Local Face: David Begg and Real Kombucha

If you’ve been into the King & Queen, No2 Pound Street or Budgens recently, you’ll have noticed a very different drink flying off the shelves. Real Kombucha is a non-alcoholic alternative to a fine wine, and it’s creating great waves in the food and drink industry where restaurateurs and bar owners are crying out for something to serve the growing legions of non-drinkers who expect a quality option on a dry night out. What’s more, it’s brewed right here in Wendover.

The founder is David Begg, a passionate foodie and entrepreneur who lives just up the road in the Chalfonts with his wife and two children. He put the Real Kombucha brewery together on Wendover’s Rocky Lane around 18 months ago, and he’s been brewing up a storm up there ever since.

David first discovered kombucha, a drink he ferments from high-end loose-leaf teas using similar techniques to those used in brewing wines and real ales, when a friend handed him a home-brewed glass over a delicious home-cooked meal. “It was absolutely love at first sip,” he says. “I couldn’t believe that this full flavoured brew was non-alcoholic (it contains just a trace of alcohol, which is common to most fermented foods). I had pretty much given up alcohol a couple of years previously. It wasn’t for any particular reason apart from it just seemed to be slowing me down. As my wife is French, and her family is equally split between Burgundy and Bordeaux, we have always had some great wines in the house. But since being off the alcohol there was a really big hole in my foodie life. Water just doesn’t cut it with a great meal.”

The brewery, which looks out over a Chiltern Valley, has had a huge impact on the food industry. “Teetotalism in the UK in the 16-24 age group is now up to almost 30%,” he explains. “I find that staggering. And, apparently, almost half of those people drinking in a pub would be keen to have an alternative to alcohol, although maybe only from time to time.” Those statistics also affect changes in the restaurant market, where people who don’t drink want something more than a sugary soft drink or fruit juice with their meal. “If you’re eating out at somewhere like The Fat Duck, you want a drink that steps up to that sense of occasion.”

With an ever-expanding team, he currently brews three kombuchas. Royal Flush comes from a first-flush Darjeeling and brews to taste like a fruity prosecco, Dry Dragon is brewed from a Dragonwell green tea, and is not dissimilar to a Sauvignon Blanc, while Smoke House is derived from a rich, earthy Yunnan black tea, and is often compared to a delicious cider. Unlike many of the other kombucha brands launching in the UK, Real Kombucha is unflavoured. “When they taste as good as this in their natural state, and the country’s top sommeliers are agreeing with us, we don’t feel the need to add anything else,” he tells us.

Sure enough, The Fat Duck were one of the first big names in the UK to stock Real Kombucha, and many have since followed. Begg’s drink is now being served in 50 Michelin-starred restaurants and hundreds more high-end foodie spots. You’ll also find them in national pub chains like Fullers and Laines, where non-drinkers say they’re delighted to have something adult and sophisticated that gives them a reason to rejoin the party. There’s a massive sea-change taking place, and for many in the industry, the smart eyes are focused on Rocky Lane, Wendover.

For more information on David Begg and Real Kombucha, head to realkombucha.co.uk.