Tart, fizzy, and lightly sweet—Kombucha has become a favorite of bartenders, health-nuts, and casual beverage enthusiasts alike.
Kombucha’s history starts in Northeast China in around 200 B.C. where it was first prized for its supposed healing properties. The drink made its way along trade routes, and was even popular throughout Europe as early as the 20th century. After tea and sugar shortages caused a popularity dip during WWII, the 1960s brought a new wave of interest for kombucha when a study in Switzerland showed its impressive health benefits.
Why Use Kombucha In Cocktails?
Let’s start with some background—Kombucha at its base is sweet, caffeinated black tea that becomes lightly fermented. This base mixture can be flavored with a wide range of fruit, herbs, florals, additional sugar, and more. You can get an incredibly diverse range of flavors all with the background of black tea in a lightly tart and fizzy format. Not only is this often healthier than bottled juices and mixers, but it can also help build your layers of flavor in a more interesting way. Additionally, because it’s less sweet, you have more control over your flavor profile. Essentially, using kombucha as your secret ingredient can help you make better cocktails faster.
Kombucha pairs with just about every spirit, but it works particularly well with gins, vodka, and even some whisk(e)y. It all comes down to the flavor of the blend you’re working with; a grapefruit and jalapeño kombucha, for instance, would pair with a mezcal, while an elderflower and cucumber kombucha would pair with a gin. The versatility, especially with homemade kombucha, is endless. Two things to note when building cocktails—always taste your kombucha before mixing a drink. Because it’s a living creature, your flavor can change from one day to the next, getting less sweet and more carbonated. When crafting cocktails, you want to be sure to give it a taste test so you can adjust for sweetness and acid accordingly. Also note that kombucha should always be added to the glass last to preserve the bubbles.
Why Make Your Own Kombucha?
How it’s made and how soon you use it will affect the carbonation and sugar levels dramatically. Your brew can be sweeter, tarter, dryer, and more or less carbonated depending on what you want. Kombucha’s tart and unique flavor profile already make it an idea cocktail ingredient, but when you make your own you can use it to its full advantage. Like with shrubs, Kombucha can be a great way to make the most of seasonal or less than perfect produce. During the secondary fermentation process, you can add pureed or sliced fruit to add flavoring. Once you have your master kombucha made, creating flavor options is easy, and can be part of your weekly specials. Your “mother” will have its own jar with a scoby.
- 3 1/2 qt Water
- 1 cup Sugar (white granulated)
- 7/8 bags or 2 tbsp. Loose Black or Green Tea (caffeinated)
- 2 cups Unflavored Starter Tea or Unflavored Store Bought Kombucha
Preparation: Prepare a clean, sanitized one gallon jar by labeling with a name and date. Gather a clean, dry tightly woven cloth or filter and rubber bands to keep the opening of the jar covered. In a large stock pot, heat the water enough to stir in and dissolve the sugar. Remove from heat. Add tea and let steep as the liquid returns to room temperature. Once at the right temp, strain your tea into your jar and add your starter mix, cover with cheesecloth. Coffee filters and paper towels can be used in place of cheese cloth, just be sure no fruit flies or debris can get through the weave.
Let your starter sit in a cool but not cold, dark space where it won’t be jostled around for several weeks. At the one-week mark, you may notice your scoby beginning to grow, you can use a sanitized straw to grab a small amount of liquid below to taste. Once the taste is to your liking, you can begin to bottle.