Layered fermentation: Muri draws on kvass and kombucha to create a complex wine alternative

By Rachel Arthur contact

- Last updated on GMT

Pic: Muri
Pic: Muri

Related tags: NABLAB

Matching the complexity of wine’s flavors and aromas poses a sizeable challenge for low and no alcohol alternatives. But Muri – a range of NoLo wine alternatives launching in the UK – is drawing on fermentation techniques from kvass and kombucha to offer the depth of flavor and mouthfeel required.

The brand launched in Copenhagen last year, where it has already established itself in the city’s restaurant scene. It is now launching in the UK with two products: a white wine alternative, Passing Clouds, and a red wine alternative, Nuala. Both have an ABV of <0.5%.

Copenhagen: a melting pot for fermentation techniques

The brand was founded by Murray Paterson along with business partner Samantha Hunt, both formerly of Empirical where Murray was a distiller.

The ‘art forms’ of fermentation and blending – as used by expert wine and cider makers – are at the heart of Muri’s creations, according to Paterson.  

I launched Muri a year ago after working as a distiller at Empirical Spirits in Copenhagen. The city here is a melting pot for fermentation techniques and I really wanted to apply these to the non-alc space to open up gateways to new flavors and possibilities,” ​Paterson told BeverageDaily.

I took inspiration from my time working in cider, and how master cidermakers blend different varietals together to build structure and complexity.

"These are qualities often lacking in the non-alcohol space so I began wondering whether we could successfully use low ABV fermentations in the same way.”

Muri was developed by focusing on a trio of layered fermentation techniques.

The low-alcohol yeast Pichia kluyveri fine-tunes the ingredients and helps develop tropical notes, while water kefir grains balance the blends and give sweetness.

Kvass – traditionally made using stale bread – has been adapted to give mouthfeel and depth to the blends, and kombucha SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) lends a touch of acidity.

“We have an idea in our minds about the overall flavour picture and we use each fermentation as a piece in the jigsaw,”​ Paterson explained.

“For example, depending on the base substrate, we will often use a water kefir for sweetness, a kvass for mouthfeel and body, pichia fermentations for acidity, fermented teas for tannins.”

The result, says Paterson, are two blends that are ‘full of character and flavor which – unusually for low-alcohol beverages – further blossom in the glass, making them an exciting and delicious alternative to wine that can be enjoyed without compromise’.

Having succeeded in harnessing the fermentation techniques, Paterson says controlling the resulting product to come in at <0.5% ABV has not been the unpredictable challenge one might expect.

“To be honest, the alcohol level has been one of the easiest things to control. Scobies and water kefirs largely take care of themselves, and we use a wine yeast that does not survive above 3% ABV.

"If you control the sugar levels and fermentation times correctly, there are plenty of ways to get a successful ferment with minimal alcohol.”

‘I want people to try our drinks because they’re delicious, not because they’re alcohol-free’

The culinary scene has been the focus on Muri’s Copenhagen launch: where it can be found in Michelin-starred restaurants.

Passing Clouds has ‘hints of tropical and stone fruits on the nose… while on the palate, it’s playful with ripe pear flavors and floral notes.’

Nuala, meanwhile, has a ‘refreshing acidity and a lush palate of ripe berries with a layered finish with light tannins’.

muri inset

As a white wine or champagne alternative, Passing Clouds can be paired with spicy and seafood dishes, or white-rinded cheese, and served in a Champagne flute.

White currants are fermented with Pichia kluyveri yeast to form the base, before being blended with quince kefir and jasmine tea. It is finished with a touch of geranium and woodruff kvass.

Muala, meanwhile, can be matched with dishes ranging from charcuterie to cheese to ceviche. Blackcurrant pomace is fermented with Pichia kluyveri yeast, then blended with supernatant oak kombucha, chamomile kefir and keemun tea. The blend is finished with a hint of pine and fig-leaf kvass.

The complexity of these flavors is particularly important to Paterson.

“I want to make sure we are really pushing the boundaries of what is possible in terms of flavour, so that people start to see non-alcs as drinks that can have real technique, story and craft, rather than just something to drink if you're teetotal or driving.

“I want people to try our drinks primarily because they’re delicious, not because they're alcohol free.”

The brand has now launched in London where it hopes to replicate its Copenhagen success.

“Since Seedlip kicked everything off, the UK has been the centre of the non-alc space and, at the end of the day, I'm a Londoner so always wanted to see our drinks over here!”​ said Paterson.

In the UK, it is available to purchase at Shop Cuvee and Sager + Wilde at a RRP of £16.

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