By Carly Smith, KBI & Hannah Crum, KBI & Kombucha Kamp
At Kombucha Brewers International,one of our missions is to get people hyped about drinking and making their own Kombucha. Homebrewing beer has its own quirky, nerdy, enthusiastic crowd, and so does Kombucha brewing. We also have our own clubs, social media communities, taprooms, and favorite supply stores. We have much in common, and we invite you to brew your own Kombucha with us!
Whether you’ve never tried it, or you’re a regular Kombucha drinker, we’re here to encourage you to brew your own so you can discover the complex flavors lent by the microbes—along with all the ways to tailor this probiotic brew to your palate. With a little practice, you can create a customized brew that you love.
If you’re a sour beer fan, you’re just a ‘hop,’ skip, and a jump away from loving Kombucha. If Kombucha were a beer, it would be a Lambic, because both share that complex, tangy, funky, fruity flavor brought on by many of the same microbes (especially our friend Brettanomyces). Also similar to Lambic-style beers is the inclusion of fruit. The lines between beer and Kombucha are further blurred by the new(ish) trend of hard Kombucha, Kombucha flavored with hops, and Kombucha-beer shandy.
“There’s a lot of similarity between brewing Kombucha tea and beer,” says John Laffler of Goose Island Brewery, makers of Fleur – an early commercial Kombucha-beer hybrid. “Fundamentally, as brewers, our job is [to] provide a suitable home for our yeast. We make sure the temperature is right, everything is clean, there’s both the right type and quantity of food available, and there aren’t any waste products building up. If we do a good job and our yeast is happy, then about 14 days later we get something delicious to drink and share with our friends. Sound familiar? The only differences are in the details.”
Adding Kombucha into your drinking rotation hosts a whole range of benefits, including several with scientific backing. Kombucha:
- Helps bring the gut into balance. Antioxidants, acids, enzymes, living bacteria and yeast all contribute to Kombucha’s supportive effects to help with ulcers, candida, and a variety of digestive issues.
- May help maintain a happy liver, and a happy liver means a happy mood. Researchers name antioxidant activity, reduction of oxidative stress, and even toxic metal (lead) removal as potential causes.
- Helps the heart and lungs as well.
- Is beneficial to those with diabetes or blood sugar issues.
- Shows potential for having positive effects against cancer cells.
- Improves immunity, thanks to compounds such as benzonitrile, benzoic acid, itaconic acid, isorhamnetin, quercetin, catalase, and glucaric acid.
- Improves joint health.
- Is a rich source of B-vitamins.
- Can have an antibacterial effect against pathogenic organisms such as h.pylori, E. coli, and more.
- Contains certain acids that eliminate Candida.
One big difference between brewing beer and brewing Kombucha is that normally, beer is fermented with only one strain of yeast, which is encouraged to out-compete any other microbes. Kombucha is made using a SCOBY, a “Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast,” containing 30-40 different strains of bacteria and yeast. DNA sequencing studies conducted with Oregon State University allowed researchers to identify many of them. There are also several differences between the process of brewing beer and brewing Kombucha. With beer, the biggest chore is sanitizing all of your equipment. With Kombucha, cleanliness is important, but sanitation is unnecessary. Beer requires carefully extracting complex sugars from grains, whereas Kombucha needs simple cane sugar or honey, both of which dissolve easily in hot water. Also with beer brewing, after a certain point in the process, careful attention must be paid to prevent oxygen ingress, as this will lead to oxidation and staling. Kombucha requires oxygen during fermentation, so you only need a simple cloth or coffee filter to let air in and keep critters out. Lastly, Kombucha requires no racking. Yeast will often build up at the bottom, but not nearly to the extent as with beer—the yeast’s main waste product, alcohol, is mostly consumed by the bacteria, preventing mass yeast die-off and off-flavors.
As you can see, the amount of time and effort required for beer brewing vastly exceeds that of brewing Kombucha. While it may seem like a waste of time to brew one gallon of beer, since brewing 5 gallons takes about the same amount of time and effort, with Kombucha, the active time is minimal for both large and small batches.
