How to Brew Kombucha Beer
Ever wondered if it is possible to get a buzz from you booch? If you are interested in not only increasing the alcohol % of your kombucha, but in making a mock beer to boot, read on for full instructions.
Ever wondered if it is possible to make ‘hard’ kombucha? Yes it is!
There are a few ways to go about this. By tweaking things a little it is possible to increase the level of alcohol produced in the normal brewing of kombucha. This will give you a mildly alcoholic booch. If you want to take things up a notch, then you can also experiment with the secondary ferment to allow further amounts of alcohol to develop. Lastly, by manipulating the secondary ferment even more to the point where it resembles generic brewing, you can produce for yourself a properly alcoholic kombucha beverage.
There are a few different ways you can go with this. You can manipulate the secondary ferment to produce either a kombucha wine, kombucha mead, kombucha ale, or a kombucha beer.
Kombucha beer is probably the most tricky of these four, but also one of the tastiest! Be aware however, that to make kombucha beer you will need some specialized brewing equipment, like an airlock and carboy.
Before we dive into instructions, let’s take a look at some of the science behind kombucha and alcohol production.
Why Kombucha Does Not Usually Develop High Levels of Alcohol
Thanks to the yeasts, regular kombucha usually has a very slight percentage of alcohol – roughly 1% or less. This is not enough for it to classify as an alcoholic beverage. The reason why kombucha does not usually get over this 1% alcohol level is because of the bacteria. The yeasts in kombucha, while not as proficient at producing alcohol as the yeasts harnessed in beer brewing, do produce alcohol.
This happens when they digest the sugar in the sweet tea. Their waste product is alcohol. However, not much of this remains in the finished kombucha, because the bacteria use the alcohol as their food source! Little drunkards.. : )
The bacteria then in turn convert the alcohol into natural acids, one of the components of kombucha which is responsible for its reputation as a health drink.
In beer brewing this does not happen, as there is not bacteria present. As mentioned above, beer brewing also uses species of yeasts which inherently produce higher levels of alcohol than kombucha yeasts.
How to Manipulate The Kombucha Yeasts to Produce Alcohol
Because the kombucha yeasts can and do produce alcohol, it is possible to give them conditions where this is encouraged, and where the bacteria do not have a chance to consume most of the alcohol. The basic way to achieve this is by incorporating as much kombucha yeasts as possible when setting up your initial ferment, and by increasing their food source, which is sugar.
If you are not already aware of this, the yeasts in kombucha are often free floating. You can see them floating around in the form of long brown strands. When setting up your new ferment which is destined to become beer kombucha, you want to get in as many of these as possible. Often yeast sediment and strands tend to collect at the bottom of kombucha which is brewing. When you are taking out starter liquid, scoop from the bottom and aim to get as much of this sediment as possible.
Because you are upping the amount of yeasts present in your ferment, you should increase their food source as well. This will also help them to proliferate faster than their bacterial counterparts. This is desirable, as the overall alcohol level present at the end of the fermentation is determined by not only by the yeasts, but by the bacteria as well. If the yeasts can get ahead of the bacteria – then they stand a good chance to be able to ‘out ferment’ them, resulting hopefully in more alcohol left at the end of the brewing period.
A rough guideline for estimating how much additional sugar to add is to incorporate 50% extra of what you usually use.
The secondary ferment is the next opportunity to tweak things. If you were merely aiming to increase alcohol levels a little, you could go with just adding in more sugar. This is actually customary with secondary ferments, as a new source of sugar assists in the development of extra carbonation. However the sweetening usually comes via the form of a flavoring ingredient like fruit. If you add in pure white sugar, this has a better chance of increasing alcohol levels, as it is the simplest form for the yeasts to consume.
Beer Making Time
However, for the purpose of beer making, we will be taking the secondary ferment to the next level. For this you will need some beer making equipment and additional ingredients.
How to Further Increase Alcohol Production in the Second Ferment and Create a Beer Flavor
While adding sugar and encouraging the yeasts from the get go will increase the alcoholic content of kombucha, it will not imbue it with a beer like flavor. It is also unlikely that you will consistently achieve the kind of alcohol percentage common to a regular beer, which is about 5%. This is where we take things a step further to get closer to our beer kombucha.
Add in a Beer Brewing Yeast
Because the kombucha yeasts are not the most efficient alcohol producers, and they have their friends the bacteria on their tails each step of the way – one of the only ways to seriously increase the alcohol content of kombucha and create a proper beer, is to add in an external source of better quality (for this purpose) yeasts. Bread yeast is not a good option, as it too is not adapted to achieve heightened alcohol production. However brewing shops offer an array of different beer making yeasts, as well as a generic distillers yeast which will also work.
