Most people know that kombucha contains a trace amount of alcohol. If this is news to you, check out our blog post earlier this year regarding kombucha alcohol content. It is such a small amount of alcohol that we usually pass it off as insignificant. However, for people with alcohol sensitivities, pregnancies, or personal preferences, they would rather reduce this content as much as possible. So this begs the question, can you reduce alcohol content? and if so, how do you go about doing it?
On the flip side, if you can reduce the amount of alcohol in kombucha you can certainly increase it as well. If this piques your interest and you want to experiment with a boozier breed of kombucha, then we have some methods in mind for you too.
So let’s dive in to the world of kombucha alcohol manipulation and see if we can learn a trick or two to sway your brew.
Before we get in to the details of manipulating the amount of kombucha alcohol, let’s first understand the fundamentals of why there is alcohol in kombucha it to begin with. This insight will make some sense of why we recommend certain ways of brewing to achieve your desired result.
Like wine, beer or any other spirit out there in the world, kombucha is fermented. This is a natural process where sugars are converted to alcohol by the active ingredient of yeast. With alcoholic beverages this process is magnified and designed to deliver an ABV (Alcohol By Volume) of the desired amount. This is around 4%-6% for beer, 10%-14% for wine and 30%-60% for spirits.
Unlike alcoholic beverages, kombucha has a natural alcohol limitation. This is the bacteria in kombucha, which acts symbiotically with the yeasts. Kombucha bacteria consumes the alcohol and is responsible for converting it in to organic acids which are good for the gut. So with each component of the SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeasts) working in conjuction with each other, the end result is low proportions if alcohol or ABV. In a normal brew this level comes in usually between 0.25% to 1.00% ABV.
Breaking down our kombucha brew in to simple terms: The yeasts feed on the sugar and nitrates in the sweet tea, converting it to alcohol and carbon dioxide. The bacteria that works with the yeasts in turn consumes the alcohol, converting it to organic acids. The end result is the sour, sweet and fragrant kombucha that we know to love.
REDUCING KOMBUCHA ALCOHOL CONTENT
You can probably tell that the balance of yeast and bacteria play a big role in the amount of alcohol that remains in your final brew. If there is a large imbalance of yeasts over bacteria then there wont be enough bacteria to consume the alcohol that is being produced. You could say that the alcohol overwhelms the bacteria and it can not quite keep up. Therefore, the key to alcohol reduction in kombucha is to discourage the yeasts from overpopulating and taking over.
Keep in mind that while you do want to reduce yeast to limit alcohol content, you do still need to have yeast present in your brew. Since the bacteria needs alcohol to feed on, starving it of yeast and alcohol will have a negative effect resulting in an unproductive and largely inactive kombucha.
Limiting Yeast: Temperature
Yeast tends to thrive in warmer conditions and will grow much quicker in comparison to cooler temperatures. We typically recommend brewing kombucha in around the 23 degree Celsius or 73 degrees Fahrenheit range. If you brew at higher temperatures, one quick solution to reduce some alcohol content is to bring the brewing temperature down to the 20-23 degrees Celsius or 65-73 degrees Fahrenheit range.
Limiting Yeast: Starter Fluid
When you start your brew of kombucha and scoop out some of the finished kombucha from the last batch, be selective with the liquid you use going forward. Your kombucha brew has yeast in a few different places: floating particles, stringy formations attached to the SCOBY, and collections at the bottom of the jar. If you simply take the kombucha from whatever is left at the bottom you will be taking the highest concentration of yeast available. This will continue to compile and magnify if you repeat this process each time, giving you thicker and highly concentrated yeast in your starter fluid.
We recommend that you take your starter fluid from the top of the brew which usually has clearer yeast free kombucha. Avoid any stringy bits and particles of yeast by using a fine mesh filter which will limit yeast from passing over to the next brew.
