A stone’s throw from the hubbub of Stung Meanchey’s main thoroughfare, down a couple side streets and past an abandoned glass factory, Robert Lucas is fermenting ginger. The 29-year-old Los Angeles native makes “ginger brew”, a carbonated concoction he says is chock-full of natural probiotics – “beneficial bacteria good for the digestive and immune systems”.
While brewing had been a long-time hobby, Lucas turned his skills into a money-making enterprise nine months ago when he founded Jiva Probiotics.
“The intention for me in starting [two years ago] was as a health drink for myself. I was getting sick all the time,” he said. “Since I’ve been [drinking the brew], I’ve been sick only once in two years,” he claimed.
Lucas, who teaches English at the ACE school and has been in Cambodia on and off since 2009, said that the idea to monetise his heady hobby came about, like the fermenting process through which he breathes life into his ginger brew, naturally.
“I started sharing it with my friends and they said: ‘I would pay for this.’ And I said: ‘I can do that.’” So he started taking orders, mostly from his expat colleagues at the ACE school, and it grew from there. Along with the plain ginger variety, Lucas produces a handful of other flavours: lemon-lime, passion-fruit, ginseng, beetroot, watermelon and turmeric. Hibiscus is also in the works.
How to make your own ginger drink
For those interested in making the stuff themselves, Lucas’s process, which he acquired through trial and error (and the internet), is simple.
First he grinds up ginger root, which he buys from a countryside supplier, in a juicer (“12 kilos per 100 bottles”).
He then takes the pulpy juice and dumps it into a 10-litre glass jug with “reverse-osmosis, UV-radiated water from Eurotech”.
He lets the mixture sit for a week, adding sugar each day to aid in the fermentation process.
After that, he dilutes the concentrated gingery mix with some more water, lets it sit a few more days, and then bottles it in glass bottles that his 28-year-old sole employee, Kim Long, collects from local recyclers.
Jiva, which means “breath of life” in Sanskrit, is the second addition to Phnom Penh’s locally made probiotic drink selection. US expat Lance Thomas, founder of Kombutea Brewing Company, started peddling kombucha probiotic tea from his house a year ago. Lucas is the first to bottle probiotic ginger brew here.
Lucas said that the drink, which tastes like a more sour ginger ale, is intended as a casual sipper, to be taken chilled during meals or on its own. It is also a fine mixer for vodka and could possibly aid in lessening hangovers.
Lucas said he hoped one day to see his product in supermarkets. Right now it is only available through orders for $4 a bottle and at the Willow Boutique Hotel. He would also like to teach people how to make ginger brew themselves.
“This isn’t something that only one person can do; this is something anyone can do,” he said. “You see kids here drinking these sugary syrup drinks out of plastic bags. I’m hoping this will be one thing that makes people more conscious about what they put in their bodies.”
Jiva Probiotics can be purchased by calling Robert Lucas on 078 932 911 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.