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A little more than four years ago, MIKE DURIGHELLO sold his first keg of kombucha, which had been brewed in a San Luis Obispo garage that double as his bedroom. Today, he has grown the business, along with his three partners, to the point where it is poised to take over the top spot as California’s largest on-tap kombucha maker. His company, Whalebird Kombucha, and its unique culture, is as innovative and electric as the product is sells. Here is his story…
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.
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.
The first time Mike Durighello tried kombucha, he didn’t like it. His friend had handed him the fermented tea-based probiotic drink after a day of surfing along the Central Coast. Durighello was unimpressed. “It tasted bad,” he told the Sun. But there was a reason. “I wasn’t familiar with the world of fermentation and what fermented foods tasted like.”
Durighello soon learned to love the drink and began to take it with him to the library while he studied in college at UC Santa Cruz. “It would curb my appetite, give me laser focus, and all of the sudden I would look up and three hours had gone by,” he said. “It definitely felt good.”
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.
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)
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.”
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
It shouldn’t be too sweet. In fact, let it be dry, astringent, bitter or tannic. Give it an element of complexity and surprise, a touch of the exotic or mysterious. Bring on the bubbles, in the optimum size. Keep it fresh, local and organic. Oh, and no alcohol, please.
Just because you are a designated driver, an expectant mother, a straight-edge teetotaler or merely in the mood for a refreshing, distinctive, hangover-free beverage, you aren’t precluded from having a palate just as demanding as your wine- or booze-imbibing counterparts.