We’ve been enjoying Kombucha in the house on a regular basis for a couple of years now. I don’t make it, my wife Lisa Marie does. This entry on how she makes the kombucha has been in the works for nearly a year — let me publicly apologize for taking so long to post this. Thanks to Lisa Marie for outlining her method on kombucha for bardicbrews.net readers.
Kombucha is “an effervescent fermentation of sweetened tea.” But rather than using yeast to “eat” the sugar and create alcohol, we use something called a SCOBY. SCOBY stands for Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria & Yeast. It is a coherent structure, almost like a “blob” or a collection of slime that looks like this:
In general it is best to get a SCOBY from someone willing to barter; paying for these things (unless it’s like a buck or something) is just dumb. Wrong energy, at least in Lisa Marie’s opinion. If you don’t know where to start, don’t start on the ‘net. Ask around at local health food stores, etc. You meet some of the coolest people this way. : )
You will also need a container for fermenting, NOT a carboy with an airlock. We prefer a traditional crock. We have also used a glass gallon jar, but didn’t get as nice a ferment out of it. Perhaps it was too much exposure to light? We don’t recommend using anything metal. Metal should never come in contact with your SCOBY or your fermented beverage. Check around yard sales or flea markets for cool crocks.
As always, use the best water you can. If there is fluoride or chlorine in your water it won’t help your brewing in any way.
Kombucha is also made with tea. We use the store brand of organic black tea. We prefer a caffeinated black or green tea to make my kombucha, though there are several variations and combinations of herbs and teas that could be used. This is where the internet is quite helpful. There are so many people experimenting with kombuchas these days, which is fantastic.
You will also need sugar. The type of sugar one should use is controversial. No, you can’t use honey because honey is an antibacterial and will kill your SCOBY. Different sugars will give you different-tasting kombuchas. Our advice is to always go as local as possible and use something as unrefined and as organic as possible. We use organic cane juice. I’ve been jonesin’ to try a local maple sugar. Maybe someday soon!
Add-ins… This is where the fun starts. The one we’ve been stuck on recently is Rosehip Kombucha. It’s fun to experiment, but definitely do your research first. Some plants and mushrooms are antibacterial and/or antiviral. Keep those away from your SCOBY! Add-ins can be added to the tea during fermentation (like the rosehips) or to the bottle before filling with the fermented tea (like spirulina powder, cider, or grated fresh ginger).
You will also need bottles, and other supplies like a funnel and a ladle. We prefer Grolsch bottles because they are easy to use, are re-usable, and don’t require new caps periodically. For making the tea you will need a wooden spoon and a strainer. Lastly, you will need a thin cloth like a handkerchief or a cloth napkin and a rubber band to cover the crock during fermentation.
This recipe for Rosehip Kombucha makes 1 gallon or about 6 12-oz. Grolsch bottles’ worth of ‘booch.
1. Boil 1 gallon of water:
2. Turn off heat and add 1 c. sugar, 5 tea bags (or approximation of equivalent tea), and a couple handfuls of dried rosehips:
3. Stir well with wooden spoon and let steep with lid on for 15 minutes.
4. Strain tea into crock:
5. Cover with cloth and rubber band and let cool to room temp (test with pinky):
6. When cool to room temp, stir in (with your wooden spoon) about 1 cup of a previous batch of kombucha. Gently lay your SCOBY [my picture shows a mother with a few babies... some are thicker, some are thinner) on top of the tea mixture. Don't worry if it sinks. It will eventually rise up in a day or so.
7. Cover with cloth and rubber band and label, if necessary.
8. Most kombuchas take anywhere from 7-30 days to ferment. We always check ours after about 5 days to see where it’s at. Using a wooden or plastic spoon, take a sample from underneath the SCOBY and taste it. Some people like it more vinegary, some more sweet. When it tastes good to you, it’s ready to bottle.
9. For bottling, we prefer to use Grolsch bottles with re-useable seals at the top. It’s important to ladle the ‘booch slowly, with the bottle turned at a steep angle to preserve carbonation and prevent overflow.
Remember, some kombuchas are fizzy and some aren’t. This has to do with ingredients used and ambient temperature of the room in which you’re storing the kombucha, as well as how much sugar is left in the tea when you bottle. Some of our kombuchas have gone in with no fizz and have opened with quite a bang! To prevent a mess, always open a homebrew kombucha bottle over the sink!
