Female Disruptors: How Holly Lyman, of Wild Tonic Jun Kombucha Is Shaking Up The Way Kombucha Is Made
“Never underestimate the power of creativity.” Whenever we run into a challenge at the brewery we bring together our group and look for out-of-the box solutions and I am always surprised by the brilliance of my team in troubleshooting challenges that come up.
I had the pleasure to interview Holly Lyman, founder of Wild Tonic Jun Kombucha.
The WILD TONIC story begins with an artist and her passion for innovation and creativity. Painter, Holly Lyman, worked with beeswax, an ancient medium known as encaustic, for many years until she discovered the art of fermentation. One day, her love of painting with beeswax transformed into working with honey, another labor of love created by the bees. As with many creative endeavors that sometimes spill into other forms of expression, Holly unexpectedly found herself fascinated with a rare ferment known as Jun. She brewed with this living culture day after day until several years and brew experiments later, WILD TONIC® Jun Kombucha was born!
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I was born and raised in the backwoods of Alaska and spent time on my grandmother’s homestead near the small town of North Pole. She was always working oil paintings in her makeshift greenhouse that she kept her easel in. Her art was surrounded by the lush tomatoes that would thrive in the land of the midnight sun and I always loved my time in there watching her create art and grow things. She would also ferment wine with wild dandelions and native blueberries every Autumn. She taught me how to ferment in her log cabin with simple ingredients that we would harvest together. I believe that our earliest memories and impressions shape us into who we become later in life. I admired my Grandmother’s courage to follow her passions despite the harsh reality of surviving in rural Alaska. Through her encouragement, I would later go on to study at the Rhode Island School of Design and pursue my passion for the arts. Her influence in my early childhood guided me unsuspectingly into a similar life of art and fermenting and to become the founder of WILD TONIC Jun Kombucha
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
WILD TONIC Jun Kombucha is disruptive because it is an exotic honey based ferment that is quickly emerging as a health drink and gaining popularity. It is displacing traditional sugar laden sodas because people are seeking healthier alternatives. Then we have our Hard Kombucha that I developed a few years later that has been very disruptive because it is displacing traditional alcohol with an alternative that has no sulfites, chemicals or pesticides which are typically found in the making of traditional beer, wine and spirits. WILD TONIC falls into a new category of alcohol, which is “hard kombucha” and that is starting to become the next big trend in the alcohol sections of grocery stores across the country. WILD TONIC was the first honey based hard kombucha in the country and has since grown into a national brand. Now there are many major players in the hard kombucha category including Anheuser-Busch and Boston Beer to name a few and we feel blessed to have been one of the first trailblazers in that new category!
We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
I began studying books about fermentation by Sandor Katz and he inspired me to begin experiments with all types of recipes from Ginger Beer to Milk Kefir and Kombucha in my home in Moses Lake, WA. I later met with him in person where he welcomed me into his remote rural Tennessee fermenting foundation. Upon arrival he showed me his studio and shared with me some of his ferments and I was completely spellbound. I nervously asked him what he thought of my WILD TONIC Jun recipe that I had made and brought along to share. He said with a smile: “Holly, there are no rules in fermentation” and at that moment, I absolutely fell in love with the idea that it was a creative journey, much like my art had been and then I started WILD TONIC in 2015 and it became my focus and passion.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
“Find people who are more talented than yourself to work with!”
I have always surrounded myself with people who are more talented than myself at whatever job is at hand and have never gone wrong by following that advice.
“The harder you work, the luckier you get.”
A very successful business man jokingly shared this quote with me and I laughed. However, I always took it to heart, knowing that running your own business would require non-stop devotion for the first 4–5 years until it was successful.
“Never underestimate the power of creativity.”
Whenever we run into a challenge at the brewery we bring together our group and look for out-of-the box solutions and I am always surprised by the brilliance of my team in troubleshooting challenges that come up.
How are you going to shake things up next?
Four years ago I spent the summer researching heirloom apples and specifically what apples made the best hard cider and subsequently had two thousand trees with over 60 varietals planted in our certified organic orchards in Sedona, AZ. We will have our first harvest in the fall and my goal is to experiment with both hard ciders and other lesser known ferments that might end up being the next trend in beverage. I am also in the process of developing an energy drink that does not have any caffeine, but rather relies upon some very esoteric herbs for its effectiveness. So generally speaking, I want to continue to shake up the beverage world with exciting new ferments!
Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?
Sandor Katz won a James Beard Foundation Book Award for his research on unique fermentation recipes from cultures around the world in his book “The Art of Fermentation.” I was truly inspired by how he used fermented foods to repair his own fragile health as well as to inspire others to be healthier through teaching them how to ferment in workshops. Sandor is bringing back the lost art of fermentation one talk, book and demonstration at a time. Fermented foods were once a staple in our diets prior to refrigeration and now we now have lost the once rich diversity of our microbiome with the onslaught of processed foods and climate controlled storage where everything is pasteurized. It is critical that we educate people about the importance of fermented foods in our diet because 75 -80% of the immune system is in our gut. Sandor has done just that and I truly admire him for spearheading the fermentation movement that can now be seen in the food choices showing up in stores from fermented pickles and sauerkraut to coconut kefir.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I would like to create a movement around supporting the Bees and help people understand their importance in our lives because pollinators are responsible for one out of every three bites of food we eat. WILD TONIC now partners with the local Northern Arizona Organic Beekeepers Association and the work they are doing to educate people about the importance of bees is phenomenal! I would like to expand upon that partnership in many ways as we grow.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite quote is by Leshan, which is: “Don’t worry about what the world wants from you, worry about what makes you come more alive. Because, what the world really needs are people who are more ALIVE.” I keep that quote on my bookshelf and read it every day. As my life passes, I ask myself if I feel alive in my pursuits, relationships, etc. — and if the answer is “Yes”, then I jump fully into whatever that is. If the answer is “No”, then I point my compass a different direction and run for dear life until I feel once again ALIVE on my new path!
How can our readers follow you on social media?