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Kombucha Experiment

This is what I am experimenting with to see if I can grow a SCOBY. I am in no way affiliated with this brand of soda...but the root beer is interesting!

This is what I am experimenting with to see if I can grow a SCOBY. I am in no way affiliated with this brand of soda…but the root beer is interesting!

Kombucha…odd sounding. And when you hear the description, it’s gets kind of weird. So, you brew up some sweet tea, right? Okay, any good Southerner would be good with that. Then, you take something called a “SCOBY” (or affectionately referred to as the “mother”) and you chuck some of that in the tea. It looks like a slimey, spongy, white mass floating on the top of a previous batch of kombucha. SCOBY stands for “Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria/Yeast”. Mmm MMM!!! So, then you cover with cheesecloth and a rubber band, let that ferment for a while, eating the sugar in the tea, and BOOM! You have a tangy, fermented tea drink with lots of healthy probiotics, like yogurt does, but even better! Are you still with me? Okay, then you start a new batch, throw your SCOBY in and put your Kombucha in clean jars in the fridge…or you can add a little more sugar and seal and let ferment at room temperature and you get kombucha soda! Here’s a Wikipedia link, if you want more information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kombucha

Disclaimer! There are some risks with fermented products. Please read the Wikipedia article and, especially if you have any ongoing health issues or possible medication interactions, please, please consult your doctor before making and consuming any fermented products! And always sanitize the crap out of EVERYTHING! Constantly!!! Okay, moving along….

I have to admit, I’m not a big tea drinker. Never really cared for iced tea. But green tea is pretty mild and I like experimenting with fermented things, so here we go! I found a “LIVE Soda” at a store today. This brand is a “raw, organic, kombucha soda and comes in a few flavors. I decided to try a root beer flavor. The bottle instructs you to not shake…besides spewing all over you…it would disturb the dregs that have settled on the bottom of the bottle. That’s what I’m going to use to attempt to generate my own SCOBY. I have read that using a bottled product is not usually successful because of some change that was made in much of the industry a few years ago; however, this brand doesn’t seem to have any additives and its raw/organic status gives me hope. If it doesn’t work, I can go to my local home brew shop and pick up a starter for $8 and salvage my experiment.

What I did was, I brewed 8 teabags of green tea in 3 cups of Culligan bottled water from the “hot” side of my dispenser. (You could bring water to a boil for 10 minutes to sanitize, if you don’t have a hot water spigot/bottled water dispenser and then add your teabags). Next, I added a cup of sugar to a sanitized 1 gallon carboy. A wide mouth gallon jar would be better for removing the SCOBY, but I didn’t have one. Anyway, I poured the hot tea onto the sugar in the carboy and then topped up to a little under a gallon, leaving room for the mother to grow. The cold water brought the temperature down to about 90F (checked with a sanitized pocket thermometer). I put some ice in a mixing bowl and added some cold tap water and put the carboy in the bring the temperature down, so I wouldn’t kill off the SCOBY critters.

Green tea, sugar...bring the temperature down.

Green tea, sugar…bring the temperature down.

Then, I poured off about 2/3 of the LIVE Soda into a glass to drink…the rest was then swirled to suspend the dregs in the remaining soda, and poured into the tea. I topped the jar with a piece of sanitized cheesecloth and a rubber band and now we wait to see if it works.

Let's see what happens!

Let’s see what happens!

It will probably be a month, give or take a week, to know if a SCOBY is going to form. If it does, the next batch should go faster.

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Day 134 Status Citra Saisons and Diet Root Beer

Switched back from blow-offs to airlocks

Switched back from blow-offs to airlocks

A quick update on my current projects: 1) Diet Root Beer. I prepared a replacement cap for my test bottle, I opened the tester and heard a slight CO2 escape. I poured a very small amount in a glass. There were very few bubbles. The soda was obviously undercarbed, but had some…hopefully, that will continue to increase! The flavor was strong on the root beer and not overly sweet, but it does have a little “diet” aftertaste. It’s okay, though, for the trade-off on sugar. I’m just hoping it carbs enough! Next time, maybe a little sweeter. I may have to find a way for a little more sweetness and a little less aftertaste without upping the sugar too much.

2) I switched back to regular airlocks for the Citra Saisons this afternoon. The action seemed to have relaxed sufficiently. Still on the heating pad on “low”  and wrapped in the Space Blanket. The main batch is bubbling about every 8-10 seconds and the little bonus gallon, that I’m going to rack onto vodka soaked cherries, is at about 18-20 second intervals. Looking good! A lot of trub…I’ll probably get 4-1/2 to 5 gallons out of the big carboy and 2/3 gallon on the small one, but they should be good!

