Mike Durighello, Whalebird Kombucha, San Luis Obispo, CA, USA
Q: When did you first discover kombucha?
My friend Carson introduced me to kombucha in 2006 while I was at UC Santa Cruz. He was an amazing water man and had just taken me out to surf. Back at the car he pulled out a few bottles of GT’s Kombucha. I was like ‘kombooka what?!’ He said ‘just drink it’ and so I did in the hopes it would make me a better surfer. The first sip was the worst thing I’d ever tasted, but I stomached it with a smile. The second time we went surfing he brought out a different flavor, Mystic Mango by GT’s, and I was hooked. What I later realized is that my body had never had a fermented food before which was why I was so shocked after that initial sip. Weeks later I had developed quite an expensive appetite of drinking two kombuchas a day which at the time GT’s was priced at $5 each. I would bring a bottle into the library with me and it had this amazing effect on my study habits. With coffee I felt wired and scattered, but with kombucha I had this even keel, sustained energy that put me in the zone. Not only that but it curbed my appetite which allowed me to study for hours on end without having to run and grab a snack. Little did I know, but those library memories would spark my own kombucha company 6 years later. And by the way, it didn’t make me a better surfer.
Q: Why did you start your own kombucha company?
I have a hard time being told what to do and after being fired from a few jobs for insubordination I realized that I needed a different path where I was in control of my own destiny. In 2012 my friend Alex moved in with me and said ‘Hey lets start a juicing business’ and I realized this was my opportunity. I worked evenings so while he was at work during the day I was learning how to start a juicing business. In my research I discovered that juicing required a ton of overhead (equipment and fruit) and I thought back to those library days and said to myself ‘why not kombucha?’ We learned how to make kombucha from this Russian guy on YouTube which at the time was one of the few ‘how to’s’ on kombucha. That was our baseline knowledge and after 1.5 years of customizing our fermentation and flavoring style we sold our first keg of kombucha to a local vegan cafe in the Spring of 2013.
Q: What is your favorite flavor of kombucha?
I think Fine Feathers makes some of the best kombucha on the market. My two favorite flavors of theirs are the Jasmine Peony and Lemon Cayenne. There will always be a soft spot in my heart for GT’s Mystic Mango and Guava Goddess.
Q: What is your former/current other life or career?
Prior to kombucha I was in the restaurant biz as a server and bartender. Just before I went full time with Whalebird in 2015 I was working in business development for a local tech company. When I’m not at the brewery I spend my time trail running, mountain biking, and spear fishing.
Q: What is a saying that you live by?
Life is the ability to go from one failure to the next with no loss of enthusiasm.