In this Hotel, the cult around fermentation is stronger than us. Today, we inaugurate a new wing of our Hotel, dedicated to another fermented liquid that we like so much. Kombucha is basically a fermented tea. If in beer we ferment the sugars extracted from the malt, in Kombucha a tea of some variant of Camellia Sinensis is produced with sugar. The particularity of this fermentation is the organisms responsible for it, a mixture of bacteria and yeasts, called SCOBY – Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast.
It must be said, a SCOBY is a strange animal, even stranger than Kveik. Leave him in a fermentation and he probably makes children. If not, it will use caffeine to put on weight with another layer of cellulose. Not to mention that it grows anywhere where there is something to eat, oxygen and enough time. And it is also capable of sticking to surfaces, like a gecko, and seal in some CO2 from fermentation.
SCOBY fermentation is a job of transforming sugars into acids. First, yeasts convert sugars into ethanol and CO2, and then the bacteria metabolize ethanol into acids. With a predominance of acetic acid, the result is a drink with characteristics reminiscent of those “sours” from Flanders, which we love so much. Especially if the Kombucha matures on top of cherries and some red currants that were taking up space in the freezer…
We have long pursued the idea of combining Beer and Kombucha. The inspiration for this concept is a “faux” Red Flanders or Kriek. A disguised beer. Something that lives in the middle of these two styles. A beer willing to get involved with other organisms for a happy ending (or so we hope). The initial beer starts as a Belgian Red Ale that searches for that Belgian yeast character as well as the caramel notes. It is then incorporated with Cherry Kombucha to give it the acetic character and fruity flavor of the cherry, so common in the Belgian Krieks.
So, let’s do this. For the first part of the trip, beer.
Very normal and simple brew day (how unlikely of us). A malt bill focused on caramels to complement a base malt. Normal brewing without any tricks, keeping things simple so far, because we’ll throw in some complications later on, for sure. For this beer, we will do most of the work with the yeast.
Hops are not called for this meeting, except for the usual balance exercise with the sweetness of the wort.
The choice of yeast was made using an extremely scientific process of going to the refrigerator to search for all available Belgian yeasts, followed by a strict and completely personal elimination criteria, which took about 30 seconds to complete. In other words, after we had raffled which yeast we were going to put in the beer, we threw it into the fermenter. The idea was to create a notoriously Belgian-style base with enough structure to withstand the Kombucha.
The second part of this beer (or hybrid?) is a Cherry Kombucha.
5 liters of black tea, yellow sugar and a Scoby that has already done a lot of Kombucha and has had countless children and grandchildren. Fermentation between 22º-25º C for 10 days, taking it to assertive levels of acetic acid. Since the intention is to dilute it in beer, it is important that we have its character in the final mixture. After the first fermentation, we processed 1.5 kg of Algarve cherries – the ones from Fundão are already a bit démodé – removing the stone (the f*** patience), crushing the cherry and including its peduncles. In Portugal, there are still people who make tea with the cherry peduncles and we kept the tradition. Follows a week of contact with the cherries at 10º C.
Kombucha made and ready. Beer fermented. It’s time to bring the two worlds together. Are we going to create a black hole? Who knows?
Not everything that shines is gold, like this beer is trying to show, so we went on as knowledgeable blending experts (that we are not) and conducted tests, with different concentrations to evaluate how much Kombucha vs. Beer would work better.
Result: mix everything and then see how it works. Good old Science!
Ah wait, we talked about red currants sometime above, they have only now arrived to the party.
To maintain a certain trailer trash level – or, if you prefer a euphemism, low-cost – to our brewing equipment, we ended up blending everything in a custom-developed apparatus: An already used key-keg, half sodomized and missing its inner bag, to make a maturation vessel. Now it’s time to wait, let the elements get married and soon you see how silly this idea was.
Bonus – the word Scoby was used four times and not once did we do the joke of “scoby-doo” – Congratulations are in order.
Cherry Kombucha Red Ale
Total Cereal 6.75 kg.
Original Gravity: 1.067
Boil Time: 60 minutes
44.4% – 3.00 kg. Vienna
29.6% – 2.00 kg. Extra Pale Ale Malt
11.1% – 0.75 kg. Spelt
7.4% – 0.50 kg. CaraRed Malt
3.7% – 0.25 kg. Flaked Oats
3.0% – 0.20 kg. Crystal DRC
0.7% – 0.20 kg. Chocolate Malt
30 gr. Fuggle (pellet, ~4,5% AA) @ 30 min.
5 liters of Cherry Kombucha counts as extra?
Red Currants (some amount left in a freezer)
Mangrove Jack’s M41 Belgian Ale
Cl to SO4 Ratio: 0.72
Saccharification – 60 min. @ 68ºC
Mash Out – 10 min @ 76ºC
pH@30 min 5.30
The art of blending beers can be as complicated as multiple tasting sets to arrive at the final formula. It can also be just “put it all in there” … all the Kombucha was blended with the beer.