friends!

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What we love about Whalebird‘s approach is their creativity with their flavoring.  Taking what is essentially fermented, sweetened tea, they have worked with other local businesses like The Secret Garden to come up with gorgeous flavor enhancements.  This huge bag of deliciousness is their base for their jasmine kombucha, filled with all sorts of lovely ingredients like jasmine flowers, raisins and more.  

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After 30 days in the barrels, Jake and Mike steep their kombucha to add layers of flavor.  Our personal fave is their Ginger Sarsaparilla!

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These giant tea bags brought out the kid in us….I guess it’s the caterers in us.  We love playing with huge oversized food production gear.  It just feels legit!

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Actually, if you are familiar with sour beers, the guys said that brewing kombucha is a close cousin.  Basically, sour beers start off the same way, but are eventually super heated to kill off the organisms.  Then of course, they reintroduce things to build up the alcohol levels.  With kombucha, the process is much more symbiotic which is why there may be trace amounts of alcohol in the brew, but not enough to write home about.

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Hahaha, Sam looks like she is holding a baby!  I TOLD you we love this stuff!

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I think we were most impressed by their fridge on this tour.  Haha we are such foodie nerds!  It was such a cool engineering feat.  I mean, they freaking DIYed an entire refrigerated room.  Ummm, and check out that Zest it Up green!  Yep, we are nerds!

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Just chillin’ in the fridge!

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Finally, back out to the tasting room, we were ready to sample all the delightfully effervescent concoctions!

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Though ginger is our fav, the color and flavor of the jasmine is mesmerizing!

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Aside from their uber cool growlers ornamenting the place, we were seriously impressed with all the original artwork throughout the space.  Jake’s girlfriend just happens to be an insatiably talented artist.  If you ever get a chance, you need to pop in for what feels like a mini gallery showing while sipping on some seriously good kombucha!

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These guys have every right to be proud of what they are creating…both from the business side and the manufacturing side.  Sam and I are fans for life!

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We all adored the one of a kind deer head done by wood burning.  Pretty legit!

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Cheers to new friends, awesome beverages, and life in the SLO lane!



Sunset Savor the Central Coast, the four-day food, wine and lifestyle festival sponsored by Sunset magazine and Visit San Luis Obispo County, is almost here.

One of the many local products being featured Sept. 26 at the Main Event at Santa Margarita Ranch is Whalebird Kombucha. A fermented tea, kombucha has a slight effervescence and an extremely low alcohol level — below 0.5 percent.

You may be more familiar with this business than you think.

The San Luis Obispo company recently underwent a complete rebranding. Formerly known as Komplete Kombucha, it unveiled its new Whalebird look in August.


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Though the fledgling company had made good progress since sales began in March 2013, co-founder Mike Durighello and business partner Jake Pritzlaff felt they needed to further set themselves apart in the growing kombucha market.


“The intention of our rebrand is to help us connect with soda, beer and wine drinkers that are unfamiliar with live-culture food and drink, and to solidify kombucha as a craft-brewed, high-quality beverage,” Durighello said. “We went with a flying whale because it’s something people can quickly identify and perfectly represents our fun-loving company culture. Whales are also an icon of the Central Coast that you can see migrating every spring and summer.”

Durighello founded the kombucha company in 2012 with two friends — Alex Narodny and Molly Hemler — who have since left the business. Pritzlaff came onboard almost two years ago.

Kombucha has been rapidly gaining popularity among “people who are fit, health-conscious and hip to fermented products,” Durighello said.

“It’s a much healthier alternative to soda and even to beer given its much lower alcohol level,” he added. “But there are still many, many people out there who have no idea what kombucha is all about.”

Accounts of kombucha’s origins vary. It definitely has a Chinese heritage, but the exact timeline reaches back either to 200 B.C. or stretches all the way to 5,000 years ago.


Either way, this ancient beverage is enjoying a resurgence in popularity thanks to its purported health benefits as a a fermented food containing probiotics — live bacteria and yeasts.

Considered especially healthy for the digestive system, probiotic foods have been associated with other health benefits such as lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, though specific claims have not been scientifically proven.

Probiotic foods such as vinegar, sourdough bread and active-culture yogurt get their launch with the help of a living starter, also referred to as a “mother” or a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY).

Other foods that contain probiotics are sauerkraut, kimchee, miso and certain ginger beers.

All the Whalebird Kombucha batches start with filtered hot water and organic teas. After the initial tea steeping, organic evaporated cane juice is added.


Once the mixture has cooled, kombucha from a completed batch is added to kick off the 30-day fermentation.

During that time, the 50-gallon fermentation vats are loosely covered, but the mixture is still exposed to the air so it can gain character from wild yeasts. As such, “No two batches are going to be exactly 100 percent the same,” Durighello explained.

After fermentation, organic fruits, herbs and spices are added to the kombucha and allowed to steep overnight to create Whalebird’s five flavors: Original (black tea), Jasmine Bliss, Ginger Sarsaparilla, Chai and Lavender Lemonade.

