Nature's Brew

NessAlla Kombucha's Herbal Drafts
By Candice Wagener | Photographed by Josh Witzel

PLAYFULLY COMBINING THEIR NAMES to form their label, Vanessa Tortolano and Alla Shapiro started NessAlla craft kombucha brewery in Tortolano’s house. Eight years later, NessAlla operates out of a Park Street warehouse with eight employees and an eye to expansion as their product market grows.


Kombucha starts out as brewed tea—NessAlla exclusively uses Milwaukee-based Rishi—and then the SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) is added. Almost alien-like in appearance, this living organism is actually the heart and soul of the ‘booch’ as it feeds off sugar during fermentation, resulting in a hypoglycemic, fizzy drink. NessAlla’s original flavors like lemongrass ginger have a tangy, refreshing zing when served cold and recent additions to their lineup like mango turmeric and peach lavender are beauty in a bottle.


While working at Willy Street Co-op, Tortolano noticed kombucha coming through the checkout line— and was later surprised to discover that Shapiro, a recent transplant from San Diego, had been DIY ‘booching’ for 10 years. The partners hope to saturate the Midwest with their product and eventually earn microbrew status. Ironically, Shapiro hadn’t planned on putting down roots in Madison, but the popularity of their kombucha made it hard to leave. “The universe had other ideas,” Shapiro says with a laugh.


While FDA regulations prohibit Tortolano and Shapiro from touting kombucha’s health benefits, their customers say ‘booch’ aids digestion, boosts the immune system and curbs sugar cravings. “Some people tell us that it’s changed their lives,” says Tortolano. “[It] makes you kind of tear up when you hear stuff like that. That’s why we do it.”

For sales locations in the greater Madison area, visit

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