Barrel Aging Kombucha
Kombucha! It’s as fun to make as it is to say.
HOW TO BARREL AGE KOMBUCHA
Tea. Sugar. Water. Time. Those are the ingredients you need to make the fermented tea drink that packs a big probiotic punch.
If you’re looking to improve your recipe or try something different than fruit flavourings, barrel brewing is the way to go. The process will naturally smoothen the taste and mellow the acetic acids. Most of all, it adds a complex woodsy/nutty flavour to your mix, along with vanillins and tannins that will make your “booch” taste great.
Check out our blog post on why an oak kombucha barrel is better.
How to Cure Your Kombucha Barrel
Curing your barrel is the critical first step to success — don’t skip it!
- Place your barrel in an area that can handle some leakage, like a tub or oversized sink.
- Push or tap in your spigot.
- Add water until your barrel is 3/4 filled. Try not to get the outside of your barrel soaked or you’ll risk developing stains/black spots (if you do, just wipe off quickly).
- Let the water sit long enough for the wood to swell and expand. This might take a day or two (longer for big barrels) but you’ll know it’s ready when you see the leaks have stopped.
- Dump out the water and flush your barrel with water until it runs clear.
- Dissolve camden tablets (1 tablet per gallon/5L) in a glass of warm water and add to your barrel. Swish the solution around to cover all inside surfaces.
- Drain and rinse again.
Now you’re ready to begin! Just make sure to keep your barrel ¾ full at all times because a dried-out barrel WILL leak.
Since the top opening has been cut, you may notice it warps or becomes uneven with time. That’s normal and don’t worry, it won’t affect the integrity of your barrel.
Some discolouration may also occur. That’s normal too. You could varnish the outside to keep it pristine looking but you’d be altering the wood’s natural properties and impacting the fermentation process. Remember, it’s what’s on the inside that counts, and that’s your precious kombucha.
Step 1. Prep your SCOBY and starter
What’s a SCOBY? The jelly blob used to make kombucha is technically known as a zoolgeal mat, but it’s more commonly known as “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.”
You can buy ready-made SCOBY or a dehydrated version. But if you want to make your own, here’s how you do it:
- black tea (black tea yields better results – you can experiment with different varieties later)
- 1-2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 cup unflavoured kombucha (any store-bought brand will do)
- 2 L glass jar, cheesecloth and a rubber band
- Make 1 cup of black tea and while it’s still hot, add the sugar to dissolve it. Let it cool down to room temperature.
- Pour into your jar then add the kombucha, sediment and all.
- Cover with a few layers of cheesecloth and secure with the rubber band. Place your jar in a dark place, away from sunlight, and where it won’t be disturbed. Maintain it at room temperature.
- Your mix will gradually bubble (it lives…) then a clear film will form on the surface. After 2-4 weeks, you should find a ½ cm (1/4”)-thick, yellow-brown, jelly-like SCOBY has formed. Resist the urge to move it around in the jar, let it do its thing. If it hasn’t formed, something went wrong—toss out and try again.
- Now you have your starter culture and if you take care of it, it could last you years. Just don’t take the SCOBY out until you’re ready to start your first batch. And once you do, toss out the original tea that created your SCOBY, it’s too vinegary to use as a starter.
Step 2. Kombucha, baby!
Grab a cured 5 L barrel and prep your ingredients.
- 4 L clean water
- 1 cup white sugar (sugar alternatives like agave syrup might harm your SCOBY)
- 12 bags of tea (black, white, oolong, green— but no decaf)
- 2 cups unflavoured starter (either store-bought kombucha or from a previous batch)
You’ll need to
- Boil the water, remove from heat and add the sugar while it’s still hot.
- Add your tea and steep until your mix has cooled to room temperature—you don’t like taking scalding hot baths and neither does your SCOBY, it will kill it.
- Using your doctor-level clean hands (seriously, clean them as best as you can), gently remove your SCOBY and place it on a plate.
- Pour your sweetened tea mix into the barrel, then add your starter. Your barrel should be filled nearly to the top.
- Gently add the SCOBY then cover your barrel (either with the cover or with layers of cheesecloth secured in place).
- Leave your barrel undisturbed in a dark, warm (20 C temperature) room for 10-14 days. You’ll notice the SCOBY will want to latch onto the sides of the barrel. No harm done, just pull it away from the sides.