Storage advice varies from person to person. We store ours outside the fridge and put in two each night for the next day. Refrigeration slows fermentation; I still want those yeasties working.
You’re going to get little kombucha stringies (some call them “threads”) or mini-mothers (little SCOBY) in your kombucha. They’re totally fine to ingest – and are actually quite beneficial to the gut! Go ahead: slug ‘em back!
Above all, enjoy your ‘booch!
Sorry for not providing more notice, but I am about to be interviewed on the Desperate House Witches podcast. The show is underway and I should be going on soon! Once the archive is up I’ll post it here….. I believe they take live call-ins, so if you want to ask me a question about mead (or anything else for that matter) tune in!
EDIT: The show is archived here:
The interview with me starts about 23:30. I had a great time! Thanks to Desperate House Witches!
I’m very excited to be releasing this. It’s been in the works for quite a while. This is episode 1 of a new podcast called The Mead Hall. At present, I am envisioning 8 episodes per year. This site has the “brews” part of its name covered well, with many dozens of mead recipes up here now. However, the “bardic” part has been under-represented. This podcast will seek to put this back into balance.
My aim is to tell stories, as well as provide an outlet for some of my music — I am a musician and a recording engineer in addition to a mead enthusiast. So a podcast seemed a natural fit. With that, I introduce The Mead Hall: Episode 1.
The Origin of Mead
The first episode could be nothing but the story of of how Odin won mead for gods and men, from the Skáldskaparmál in the Prose Edda. There are several things that strike me about this story, one of which is that in Viking culture, a mere sip of the sacred mead is worth a season’s worth of work from nine laborers.
Thanks to Lorelei Greenwood-Jones for playing her harp while I had some microphones up. The rest of the music and the voiceover were me. Enjoy!
And another bountiful harvest:
Unfortunately, a printer mishap caused the labels to print a bit off in terms of color. Ah well. Close enough. :-)
The Husk Cherry Mead is very subtle; the husk cherries give a nice layer of richness to the dry mead, it smooths/mellows it out nicely.
The Elderberry Rosehip Mead is delightful — tart, dry, and a real immune system blast. I’m happy with it; I was envisioning last year’s Elder Mead minus the bitterness of the reishi, and that’s exactly what it is.
Finally, the Fox Pyment Single Mead is my favorite of the bunch in terms of flavor. A simple mead with just a touch of the most wonderful grape flavor with it. I can’t wait to try the double mead when it is ready…. it should be a bit sweeter with a much more intense grape flavor.
All three of these meads are dry, which is nice. Many recent meads have been sweeter.
With this bountiful harvest behind us, let this be the first teaser: there are a few changes on the horizon for BardicBrews.net. Thus far, most of this site’s content has been focused on “brews” which is great…. but moving forward, look for more content on the “bardic” side of things. Stay tuned!
It’s been cold this week. Maine gets cold in the winter, but this past week has been like nothing I’ve seen in a long time, in terms of the number of cold days in a row. We haven’t seen 20 degrees Fahrenheit in nearly a week, and the lows have been in the negative double-digits.
Clearly it’s time to hibernate, and a hibernation mead is in order. This will be (for now) a plain mead, though I am definitely thinking about trying my first spiced mead. I began with basically the same recipe as Mad Trad D from the Mad Trad Trial: chaga and sumac with my basic mead recipe. This is a nice, rich decoction:
Once I cooled it down to blood temperature, I added enough honey to get to a 16% initial alcohol potential:
After I pitched the yeast, I was left with a beautiful brown must:
There will be more to this story…. spicing. Hmmm……
UPDATE: May 15, 2013
Much to my surprise, this mead has already mostly cleared. So I racked it today, as well as adding a spice packet to it. I thought a lot about what spices to add, and decided to emulate a chai spice (hence the modified name of Chaibernation Mead… heh heh). Specifically, I added a vanilla bean, a cinnamon stick, a few mace husks, cardamom seeds, black peppercorns, and dried red peppercorns:
Then I chopped them all up:
And lastly, put them into a sealable teabag (sealed with an iron):
I also took a hydrometer reading after I racked it, it is presently 2.5% alcohol potential, which means this is a semisweet mead at 13.5% alcohol. With the spicing mixture it should be great:
Next step: check the flavor profile on this starting in a couple of days. I don’t want the spice to be overwhelming.
