There is a new brewery in Castlegar, but it’s not beer that you will find cooking in the vats.
Leeza Zurwick has expanded her Happy Gut water kefir operation to include a brewery and canning facility in Castlegar’s industrial neighbourhood.
Water kefir is a fermented beverage filled with probiotics. Zurwick describes it a pleasant-tasting drink similar to a soda. For that reason, she says it is fairly easy for people to transition away from sugar-laden sodas to water kefir and its health benefits.
Happy Gut is now five years old, but Zurick says the transition to the new brewery space, accompanied by a switch to packaging the drinks in cans instead of bottles, and her plans to distribute them across the country have made it feel like day one again.
“It takes major tenacity to start a company and run a company and get it going,” says Zurick.
The new brewery features state-of-the-art equipment that completes all of the steps of the fermentation process in one vat. Water, cultures and sugars are added and then heated to a constant temperature for 40 hours. At that point, the cultures come out and the flavourings go in. The product is then chilled, which causes the drink to “crash”. Sediments fall to the bottom and are removed. After that the drink is carbonated and piped over to the mechanical canner.
The facility can produce one batch of 600 litres every four days.
The ready-to-drink beverages in fruity flavours produced at the brewery are just one portion of the Happy Gut business.
The company’s original products — water kefir cultures and kits for at-home production — are still their most popular products. Sold in stores and on the company’s website and Amazon, Happy Gut has filled orders from around the world.
The cultures themselves are still grown in the commercial kitchen at Zurwick’s farm outside of Castlegar where the company began.
Zurwick started the company after becoming interested in water kefir herself and finding a void of definitive information on making it at home.
“There was such a mish-mash of information,” says Zurwick. “No one was stepping into it, so I chose to step in and say, ‘We are the forefront leader.’”
That wasn’t the only bold step Zurwick made — in 2019 she made a televised pitch on Dragon’s Den. Although the Dragons didn’t invest in her company, Zurwick was selected by Dejardins to join the GoodSpark program for businesses with a social-enterprise component.
Happy Gut products can be found in more than 35 restaurants, grocery stores and gas stations across the Kootenays, but Zurwick now has her eyes on growing that distribution across the country.