3) Moving the Hi-Nelson Saison w/Hibiscus to storage. They were bottled on July 27th. Should be a couple of weeks before I open one and a month before I expect them to really be ready.

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Day 132 Bottling Hi-Nelson Saison, Diet Root Beer, Boosting Starter

Bottled Hi-Nelson Saison w/Hibiscus, Bottled Diet Root Beer, Harvested Belle Saison yeast starter, bag of grain for Citra Saison.

Bottled Hi-Nelson Saison w/Hibiscus, Bottled Diet Root Beer, Harvested Belle Saison yeast starter, bag of grain for Citra Saison.

Busy day today! Began by pulling the harvested Belle Saison starter from the refrigerator and made it better. Yeast class I attended showed me a couple of things I should fix. I made a new starter wort with DME, chilled down to mid 80’sF, added to my new flask, and oxygenated. Then I decanted the old wort and pitched the yeast slurry into the new wort. I also decanted another harvest jar and added it as well. Put a little sanitized foil over the flask and wrapped a heating pad around it, set on the lowest setting. The yeast really seemed to take off! I hope to cold crash it tonight and pitch it into a Citra Saison tomorrow! Brewing!

Keeping the yeast starter warm.

Keeping the yeast starter warm.

Moving along. Set everything up for bottling…sanitized everything. I”ve done enough photos on bottling before. Suffice it to say, I followed procedure and all went well. The biggest question was about how much corn sugar to add for priming. I wound up with about 5.25 gallons to bottle and used the 5.75oz recommended by Northern Brewer’s calculator. The hydrometer sample was a little foamy, but it looks like the FG is 1.004, after temperature correction. The OG was 1.068, so we wind up with the expected 8.40% ABV. (Woo!) I bottled 31 regular 12 oz bottles and a dozen 22 oz bombers.

This is the Hi-Nelson Saison hydrometer sample after I cold crashed it.

This is the Hi-Nelson Saison hydrometer sample after I cold crashed it.

Since I had everything out for bottling, I went ahead and tried my hand at root beer! I bought extract yesterday. I made a half gallon batch and it was pretty simple, so I did a second 1/2 gallon. Those yielded eleven 12 oz bottles. The last one was a little short, so I added a little water and marked the bottle. I’ll use it as the tester for carbonation. It took 1/2 tablespoon of extract, 2 tablespoons of white sugar, 10 packets of Truvia, and 1/8 teaspoon of  Champagne yeast, rehydrated. Then, warm water to fill the half gallon carboy. Shake to blend well. I used my siphon and bottling cane to fill the bottles. Now we wait and see how it turns out!

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Day 128 Gushers and Bottle Bomb!

Bottle shards from a bottle bomb during pasteurization.

Bottle shards from a bottle bomb during pasteurization.

After 24 hours, I felt confident that my 2 ginger-bug apple sodas (I used one as the tester) and 11 tepaches could go for another 24 hours of carbing. Unfortunately, I was mistaken. All were gushers. I guess 30 to 36 hours would have been better than 48! So, I decided to gently lift a small area on the crown caps to release the excess pressure and then use the bottle capper to try and re-tighten the caps. I should have reread the notes on pasteurizing…I heated water to 190F instead of 180F. I was using my pressure canner pot and, after removing from the heat and placing the bottles in the preheated water, I covered loosely with the lid.

After about 3 minutes, I had the crap scared out of me by an exploding bottle. Luckily, I was not standing right beside it and the lid was mostly covering the pot/ Some liquid came out and made a bit of a mess and a couple of nasty glass shards made it out of the pot. One of the two apple sodas had busted and I could see bubbles escaping from the second one, so I removed it. The tepache bottles appeared to be sealed, so I let them finish the pasteurization process.

The next day, I opened one of the tepache bottles and sampled it. I honestly think this is the best batch. I’m going to leave out the optional beer addition after straining, in the future, as I did on this batch. I did, however, open a bottle of Matt’s Summer Brew and did 1/2 and 1/2 with the tepache to make Mateo’s Tepache Shandy and it is the best yet! Great combination!

Mateo's Tepache Shandy, made with Matt's Summer Brew...delish!

Mateo’s Tepache Shandy, made with Matt’s Summer Brew…delish!

No significant change on the Hi-Nelson Saison…continues to gradually slow in primary fermentation, while set on top of our heating pad on the lowest setting.

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Day 127 Bottling Tepache #3 and Apple Ginger Bug Soda

I feel like the tepache has been going long enough. The FG is 1.035, but I didn’t take the OG. With the amount of piloncillo raw sugar, I assume 1.110, as I had in the first batch. That would make it around 9.84% ABV…I’m skeptical. The tiny sample I got from the bottom of the fermenter bucket didn’t have any alcohol heat at all. (But it was good!)

