A Cultural Revolution Arrives

Thomas MacMillan PhotoScott Vignola was describing how he hopes a beer-making supply shop he just opened downtown will tap into a rising culture of DIY fermentation of all kinds. As if on cue, a customer walked in bubbling with excitement about making another fizzy drink: Kombucha.

Vignola (pictured), who’s 31, is the entrepreneur behind Luck & Levity, a new home-brewing shop on Court Street a block from City Hall. Vignola plans to get the shop established by selling beer-making supplies, then branch out into helping people with other kitchen concoctions—pickling, canning, making kim chi, miso, sauerkraut.

Even two weeks before his Nov. 2-3 grand opening, the branching-out has already begun.

New customers are already popping in with requests for supplies to make their own cheese, Vignola said.

And, on a recent afternoon, Yale undergrad McLane Ritzel stopped by to gush about the possibility of brewing her own kombucha—the trendy, tangy, fermented drink made from sweetened tea.

“This is so awesome!” exclaimed Ritzel, who said she’s already lacto-fermenting dining hall food scraps in her dorm room. She promised to help Vignola set up a kombucha-making section in his store.

Vignol hopes to foment that kind of fermentation enthusiasm as he sets up his new shop.

“Hidden Agenda”

Amid momentum created by New Haven’s expanding and lauded restaurant scene and its burgeoning local-food movement, Vignola is looking to supply and connect people interested in the branch of home cookery that deals with yeast, cultures, preserving, and fermenting.

The shop is also part of larger vision, one of a society where people live creatively rather than as consumers, and socially rather than in isolation, Vignola said. “That’s my hidden agenda.”

Brewing is inherently a communal activity, he said on a recent afternoon in his Court Street shop, a former Ideat Village gallery space that he has painted an ale brown.

“Throughout history, beer and alcohol have brought people together,” he said. When you brew up a five-gallon batch of beer, you’re going to share it with your friends.

Vignola plans to install sinks and stovetops in his large new storefront, to hold workshops and classes on a variety of fermentation processes.

Vignola, who was born in Massachusetts and went to high school in Bethel, said he’s always loved beer. After returning in May from a stint in the Peace Corps in Morocco—where he brewed hard cider in his apartment—Vignola began to look into starting a brewery. He soon found the permits and regulations more than he wanted to navigate. But he met a lot of home-brewers along the way, and decided to open a store for them.

Luck & Levity is stocked with a wide variety of yeasts, grains, and hops, along with all the equipment the home-brewer needs. Vignola has all-in-one counter-top kits for the first-time brewer, and five-gallon buckets and carboys for the more ambitious, experienced beer maker.

“I think there is a bit of movement right now,” Vignola said. More and more people are taking an interest in where their food comes from and wanting to have a hand in its production.

That movement rejects the consumerism of the ‘80s and ‘90s, rejects even traditional life trajectories of college, career, marriage, kids, Vignola said. More and more people are looking for meaningful work over making a ton of money, he said. They’re looking for ways to create, not simply consume.

“I feel like this is a part of that,” Vignola said. The new thinking: “I don’t need to take something a company made for me. ... People are finding they can take what’s provided and do their own thing too.”

A Vinegar “Mother”

That’s true of Ritzel (pictured), a Yale junior studying art history, who stopped by Luck & Levity to meet Vignola. She said she makes her own pickled foods in her dorm room using food from the cafeteria.

“My room smells like kim chi,” she said. “I try to cover it with incense.”

Ritzel said she is looking to start a fermentation club at Yale. She’s most interested in brewing her own kombucha. The health-food drink is increasingly available in stores; Ritzel and Vignola agreed that the quality has gone down as the popularity has gone up.

Ritzel gave Vignola a primer on Kombucha preparation. The main thing you need is a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY). Sort of like a vinegar “mother,” a SCOBY is a living, fleshy, gelatinous substance that processes sweetened tea and, through fermentation, transforms it into kombucha.

“It’s a very cool, communal thing, sharing mothers with people,” Ritzel said.

“I would love to spearhead your kombucha project,” Ritzel told Vignola. He said it was all hers if she wanted to research what supplies he should start stocking.

“I feel like we’ve become do disconnected with our food,” Ritzel said, articulating the problem Vignola aims to address—with Luck & Levity.

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