Who are you and what is your background?
I’m Jeff Weaber. I grew up outside of Pittsburgh and went to college in Ohio. I met my wife in a Buddhist monastery in India before moving to Portland, Oregon to become a brewer.
Your current job:
Founder and CEO of Aqua ViTea Kombucha
In which city:
Middlebury, VT about an hour south of Burlington.
How did you discover kombucha?
I started working at a brewery in Portland, Oregon, which has been the center of Kombucha for several decades. Kombucha is a big part of the Portland culture. At the same time my wife, Katina, is a naturopath and was very familiar with Kombucha as a raw food loaded with busy probiotics.
What prompted you to start your company?
I wanted to go to work every day and make something real, something tangible. I also enjoyed drinking Kombucha and liked the way it made me feel healthier. I also felt my experience brewing beer would translate to Kombucha. Vermont, despite having the right vibe, didn’t have a strong local Kombucha culture a decade ago, let alone a larger commercial provider. It was the right combination of personal interest and market potential that convinced me to dive in.
What makes your product unique?
Its authenticity makes it unique. We use the best organic ingredients and have creative and fun flavors – and we never weaken or water down our Kombucha. In addition, we have rigid protocols in place to ensure that our kombucha is truly non-alcoholic, so it can be enjoyed by everyone.
What do you want to convey through your brand image?
That we are a bunch of fermentation geeks and artists that make a great product and have a fun, open culture. Through our original artwork and vibe, we want to put style back in lifestyle.
What are the main challenges in your company?
We make a collective effort to grow the company while maintaining a high-quality product. We are now in 15 states and have signed deals with large national and regional chains, so we work hard to ensure that we deliver a consistent, high-quality product.
What tools are essential for your work(app, software)?
The most important purchase we have made as a company is for a spinning cone column, a machine used by winemakers for years to control alcohol levels. It ensures that we stay in compliance with alcohol limits (it needs to be below .5% Alcohol By Volume under U.S. law) and make sure we are selling a healthy, family-friendly product.
A word to define what type of worker you are:
What does your office space look like?
We moved into a huge new facility last year but with fairly limited office space so my office doubles as a community room. There is a mural on the wall of our brewing machine, painted by our art director, Mike Kin.
Do you have a way to organize your days to optimize your work?
As a growing company with an active facility and new product lines, I’ve learned to expect the unexpected. So we plan time to get certain things done but also need to stay loose and limber to address things that come up.
What tips would you give to improve productivity?
I’ve hired a strong project manager, Laura Smith, to help keep me and others on track and focusing on the longer-term issues.
What is the best advice you have been given?
Last year, our head brewer and heart of the company, Matt Dibley, died tragically in a hiking accident. Matt was always fond of saying “Be nice to each other out there, people.” Those words have even more meaning lately, and have become our company’s unofficial motto.
What are your end-of-day and early-day routine?
We have three younger kids, two dogs and a herd of cattle on our farm, so my day starts very early. When I leave work, I try to bury my phone and focus on family time.
Apart from your computer and your phone, what gadget cannot you do without?
My weed wacker. After a long day, I can clear my head by working on the farm.
upcoming products or projects?
We recently launched a premium, gluten-free vodka, distilled from the raw alcohol generated from kombucha. Our seasonal on-tap offering, Mulled Cider is flowing through the new year. And we are always working on R&D and product development, so stay tuned.