homebrew kombucha: when you let it go

Back in the early summer, I finally followed through on my 2014 goal of brewing kombucha (fermented tea) at home. It turned out to be a wildly successful project for me, producing some delicious kombucha that I flavored with pomegranate, peach, mango, cherry and even rhubarb. (Though not all at the same time.)

And it was a good project for me because kombucha gives you a little leeway when it comes to time. It’s not on a minute by minute schedule, so if you have to wait a few more hours (or days, ahem) to get to it and move it to the next stage, it’s pretty forgiving.

Well, the last 6 weeks or so have been pretty crazy. And I’ve had to prioritize what gets done. Mostly tomatoes. So some things fell to the wayside, including the kombucha. I’ve had two jars brewing for awhile now. Let’s just say, I “let it go.” (See what I did there?)

resized kombucha

That’s a pretty big SCOBY, and there’s a significant amount of extra room there at the top, as the bacteria and yeast have been gobbling the sugar in the tea for awhile now.

It doesn’t smell bad – just a slight vinegar smell, which is expected. No fuzz or otherwise gross contaminants that would signify that something had truly gone awry or that my SCOBYs were bad. I thought I was basically just giving myself two SCOBY hotels with this batch of kombucha, that it had gone “too far” to be usable as far as food.

Fermented-Cover-SMALLBut then I met Jill Ciciarelli at a Wigle Whiskey event for Penn’s Corner members. She gave us a sample of one of their experimental whiskeys, and in the course of me running my mouth, I mentioned that I wished I had gone to their kombucha and cocktails class. Turns out, she taught it. Must have been the whiskey, but I confessed that my poor kombucha had gone too far. Turns out, she wrote a book on fermentation, titled, aptly, Fermented.* And she told me that I can still use kombucha that’s been fermenting too long to want to drink it straight.

First of all, how did I not find this book when I was starting this process?!?! Allow me to kick myself here. It is so straight forward and easy to understand, it takes all the fear out of it. I appreciate Sandor Katz and love The Art of Fermentation, but that book is intimidating beyond belief for first time fermenters, and it’s also not a how-to. Fermented, however, is visually appealing and organized so well that I ordered myself a copy as soon as my library copy had to go back.

Ever want to put a post-it note in a library book that says “Do yourself a favor. Return this now and go buy it.”? I wanted to do that with this book. If you are considering fermenting anything – tea, cabbage, booze – get this book!

Anyway, back to my poor, neglected kombucha. I think one of my jars will remain a SCOBY hotel, holding a backup SCOBY in case something goes south with my next brew. I might always try to keep one on hand like that. As for the extras, the book mentions dehydrating them, and I’ve seen people make them into gummies, though that might be a goal for 2015.

But for the rest of the liquid, I’ll basically use it as what it is – vinegar! I can store it as vinegar and use it to make things like kombucha salad dressing (recipe in the book) or a marinade.

And hopefully this weekend, I’ll get a new batch for drinking going!


*I didn’t get paid or perked to talk about this book and the links are not affiliates. It’s just really good and you should buy it. That’s all.