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-   -   myths etc. (http://www.homebrewtalk.com/f167/myths-etc-338018/)

zing 06-27-2012 02:33 AM

myths etc.
I've been brewing beer for about 7 years now, and drinking kombucha most of that time. I've been brewing it the past couple years and feel like there's a whole lot of bulls**t that people seem to hold to.

I'm a big fan of brewing and drinking sour beers, and have plenty of experience working with bacteria and wild yeasts of various sorts. As such I've approached kombucha as if it were just another sour beer (albeit in a relatively non-alcoholic, and usually non malt-based form).

I'd like to get some opinions of those of you that make both kombucha and beer (especially those of a scientific mind) about some of the lore surrounding kombucha.
  • too many resources say that you should NEVER use a metal spoon, but then, two or three paragraphs later talk about the sweet sun tea jar they use for continuous brewing with a nice shiny stainless spiggot on it. Where does the problem lie? Would it be safe/feasible to ferment in a stainless tank? Have I been doing it all wrong kegging my kombucha the past few months?
  • Same thing, but plastic. I understand that the acid could potentially be a problem, but if it can leach toxins out of my true-brew food grade bucket, why isn't your plastic spiggot (and gasket that may or may not be food grade) ruining your kombucha?
  • I'd like to get some feedback about target OGs people shoot for, as well as measured FGs—I'm guilty of forgetting to check my finals, but I brewed a batch tonight and plan to be more diligent on this front.
  • Essential oils in certain teas are problematic for fermentation—the oft cited example being Earl Grey for its bergamot oil—but part of why we drink this stuff is for the live bugs that're so great for us, and I've seen plenty of commercial kombucha with citrus. Moreover, I have a dark saison souring up with a beautiful lacto. and brett. pellicle on top of a bunch of kumquats. Am I missing the point and just assuming that bergamot is an issue because it's citrus, or are there other issues at play here? Does anyone have any ideas about specifics? Is it only problematic during the primary fermentation?

Bacteria seem to be pretty hardy organisms, especially when they've set themselves up in a colony like a SCOBY. I've even dunked a SCOBY in StarSan just to see if it would still do anything, and it ended up making the best kombucha I've ever had...

There seems to be a lot more information out there about what not to do (half of which I can't make any sense of the science behind) than specifics of how to go about making great kombucha.

Anyway, just had these thoughts bouncing around in my head today while brewing a batch stirred with a metal spoon destined for the same true brew 6.5gal pail I've been using the past 3 batches and using some whole leaf Simcoe hops (that surely have to be harder on the SCOBY than a bit of bergamot oil)—all the same procedure that's resulted in phenomenal kombucha the past 3 times...

Sdaji 06-28-2012 07:28 AM

There's definitely a lot of nonsense being spread by kombucha enthusiasts.

I didn't know anything about what made Earl Grey tea what it was, I just assumed it was a variety of tea (a cultivar or something). When I was about 16 I watched Star Trek TNG, and Captain Picard's favourite tea was Earl Grey, so that's what I bought when I started brewing kombucha. It worked without a problem.

I've brewed fantastic kombucha using orange rind instead of tea. It produced the best SCOBY I've ever seen - about three times the usual thickness, and a very pleasant kombucha. Just this afternoon I set up a lemon rind one, and a lemon flesh batch. I don't know how they'll turn out, but I expect it probably will. We'll see shortly.

I've heard that you have to use tea, either black or green, or that you need caffeine. I've used celery, mint, ginger... all sorts of stuff. If you have sugar and a bit of plant material it seems to work. I plan to have a go using meat or milk... though I'm not at all sure it'll work!

Not using a metal spoon is silly. If you had a spoon of the wrong metal/alloy and left it in there during the entire fermentation process, sure, it'd be a big problem. If you stir the unfermented mix, it won't matter. Stainless steel should be okay to stir your kombucha, even after it is brewed. A stainless steel brewing container would probably be okay too... your stainless steel may eventually begin to rust or corrode, but a bit of iron won't hurt you, even if the corrosion eventually wrecks your stuff. If you want to be a real purist you could avoid aluminium or bad alloy utensils with brewed/acidic kombucha, but it isn't a big issue.

