Welcome back! It's been awhile since part 1, hasn't it?
Well, to be honest, my brew didn't go exactly as planned. A couple of my wines had a really hard time getting fermentation underway, and some started bubbling the airlock right off the bat. But really, all of them took quite a bit longer than I had expected!
To start, I'll touch on the alcohol issue with kombucha. We're trying to do wine since kombucha alone will not inherently or with time make an alcoholic beverage that is palatable and appreciably alcoholic. I get that question sometimes - "If I let my kombucha brew for 3 months, will I end up with alcohol?" The answer is no - you might get a 'buch that is over 2% ABV, but this won't always be palatable and will be similar to vinegar, if you let it sit for that long. As such, we're going to force anaerobic fermentation, using a 1 gallon glass carboy, champagne yeast, and an airlock.
Let's take a look at the different brews I started back in October 2013.
Heavenly Peak Pu-erh - Pomegranate Kombucha Wine
Pu-erh teas are a fun way to experiment with kombucha. You're guaranteed a finished product that is almost always different from what you expected - even if you know what you are getting into in having a good grasp of the pu-erh's flavor profile, there will be aspects that are accentuated or forgotten in the final brew.
My pu-erh pomegranate wine is no exception. Sure, I expected a strong body and an appreciable acetic acid note with pomegranate early on. Something I've noticed that happens with kombucha wine, however, is that there's an abundant yeastiness that is not always seen as a good thing when you taste it in a wine. I've lost a lot of the notes of the initial, cooked pu-erh, picked up a ton of pomegranate and yeasty characteristics, and an easily-detected alcoholic aspect. And after about 2 months of secondary fermentation under an airlock, followed by almost 6 months of being stored in the refrigerator, not much has changed. A success, yes - it's definitely alcoholic - but I'm reminded that I'm a novice at making 'buch wine, as there isn't much about this one that is supremely desirable. Acidic, alcoholic, pomegranate barnyard. Fascinating, for sure, but I'm calling this one a pu-error.
Hairy Crab Oolong - Papaya Kombucha Wine
This one sounds silly, but aside from some initial difficulty in getting fermentation underway, there wasn't anything undersirable about this one. It was clear very early on that something wasn't quite right. I did 1/2 gallon of two different brews with this one, one pasteurized before adding the yeast, and one not pasteurized before the secondary, anaerobic fermentation. I wanted to see what effect killing off all of the probiotics in the kombucha had on the final wine.
Once fermentation started (after about 3 weeks, mind you - you will be able to tell because your air lock will be bubbling), I allowed this one quite a bit of time to undergo fermentation. After about 6 weeks, I could tell from tasting that there was still more to go, and ended up calling it off after about 3 months. This is the point where I found the 'buch wine to taste best - within the first few days after the champagne yeast fermentation. The longer the wine sat in bottles, the more bread and yeast notes contributed to its flavor profile.
Upon tasting, I could tell that there was still quite a bit of sweetness from the papaya, but there was a marked acidity and alcoholic nature to the brew as well. The pasteurized version definitely had a cleaner, less sulfuric aspect to it. Also, there was no overreaching, bready aspect as there had been in the pu-erh pomegranate 'buch. Lower in alcohol content than the pu-erh, but quite a bit more delicious. I call this one a success.
How to Make Kombucha Wine
I'll bet you've been sitting on that champagne yeast for quite a while, eh? Well hopefully by now you've honed your kombucha craft and are ready to take it to the next level with a wine. Most yeast packets you find at brew shops contain 5 grams, and are intended for a 5 gallon brew. So, just use the 1 gram of yeast per gallon you're going to make. You'll want to dissolve the yeast in some warm water before mixing it with your kombucha, that way it's nicely dispersed throughout the fermentation vessel.
As for the kombucha, my methodology was to cease primary fermentation while the 'buch is still slightly sweet, in an effort to minimize any strange acidic notes I might not want in the final wine brew. I also added sugar to the 'buch, after dissolving it in warm water so I didn't have to heat up my kombucha. If you're interested in trying this method with pasteurized kombucha, go ahead and boil your brew and add the sugar so that it will dissolve nicely. I used 1 cup of sugar per gallon of wine I was going to brew, to be sure the yeast had plenty of food to metabolize into alcohol.
