Kombucha Brew: A New Ingredient Catches On

News by | Nov 2014 | Issue #94

Scattered across the country, a few enterprising brewers have begun working with an unusual ingredient: kombucha, a mildly alcoholic fermented tea. Wild fermenting organisms in the tea help lend uniquely funky and tart flavors to their beers, driving curiosity among consumers.

Individual breweries are using the tea in different ways. Jester King in Texas brewed a sour wheat ale with a culture of the tea’s microorganisms. “Our intent was … to use microorganisms from kombucha to create interesting flavors and aromas in a beer through fermentation,” explains founder Jeffrey Stuffings. “When you start blending a host of different microorganisms together, the results become a lot less predictable, [but] mixed culture fermentation can produce beautiful, unique, original results.”

In New York, Beyond Brewing substitutes kombucha for the water used in brewing. According to managing partner Victor Rusu, this gives the resulting drink a bold characteristic. “We’re talking about water with an organic acid in it … You’re pulling out more sugars by having organic solvents to help, and you’ve got a very diverse bouquet of microflora and wild yeast.”

Beyond’s kombucha ales undergo three stages of fermentation, and flavors can change at each step. “Whatever you put in the original tea is your first shot at the flavor palate, but not all of the flavors make it past that first fermentation,” explains Rusu. “It then goes back into the kettles to either be used in the sparge for an all-grain beer, or to dilute the extract in our gluten-free beer where we use malt extract.” Afterwards it “goes through the typical beer-making process.”

If the growing popularity of sour and wild ales is any indication, it may only be a matter of time before kombucha ales appear on tap. “Brewers with an interest in the virtually limitless array of flavors and aromas that mixed culture fermentation can create are bound to experiment with microbes from kombucha,” notes Stuffings.