Melanie Wade (Photo by Kelley Raye)

Melanie Wade made her mark by creating fermented tea brand, Golda Kombucha. She’s since established Cultured South brewery on the Westside to ferment the tea as well as offer a space for events.

Golda Kombucha is named for your Appalachian grandmother, who taught you how to make it while you were in college. Is she just the coolest old lady ever? What else did you learn from her?
She teaches me new things each week; I talk to her almost every day. One of the best things she says is, “Just do the best you can do. Period.”

Growing your business into the Cultured South brewery is one thing, but adding a community-supported agriculture membership and a spring fermentation festival are quite another. How did you decide Atlanta was ready for these?
I’m not sure that Atlanta is ready for these things, but we will find out! I think a fermentation festival and fermentation CSA are pretty progressive, and they are taking flight in other states so I wanted to try my hand at them here. After 5 years on educating Atlantans about fermentation, specifically kombucha, I thought it best to kick it up a notch and go wild (get it…wild…see what I did there?) with all things fermentation!

What’s your typical day like? Are you usually at the brewery, or in an office, or out running events?
A little bit of all three actually, Monday through Friday I am plugging away on my computer from our taproom with a strong cup of coffee (or three) in hand. Saturday I usually take off unless I have an event, and Sunday I have a yoga ritual that I do. We do free community yoga classes in our taproom every Sunday at 12pm. We call it Booch ‘n Bend. I lay down my mat and get my yoga flow on with the customers, then after the practice is over and the namastes are said, I jump behind the bar to help out our taproom manager during the busy post-yoga rush. I work out several times a week, other rituals include chiropractic care, massage therapy and evening documentary watching.

Kitchens and breweries can be an intense atmosphere. What do yours sound like? Is it deadly silent, does somebody pick a radio station or playlist, or do you just fling witty banter?
When we are canning (we just rolled out our new canned kombucha!) it’s pretty loud. The canning line is humming along and there are several staff members on the brewery floor. Other days it’s usually just the head brewer and assistant brewer and they play their own music over loud speakers in the brewery. Mostly its metal or classic rock in the brewery and atmospheric indie rock in the taproom. Music really brings our space to life!

What’s the difference between how you brew at home versus at work? Do you still use your own kitchen as a lab, or save experiments for your professional workspace?
I actually don’t use my home kitchen for any experiments (other than making dinner / meals). I take a lot of pride in what I have built out at our state-of-the-art facility. It’s got so much room and tons of great ingredients already in stock; I just make things there. I’m also there all the time so it just comes natural.

Where do you get inspiration for new kombucha flavors?
I’m inspired by southern foodways, southern growers, backyard farming and items commonly found on southern tables provided by people like grandmothers or moms. Think homemade jams but instead of slathered on biscuits, the fruit and herbs are used in our kombuchas and fermented goods.

Most people are vaguely aware of the probiotic health benefits of kombucha. If I’m looking to maximize these benefits, how much kombucha should I really be drinking, and how often?
I would say drink 8-16oz a day but everyone’s body is different. If you start by adding a small dosage of kombucha to your body, eventually your body will crave it. Your body craves what it needs to heal itself; it’s a really beautiful thing, if you think about it.

Can I just think of kombucha pairings the same way I think of wine pairings? What do I need to know to properly select my meal when I’m in a kombucha mood?
You can definitely think about kombucha pairings as they do with wine and beer in terms of selecting food that complement one another. Since kombucha is a great base for the fruit and herbs that most people use to flavor it, anything goes and it’s amazing to play around with the different palates and offerings available when you do kombucha pairings. Think of having our lavender lemon kombucha with seafood, or our hibiscus blood orange with a tropical island meal such as jerk chicken.

If I want to level up from kombucha to trying other fermented things, what’s my next step?
Kombucha is a great starting point for those looking to get into fermented foods. I would say next on the spectrum is Kefir. Kefir is a different type of culture than kombucha. We make a milk kefir and a nut milk kefir. Both are creamy, dreamy and smooth. They are tangy milk products, or near milk products that pack a punch of probiotics. They are tasty and you can enjoy them in a variety of different ways like creamy dressings, parfaits or alone with fruit!

Megan Volpert

Megan Volpert is the author or editor of over a dozen books on popular culture, including two Lambda Literary Award finalists and an American Library Association honoree.