When it comes to brewing Kombucha, there are a lot of vessel choices. But in almost all cases, what the vessel is made of will not affect the taste. However when it comes to brewing in an Oak Barrel, taste is one of the great advantages. The complex, rich layers of flavor that form in a well fermented Oak Barrel Kombucha brew are divine.
But don’t take my word for it, my friend Bryan started a brand in Minnesota made entirely in charred Oak Barrels, so he knows better than anyone how great Oak Barrel Kombucha is. Take it away Bryan!
My Oak Barrel Kombucha Journey
by Bryan Deane Bertsch
My wife and I began drinking kombucha in about 2003. I am a Taoist meditation instructor and energy healer, so what we do for our bodies is very important. I was especially fascinated that it was a living, raw beverage.
Although I had never tried brewing anything at the time, I was called to give this a try. Kombucha was quickly becoming an important staple in my diet.
To this day it gives me a great energy boost (without a crash), helps my digestion and makes me feel relaxed. Plus it’s a great treat – something I always look forward to.
My first vessel was a 2.5 gallon ceramic crock with a spigot. After brewing in a few different style vessels, I started to have inklings about going commercial.
And right about that time I heard about oak barrel brewing and ordered a 5 gallon oak barrel.
Getting My First Barrel
Rather than place the barrel on its side, as is typical for wine or beer in an oak barrel, this one was made to stand up and down. A hole is cut at the top, and a plastic spigot inserted towards the bottom. Again, keeping the process simple.
I was a bit concerned about how the toasted oak would affect kombucha flavor, and decided to bottle my first batch as “Original,” rather than add any fruit flavorings. Before I even bottled the kombucha I drank some straight out of the barrel. The taste was divine! I could not have been more pleased.
The kombucha took to oak very well, and why not? It’s dark, the oak is breathable, and it’s all natural. It makes sense, really. In addition, the bacteria and yeast can penetrate the inside layer of the oak, helping to seal it with itself.
Kombucha Oak Flavor Becomes My Favorite
I was still using other vessels of porcelain and glass, so I was able to taste the three versions side by side for several months. All three worked well, but I kept noticing the softness of the oak batches. Plus the charred inside added a wonderful complex flavor, with hints of vanilla and earth. Oak also led to a much more consistent brew. I attribute that to the fact that as it saturates the wood over time, the bacteria and yeast can really feel at home.
When I went commercial in 2010 there was no doubt I would continue using oak. Even using the same lineage of SCOBY, following the same recipe, we are unable to match the taste that we create at Deane’s in the Oak when using any other vessel. We are convinced it is the oak.
For anyone committed to brewing kombucha, I highly recommend using charred oak barrels. It is a bit of an investment up front, but the taste can’t be beat, the bacteria and yeast love the oak, and maintenance is simple.
More Oak Barrel Tips from the Kombucha Mamma
Bryan is right that the yeast and bacteria love the oak – the SCOBY will even grow right into the sides of the barrel! Don’t worry, you can just pull it off the sides, no harm.
Once the wood is completely saturated, the well fermented liquid will help prevent mold. However, it is true that the barrel requires a little extra care.
One thing we do not recommend is leaving the barrel only half or one quarter full. If you do this, it is likely that mold will grow on the inside, above the liquid.
This is because the wood itself has natural sugars present, and when the sweet tea soaks into the staves, there is no very sour Kombucha (liquid with a low pH) to prevent mold spores from settling in for lunch.
In breweries and wineries, the high alcohol content is naturally antimicrobial. In lieu of a high ethanol content, Kombucha boasts a low pH and organic acids that are also antimicrobial. By keeping the barrel full of Kombucha at all times, mold can be avoided.
Mold is Fixable
That said, if mold does happen, no worries! While it is true that you must throw away all the contents of the barrel (Kombucha and SCOBY) to prevent mold from happening again the next batch, you do NOT have to throw away the barrel!
You will have to scrub away the mold and rinse well. Then use barrel sanitizing tablets like these to reset the vessel, and you can start again with SCOBYs and liquid from your SCOBY Hotel.
The “living” nature of the Oak barrel vessel lends great flavor but requires a bit more work. That makes it an excellent choice for the dedicated brewer, or anyone that loves the flavor of oak and the look of a rustic wood barrel sitting right on the counter! 🙂
Do you brew in oak barrels?
What has your experience been like?