Food grade plastic should be okay. If the acids do leach some toxins into your kombucha, better a little than a lot, so using a small spigot may not be a real problem even if using a plastic brewing container is. I would definitely avoid any non food grade plastic, but then again, I wouldn't store any food in non food grade plastic.

What's StarSan? What makes a kombucha batch 'good' or 'bad' by your standards?

Good to see another critical thinker willing to challenge existing truisms!

CHERYLinND 06-28-2012 04:23 PM

I am curious for more details on your experiments. How do you do an orange or lemon rind batch, specifically? The same for celery and mint? Do you brew it like tea and then go about the normal process? What amounts have you used? This sounds like a fun experiment.

I currently have a Kombucha "farm" for my students have have a dozen or so small SCOBYs I could play with.

ChessRockwell 06-29-2012 04:58 AM


Originally Posted by zing (Post 4205186)
I've even dunked a SCOBY in StarSan just to see if it would still do anything, and it ended up making the best kombucha I've ever had...

Interesting test! But this isn't really surprising at all. StarSan is just an acid sanitizer. Kombucha is a very acidic beverage. You could probably use your kombucha AS a sanitizer in place of StarSan, if you let it brew long enough.

So you've used whole leaf hops to brew Kombucha and it turned out good? I gotta hear more about this! In place of the tea or in addition to? What's the procedure, just steep like it was tea? I'm quite interested...

ChessRockwell 06-29-2012 05:01 AM


Originally Posted by Sdaji (Post 4208803)
I've brewed fantastic kombucha using orange rind instead of tea. It produced the best SCOBY I've ever seen - about three times the usual thickness, and a very pleasant kombucha.

Interested in this as well... Did you use the whole orange peel, pith and all? or just the zest like in beer brewing? Steep it like tea? How much?

zing 06-29-2012 07:29 PM


Originally Posted by ChessRockwell (Post 4211609)
So you've used whole leaf hops to brew Kombucha and it turned out good? I gotta hear more about this! In place of the tea or in addition to? What's the procedure, just steep like it was tea? I'm quite interested...

For the last batch I've consumed, I steeped the black tea (starting it at 212F) for ~6 minutes, removed it and then added a bunch of whole leaf simcoe (I don't have my brewing notes on me at the moment, and it's been a while).

The last batch I brewed, I decided to try a few new ideas. With beer, maintaining a low-ish pH is the key to not extracting unwanted tannins during the sparge, so I added some (very lactic acid leaning) kombucha from an older batch to the water to drop the steeping water to a pH of 5.2 (was shooting for 5.5, but I'd underestimated the acidity of that batch!) before adding the tea, to see how that affected the tannin extraction. To my palate, the tannins are there, but seem to be a bit less harsh. I also steeped the tea (100g for 5gal kombucha) at just a bit lower of a temperature (~190 for ~6 minutes) so that may have helped.

For hops, I steeped 20g of whole leaf Simcoe for 10 minutes (started roughly 2 minutes into steeping the tea) and then drained out of that pot into a bucket that had another 30g of whole leaf Simcoe, which was allowed to cool over night. I added the sugar in the form of a simple syrup (I find it to be an easier way to hit my target gravity, and having the syrup around for making soda or feeding a fermentation is always nice) made from roughly equal parts water and turbinado sugar. I was shooting for an O.G. of roughly 1.025, ended up at ~6.1 BRX using my refractometer, so just a bit on the low side.

After cooling overnight, I ran it off into another bucket containing the SCOBY (I just left the mother and all the babies from last batch this time, kinda wishing I'd pulled out a couple babies, though just in case the hops are a bit too hard on the culture, though I'm doubting that they will be).

I've introduced Brett L. to my SCOBY (just added a White Labs vial to a previous ferment...it formed a pellicle within 72 hours, and definitely has showed through flavor-wise, and has continued to in subsequent batches.

Then, once I keg the kombucha, I dry hop it with even more whole leaf Simcoe. This is where a good deal of the hop flavor comes in. I force carbonate, mostly out of laziness and impatience.)

Hoppy kombucha is delicious, and a nice alternative (i.e. non-alcoholic) beverage that drinks like a beer (albeit a sour beer).