Limiting Yeast: Sugars
Since yeast needs sugars to convert it to alcohol, playing around with the amount of sugar you use can give you a lower alcohol content. This is particularly true in the second fermentation. In removing the SCOBY and bottling the kombucha, there is still a large amount of yeast still active in the brew. When you add fruits or sugars to the second ferment, you are giving the yeast more opportunity to feed and create alcohol. However without the SCOBY the bacteria has a weaker presence and is unable to keep up with the alcohol production. Avoid adding too much sugar in the second fermentation and this will reduce the alcohol content.
Limiting Yeast: Clean Your SCOBY
When you have completed a kombucha brew you probably don’t think much about the way your SCOBY looks. Look closely, your SCOBY has likely changed in a few ways. In addition to growing layers on the top which we call a baby SCOBY, there is likely a collection of brown stringy bits on it. This is a common occurrence where yeast has developed and even attached itself to the SCOBY. In transferring the SCOBY to the next batch, using sterile hands, wipe off and rinse these yeast bits off your SCOBY.
Increasing Bacteria: Use a Larger SCOBY
The tips above are used to limit the amount of yeast available in your kombucha. However, the other option is to increase the bacteria in your brew to keep up with the alcohol production and thereby reducing it. Bacteria is contained withing the SCOBY’s fleshy structure while yeast is usually free floating and growing. One tip to increase bacteria is to use a larger SCOBY. This can be done by focusing on the growth of your SCOBY by either making it thicker or wider. To make a thick SCOBY you will want to leave your brew fermenting for longer than you usually would with the primary goal of letting a large baby SCOBY develop. To make a wider SCOBY you can consider changing your brewing vessel to one that has a wider opening.
INCREASING KOMBUCHA ALCOHOL CONTENT
If you prefer to increase the amount of alcohol in kombucha to experiment with a boozier breed of kombucha brewing then know that this is possible as well. Similar to reducing alcohol in kombucha we need to play around with the levels of yeast to ensure that the alcohol is not consumed in abundance by bacteria. In reducing alcohol content we are trying to limit yeast, but in increasing alcohol we are encouraging it to flourish and be undisturbed by bacteria.
Increasing Yeast: Collection
If you are an experienced brewer and have a SCOBY hotel at your disposal, then you have a good tool to bump up your yeast levels. At the bottom of your SCOBY hotel jar is likely a brown goopy collection of yeast strands, sediment and bits. When starting your kombucha brew, instead of taking the fleshy SCOBY itself, use a cup of the thickest most concentrated liquid of yeast at the bottom of your hotel. This is the best way to increase your yeast level without having the bacteria to limit alcohol production.
Increasing Yeast: More Sugar
Since you will have a high concentration of yeast you can now increase the amount of sugar you use in your first fermentation. Try increasing the sugar used by about 50%. This will give your yeast more to feed on and increase the fermentation time of your brew. When bottling, you can also add more sugar than you regularly would in the second fermentation as well. To increase your chances for alcohol production, use a simple syrup recipe instead of a fruit juice so that the yeasts do not need to break down the fruit components as well.
How Much Alcohol Will I Get?
Using the method above will certainly increase your alcohol content above what a regular brew would. However, the nature of the yeast and bacteria in kombucha will limit you to the equivalent of a light beer (say 1-3%). To get your kombucha to an intoxicating level like kombucha beer, wine, mead or cider you will need to get some more equipment. At this level you will require brewing equipment similar to the items needed for brewing wine or beer: A large carboy, airlock and more alcohol specific yeasts. We will not go in to full detail about how this process is done but are happy to answer questions if you contact us directly.
We hope that you learned a thing or two about increasing or decreasing the amount of alcohol in your kombucha. As always, your health comes first and if you are hoping to reduce alcohol levels for a medical condition, please consult with a licensed physician or specialist to determine if kombucha is suitable for you to begin with. If you are increasing alcohol content in kombucha, do enjoy it with responsibility and never consume too much when driving. It’s always better to play it safe!
If you are experimenting with your brewing methods and already have a good process in place, we recommend picking up some extra equipment and run the experiment on the side, so to not effect the good brew that you have going! Visit our shop to take a look at all of our kits and accessories.