As an avid kombucha home brewer and blogger, I've tried brewing kombucha in dozens of different ways. One popular and unique way of brewing kombucha that I hadn't found out about until recently is kombucha wine.
Kombucha wine is kombucha that has undergone an extra round of fermentation with wine yeast, extra sugar, and grape juice in an air-locked container called a carboy. This extra round of fermentation develops higher alcohol levels of 6-14% and a wine like flavor in the kombucha.
In this article I’ll cover everything I’ve learned about kombucha wine to help you understand it as fully as possible, and at the end of it I'll give you a detailed 5 step recipe that will teach you how to make it well. But for anyone who is curious about the overall process or just wants a reminder, here is a very short overview.
Quick 3 Step Kombucha Wine Recipe Overview
Combine kombucha with wine yeast, sugar, and grape juice in carboy and allow it to ferment for 4-6 weeks.
Bottle kombucha wine for 3-12 weeks of maturation, then drink up!
Ok, let's talk about kombucha wine!
What is Kombucha?
Kombucha is a probiotic drink made from fermented tea that has become quite popular in recent years due to its great taste and many health benefits such as improved digestion and gut health, detoxification, and immune system strengthening.
Kombucha is made by combining a living bacteria culture called a SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast) with sweetened tea. The bacteria and yeast of the SCOBY eat the sugar and nutrients from the sweet tea to produce healthy acids, carbon dioxide, and alcohol, creating kombucha.
What is Kombucha Wine?
Kombucha wine is pretty much exactly what it sounds like, a combination of kombucha and wine.
To make kombucha wine, kombucha is brewed as normal, but after the 1st fermentation is combined in a fermenting container called a carboy (I'll talk more about carboys later) with wine yeast, sugar and grape juice.
In the carboy, the kombucha and the wine yeast use the sugar and the grape juice to ferment more, producing extra alcohol and developing a fruity, wine like flavor.
After a month or so of extra fermentation, the kombucha wine is bottled to mature and develop more flavor.
How long the kombucha wine matures for is really up to the brewer. Some people will drink their kombucha wine after a week of maturation, while others say that it doesn’t develop the right flavor until after 3 or 4 months of bottling.
Once the kombucha wine has finished maturing it's ready to be drunk!
How Much Alcohol is in Kombucha Wine
All kombucha has some amount of alcohol in it that is produced naturally during the fermentation process. The reason that regular kombucha can be sold to minors is because the alcohol level is below 0.5% and according to federal law, any products under 0.5% alcohol are not considered alcoholic.
So how much alcohol is in kombucha wine? Usually between 6-14%. For reference, the average beer has an alcohol level of 4.5% and most wines 12%.
The amount of alcohol in your kombucha wine will depend a lot on how long and fast it ferments, and how much sugar that is available for the yeast to ferment.
If you want to know exactly how much alcohol is in your finished kombucha wine, you can figure that out through the use of a hydrometer. A hydrometer is a tool that looks kind of like a glass thermometer and is used to measure the alcohol and sugar content of a liquid.
To use a hydrometer all you have to do is collect a sample of the kombucha wine into the test tube that the hydrometer comes with, and then place the hydrometer in the tube and wait for it to float. Whatever alcohol number on the hydrometer is floating at the top of the kombucha wine is its alcohol content.
If you’re looking for a hydrometer, I found an affordable and high quality kit online that includes a hydrometer, test jar, protective case, cleaning brush, storage bag, cleaning bag, and instruction sheet. Plus it has free shipping! You can find it on Amazon here.
How long Does it Take to Make Kombucha Wine?
Unfortunately, if you want to drink kombucha wine, you’re going to have to plan ahead because it takes a long time to make.
First you have to make regular kombucha, which will take 1-3 weeks depending on the temperature of the brewing environment and activity level of the SCOBY.
Then, the 2nd fermentation of the kombucha with the added sugar, wine yeast, and grape juice takes at least another 4-6 weeks.
After that the kombucha wine is bottled and how long you wait until you drink it is really up to you. Some people really like how the flavor matures over time so they won’t drink the kombucha wine for another 3-4 months. But if you’re impatient or the extra maturation doesn’t taste better to you, you could drink it after only 3 weeks of bottling.
So making kombucha wine from start to finish is going to take you at bare minimum 8 weeks, and at most 6 months.
The good news is that you can make as much kombucha wine as you want at a time, for very little additional cost. So when the kombucha wine is done you have enough to last you until the next batch finishes.
