How To Increase Alcohol Content Of Kombucha Tea
Freshly-brewed kombucha tea is a little sweet, a little tangy, and a little alcoholic. Don’t worry about giving your kids kombucha, though! There’s usually about as much alcohol in a glass of kombucha as there is in a glass of unpasteurized apple cider – in other words, not much. Most bottled kombucha has less than 1% alcohol, which is 25% less than even the lightest “lite” beer on the market.
So don’t think you’re going to get drunk on Kombucha (in the physical sense) anytime soon.
To get an “adult” version of kombucha tea, you can increase the alcohol slightly, and get the equivalent of a good beer. Some people have even been able to push the percentage up above 6%ABV (alcohol by volume). However, since increasing alcohol takes time, more time means a more sour brew; the bacteria in the kombucha will continue to convert the alcohol into organic acids. In order to get a good-tasting kombucha with a higher alcohol content, you’ll need start out with the right ingredients, and watch the flavor development closely.
This is an advanced tutorial because if you screw it up, you’re going to get a sour Kombucha brew.
But hey, that’s the fun right?
How to Increase Kombucha Alcohol Percentage
Here are some of the basic tricks you can use to up the dose of alcohol in your Kombucha brew. These tricks are specifically designed to get you both a stronger FIRST FERMENT and if you choose, a more alcoholic second ferment.
Note that if you want to take things to the next level of alcoholic follow steps 1 & 2, then go to the next section. If you want to make
- Kombucha Wine
- Kombucha Cider
- Kombucha Mead
- Kombucha Beer
…then you’ll need to create a stronger first ferment as given below, THEN use proper equipment and ingredients to make your kombucha wine/beer/cider, etc, which is covered in our next section
1. Use “Yeasty” Starter Culture During First Fermentation
Unlike the yeasts used in brewing wine and beer, the yeasts in the kombucha SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast) didn’t evolve to produce high amounts of alcohol. However, you can alter the ratio of yeasts to bacteria in your brew to get a slightly higher alcohol content. When the yeasts outnumber the bacteria, the bacteria won’t be able to convert all of the ethanol they produce.
The liquid at the bottom of your SCOBY hotel generally has a higher concentration of yeasts than bacteria. We can use this to increase our alcohol percentage in our current brew.
Instead of pulling your starter culture (for your next brew) off the top of the jar, remove the SCOBYs from your SCOBY HOTEL and use the liquid at the bottom of the jar to boost alcohol percentage.
Note that this yeast sediment also tends to collect at the bottom of the container you’re using if you have a continuous brewing system set up, since the spigot is generally a few inches above the floor of the container. And yes, we do want that yeasty sediment in your starter — that’s a sign of a higher yeast to bacteria ratio, which is what we want.
Because you’re adding extra yeast to the mix, you’ll get better results if you also increase the amount of sugar in your kombucha recipe by 50%. This will give the yeast more sugar to convert, and also allow the fermentation process to go a little bit longer.
2. Add Slightly More Sugar During First Fermentation
More yeast means more potential for alcohol production. But this also means you need more sugar to feed those yeasts. If you add more yeast to your first ferment, you’ll also want to add more sugar to supply that extra yeast with more fuel and to encourage a higher yeast to bacteria ratio in your brew.
Add in about 50 percent more sugar (so 1.5 to 2 cups of sugar per gallon of tea) IF you add in the stronger Kombucha starter from step #1 above.
If you want to make KOMBUCHA ALCOHOL rather than just a more alcoholic regular kombucha, then stop here and go to the next section (how to make Kombucha wine).
3. Add Sugar During Second Fermentation
Assuming that you don’t want to make a kombucha wine, beer, or cider (which will take you 3 weeks to 3 months of fermentation in an airlock with extra ingredients) and you just want a far more alcoholic regular kombucha, then continue. Otherwise go to the next section (how to make kombucha wine).
The conversion of sugar to alcohol continues during second fermentation, which is why many people add fruit juice, fruit purees, or extra sugar before bottling kombucha. Keep in mind that this process also creates a lot of excess carbonation, so make sure that you’re controlling the amount of CO2 inside the containers or bottles with an airlock or by “burping” the bottles regularly or you could have an kombucha bottle explosion like I did.
If you add in sugar directly instead of fruit, you make it a bit easier for the yeasts to feed (rather than the yeasts having to break down the fruit and extract the sugar in can eat). So instead (or in addition to) adding pure fruit, add in sugar too.
You’ll have to play with the sugar ratios, but start with half a cup of sugar. The amount will vary depending on how sweet you want your final brew, how much kombucha is in your bottle, and the (second) ferment time.
You can use nearly any type of sugar for kombucha alcohol but organic white cane sugar generally gives the best results since it’s the easiest sugar for your SCOBY to process.
Note, if you do a second ferment, then you won’t be making Kombucha Wine, Beer, Mead, or Cider and you’ll just end up with a more alcoholic kombucha, which you may or may not want.
4. Add Yeast During Second Fermentation
When you add a variety of yeast that does an even better job of converting sugar to alcohol, you’ll really boost the amount of alcohol in the final product.
You can buy packets of champagne yeast or another wine yeast at many brewing supply stores or on amazon. You can also purchase any of the types of yeast that beer brewers use, or get a generic “distiller’s yeast” and experiment with that.
