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hard kombucha in bottles and glasses
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5 from 3 votes

Hard Kombucha

This tutorial will walk you through how to brew hard kombucha (high-alcohol kombucha), and includes tips for brewing, equipment and flavoring!
Prep Time1 hr
Active Time14 d
Total Time14 d 1 hr
Course: Drinks
Cuisine: American
Diet: Gluten Free, Vegan, Vegetarian
Yield: 7 bottles (20-ounce servings)
Cost: variable

Equipment

  • large pot to boil water / steep tea
  • 1 gallon glass jar (or 2 half-gallon glass jars)
  • paper towels or napkins (avoid using cheesecloth if you have a problem with fruit-flies)
  • rubber bands
  • Air Lock Fermenting Lids (recommended, not required)
  • Hydrometer (for checking ABV, not required)
  • funnel
  • 7 pressure-resistant glass bottles

Materials

Basic Kombucha Recipe:

  • 14 cups water
  • 1 cup granulated white sugar Do not substitute raw sugar
  • 2 tablespoons organic black tea Or use 8 tea bags
  • 2 cups starter kombucha Use plain kombucha from last batch OR store-bought raw kombucha (unflavored, unpasteurized)
  • 1 SCOBY per fermentation jar

Hard Kombucha:

  • 1 packet champagne yeast
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water

Flavored Kombucha (optional):

  • juice or syrup For non-sweet flavor additions (such as herbs or spices), see recipe notes under "flavoring tips"

Instructions

Basic Kombucha Recipe:

  • Bring water to a boil. Turn off heat and add tea leaves and sugar.
    Allow tea to steep until sugar has dissolved and water has cooled to room temperature. Remove the tea bags (or strain out loose tea).
    Do not proceed to the next step until the tea has completely cooled, or you risk killing the good bacteria in the kombucha.
    Make Black Sweet Tea
  • Pour into the glass jar (or divide into two glass jars).   
    Add store-bought kombucha (or starter kombucha from a previous batch) and the SCOBY.
    Cover the jar(s) with a napkin or paper towel, and secure with the rubber band.
    Tip: If using multiple jars, make sure to have 1 SCOBY per jar.
    Set the jar(s) out of direct sunlight (sunlight can keep the tea from fermenting), at room temperature (around 70ºF), and avoid bumping or jostling the jar(s).
    Allow tea to ferment for 7 - 10 days.  The longer tea ferments, the stronger the vinegar flavor will be, but fermentation is also affected by the temperature where you live.  Smell the tea after 7 days, and let it ferment longer if desired.
    Next, pour 2 cups of the fermented tea into a container and set aside.  This is your starter for the next batch.  Place your SCOBY inside this 'starter' kombucha until your next batch of tea is ready.
    Fermenting Black Tea with SCOBY

Hard Kombucha:

  • Bring 1 cup water to a boil. In a small bowl (or measuring cup), add the water and 1 cup sugar. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Set aside and cool until it's approximately 95°F. (Warmer than room temperature, but not too hot to touch.)
    Stir in the champagne yeast. Set in a warm spot for at least 20 minutes. The yeast should begin to bubble slightly.
    Activate Brewing Yeast with Sugar + Warm Water
  • Add the yeast to the kombucha.
    Optionally, use a hydrometer to check the potential ABV. (See recipe notes.)
    Test for ABV with Hydrometer
  • Add an airlock lid and ferment for 7 to 10 days, or until you're happy with the flavor. (The longer it ferments, the less sweet it will be.)
    Ferment Kombucha with an Airlock Lid
  • Optionally, use a hydrometer to find the actual ABV.
    If you're measuring ABV, make sure to check the gravity with a hydrometer before adding any additional sweeteners, such as juice, because the sugar in the juice will throw off the measurement.
    Test for ABV with Hydrometer

Bottling + Flavoring Kombucha:

  • Use a funnel to pour the kombucha into pressure-resistant bottles. Optionally, add juice or simple syrup to each bottle to add flavoring.
    Test the bottles once or twice a day until carbonation forms. Refrigerate immediately to slow fermentation.
    pouring kombucha into a bottle

Notes

General Tips:
  • Keep it clean! Always wash your hands before handling the SCOBY, and use clean jars and equipment. Do not, however use antibacterial soap to clean your supplies.
  • Label everything! A lot of this process is trial and error, so it’s helpful to know exactly what you did. 
  • Have fun! Ultimately, this is a learning process from start to finish. Experiment with new flavors, gush about your kombucha fermentation station to your friends, and share your baby SCOBY with them!
  • If your airlock lids don't fit the container you used for your 1st ferment (with the SCOBY), you should transfer the kombucha to a container that works with airlock lids for the 2nd ferment (with the champagne yeast).  Unless you're skipping the airlock lids.
Checking ABV:
  • Some hydrometer directions say to check the gravity before adding the yeast.  Since we're using a full cup of sugar along with the yeast, I opt to check the gravity after adding the yeast.  
  • If you check the gravity after adding the yeast (like I do), make sure to use the hydrometer immediately (before the yeast eats much of the sugar).
  • Follow the hydrometer directions for checking the ABV.
  • The typical ABV for my hard kombucha batches has been around 4%, but the actual ABV will differ depending on the room temperature, how long the kombucha ferments (at each stage), and the brewing yeast.
Carbonation Tips: 
  • Use pressure resistant bottles, preferably ones meant for use in brewing.  Do not use decorative glass bottles to carbonate your kombucha. They are not meant to deal with pressure and may explode.
  • If your kombucha isn't carbonating, first make sure your bottles are tightly sealed.
  • If your kombucha isn't carbonating (even with tightly sealed lids), it may not have enough sugar remaining to carbonate.  Try back-sweetening it by adding fruit juice or a sugar-based simple syrup (1 cup water to 1 cup sugar).  The sugar in the juice or syrup should assist in carbonation.
Flavoring Tips:
  • Non-sweet flavor additions (such as whole spices or herbs) can be added after the initial fermentation (with the SCOBY) and before fermentation with yeast.  Strain out any additions before proceeding to the yeast ferment. 
SCOBY Tips:
  • Remove the SCOBY before adding champagne yeast. The SCOBY doesn’t like it when the environment changes.
  • Going out of town? Simply leave your SCOBY in a batch of kombucha. That batch might be too vinegary to use, but the SCOBY will be fine, and you can start over after your trip. If it’s for a longer time-period, either have someone babysit your kombucha, or start over when you get back in town.
SCOBY Troubleshooting:
  • This is normal: A new, transparent SCOBY disk appearing on the top of the kombucha batch; stringy pieces of SCOBY floating in the drink (like with a vinegar mother); the SCOBY floating on top, on the side, on the bottom-- It doesn't matter where it is, it's working.
  • This is not normal: The SCOBY is black. The tea has mold or smells rotten. Throw away your SCOBY and tea and start over.
Note: Avoid prolonged contact with metal once the fermentation process begins.