Then the kombucha is lightly strained directly into kegs, chilled, carbonated and stored in the company’s walk-in fridge.

There are several ways to enjoy the refreshing and slightly tart Whalebird Kombucha. Avid fans can get their own growlers filled at the brewing facility or at the company’s booth during the Thursday night Farmers Market in San Luis Obispo.

In addition, local establishments such as Bliss CaféKreutzberg Coffee Co. and the SLO Natural Foods Co-Op, all in San Luis Obispo, are serving Whalebird Kombucha by the glass — thanks to a dedicated keg system that keeps the product chilled. When the keg is empty, it’s swapped out for one filled with freshly brewed kombucha.

That’s a concept that sets Whalebird Kombucha apart from other commercial brands. The “best by” date on some bottled kombuchas can be as long as three months.

“With Whalebird, you’re drinking a locally crafted product that’s freshly brewed and hasn’t been sitting on some shelf,” Durighello said.


3576 Empleo St., Suite 1, San Luis Obispo 712-8442, 415-250-5533

Hours: Brewery open Monday and Wednesday, 5 to 7:30 p.m., and at the Thursday night Farmers Market in downtown San Luis Obispo, 6 to 9 p.m.; additional locations listed on website.

Something weird is happening around SLO. A massive colony of bacteria and yeast is spreading from High Street to Higuera, bubbling its way into coffee shops, restaurants—even the Thursday night Farmers’ Market. No, this isn’t a clip from the 1958 cult flick The Blob, but it could be. Run, don’t walk, from … the kombucha! It creeps. It feeds. It lives inside you. It’s utterly addicting.

click to enlargeTO A TEA:  Jake Pritzlaff of Whalebird Kombucha measures fragrant black tea from Secret Garden Organic Herb Shop in SLO. With just the right ingredients and a 30-day ferment, this tea will transform into tart, refreshing kombucha full of probiotic health benefits. - PHOTO BY HAYLEY THOMAS
  • TO A TEA: Jake Pritzlaff of Whalebird Kombucha measures fragrant black tea from Secret Garden Organic Herb Shop in SLO. With just the right ingredients and a 30-day ferment, this tea will transform into tart, refreshing kombucha full of probiotic health benefits.

“You don’t have to be a yogi or go to festivals or be a hippie to enjoy a glass of kombucha,” said Mike Durighello, co-founder of Whalebird Kombucha in San Luis Obispo (the company formerly known as Komplete Kombucha). “We want everyone under the sun to try it.”

Fellow Whalebird business partner Jake Pritzlaff is all in on this mission. However, he said there is a misconception out there.

“People say, ‘The first time you try kombucha, you don’t like it.’ It’s our goal to make that not the case at all,” he said. In fact, Pritzlaff was inspired to join with Durighello on his kombucha brewing quest thanks to a single factor: flavor. One sip of the fruity, funky Whalebird tea and he was hooked.

The same was true for Durighello, who started drinking commercial kombucha in college thanks to a recommendation from a surfer friend who swore by GT’s Enlightened brand (Established in ’95, it’s basically the Budweiser of kombucha.).

“I thought that maybe the kombucha made my friend surf better,” the sustainable agriculture grad said with a laugh. “I tried the mango flavor and it blew me away. I was drinking two a day and I noticed that they were really good for studying; they gave me mental clarity and curbed my appetite.”

Although scientific proof isn’t exactly concrete, you can’t argue with personal experience. I didn’t believe in kombucha’s mystical powers until I tried it for myself. Now I, too, reach for the tea when I need a natural pick-me-up. I first encountered Whalebird at Kreuzberg. It was a hot afternoon and I ordered a fizzy cup of Ginger Sarsaparilla flavor because damn if that didn’t sound good. 

My first slurp turned into a long chug. Before I knew it, the tart-sweet effervescent goodness was gone. I savored the slight vinegar tang, earthy kick, and lively bubbles dancing on my tongue. Sitting down with my laptop to tackle a deadline, I felt refreshed and surprisingly energized. 

click to enlargeRIDE THE WHALEBIRD:  Mike Durighello (left) and Jake Pritzlaff of Whalebird Kombucha dream of a day when their locally made probiotic tea is as highly regarded (and consumed) as craft beer. - PHOTO BY HAYLEY THOMAS
  • RIDE THE WHALEBIRD: Mike Durighello (left) and Jake Pritzlaff of Whalebird Kombucha dream of a day when their locally made probiotic tea is as highly regarded (and consumed) as craft beer.

Little did I know, but millions of good-for-me bacteria had just taken up residence in my gut. The pleasurable jolt of caffeine didn’t hurt, either.

I came relatively late to this party. These days, you can spot Whalebird Kombucha on tap everywhere from Bliss Café to Bowl’d to Pluto’s to Kennedy Club Fitness. Currently, the guys feature five fresh flavors, including Jasmine Bliss, Hibiscus Rose, and Lavender Lemonade (tap handles will soon reflect the business’s new name and quirky winged whale logo). 

