When you think of fermentation, what’s the first thing that you think of? Do you think of traditional beverages such as Beer and Wine, or distilled beverages like Whiskey or Vodka? Or do you gravitate towards foods, and think more along the lines of Sauerkraut or Kimchi? Preserved foods? The process of fermenting is kind of crazy, we use microbial life that wants to help us, and boost our immune systems to take our food and beverage, and preserve it to keep out the other microbial life that wants to kill us. We’re the battleground for a microbial war!!! There of course are the other methods of curing, such as jerky, or canning things to make pickles, or spiced peaches… but I’m talking about Fermenting! Activating yeasts/bacteria that are naturally occurring, or added to a product to create something entirely different!
About two years ago I started making fermented beverages for the first time. I started with an attempt at making a non-alcoholic ginger beer actually, as I wanted to make a homemade, carbonated beverage, without the alcohol content. The first batch came out okay actually, however at this point in time I wan’t utilizing an airlock to let off the pressure, and had to,”burp” the container a few times a day to let off the pressure. If you don’t do this, you’re going to have a mess on your hands as things will get a wee explosive. This was an okay process, however I did forget one day, and all of the bent in portions of the 3L jug I used decided to push out due to pressure. The end product was okay, a little lacking in ginger, but pretty tasty! After this attempt, I bought an airlock, and tried it again, and it worked quite well! From there, I thought it would be a good time to try brewing beer! Why not? At this point I’ve gotten a basic understanding of the fermentation process down, lets go for it! I was reading recipes, and just had no clue what the terms were, “mash,” “sparge,” wait… why is it just saying @30 mins? What am I doing at 30 mins? 30 mins into what? And you can read the full directions, but unless you get yourself a little background on the process, you can get a little lost, even in a fairly basic process. So, I continued to do my reading, finally understood that a mash was just your ingredients holding at a certain temperature for a duration of time – fundamentally it’s the exact same concept as steeping tea. You keep the leaves, or grain in this case, submerged in hot water until a desired flavor is achieved, a sparge was running water through your grain after the mash (which isn’t even a necessary step if you’re extract brewing), and then the boil is when you bring your wort up to a boil for a duration of time, and add your hops and other desired flavors. Man, why did I think it was complicated? First batch was mediocre at best. Actually the first batch I made molded because I added my yeast when the wort was still too hot, and killed it, but the second batch was not great. Was a good beer to cook with because all of the flavors transferred nicely to foods, it just wasn’t the greatest drinking beer.
Another, increasingly popular, fermented beverage is actually derived from tea, Kombucha. I have had very little success in making it, but am in the process of trying again as I enjoy this drink, but it’s quite expensive to buy, ranging from $3-7 for a single serving. The process is fairly straight forward, take a colony of yeast, and healthy bacteria – called a SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast), and place it in with a pH balanced sweet tea, and let it sit around 70 degrees or so. The pH is balanced by the addition of vinegar, and sugar to the tea, making an ideal environment for the SCOBY to work on fermenting the tea. Now, because this beverage is fermented, it can leave a very small trace of alcohol – usually no higher than 0.5% on the high end – meaning that anybody that has a sensitivity or allergy to alcohol in any form should probably refrain from consumption, however the concentration is small enough that there is nothing to worry about for the average person. One of the major manufacturers of retail kombucha faced a lawsuit in regards to alcohol content. The hardest part about this is that once it’s put together, it’s a waiting game, there’s nothing you can do to it to help it from turning, you just need to hope that it was done right in the first place.
While I am attempting another batch of Kombucha at the moment, I also am working on a small batch of Sauerkraut at the same time! That’s one of the cool things about fermenting, and preserving, it only takes up a little bit of space, and is minimal overall work!