Infinity on the Mountain
PHOTOS BY WAYNE KESSLER
Alua’s Thrive Bar is not your typical bar. It’s like a bar, and its building houses a brewery, but there’s no alcohol. If you order a pint and a shot, you get Mount Shasta’s ultra-premium kombucha and a hot shot of ginger, turmeric, and seven types of peppers!
In 2017, in the rented commercial kitchen of the Mount Shasta Community Center, Nion Sheppard and Rebecca Allen started brewing Infinity Ultra Premium Kombucha using Mount Shasta’s famous volcanic spring water. They sold the brew at Mount Shasta’s weekly farmers’ market, a great way to launch a small amount of product and gauge its popularity. The kombucha was immediately popular. At the first market, all three kegs they brought sold out in twenty minutes; at the second, five kegs sold out in an hour. Within three months, they moved the brewing to their permitted location on Berry Street, continued at the farmers’ market, began selling wholesale to restaurants, and established a Growler Fill Club to keep their loyal fans “booched up.”
Kombucha is a fermented tea full of probiotics, enzymes, vitamins, and organic acids, such as gluconic, glucuronic, folic, and acetic acids, which some studies have shown to be beneficial to the digestive system. People drink it for those apparent benefits, but many others drink it for its low sugar, slightly tart taste, and nicely effervescent mouthfeel. Documentation indicates kombucha was consumed as long ago as 221 B.C. in northeast China, Samurai warriors took satchels of kombucha into battles and referred to it as the “Tea of Immortality,” and people in ancient Russia called it the “Elixir of Life.” It now is fermented and drunk in many parts of the world, including, for the past three to four years, commercially in Mount Shasta.
What drew Sheppard and Allen to kombucha? As an independent business developer, Sheppard assisted a kombucha company in Hawaii and came to love the probiotic drink. Then he and Allen met again—in the 1980s they had known each other in middle school in Mount Shasta—and two loves united into lifelong plans that continue to evolve. They believe they are a good match in business, Sheppard the visionary, always pushing for more growth and more production, and Allen the mooring, keeping him grounded to make sure the new efforts become systematic before moving on to the next phase. They work as a yin-yang balance to each other.
By 2018, they were selling kombucha at four farmers’ markets weekly and providing their refreshing drink on tap to a dozen local eateries. Alua Kombucha—alua means “infinity” in Hawaiian—became the product’s new name as they restructured the business to accommodate growth plans. Having outgrown their Berry Street facility, they bought a 4,000 square foot building on Chestnut Street in downtown Mount Shasta.
Their now bright blue building needed yards and yards of specialized plumbing lines, various drains, a loading dock, a commercial kitchen, and the brew rooms—all heavy-duty grunt work done by Sheppard and assisted by Alex Hogstrom, their new business partner, who had recently retired from thirty years in the wine industry. Hogstrom has helped the business with his inspiration and great sense of humor.
Customers at Alua’s Thrive Bar don’t see the three-stage particle filter and UV sterilizer for the town’s famous spring water or all the other high tech infrastructure for kombucha production. Colorful tables and chairs sit on the patio, and customers inside are welcomed by gorgeous blue-andturquoise walls and floor, a view through large windows into one of the fermentation rooms, a mural of the mountain, handsome wooden tables, and a slab bar made from locally grown cedar and enhanced by an epoxy river running down the center of the cedar slab. In this amazing setting there’s a sense of possibilities—a venue for music, entertainment, private parties, meetings, presentations, and gatherings. With seating for forty-five people, a stage, patio, and a large projection TV screen, much can happen.
Currently, everything is for take-out during Covid-19 restrictions, and all is made right there: the kombucha by Sheppard and Allen, the salads and dressings, wraps and sauces, acai bowls, sandwiches, smoothies (in a quiet blender!), and espresso drinks using organic coff ee locally roasted by Northbound Coff ee Roasters in Mt. Shasta. With infusions of superfoods in mind, the couple has covered all the bases: delicious food for meat eaters, a nice variety for vegetarians, and gluten-free and vegan options—an example: vegan kale Caesar salad with tempeh and nutritional yeast. Because the couple sell their kombucha at several local farmers’ markets, they source fruits like strawberries, blackberries, even cucumbers from local farms all over northern California and southern Oregon. At the various farmers’ markets where Alua Kombucha is sold, it’s easy for the couple to select from growers with the best practices. Other ingredients come from around the world for such flavors as blackberry pineapple, hibiscus ginger, cinnamon orange turmeric, and lemon lavender mint. You may even find Palo Santo from a tree in South America.
If you order a pint and a shot, you get Mount Shasta’s ultrapremium kombucha and a hot shot of ginger, turmeric, and seven types of peppers!
Their supporters are diverse, too. In addition to visitors to Mount Shasta, the recreational athletes, visitors on spiritual quests, health enthusiasts, residents have made the Bar a regular stop. Parents head in for kids’ lunch items, youth come by for refreshment, workers grab a quick wrap from their “Grab and Go” fridge. Loyal kombucha lovers join the Growler Club for special discounts on Mondays and Fridays and a chance to try new flavors as they are created. Crowds show up, and some people fill their growlers with several gallons a week.
What about the future? This company is two in one: Alua Kombucha, a probiotic brewer, and Alua’s Thrive Bar, a health and wellness café. The vision for Alua Kombucha is to provide kegs to ever more eateries via local distributors, to sell at more farmers’ markets, and eventually to offer some of their thirty-plus flavors in cans. There are plans to produce more probiotic, healthy products—such as popular sauces made in Thrive Bar—and bring Alua-branded products to health-conscious grocery stores throughout the western U.S. Alua’s Thrive Bar seeks to streamline all operations to make them replicable so as to open several more Thrive Bars in northern California, southern Oregon, and Nevada, before packaging the concept as a franchise opportunity for investors.
Sheppard makes clear that “Thrive” in the name was chosen to create an environment where people come together in their own journeys to become their best and to live a healthy lifestyle. According to market trends in Europe and the U.S., oodles of people who want to eat healthy, be well, and thrive in their everyday lives are poised to respond.
Alua’s Thrive Bar and Kombucha Brewery
315 Chestnut Street
Occasionally enjoying a meal out, the Kesslers also grow lots of their food in Mount Shasta in their neighborhood garden and now have a new greenhouse with little veggie plants sprouting. They are volunteers with School CAFE (Culinary Action for Education), working to improve school children’s meals. They were founders of Shambani Organics and maintain close ties with Eritrean friends they met while serving in the Peace Corps in the 1960s.