Kombucha, America’s favorite fermented tea! Going back in history for 1000’s of years, kombucha tea has been brewed across the globe for its medicinal properties and its sweet, tangy flavors. But we’re not talking health benefits today, we’re talking alcohol!
Alcohol is a by-product of the brewing process for kombucha. Depending on the ratio of ingredients and brewing, your kombucha can naturally produce from 1% to 3% alcohol. By manipulating the levels of yeast, sugars and the amount of time you brew, the alcohol levels can easily be increased.
Professional Brewers and Hard Kombucha
If you’re wanting to increase the alcohol content of your kombucha, you’re not alone. Professional craft beer brewers have been working hard to meet the growing demand for “hard kombucha” and kombucha beer hybrids. Today, you can find hard kombucha with alcohol levels as high as 4.5% ABV to 8% ABV. So how do they get such high alcohol levels in their kombucha?
Brewers will add brewing yeast to the kombucha tea to boost the alcohol produced during fermentation. They will also experiment with different types of yeast that can withstand the high acidity within kombucha. The fact that craft breweries will invest the time to produce hard kombucha and kombucha beers, shows the market for kombucha is growing.
Here are a few Kombucha Beers with high alcohol levels:
- Unity Vibration Kombucha Pale Ale (K.P.A.) – 8% ABV
- Boochcraft Apple Lime Jasmine Kombucha – 7.0% ABV
- JuneShine Hard Kombucha – 6% ABV
- Wild Tonic Blackberry Mint Hard Kombucha – 5.6% ABV
Homebrewing Kombucha With Higher Alcohol Levels
Why buy high-alcohol kombucha, when you can make it at home? For the homebrewer who already has experience brewing kombucha, there will be a number of additional challenges when brewing kombucha for high alcohol content. Increasing alcohol levels will take more brewing time, which means you’ll produce a more sour brew with higher acidity. The key to overcoming these challenges is carefully choosing your ingredients and paying closer attention to the brewing process.
Quick Tip: Brewing kombucha for higher alcohol levels works best with a Continuous Brewing (CB) system. Continuous brewing leaves the SCOBY in your brew allowing you to brew again and again. The continuous brewing system uses a large container with a spigot for draining kombucha when it’s ready; then easily beginning a new batch from the same SCOBY.
Three Steps For Increasing Alcohol Levels In Kombucha
Step 1: Increase the Yeast
The yeast produces the alcohol (ethanol) as it feeds on the sugars you’ve added to the tea. When you change the ratio of yeast to bacteria by adding more yeast, the bacteria will not be able to keep up with the additional ethanol that’s produced. You may also consider the type of yeast that you use. Specialty yeast works better than baking yeast for producing alcohol. Wine yeast, beer brewers yeast, and distillers yeast can be ordered from your local brewing store or online brewing shop.
Another way to increase the yeast in the first fermentation of your kombucha is to use the liquid from the bottom of a previous batch or “SCOBY hotel” as the starter liquid for the new brew. The tea from the bottom of the batch will have the highest concentration of yeast.
The second fermentation is a key opportunity to ensure higher alcohol levels in your kombucha. Second fermentation occurs in a closed environment, either in a sealed bottle or container. When you restrict oxygen from the bacteria in the brew, it can no longer consume the alcohol being produced. This means, most of the alcohol content in your kombucha will occur during the second fermentation process. To increase the alcohol potential, don’t filter any sediment you see in the brew. These floaters are strands and pieces separated from the SCOBY and will work to create more alcohol in the bottles or containers.
Quick Tip: Before pouring your kombucha into bottles or containers for a second fermentation, give the brew a stir. This last minute churn will help balance the yeast levels if using multiple bottles or containers.
Step 2: Increase the Sugar
Yeast produces alcohol when feeding on sugars within the kombucha brew. By giving the yeast more sugar to feed on, it produces more alcohol. Adding sugar to your kombucha can be done in both first and second fermentation but the best chance for more alcohol comes in the second fermentation.
In the primary fermentation, you can increase the sugar ratio up to 50% based on the number of gallons you are brewing. This will help give your brew a headstart with alcohol production.
When it comes to the second fermentation process, you may already be adding fruit juice or puree to the brew. Adding fruit juice and/or puree does increase the sugar content but keep in mind that the yeast will have to break down the fruit to get to the sugars it wants to consume. Instead of fruit, you can add sugar directly into the brew for more efficient alcohol production.
Quick Tip: According to kombuchahome.com, using organic white cane sugar works best and is the easiest sugar for the SCOBY to process.
Step 3: Increase Brewing Time
For most kombucha home brewers, the second fermentation is the opportunity to add carbonation to your brew. It’s also prime time for alcohol production. Increasing the time you allow for second fermentation allows the yeast in your kombucha to consume more sugar which produces more alcohol.
You can leave your kombucha brewing for up to 14 days at this stage. Just remember, the longer it ferments, the sourer the kombucha will be. Also, don’t forget to store someplace out of the sunlight and at a warmer temperature (70F – 80F).
Quick Tip: For quicker results, crank up the temperature to 82F. Just keep an eye on it. Nobody wants to deal with a kombucha “bottle bomb”.
Adding more yeast and sugars increased alcohol levels, but it also increases the build-up of CO2 gas. You’ll need to “burp” your bottles or containers on a regular basis to makes sure you’re not cleaning kombucha off the ceiling from an exploding bottle. If you’re burping daily and using quality bottles from a brewery supply store, you shouldn’t have any problem.
Testing The Alcohol Level In My Kombucha
You’ve gone to a lot of extra work to increase the alcohol levels of your kombucha brew. How will you know if it’s been worth it?
There are a number of devices that a homebrewer can purchase for measuring the alcohol content of their kombucha. Just keep in mind, you get what you pay for. The cheaper devices, such as a hydrometer (triple scale or precision models) and refractor meter will give you a close estimate but not an exact percentage. However, they are easy to use and great for a homebrew toolkit.
For exact results on the alcohol level of your kombucha, you can send a sample to a laboratory that will do an ABV test. This could cost you a few hundred dollars but will give you an exact number.
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