NOTE: All yeasts transform a certain amount of sugar into alcohol, but sometimes the percentage is fairly low. That’s why using supermarket baking yeast won’t give you a very good result if you’re trying to brew kombucha alcohol. So you need special wine yeast to really increase the alcohol levels in your Kombucha during second ferment.
How to Make Kombucha Wine
Kombucha wine is basically the process of turning your regular kombucha brew from being regular kombucha to an actual alcoholic product (wine, mead, ale, etc). You can use those little tricks above to increase your alcohol percentage by a few percent — to the level of a light beer say, or maybe a bit higher if you’re lucky and your experimentive.
But if you want to actually make real alcohol with an intoxicating-inducing level of alcohol (4-10 percent), then you need to actually make Kombucha Wine.
Before you start, make sure you have the right equipment.
You’ll need to have containers with airlocks for the second fermentation, and you’ll need to have flip-top bottles to store the kombucha wine as it ages.
You can also use a bottle capper to get a tight seal on the bottles. Look on line or in your local brewer’s supply store for specialized brewing equipment like carboys, airlocks, siphons, and hydrometers that will make this whole process easier.
Personally, just spend the 14 or so dollars on amazon and buy the Home Brewer Ohio Glass Wine Fermenter, which includes the 1 gallon bottle carboy, the airlock and hose — everything you need to brew yourself up a gallon of alcoholic kombucha.
The Kombucha Wine Ingredients
To make one gallon of kombucha wine, you’ll need the following:
- a one-gallon carboy or other container with an airlock seal
- 14 cups brewed kombucha tea (1 gallon minus 2 cups)
- 1 package wine or champagne yeast
- 1 cup filtered water
- 1 cup of sweetener (organic white cane sugar)
- 1 cup fruit juice
How to Make the Kombucha Wine
PRE-STEP: Make your kombucha FIRST FERMENT tea using your basic kombucha recipe, using high-yeast starter liquid in #1 step and increasing the amount of sugar by about 50 percent. Note this takes place during the first ferment. It will take roughly 5 to 10 days to get your first ferment done. We need this to actually create the base kombucha that we turn into wine.
Step 1: Create the yeast-sugar mixture for second ferment: when you your first ferment kombucha tea is finished, you are ready to start on the wine making process that replaces the regular second ferment. Bring the 1 cup water to a boil and stir in the sugar until dissolved. When the liquid has cooled so that it is still warm but not hot, add 1/3 teaspoon of the wine yeast and let the yeast activate. When the yeast is fully hydrated and ready to use, it will be bubbly. If your yeast is not bubbly, it is too old, and will not ferment the kombucha alcohol.
Step 2: Pour the yeast and the sugar water into the carboy, then pour in the fruit juice (whatever juice you want your wine to be flavored as). Strain the kombucha tea into the container and cap it with the airlock seal.
Step 3: Put the container in a cool dark place until the yeast has stopped fermenting. You’ll know when this happens because there will be no more bubbles in the airlock. Use a hydrometer to check the level of residual sugars, if you are not sure that fermentation has completely stopped. The hydrometer should show a reading of less than 1.
Step 4: Siphon the kombucha wine into clean bottles, leaving the sediment at the bottom of the carboy. Seal the bottles with caps or flip-top lids and store them in a cool or cold location for 3 weeks to 3 months or even longer, depending on the flavor you’re looking for. Keep in mind that the acid level will continue to increase over time, once all of the sugar has been converted.
Kombucha Alcohol Types & Flavors
Just as in the second ferment flavor options, there are virtually limitless flavor combinations you can try out when making your kombucha wine. Indeed, you can even make different types of alcohol depending on the sugar you use (mead for example).
Try different blends of fruit juices, like apple, grape, pomegranate, or even mango. We recommend using FRESH fruit in season for the most potent wine flavors.
Grapes, of course, are something to try for a more traditional wine meets kombucha flavor. We would call this a Kombucha Wine. To get the wine taste, you’ll need to follow along the lines of a traditional wine making, using grapes as the fermentation fruit.
Strawberry, Cherries, or Apples make a tasty Kombucha Cider once you ferment for a month to three. Or go with something really creative — pumpkin Kombucha cider, for example. For most of you, Kombucha cider (if you like second ferment kombucha) will probably be the type of kombucha you’ll want to first experiment. You’ll get a very tasty, second ferment like kombucha, but seriously alcoholic. Think of it as a second ferment on flavor steroids, and one that will land you with a DUI if you try driving after a few glasses!
For Kombucha Mead, replace the cane sugar with honey to get “kombucha mead” or use maple syrup for a different flavor profile. Even better, put the final results into a mug, wear a viking hat, and you can pretend your drinking in the mead hall on one of the Vikings episodes! I love fruit-meads personally. I recommend using honey with cherry or blueberry fruit here.
Love beer and kombucha? Well, you can have your cake and eat it too. Why not make Kombucha Beer. Yes, it is possible. Try adding some roasted barley and molasses along with the fruit juice to get a “kombucha beer” that is similar to a dark Belgian fruit beer. This is my favorite style of Kombucha alcohol, but it’s also the most risky in terms of flavor experimentation. the molasses and barely can give you some spectacular failures if you don’t watch everything right. Advanced Kombucha craft brewers only for this one. And I recommend you try 5 or 7 gallons at a time (so you’ll need more equipment) so you can try different experiments at the same time without losing a batch to a bad combination of ingredients.