Ayla Bystrom-Williams Makes Beer That’s (Kind of) Good For You

This mad scientist-yogini from the Southwest is poised to launch a whole new kind of brew

Ayla Bystrom-Williams (right), with scientist David Fox (center) and HoneyMoon Brewery co-founder Rena Glasscock (left), at the New Mexican Consortium labs. (Minesh Bacrania)

Ayla Bystrom-Williams wants you to drink more beer. (We know, we like her, too!) But it’s not your garden-variety microbrew or local IPA. Instead, the founder of Santa Fe–based HoneyMoon Brewery suggests you start guzzling kombucha beer. 

Kombucha beer is exactly what it sounds like: a hybrid of a rejuvenating health drink and a happy-hour craft brew. HoneyMoon’s flagship Wildfire ’Bucha Beer tastes like champagne with more fruit and floral notes, and a light, crisp finish. “It’s not so much healthy beer as healthier beer,” Bystrom-Williams says. “Alcohol, per se, is never going to be healthy. But the industry standard for a healthy beer is a Miller Lite.” 

For those who’ve managed to avoid the beverage aisle of Whole Foods, kombucha is a black or green tea fermented with a special culture of yeast and bacteria (the good kind). The result is a drink teeming with probiotics, vitamins, organic acids, and other such microorganisms. As skeptics have noted, kombucha likely doesn’t contain any ingredient in high enough concentration to actually boost your health as much as its proponents claim. But it does give a small caffeine lift and tastes unique: tangy, tart, and slightly sweet. 

A native of the Pacific Northwest who later moved to Santa Fe and joined its yoga community, Bystrom-Williams is herself the product of craft beer and kombucha cultures. She has been home brewing beer for almost a decade, and the moment she tried kombucha, she was hooked. “I was constantly brewing all these weird, smelly, vinegar-y drinks in my cupboard,” she says. Marrying her two loves, then, was a no-brainer. She assembled a small team and began formulating a recipe in 2013, using an open-air aerobic fermenting methodology that’s similar to the way a flavorful Lambic-style beer is made. “Since there’s no research or documentation on this process, we’ve been kind of like mad scientists,” she says. “We’ve got an amazing recipe now. We’ve tried some of the other kombucha beer out there, but ours comes from a more scientific, innovative approach.”

ayla-bystrom-williams-lab.jpg
(Minesh Bacrania)

To help HoneyMoon wade through the nitty-gritty of metabolic processes and understand kombucha’s actual health benefits, Bystrom-Williams contracted a legitimate scientist, David Fox, a bioorganic chemist at the nearby Los Alamos National Laboratory. A home brewer himself, Fox has helped perfect the recipe with a detailed technical analysis of the process and ingredients. “He’s digging into it on a microscopic level, telling us what’s in there, what it’s doing,” Bystrom-Williams says. “We’ve got access to his equipment and professional services, so we have a greater degree of control and experimentation.”

All that science has produced a very drinkable beverage. “It’s a kombucha without the funk,” Bystrom-Williams says. “And a beer without the intense bitterness. The carbonation gives it the champagne-y feel; the kombucha makes it effervescent.” The flavor profile would work well with spring salads or white fish with lemon, but really, she says, the idea is for the hybrid beverage to be your regular order at your local watering hole. “We want it to be on tap at every possible bar we can get to,” she says, “because we want people to interact with this like a normal beer.”

First, though, she needs to obtain production and distribution licenses—a process that’s more complicated for kombucha beer makers, since they’ll also need to get the FDA’s blessing—and select a facility that can eventually serve as tasting and tap room. This all takes startup funding, so look for a Kickstarter campaign to launch in late 2015. The HoneyMoon team is already spearheading local crowdfunding efforts in New Mexico, and hopes to launch commercially in 2016. So far, reception to the concept of a boozy probiotic drink has been overwhelmingly positive (Bystrom-Williams claims the local Whole Foods is already on board). “It’s a process of scalability and growth, which is one of the largest challenges for any company,” she says. “In the meantime, we can host parties and give the brew out. We call it our ‘gypsy brewing plan.’ We’ll be nomadic for the next five or six months.”

Asked whether founding such a unique company was even more of an uphill battle because brewing is a field full of guys, Bystrom-Williams pauses. “I don’t know how to say it in a professional way,” she says, “but I think it’s sort of stupid that craft beer is male-dominated. When I drank it, I felt like it was made for me.” 

At last count, women are consuming almost 32 percent of craft beer volume. Bystrom-Williams wants to keep those numbers growing—by just making a great drink. “We really want to make this beverage super unusual to women and men. We want women who may be afraid to drink beer because of the calories and feeling bloated to love it; and we want men to be stoked and jump in.” 

We’ll drink to that.

Filed To: Science
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