Wine usually features some type of fruit, and so did this one. Utilizing organic papaya and organic pomegranate concentrates served this purpose; also, the sugar and other nutrients in the juices will be additional food for the yeast. The sweetness, flavor and consistency of your fruit juice will likely vary from mine, but I used 6 ounces of concentrate per 1 gallon brew. Keep in mind this is a matter of preference and you should probably err on the side of more concentrate rather than less.
After pouring the fruit concentrates into my designated carboys, I added the warm yeast-water. Then, I poured the kombucha into the carboy, capped with airlocks, labeled them, and let them sit until the airlock's bubbling ceased.
Now for the hard part - waiting. Try not to let this part bother you! One of the great things about kombucha in general is the speed with which this ferment is ready to be consumed. But if you want to take your brewing repertoire to the next level, it's going to take a little patience.
So, get another 'buch brew going, put a wine reminder in your calendar (start tasting when almost all bubbling has ceased), and relish that day in the semi-distant future when your fruity, dry 'buch wine is boozy and bodacious!
It's no secret that kombucha contains alcohol. Albeit usually in trace amounts that the body is able to metabolize quickly, and you are none the wiser. People will say to me, even after drinking a 1 oz. sample at a market, that they've received a "buzz" from my kombucha, insisting that I'm trying to get them drunk. It's definitely not from alcohol.
I find it hard to believe that any beverage artisan wants consumers to feel anything but fulfilled from drinking their product. Not to suppose that inebriation forfeits assessment of flavor (though we can all see how this can be possible in extreme circumstances), but getting hammered on a fine microbrew or expensive bottle of wine to an extent cheapens its value as a thing carefully-sourced and produced. Nuances and layers of flavor are best appreciated in careful consideration, and on the whole I'd say the ability to ascertain subtleties towards the end of a sizable run of alcohol consumption becomes difficult, possibly only overcome through diligent practice and variation (during the session) in the type/style of beer, wine, etc. Perhaps differences in many varieties, during a stint at a wine or beer festival, become relative to each other, making discrimination easier.
I'll state for the record that I've never become drunk on kombucha; if anything, after a long day of working at the market selling kombucha, and the requisite consumption of it that accompanies the event, I feel energized and content, with acute senses, perception and mobility that would assist me in anything from writing a research paper to driving across the country. I won't encourage anyone to drink that much kombucha (sometimes up to a gallon a day), but I'm definitely an aberrance in the field; not because I think kombucha is bad for you, but because I believe (and don't always practice) the "less is more" and "everything in moderation" approaches to consumption. Maybe 32 oz. a day feels good for you, maybe 4 oz. feels right. Maybe I want 2 liters.
That Being Said
You can make kombucha that contains a sizable amount of alcohol, akin to that of a standard American lager, and perhaps more (do experiment, please).
There are definitely kombucha companies out there who have chosen not to control the amount of alcohol in their kombucha, and they should be commended, be it for better or for worse.
There are also companies that have produced hybrids of kombucha and beer, with results ranging from 5-10% alcohol by volume. Whoa! Experimentation is the spice of life, and I'm happy these boundaries have been pushed.
However - I would be hard-pressed to say that I've completely enjoyed any of the marketed high-alcohol kombuchas available. Obvious merits are in the realm of a sour beer, of which I do count myself a fan, but something really different happens in kombucha - kombucha contains bacteria; most beers exclude all but a certain strain of yeast (that's why extreme sanitation and an airlock are used during the production of beers).
The only way I've found to make palatable and delicious (appreciably) alcoholic kombucha is in brewing kombucha wine; I've achieved about 5.5% alcohol, with only a few caveats in flavor based on a few different factors.
In upcoming posts, I'll describe my process of making kombucha wine, complete with suggestions and recipes - in the meantime, do some experimentation yourself! Don't wait for me to spell it out. I'll give you a hint - airlock, champagne yeast. Go!