We’ve been using the words “mixed-culture fermentation” in a lot of the descriptions of our beers: particularly our farmhouse ales and sour beers. We’ve developed a few different house cultures that, when working well together, give our beer the acidity and funkiness that we love. We do this for a few reasons (see what we like about “farmhouse ales” here), but mostly because we believe that the flavors, aromas, textures, etc. of a mixed culture fermentations–that is, a fermentations that employs multiple, unique microorganisms–are much more interesting, and delicious, than those produced by a single yeast strain.
Our never-ending search for more yeast and bacteria cultures, for a more complex and unique mixed-culture, lead us to develop a pretty bad-ass symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast, AKA a SCOBY. This is (These are?) the pancake-like, jelly-fish-like, alien lifeforms that float at the top of the mason jar covered in cheesecloth when you make kombucha at home. They also grow to fill the container that they’re in, and ours right now is about as big as a mid-size beach umbrella.
Our first batch is on tap at our restaurant now, and its a low-to-no-alcohol brew made with black tea and hibiscus. For those worried about the legality of alcohol measurements and the taxation thereof, take it up the block. Just kidding: the FDA has (supposedly after something with that girl from the Parent Trap) set the threshold for “non-alcoholic beverages” at 0.5%, and while some kombuchas can get higher than that (especially when blended or refermented with more traditional beer yeasts) ours is hovering right around 0.3%. So at least for this batch, we’ll treat it as a delicious, complex, and healthy alternative to beer. However, as brewers, our interests are not dedicated to the health of your gut or the antioxidative properties of our products. We’re concerned with flavor almost exclusively (although, we do believe that the unpasteurized and unfiltered nature of our beers, especially our lactobacillus-heavy sour beers, contribute something beneficial to your microflora). So what intrigues us about Kombucha, is its similarities to sour beer, particularly to what we like to call “wild ales” or lambic-style beers.
The American Wild Ale is, for us, a beautiful result of biological chaos: we allow our wild ales to sour and ferment spontaneously (with a little coaxing), and develop flavors and aromas based on whatever bacteria or yeast become dominant. And they do: a good wild ale is the result of a very symbiotic relationship between yeast and bacteria: in a sentence, yeast create alcohol and bacteria convert that alcohol to delicious acids and esters.
So if you like sour beer, love the funk of a good farmhouse ale, or want to see just how different and complex yeasts and bacteria can be, our kombucha should be on your list.
Brewhouse-Resident Microbiota Are Responsible for Multi-Stage Fermentation of American Coolship Ale: really heavy stuff about yeast, bacteria, and the amazing, miracle world of spontaneous, American Wild Ales.
Kombucha Ale: A New Kind of Funk: Less heavy about how in a few years Kombucha and beer will be talked about in the same sentences.