There’s something inherently cool about a company that has its own branded VW bus.
I first saw the Panacea Brewing Company “boochbus”, as it is affectionately named, at the pop-up holiday market we hosted in November, and now, in true Baador-Meinhof style, I see it all the time, cruising around every corner of Wilmington. That’s the thing about Art and Robin Hill and their family-owned business: they hustle. And you can tell it’s paying off.
Whether it’s at a farmers market, an art fair, or on tap in our cafe, their small-batch kombucha is everywhere. Since we’ve had Panacea’s draft kombucha available in our cafe, it’s been selling like crazy. The freshness of having just been brewed, and the unique flavor combinations they come up with, make it a fan favorite. To better understand the magic behind the Panacea elixir, we spoke to the Hills about how they got into kombucha and what it’s like to own a small business in Wilmington.
1. What made you decide to start brewing kombucha?
We started brewing kombucha just for fun, but it wasn’t long before we noticed that we were actually feeling better once it became a regular part of our diets. We had been brewing other ferments for over 20 years, but never had found one product that we both liked, until we made kombucha. We had be fermenting separately, each hating the other’s finished products for years. Suddenly, we found a ferment that to both of us was new, exciting, and delicious.
2. How did you come up with the name Panacea?
Well, first, I think we should talk about what Panacea means. So many people don’t know the definition or the pronunciation. It’s pronounced pan__s__ or for anyone who can’t remember how to read that, pan-uh-see-ya. More or less, a panacea is a cure for anything that ails you. We don’t actually think kombucha alone is a panacea; however, being forward thinkers, we chose a name our business can grow into. Kombucha is the first product in a line of functional beverages we plan to produce. Once we’ve mastered our production and distribution of kombucha, we’ll add new products.
3. What do you love about kombucha?
I love kombucha because it meets you where you’re at; long known as an adaptogen, kombucha has a balancing effect on your body’s systems, It’s not just for any one age group or one specific issue. For us, we quickly took notice that our bodies were feeling better; we had more energy, less digestive issues, fewer sugar cravings etc, but then we hear from customers who never had any of the issues that we had, but they are sure it has helped their inflammation, or anxiety, or acne or any other list of issues. I feel like there’s something in it for everyone- from the mom who needs just a little more energy to get through the day, to her toddler who loves fizzy drinks and isn’t yet aware of health issues, to the grandpa who is struggling with end of life ailments. We can’t say that kombucha heals anything; that’s against federal regulations. We can say, take a drink, tune in, and listen to your body. Just pay attention to how it makes you feel.
4. What is special about Panacea kombucha?
People ask us all the time what makes our kombucha so different from bottled kombucha on the grocery shelf. We use organic and fair trades teas, local flavorings whenever possible, and brew with intention; however, I think most kombucha brewers do that. And so, I think the most honest answer is that there is no distribution chain. We don’t add any preservatives because we don’t have to; we make it one day and you can drink it the next. Kombucha is a living beverage, and like any living beverage, the fresher, the better. Drink local!
5. How do you come up with the flavors?
We experiment, a lot. Artie is a classically trained chef, so he pulls from years of experience with flavor pairings. I have pretty much zero experience in that department, so for me, recipes and flavor pairings are intuitive. I like unconventional and surprising flavors and Artie is more of a traditionalist, so in the end we balance each other out. We’ve only had a few real “losers” and have a HUGE waiting list of experiments.
6. What’s it like being a small business owner in Wilmington?
It’s amazing, exhausting, and altogether the best decision we have ever made. Deciding to move forward with opening Panacea Brewing Company is absolutely the most life affirming thing we have ever done. The community support for us and our product has been incredibly uplifting while we have been working hard to get established, and on days when we’re tired from working another full time job, brewing, and being parents of three small children, getting positive messages from fans helps us power through. We frequently get messages that say things like, “I’m so glad you exist.” or, “I don’t know what I would do without you.” It’s really, really encouraging. Support from other business owners in Wilmington has been amazing, too. We have experienced the warmest welcome, and are so thankful for every person who has shared our product.
If you haven’t had a chance to try freshly brewed, locally made kombucha yet, stop by our cafe to experience their latest flavor experiment. Feel free to bring your own container (since it’s draft, we charge by the ounce), or pick up one of their cool liter bottles. And keep your eyes peeled for the boochbus around town!