ChessRockwell 06-30-2012 11:13 PM

That's awesome! Something I've definitely gotta try...

zing 06-30-2012 11:38 PM

A quick update: the SCOBY has completely re-formed across the top of the kombucha, so it's definitely not affected in too negative a way by the hops.

The other thing I forgot to mention: I tend to starve the fermentation of oxygen just a bit for the first week or so (I keep the lid on over the cheesecloth with nothing in the gasketed hole where the airlock normally goes) I also (when the weather permits) prefer a slower colder fermentation, just like I would do with beer. I think these two factors keep some of the vinegar production in check for the first while, and allow a bit more lactic acid production (which I tend to prefer over the acetic). I'm really shooting for something that straddles the line between a sour beer and a kombucha, but is done quicker, with a lot less alcohol, and cheaper—oh, it's also really good for you...and (as much as it does NOT factor into my brewing choices) it's gluten free.

I'd like to hear if anyone's done any research to figure out how to at least somewhat accurately determine alcohol content. I've thought of sending some off to a lab to get a full analysis. HopUnion's Alpha Analytics will do a full test:

Alcohol by volume, real extract, attenuation, calories, real and apparent extract, real and apparent degrees of fermentation, and original extract are determined by an Anton Paar Alcolyzer.
for $25, and I'd be surprised if there aren't even less expensive means of testing, but it would be really nice to find a way we can get a good guess on our own with standard homebrewing tools. I will see if I can come up with anything in any of the sour brewing books I have around (as I assume kombucha is difficult to measure for many of the same reasons). Anyone that has any ideas on this topic would be greatly appreciated.

Sdaji 07-06-2012 02:34 AM

At first I was grating the rind off an orange, I put a fair bit in but got lazy and also added some whole peel. I boiled the lot up for about 20-30 minutes.

The lemon ones aren't looking quite so impressive. They're working, but they don't have the amazing, beautiful SCOBY the orange kombucha had. It's a thinner, flimsier SCOBY. Looks like orange works better than lemon, at least in terms of producing a lovely SCOBY. The taste test is the important one, I'm sure they'll work, but I'm guessing lemon will remain an experiment rather than a regular brew.

With celery I used a bunch of celery greens boiled up. It made a nice kombucha with a distinct celery flavour. Good for fun, I love trying new things, but I prefer other types of kombucha and probably won't make celery again.

With mint, celery, etc. I used about as much as I would tea (I use about two tea bags per litre) keeping in mind of course that fresh stuff will measure differently from dried, and the dried stuff is all crushed up and relatively compact.

With ginger, orange rind, etc. I just grate or whatever until I have enough that seems about right. We're not playing with rocket surgery here, it's not a case of total failure if you add a bit too much or too little of something. I think the brew will work as long as there's the right about of sugar and sufficient 'plant nutrient goodies' for the microbes to use, and nothing too toxic for them. The sugar is probably the limiting resource, so you could add less of the 'plant nutrient source' without it changing anything other than making the flavour weaker, or add more and only make the flavour stronger, but still having the microbes do their usual thing and converting the sugar to alcohol to vinegar and trace metabolites as usual. The main thing to get right is the amount of sugar.

Don't be afraid of experimenting. The absolute worst that can happen is your brew not working and having to pour it down the toilet. It's really not that tragic, and still hasn't happened to me. A SCOBY isn't a sentient life form we are ethically obliged to look after, in fact, it's not even a life form, it's just a non cellular lump of cellulose with a bit of microbe-containing liquid in it. Kombucha brewers seem to be so precious, it's quite puzzling.

zing 07-06-2012 04:09 AM

This is what I want to promote: brewers that don't care what the literature says about what can and can't be done, but instead try adding whatever the hell they want to their kombucha. I'm using an early batch kombucha to ferment a batch of carrot pickle I have going. As a brewer I'm baffled at the wide range of bulls**it that people cling to surrounding kombucha. The SCOBY is a living mass, easily able to deal with a lot of what we throw at it. My next plan is to make a kombucha-fermented bloody Mary mix. I'm thinking garlic, dill, cumin, tea, tomato juice, chillies, bell pepper, black pepper, and dried fish. I can't wait!

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