At this point, I’m not going through all the sanitizing steps  and bottling details in my journal; however, I AM still faithfully following procedures. If you happen to be reading my journal, welcome! If you need details on sanitary practices and bottling procedures, you can look through my early entries.

Based on past experience, I’m going back  to two days for carbing and then I’ll pasteurize at the same time as my apple ginger bug soda. The tepache yielded 10 bottles plus the last on, that I will use as a tester for carbonation, since it has a fair amount of sediment in it.  I marked the cap with an “X”.

For the apple ginger bug soda, I poured 48 oz of an all natural apple juice into a large measuring cup. Not that it really matters, but the Mott’s Natural SG is 1.05 (No sugar added, no preservatives) I strained and added 1/4 cup of the ginger bug starter and mixed them well. I divided that between four prepared 12 oz bottles and capped them. I then added 1/4 cup of water and 2 teaspoons of sugar back to the “bug” starter. The starter has been out of the refrigerator for a day. I’m going to leave it out overnight and then put it back in the fridge again. I marked the caps with “A”,  for apple. Late afternoon Thursday should be time to check my tepache tester and pasteurize the tepache and apple soda.

Note: 7 pm Wed.  Picked up one of the four Apple Ginger Bug Sodas and there’s a lot of stuff floating in it…I think it came with the “natural” apple juice. I decided to open one and pour it through a strainer into a glass.

Apple Ginger-Bug Soda. Cloudy, needs more carb, but tasty.

Apple Ginger-Bug Soda. Cloudy, needs more carb, but tasty.

It’s cloudy and, even through the strainer, it looks like stuff floating. But it has a nice little carb and a good flavor…for 1/4 cup added to 48 oz of juice, you can really taste the ginger. Interesting. It should easily handle another day to carb, though.

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Day 120 Racking the Tepache Again

Foamy Tepache

Foamy Tepache

The Tepache had a big head of foam on it, so I decided to rack it to glass 1/2 gallon carboys. I filled one and a partial, and left behind a little sludge along with the foam. I’ll bottle tomorrow and give them 48 hours to carb. Then pasteurize.

Tepache in carboys until tomorrow.

Tepache in carboys until tomorrow.

Foam and sludge after racking.

Foam and sludge after racking.

The ginger bug citrus soda needs until tomorrow to finish carbing, so I’ll pasteurize those  3 bottles then.

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Day 115 Pasteurizing Soda, First Taste Major Nelson’s IPA

Pasteurized Ginger Bug Pineapple-Mango Soda

Pasteurized Ginger Bug Pineapple-Mango Soda

I kept an eye on my soda bottles all day. There was a build-up of the more pulpy stuff in the necks of the bottles. Around noon, I carefully lifted each bottle and inverted to distribute the contents and put them back down. No explosions…good! I checked the little tester jar and it was getting carb over night, but not until afternoon did I feel it was getting carbed enough. Around 2 pm, I put the tester jar in the fridge and planned to pasteurize around 3 p.m.

I filled my pressure canner with hot water and put it on high heat, loosely covered. Using a digital thermometer, when the water got to 190F, I removed the pot from heat and carefully added the sodas. Covered loosely again, just in case a bottle were to pop. Set the timer for ten minutes. When the timer went off, I carefully removed the bottles to a kitchen towel on the kitchen counter to rest and cool. When cooled off, I’ll transfer the bottles to the refrigerator.

The little tester bottle was chilled at this point, so I gave it a swirl to mix the pulp and drank it. It wasn’t carbed like a Sprite or Ginger Ale, but it was nice and tingly. I definitely get the mango and ginger…really like the flavor. The texture is the part that would be hard to get some people into it, because of the pulp. But overall, it’s good!

I did go ahead and put an airlock on the Wheat RyePA today and moved it to a place to let it go for awhile. The tepache is not yet showing signs of life.

Update: Chilled the ginger-mint bug pineapple-mango sodas and pulled one out to try this evening. The carbonation is good…not too much, but good. The flavor is interesting and I like it. The only odd thing is the amount of pulp…so it’s kind of like a pulpy orange juice/soda hybrid.

Pulpy, but tasty pineapple-mango soda.

Pulpy, but tasty pineapple-mango soda.

Later that evening: Opened my first bottle of Major Nelson’s IPA and wow!!! Head poured creamy and slowly backed down, but never dissipated completely. The aroma was big with hops. The taste was citrus up front that quickly turned to bitter with a resin finish. I’m very happy with how this turned out! I think I finally got the carb right! Technically, this may be my best beer. It is a tad bitter for me, personally, but I think it is exactly where it is supposed to be for the style.  Another couple of weeks in the bottle won’t hurt it, but it is surprisingly good right now!

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Halfway through, the head is hanging on nicely.

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Nice head on the pour…soft, creamy.

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