Last year’s Blackberry Cyser (cyser means “apple mead” or mead made with apple cider rather than water) was really good, and I knew I’d be merging apples and blackberries most years moving forward. The apples here where I live in Maine are generally quite tart, in a good way, and the blackberries I pick in my yard give a nice earthy, smooth counterbalance to the tartness of the apples.
I also new that I wanted to use some cranberries we had in the freezer in a cyser this year, to play off the contrasts between 2 different “shades” of tart (apples and cranberries). Originally I thought I’d do them separately, but due to a similar situation as what happened during the Fox Pyment (basically I poured in too much honey), I had to split the batch into 2 smaller batches. There was also a slight mishap during the juicing process, but we were able to recover with some amount of grace.
This is a simple one, with no real herbal ingredients. I did add 3 cups of organic black tea to each batch to provide a bit of tannic acid, tweaking both the pH and the flavor.
It turns out that cranberry and blackberry juice mixed together are gorgeous:
I took this, mixed in some honey, and realized I way overshot the honey. I had forgotten that late-season cider is sweeter than normal, so I ended up with nearly 25% alcohol potential. So I split it into 2 batches and proceeded from there. Both batches have similar amounts of blackberry/cranberry juice, but one will likely be a sweet mead (19% initial alcohol potential) and one will likely be dry (16% initial alcohol potential):
Color on the two is quite similar, as you can see below. First is the dry Black & Cran cyser:
And this is the sweet (mislabeled, it is 19% not 18%):
I look forward to seeing how these come out!
UPDATE: March 31
Finally got a round to racking these. The Dry Cyser is now 2%, so it is 14% ABV. The Sweet Cyser is now 4%, so it is 15% ABV. Both different flavors of delicious!
This season’s harvest is a beautiful one:
Three fabulous berry meads from 2012. The Happy Strawberry (made with St Johns Wort) has a light and crisp flavor, perfect reflection of a summertime mead. The Blueberry Mullein, made with twice as many berries as I usually use, has an unbelievably rich, almost thick mouth feel and is just delightful. And the Cherry Chaga Ginseng has the most complex flavor of the three, with the bitterness from both the Ginseng and the chokecherries.
All 3 batches cleared nicely:
With a bonus closeup of the Blueberry Mead:
This year, my friends Arthur Haines and Nicole Leavitt from the Delta Institute of Natural History were kind enough to share their Fox Grapes with me and my wife. We split the grapes equally, Lisa Marie making jelly and me, of course, making grape mead, which is also called pyment. I thought about adding some herbs to this mead, but these grapes are so amazing I wanted to let them speak for themselves. Along the way, I had a bit of a mishap and had to readjust. Read on for details.
Fox Grapes (Vitis labrusca)
Fox grapes are native to North America’s east coast, and are one of the precursors to the famous Concord grape (which I used in last year’s Chaga Pyment). However, these Fox Grapes are larger than the feral Concord grapes we foraged last year:
After Lisa Marie made her grape jelly, I had about 3 pounds of stemmed grapes to work with:
Once they were stemmed and cleaned, we got out the juicer and I ended up with nearly a half gallon of grape juice:
One thing to know when working with wild grapes is that they contain tartrate, which is a substance that is bitter and can irritate the skin and mucous membranes. If you eat more than a few wild grapes, you are likely to notice a slight burning or tingling sensation at the back of your tongue or the roof of your mouth; this is caused by the tartrate. The solution is to stick the grape juice in the refrigerator overnight, so the tartrate will tend to settle (in crystal form). Note that in mead, the tartrates will settle out during fermentation and end up as part of the sediment…. so I won’t use the sediment from this batch of mead for anything.
Oops! Too much honey!
I started with a strong chaga decoction, and poured the grape juice in with the chaga. However, when I added the honey, I had a mishap, and poured too much honey into the pot, giving me an off-the-chart alcohol potential of about 24%:
So I had a decision to make. I could either have a VERY OBNOXIOUSLY sweet mead, or I could split this into 2 different batches. I had an open carboy so I chose the latter course, which of course will weaken the grape flavor a bit. Rather than make 2 more or less identical batches, I decided to make a Strong Fox Pyment with most of the grape juice, and a Weak Fox Pyment with about half of the grape juice. To accomplish this I poured off about a gallon of the oversweet must and set it aside:
Then, I used the remaining 2 gallons of oversweet must, added more water (and a bit more honey) to get me to a more reasonable alcohol potential of 17%:
I pitched the yeast and poured it into the first carboy. Then I used the 1 gallon (or so) of the remaining oversweet must, put it into my stockpot, added more water and honey to get the Weak Fox Pyment to about 16% alcohol potential:
I then pitched a second packet of yeast and added the must to another carboy, giving me to similar batches of pyment:
When it’s all said and done, the Strong Fox Pyment should have a darker color and a stronger grape flavor than the Weak Fox Pyment, but they should be quite similar. Time will tell!