This small-time effort investment in brewing Kombucha lends itself well to making small, experimental batches. Whether you want to embrace the Kombucha-beer hybrid style or create something wholly different, let’s get brewing! When it comes down to it, it’s actually best to brew only the amount you’re going to drink in one week. Your Kombucha will continue to carbonate and sour even after it’s refrigerated (albeit at a slower rate), and brewing often keeps your SCOBY healthy.
Just as beer has a primary and secondary phase, Kombucha does as well. The AHA has published an article on basic Kombucha brewing, so check that out first before you move on to flavoring.
The secondary ferment isn’t necessary, but most people do it to add carbonation. If you’d like carbonated, unflavored Kombucha you’ll either want to bottle it while it’s still a bit sweeter than you like, or add about 2 tsp. (8 g) of cane sugar back into it when you bottle it.
If you’d like to flavor your Kombucha, you’ll want to add this after the primary ferment is complete and you’ve removed your SCOBY to start a new batch. Flavorings are not typically added to the primary ferment to protect the SCOBY, which could weaken or die, though certainly experimental batches may be tried with any extra SCOBYs.
All recipes listed below are per 16-oz (473-mL) bottle (make sure your bottles are suitable for fermentation – anything that will work for beer will work great). Refer to The Big Book of Kombucha (TBBoK) for gallon-sized recipes. If using fresh flowers or herbs, double the amount listed in the recipe (unless the fresh version is what’s called for).
We recommend infusing flavors for 24 to 48 hours, then straining the resulting tea into clean bottles to age at room temperature (provided they are stored safely to prevent any accidents), or in the fridge. Carbonation forms between a day or two and up to a week, depending on the strength of your SCOBY, amount of yeast in the bottle, and the ambient air temperature (stronger and warmer = faster carbonation).
Flavored Kombucha Recipes
- 2 Tbs. (24 g) Blackberries, quartered
- 1 tsp. (12 g) Ginger, fresh and diced
- 1 Tbs. (12 g) Apricot, dried and diced
- 1 tsp. (7 g) Honey
- ½ tsp. (1 g) Hibiscus flowers, dried
- ½ tsp. (1 g) Ginger, fresh and diced
- ⅛ tsp. (0.6 ml) Lemon juice, fresh
- 4 oz. (118 ml) fruit or ginger-flavored Kombucha (chilled)
- 4 oz. (118 ml) beer (preferably a lighter beer such
- as wheat beer or lager)
- Combine the Kombucha and beer in a cold glass.
- Salt, for rimming a glass
- 6 oz. (177 ml) Finished Kombucha (we recommend lime-flavored!)
- 4 oz. (118 ml) Light beer
- 2 oz. (59 ml) Clamato or tomato juice, optional
- Lime wedge, for garnish
- Rim a cold glass with salt. Add the Kombucha, beer,
- and Clamato (if using) and garnish with a lime wedge.
Recipes reprinted with permission from The Big Book of Kombucha by Hannah Crum & Alex LaGory (Storey Publishing, 2016)
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About the Authors
Hannah Crum, also known as The Kombucha Mamma, is mother to billions of bacteria around the world and the founder of KombuchaKamp.com, the top informational site about Kombucha on the web. Hannah, along with partner Alex LaGory, wrote the bestseller and award winning “The Big Book of Kombucha” and co-founded Kombucha Brewers International where Hannah serves as President. With a mission of “changing the world, one gut at a time” and a motto of “we grow together,” she embodies the essence of symbiosis as symbolized by the SCOBY, Kombucha’s mother culture.
Carly Smith started their fermentation journey over a decade ago after reading Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz and eating lots of sauerkraut made by their grandfather. They have taught fermentation workshops and have built a career out of working behind the scenes at two of the most successful DIY fermentation ecommerce companies, along with Kombucha Brewers International.
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- “Zymurgy Basic Kombucha Recipe.” https://www.homebrewersassociation.org/zymurgy-recipe/basic-kombucha/
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