Add Barley, Molasses and Hops
The next step towards a true to type ‘beer kombucha’ is to incorporate some barley and molasses into the secondary ferment. These two additional ingredients will help to give a typical beer like flavor. All of this is, the adding of beer yeast, barley, molasses and additional white sugar, is done using the carboy and airlock system, during the second ferment.
So now that you can the basics under your belt, let’s get down to brewing!
Making Kombucha Beer
As outlined in the previous sections, the making of kombucha beer happens in two parts, the initial kombucha making, which you do not have to change too much. Then comes the secondary ferment which is done in a carboy with an airlock. Here you add the additional ingredients and the beer yeast. Before you get started with the initial batch of kombucha, have a look around for what you want in the line of the carboy and airlock. You can substitute the carboy out for another container – but the airlock is essential. It is possible to easily DIY an airlock. On the flip side though, airlocks are pretty cheap, work like a charm and can be used for multiple ferments, for example cultured veggies.
What You Need
Once you have sorted out a carboy and airlock system, the first thing you need to do is assemble all of your equipment and ingredients.
- Your usual kombucha fermentation container and cover
- Black tea
- Sugar (approximately double the usual amount + 1 cup)
- Beer yeast
- 1 cup barley
- 1 ounce fresh hops (if you can get)
- 1 cup molasses
This recipe is designed to make just over a gallon of kombucha beer. If however you want to make a smaller batch or a larger batch, feel free. Kombucha wine and beer making is an experimental – and temperamental! – process. You will most probably have to made adjustments to get to a perfect brew. So do not be overly fearful – mistakes are how we learn to make great things. Like beer – and nowadays kombucha beer. : )
Step # 1
Once you have all of your stuff together, make your sweet tea for the kombucha as usual. The only difference here is that you need to add in the extra sugar. Increase it by an additional 50% of what you usually use. Once the tea has cooled, set up the ferment. Make sure to try and get as much of the free floating yeasts as you can into your starter liquid.
Step # 2
Cover the kombucha and leave to ferment as usual for the normal time period. Once the kombucha is ready – it is time for the second ferment.
Step # 3
Bring out your carboy and airlock, as well as your additional ingredients. Bring roughly 2 pints (1 litre) of water to the boil. Add in the barley. Allow the water to cool slightly and add in the hops, 1 cup of molasses and 1 cup of sugar. Allow the mix to cool to just about room temperature, but to the point where it is still slightly warm. Now it is time to add in the beer making yeast. For a gallon you can likely use one sachet – but check the instructions on the box, they will most probably give directions as to how much yeast to use for what volume of liquid.
Step # 4
Once you have stirred the yeast in, it is time to put the whole thing together. In the carboy combine the kombucha (without the SCOBY) and your yeast/molasses/barley/hops. Give it a stir to combine it fully. Now seal up, checking to make sure the airlock is properly in place and not blocked.
Step # 5
Now place your brew in a cool darkish spot. Leave it there to brew until the yeast have stopped fermenting. The time it will take for this to happen will depend on the temperature. However you will be able to see when the yeasts are slowing down because there will be no more bubbles in the airlock. If you are not sure what is going on in your brew, you can also use a hydrometer to check the levels of residual sugar. The hydrometer should show a reading of less than 1.
Step # 6
As soon as the yeasts have stopped their good work, it is time to decant and bottle up your kombucha beer. With a piece of plastic hose, siphon your finished kombucha beer into bottles. Try not to get any of the sediment from the bottom into your bottles. Seal the bottles with caps or fliptops. If you were making kombucha wine, then you could leave the brew to age in a cool dark spot. However you probably do not want much additional sourness in your kombucha beer, so the best thing to do is to put the whole lot into the refrigerator. It might take up some space, but if it is any good the fridge should start emptying out at a steady rate. : )
The success of a batch of kombucha beer is not guaranteed, and hops and molasses can give you some epic fails in flavor if fermentation did not go as planned. So if you meet with success – congratulations! If you are not quite happy with your results, you might want to change the amounts of the additional ingredients a bit next time round. The beer making yeast probably should be kept to the recommended quantity. However if you find the the either the barley, hops or molasses is creating a flavor imbalance, play with these amounts to achieve a taste which pleases you. Keeping a written record of your each batch is a great way to track results and tweak your product. This does not have to be anything complicate, merely jotting down ingredient amounts, temperatures, brew times etc.
Fruity Flavors for a Bavarians Twist
If you are a fan of dark Belgian fruit beers, then you can incorporate into the secondary ferment some fruit juice. You can reduce the sugar addition then slightly to compensate.
Fermentation is a fascinating art – one which humans have been delving into for thousands of years. Experimentation is key, and some of the best beverages have come into being by complete accident. So do not be scared to play with your process and push some new kombucha borders!
(In case you needed any encouragement, an adept and famous beer brewer by the name of John Laffler in Chicago has been trying his hand at creating a perfect beer kombucha blend.)