UPDATE, Jan 11
I racked the Weak Fox Pyment today, and it is a good dry-ish flavor at 2% remaining alcohol potential, which means it is 14% ABV. It is a lovely light color, crisp with a hint of grapes to it. Almost exactly what I was hoping for! The Strong Fox Pyment doesn’t seem quite ready to rack just yet.
UPDATE, March 31
Finally racked the Strong Fox Pyment. It too ended up at 2% remaining alcohol potential, making it 15% ABV. The color is much darker, and of course the grape flavor is stronger. Awesome!
Elderberries are one of my favorite berries to work with. 2010′s Elderberry Mead was one of my favorites that year (probably a close second behind the Wild Black Cherry Mead). Then in 2011 I made Elder Mead with Reishi and Rosehips accompanying the elderberries, and it was one of the most unique brews I’ve yet done — a serious power-pack for the immune system.
This year, I was able to get 2 quarts of beautiful elderberries from my friend David Homa, who runs Post Carbon Designs and is a Maine permaculture expert. I wanted to feature the Elderberries a bit more strongly this year, so I decided to use chaga rather than reishi due to reishi’s strong flavor profile. The rosehips went well with the elderberries, so I decided to dry a simpler Elderberry Rosehip mead.
I detailed many of the properties of both Elderberries and the Rosehips in the Elder Mead entry from 2011, so I won’t repeat that information here.
I started with a chaga decoction, this time made very strongly after simmering for about 20 hours. Then, I fished out the chunks of chaga so that I can re-use them for tea:
Then I turned off the heat, tossed in 2 handfuls of rose hips, let it steep for about 15 minutes, then put in the sink to cool off:
Then, I juiced the 2 quarts of elderberries using our juicer. I was surprised at how much it yielded, about 1.25 quarts of juice:
Mixed together with enough honey to get it up to 16% initial alcohol potential, it makes for a beautifully-colored wort, as usual with the elderberries:
As always, I can’t wait to see how this turns out!
UPDATE: Nov 25
Just racked this mead to find a 2% remaining alcohol potential, which means it is 14% alcohol. It’s semisweet, and kind of young mead bitter, but should be excellent when it’s had a chance to age a bit.
For a while now, I’ve been wondering what a tomato mead would be like. I’ve heard of basil being successful in mead also, so I’ve been imagining what some of these flavors might be in a mead. I haven’t quite had the guts to make a tomato mead though.
Husk Cherry (Physalis pruinosa)
Husk Cherry (Physalis pruinosa) is a member of the Physalis family, so it is a nightshade and in the tomato family. P. pruinosa is also sometimes called “Strawberry Groundcherry,” “Cape Gooseberry,” and of course “Husk Cherries” (specifically the “Goldie variety” from the seed supplier). Physalis is most known for the husks that surround the fruit:
The husk cherries definitely have a tomato-ish vibe, but they aren’t nearly as tart or intense as a tomato. The flavor is sweeter and lighter, and the overtones are more like pineapple than tomato. Delicious!
Our CSA Farm (Deri Farm in North Yarmouth Maine) happened to have some extra husk cherries this year, so I grabbed up 2 quarts right away, and made sure the husks were all peeled away (thanks LM for the help!).
I begin this batch basically the same way as Mad Trad D, with a good, strong chaga decoction and a staghorn sumac drupe put it for the last 5 minutes of simmer:
While the tea was cooling, I put the husk cherries into the high speed blender:
They were whizzed up and strained, and added to the cooled, strained tea:
Then, I added enough honey so that it would top off at about 16% alcohol (I’m envisioning a drier mead for this flavor):
The husk cherries didn’t color the final must too much, but it looks beautiful, a nice deep brown that will likely fade as we get into secondary fermentation:
I can’t wait to see how this comes out!
UPDATE: Nov 25
Just racked this mead, it’s beautifully gold in color, with 1% remaining alcohol potential, meaning this brew is 15% alcohol. Very nice flavor! It’s dry but you can definitely taste the husk cherries…..
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