Fermented, flavored with fruit, and finished to effervescent excellence, the drink is beloved by local soccer moms, techies, students, musicians, hairdressers, and granola munchers alike. 

“It’s not too sour or too sweet,” Durighello said. “It’s this nice middle ground where the first time you try it, you will love it.” Mission accomplished.

Next time you’re at Thursday night Farmers’ Market, see if you can spot the true believers. Hint: They’re carrying freshly-filled glass growlers. Currently, you can pick up the goods at the farmers’ market or stop by the team’s production facility during re-fill hours. I toured the recently expanded 1600-square-foot warehouse on Empleo Street, adorned with the vivid, swirling artwork of Katharine Tompkin. The operation is currently brewing 800 gallons at a time and—just like their floor space—it, too, is slated to double.

- BETTER (AND WAY BETTER FOR YOU) THAN POP:  Try a range of Whalebird flavors on tap at Kreuzberg Coffee, High Street Deli, Bowl’d, Pluto’s, KravaBowl, Bliss Café, Roxanne’s, Spark Yoga, SLO Natural Foods Cooperative, Yoga Centre, Kennedy Club Fitness, Shine Café, and Bru. Also be sure to stop by SLO’s Thursday Farmers’ Market for a sample, pint, or growler. Keep your ears perked for a party and art show to be held at the Whalebird production facility, located at 3576 Empleo St., unit 1, in SLO. For more information, call 712-8442 or check out the business on Facebook. -
  • BETTER (AND WAY BETTER FOR YOU) THAN POP: Try a range of Whalebird flavors on tap at Kreuzberg Coffee, High Street Deli, Bowl’d, Pluto’s, KravaBowl, Bliss Café, Roxanne’s, Spark Yoga, SLO Natural Foods Cooperative, Yoga Centre, Kennedy Club Fitness, Shine Café, and Bru. Also be sure to stop by SLO’s Thursday Farmers’ Market for a sample, pint, or growler. Keep your ears perked for a party and art show to be held at the Whalebird production facility, located at 3576 Empleo St., unit 1, in SLO. For more information, call 712-8442 or check out the business on Facebook.

“There is so much room for kombucha to grow here; we like to think of SLO as the perfect home base for what we’re doing,” Pritzlaff said. “There’s a lot of fermentation culture here, around beer especially. Kombucha has always stayed separate from that, but we want it to be right up there with those guys.”

Yes, Pritzlaff dreams of the day when a consumer might hold up a pint of kombucha and rattle off nerdy flavor profiles, mouth feel, and properties of the tea, just as one might do with a good craft beer. If you must know, Pritzlaff isn’t afraid to mix Whalebird’s Lavender Lemonade flavor with white wine. It’s the logical next step in a process that could possibly even lead to a true alcoholic kombucha—something the local market has yet to see. A numbers and logistics guy, Pritzlaff got his MBA from Pacific University. Safe to say, his gears are constantly turning.


“We are really fixated on always changing and progressing. It’s important to always be adapting, whether that means bringing on new flavors, events, or clients,” Durighello said. “It’s really key to us staying interested.”

This has been true since the get-go. The ever-evolving business was formed some four years ago by Durighello, his pal Molly Helmer and mutual friend Alex Nardony. It all started with a humble Kickstarter fundraiser that brought in about $10,000. Those funds enabled the college students to purchase brewing equipment, health permits, kitchen rental, and insurance. 

click to enlargePHOTO BY HAYLEY THOMAS

The company founders may have shuffled around a bit, with some new team members coming on, but the goal is still the same: making high quality kombucha you love the very first time it hits your lips. This was no easy task, as Durighello said it took a long while to figure out the exact process.

While doing research for this story, I decided to make my own batch of kombcha. That meant I needed a “mother” SCOBY, whatever that was (I later found it means “symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast.”) I texted my friend Stormy Tee, purveyor of all things pickled, fermented, and DIY. Eagerly, I swung by his house. His son answered the door and silently handed me a plastic bag (the whole thing kind of felt like a drug deal). Inside the ziplock, I saw something that looked like a gelatinous urinal cake floating in a few inches of murky reddish water. I thought, “This is what makes that delicious drink I can’t stop consuming at $4 a pop?” It was my first SCOBY. I fed it sugar, black tea, water, and vinegar, and then I left it alone.

As you now read this, my tea is still fermenting in a warm, quiet corner of my kitchen. Will it taste good in 30 days? Maybe. Will it taste like Whalebird’s Ginger Sarsaparilla? No way in hell. Anyone can make kombucha, but it takes real gumption, skill, and passion to transform a blob of bacteria and yeast into a midday treat with the power to replace iced coffee.

“We want to see the day when instead of ordering an iced tea or a coke, people will say, ‘You know what? I’ll have a kombucha instead,’” Pritzlaff said. “And not just a yoga person. Anyone.”

All I have to say is that from where I’m standing, the future is now.

Hayley Thomas practices yoga but is not really a “yoga person” at