- Start drawing a bit of the tea to taste it. The warmer the room (or if your SCOBY is super active), the faster the fermentation. The longer your ferment it, the lower the sugar and caffeine content so your drink won’t be as sweet. Keep it going to maximize the flavours and beneficial acids, but if you leave it too long, it won’t be tasty. So sample away until your mix has the perfect sweet-sour flavour.
Consider saving at least 2 cups of this batch to use as a starter for your next one.
Step 3. Flavour it
If you want to flavour your kombucha (it’s an optional step), you have to add it outside of the barrel. If you add it directly to your barrel, you’ll be impacting the flavours of all future batches or even creating an ideal environment for mould.
Here are a few possible add-ins to inspire you:
- slices of orange
- mint candy
- candied ginger
- mashed fruit or juice (about 1-2 tablespoons for every cup of kombucha)
- honey (1-2 teaspoons for every cup)
Strain your kombucha into a glass container or individual bottles, but leave a bit of room at the top to add your flavouring. Seal tightly — just watch that the pressure doesn’t build up to the point of making your bottle explode. Let it all ferment in the dark and at room temperature for up to 10 days. You can then strain or leave your flavouring in, but place your kombucha in the fridge to slow down the carbonation process.
KOMBUCHA: SINGLE BATCH OR CONTINUOUS?
There are two different approaches to making kombucha. It just depends on how much you want to have on hand at any given moment.
The “rinse and repeat” method. This is a great starting point, especially if it’s your first batch or if you only want a few glasses a week. All you have to do is follow the process, remove the SCOBY and empty your barrel, then start over for your next batch.
For those who want a continuous supply of kombucha. This is the ancient way of making it, but you’re making a commitment to keep it going. The process is the same but instead of removing everything, you add new sweetened tea to your already fermented batch. The SCOBY just keeps going inside the barrel — you don’t have to handle it and that lowers your risk of contamination. There’s no weekly cleaning either, just a cleaning every few months.
If you choose to set up a continuous system, you’re gonna need a bigger barrel. You’ll save time and it’ll be easier to leave some of your fermented batch behind to get your next one started.
How to set up a continuous brew:
- Choose a location that’s out of direct sunlight and out of your way, so you won’t have to move the container around.
- Follow Steps 1 and 2.
- Draw as much of your kombucha as you’d like to enjoy, but leave some behind as the starter for your next batch. We recommend leaving half your batch inside your barrel or else you’re practically starting over.
- Follow Step 2 again (remember to wait until your new batch of sweetened tea has cooled down). But unlike your first batch, your SCOBY isn’t going anywhere — leave it floating in the barrel and just pour your new batch in through the top opening. It should take 1-2 days for the SCOBY to get to work on the new tea.
- Keep pouring yourself a glass—you’re drawing from the fermented batch at the bottom of the barrel. You could probably remove 20% of your batch every day but make sure you pour in the same amount of sweetened tea — whatever amount you pour out, you have to add it back to your barrel. If you find the taste to be sweeter than you like it, just give it more time.
- As long as you keep this cycle going, and as long as you don’t remove too much (you don’t want to upset the acid balance), you’ll only have to remove the SCOBY and clean your barrel every few months. And you’ll have an endless supply of kombucha!
HOW TO CLEAN YOUR KOMBUCHA BARREL
Is your continuous-brew kombucha starting to taste too “yeasty” or “malty”? Time to clean your barrel! You probably have too much sediment building up at the bottom and it might even clog the spigot. You should probably do this every 3-4 months anyway.
Here’s how you do it:
- Wash and rinse your hands, then pull out the SCOBY. Put it in a clean bowl with two cups of your kombucha and cover the bowl. Empty out your barrel and enjoy drinking your full batch.
- Now that it’s empty, scrub the inside of your barrel with hot water. You should only use soap to remove thick build-up; otherwise, hot water is just fine.
- Rinse the barrel with distilled white vinegar (don’t let it sit in your barrel) and rinse again with water.
There. You’re ready to start again. Just be sure to check the health of your SCOBY, which is probably really thick after a few months of fermentation. You want to keep it about ½”-1” thick. Any bigger and you’ll want to divide it or remove some of the older, darker layers that are at the bottom.