My first encounter with homemade kombucha took place about 10 years ago. My younger sister had been brewing a batch in our parents’ sunroom when she was offered a last-minute job at a summer camp. She left her gallon of tea and SCOBY (also known as the symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) behind when she left to take the gig, and not knowing what to do with it, my parents let it sit. A month later, I came to visit and my mom asked if I’d help her dispose of the contents of the jar.
By that point, the bacteria and yeast creature in the jar had grown to be approximately four inches thick and had a disturbing flesh-like consistency. It took the liberal application of a serrated bread knife to free it from the jar and when I was finished wrestling it out to the compost heap, I swore that I’d never again tangle with something so otherworldly.
However, fast-forward a decade and you’ll find that I am now eating those words. I’ve been brewing kombucha in my own kitchen for the last six months or so and have found it to be easy, delicious, and satisfying. What’s more, it has made me deeply curious about the many other kinds of homebrews and liquid ferments I can make in my small city apartment.
Happily, there is a new book that seems to have been written expressly to aid this kind of brewing curiosity. True Brews by Emma Christensen is devoted to small-batch home brewing of all stripes. The book contains recipes for homemade, naturally carbonated sodas, infused kombucha, kefir (both milk and water varieties), hard cider, beer, mead, sake, and fruit wine. Each section offers a master recipe to get you started, along with four to eight recipes to help you take your newly-gained knowledge further.
There’s a great deal of detail in the beginning of the book that will help even the newest of brewer get started and there are interviews with brewing experts dotted throughout the volume as well. The whole thing is highly readable, entertaining, and incredibly useful.
Author Emma Christensen took the time to answer a few of our questions about the book and her own brewing practices:
What got you initially interested in home brewing?
My husband and I started brewing beer when we were first married. Some friends (and fellow homebrewers!) had given us a gift certificate to a local homebrew store, and we picked up our first beer kit a few weeks after our wedding. Right from that first batch, I was completely hooked – I just loved the process of transforming a handful of grains into… well, BEER! I couldn’t believe that I could actually make it myself at home.
What’s a good starting place for first time brewers?
Start with soda pops – and this time of year, I recommend the Watermelon-Mint Soda! You don’t need any special equipment to brew sodas and the results are always so fresh and tasty. You can also easily adjust the ingredients to make a less-sweet soda or use the fresh fruit that you find at the market. Consider soda pops to be your gateway into world of homebrewing.
Are you still brewing actively now that the book is done?
I sure am! I got really addicted to kombucha while writing True Brews and still make a batch almost every week. I was brewing beers over the winter, but now that the summer is here, I’m starting to think about hard fruit ciders and wines with all the fresh fruit that’s coming in. My philosophy: always have something brewing – you’ll never be bored.
This is the soda recipe Emma recommends for beginners. I tried it and agree entirely. It’s easy, ferments quickly (thanks to the hotter summer weather, mine was ready for the fridge in just 8 hours) and is incredibly refreshing.
4 pounds seeded and cubed watermelon (11 to 12 cups, a 6-pound watermelon)
½ cup packed fresh mint leaves
½ freshly squeezed lime juice (from about 4 limes) plus more if needed
1 cup water, plus more to fill the bottles
9 tablespoons / 4 ounces white granulated sugar, plus more if needed
Pinch of salt
⅛ teaspoon dry champagne yeast
Combine the watermelon, mint leaves, and lime juice in a large bowl.
Bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan on the stove top or in the microwave. Remove from the heat. Add the sugar and salt, stir to dissolve, and pour over the watermelon. Let this stand for 10 minutes to macerate the fruit.
Working in batches, puree the watermelon and mint with their liquid in a food processor or blender. Strain the puree into a bowl, collecting as much juice as possible without forcing any solids through the strainer.
Pour the juice into a clean 2-liter bottle using a funnel. Top off the bottle with water, leaving at least 1 inch of headspace. Give it a taste and add more lime juice or sugar, if desired. The extra sugar will dissolve on its own.
Add the yeast. Screw on the cap and shake the bottle to dissolve and distribute the yeast. Let the bottle sit at room temperature out of direct sunlight until carbonated, typically 12 to 48 hours, depending on the temperature of the room. Check the bottle periodically; when it feels rock solid with very little give, it’s ready.
Refrigerate overnight or for up to 2 weeks. Open very slowly over a sink to release the pressure gradually and avoid bubble-ups.
Makes 2 liters
Though I’ve been brewing kombucha for months now, I’d never tried infusing it with fruit. Having tried it this way, I think that it’s absolutely the way to go. I love how much flavor and light sweetness you get using this technique.
14 cups water
1 cup / 7 ounces white granulated sugar
8 bags black tea, or 2 tablespoons loose black tea
2 cups start tea from last batch of kombucha
14 fresh sage leaves
2 cups blackberries
Bring the water to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar to dissolve. Drop in the tea and allow it to steep until the water has cooled.
Remove the tea bags or strain out the loose tea. Stir in the start tea. Pour the mixture into a 1-gallon glass jar and gently place the scoby on top. Cover the mouth of the jar with a few layers of cheesecloth or paper towels secured with a rubber band.
Keep the jar at room temperature, out of directs sunlight, and where it won’t get jostled. Ferment for 7 to 10 days. Check the kombucha and the scoby periodically.
After 7 days, begin tasting the kombucha. When it reaches a balance of sweetness and tartness that is pleasant to you, the kombucha is ready to bottle.
With clean hands, gently lift the scoby out of the kombucha and set on a clean plate. Measure out 2 cups of starter tea from this batch of kombucha and set it aside for your next.
Tear the sage leaves into several pieces and combine with the blackberries in a clean 1-gallon jar or divide among smaller jars. Muddle with a long spoon to release the blackberry juices and bruise the leaves. Pour the kombucha overtop. Cover the mouth of the jar with a few layers of cheesecloth or paper towels secured with a rubber band. Keep the jar at room temperature out of direct sunlight for 2 days. Strain the blackberries and sage leaves from the kombucha and bottle. Leave at least 1 inch headspace in the bottles.
Store the bottled kombucha at room temperature out of direct sunlight until carbonated, typically 1 to 3 days, depending on the temperature of the room. Refrigerate to stop carbonation and then consume within a month.
Makes 1 gallon