NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Sam and Luke Walker have always had a lot in common, from a shared love of music to shared homes in their native Boston and in Nashville. But the idea of working together never crossed their minds.
“Everyone’s heard a story about two brothers starting a business,” Luke said. “Or a husband and wife will start a business, and—”
”—you get real jaded,” Sam finished.
Their attitude changed when they discovered two more similarities: both loved craft beer, and both often felt sick after drinking it. They originally started homebrewing kombucha, a fermented drink often touted for its health and digestive benefits, just to settle their stomachs after evenings out.
But the brothers, both of whom worked in the beverage industry, realized they had unintentionally brewed up an idea for a new business.
“We had this moment of realization of, ‘Whoa, we’re getting the training we need, plus we’re already making this thing,” Luke said. “We could totally launch a company here.’”
The Walkers are co-founders of Walker Brothers, a Nashville kombucha brewery that sells traditional and alcoholic cans in Middle and East Tennessee, North Carolina and New York City. They’re already one of the Southeast’s largest kombucha breweries, and they’re planning to expand their footprint through a future retail tasting room in Nashville and increased retail presence in cities such as Boston and Philadelphia coming this year.
“The culture of Nashville is so creative and collaborative and approachable,” Luke said. “Even as two people that are technically outsiders to this place, we felt more of an invitation to explore something like this.”
Balance is everything at Walker Brothers. Kombucha itself is a fermented blend of living bacteria and yeast cultures and has a tart, slightly tea-like flavor accented by fruits and other ingredients. A glass with too much of either component, however, can taste like straight apple cider vinegar.
“I think a lot of people who have had bad experiences with kombucha have treated it like a tonic,” Sam said. “Our goal was to create a more approachable kombucha that’s still nuanced and complex and had all the health properties to it.”
There’s a cultural balance, too. Sam and Luke worked in craft beer and natural foods, respectively, and they bring elements of both scenes to Walker Brothers.
“It’s awesome that kombucha really emphasizes personal wellness, exercise, yoga, eating well,” Luke said. “And then beer emphasizes sense of community: the taproom, events, connection, catching up over a drink.”
Walker Brothers produces four non-alcoholic and three alcoholic (with an alcohol content above 0.5 percent) varieties year-round. They’ve also partnered with local farms and retailers, including Urban Juicer, Bloomsbury Farm and Urban Cantina, to create limited-run cans. An upcoming bottle release features peach kombucha aged in Nelson’s Green Briar Distillery bourbon barrels, a technique they believe is the first of its kind in the Southeast.
“With alcoholic stuff in particular, it’s kind of the Wild West,” Luke said. “There is no standard of identity in that category, so every product tastes pretty different.”
As they’ve explored that Wild West, they’ve found that their original fears of working together have only been partially correct. They do argue about the company from time to time, but more than that, they’ve found a common passion and respect for one another.
“Our wants for the company really parallel each other,” Sam said. “And I think we’ve really learned how to create a nice boundary between being brothers and being business partners.”
“You get it out of your system,” Luke said, referring to their workplace squabbles. “And then an hour later: ‘Let’s go get a beer.’”
“Or a high-gravity kombucha,” Sam said.