What you Need to Make Kombucha Wine
To make kombucha wine you’ll need the regular ingredients and equipment required for brewing kombucha:
A 1 Gallon Glass Jar
And then a few extra things specific for making kombucha wine:
If you’re an experienced kombucha brewer, you already are familiar with the first list of ingredients and equipment. However if you haven’t brewed kombucha before, I recommend you check out my article The 5 Things You Need to Brew Kombucha to learn about each one.
As for the second list of ingredients, here's a quick explanation of each one.
Yeast plays an important role in producing the CO2, alcohol, and healthy acids in kombucha that are essential for its fermentation, carbonation, and flavor.
By adding wine yeast to kombucha we are increasing the amount of alcohol producing organisms, leading to more alcohol in the final product. This extra yeast is placed in the anaerobic environment of a carboy, which leads to even more alcohol production.
The grape juice is added along with the wine yeast during the extra round of fermentation. Really any type of juice could be used, but most people use grapes because they are what is usually used to make wine.
The sugar in the grape juice serves as a fuel for the wine yeast to use to produce alcohol, but the main role of the grape juice is to provide flavor.
Carboy and Airlock
A carboy is a container used for brewing things like beer, wine, cider, and mead. This is where the kombucha, wine yeast, grape juice, and extra sugar are all combined.
When you get a carboy, be sure to get one with an airlock. The airlock is a device that is tapped into the opening of the carboy that allows pressure to release from the carboy, without allowing any oxygen in. This keeps the environment of the carboy anaerobic (without oxygen) and also prevents pressure from building up inside of the container and causing an explosion.
I recommend getting a glass carboy, since the acidity of kombucha can rub off BPAs and other chemicals from plastic carboys, ruining the brew. Some people do use plastic carboys and their kombucha wine turns out fine, but I personally wouldn’t risk it.
If you don’t yet have a carboy, I found an great deal on amazon. They’re selling a 1 gallon glass carboy with an airlock, for only $13! And it has prime shipping and free returns. If you’re interested you can check it out here.
Kombucha Wine Recipe (1 Gallon)
2 Cups of Sugar 2 Cups of Starter Tea
SCOBY 1 Cup of Grape Juice
⅓ Teaspoon of Wine Yeast
Step 1: Brew Sweet Tea
The very first thing you need to do to make kombucha wine is make kombucha. To do this, brew 6-8 cups of tea. Once the tea has brewed, add the sugar to it to make the sweet tea base.
If you’re making a gallon of kombucha wine, you're going to use 8 tea bags or 2 tablespoons of loose leaf tea and 1 cup of sugar.
If you want to make 2 gallons of kombucha wine, just multiply the amount of sugar and tea above by two.
If you’re using an irregularly shaped container, or don’t want to brew your kombucha wine to the gallon, you can use the numbers below.
To make 1 cup of kombucha wine you need:
0.0625 Cups of Sugar
0.5 Tea Bags or 0.375 Teaspoons of Loose Leaf Tea
0.125 Cups of Starter Tea
Just multiply these numbers by the # of cups of kombucha wine you want to make and you'll have the right amount of each ingredient.
Step 2: Add SCOBY and Starter Tea
Next we are going to add the sweet tea to our brewing vessel, and fill up whatever space remains with water. You can use cold water to help the tea cool down faster.
Once the sweet tea has cooled down to room temperature, add in the SCOBY and starter tea.
Starter tea is just unflavored kombucha from a previous brew that will help create an acidic environment in the tea early to prevent mold growth.
If you bought a SCOBY online it will come packaged in starter tea. If you've brewed before and didn't save any starter tea from a previous batch you can use a store bought bottle of unflavored kombucha or a splash of distilled white vinegar to give the brew its initial acidity.
It’s important to wait until the sweet tea has cooled down to room temp to add the SCOBY because liquid that’s too hot or too cold can shock the bacteria culture.
Step 3: 1st Fermentation
After the sweet tea, SCOBY, starter tea, and water have all been combined in the brewing vessel, cover the top of the container with cloth or an old tea shirt and secure it with a rubber band. This will keep fruit flies and other bugs out.
Do not seal the jar with a lid or anything airtight, since we need oxygenated air to be able to flow in and out of the container to keep the SCOBY alive and functioning.
Wait 7-10 days for the SCOBY to ferment the sugar and nutrients in the tea into alcohol and healthy acids. Remember that the longer the brew ferments, the more sugar will be eaten and the more bitter it will taste.
Taste test the brew every day with the goal of reaching that perfect spot between sweet and sour. To do this I stick a straw about halfway down in the liquid and cover the open end with my finger to pull out some liquid to taste.
Once it has reached a bitter enough taste for your liking, the first fermentation is complete.
Step 4: 2nd Fermentation with Wine Yeast
Now it’s time to add the wine yeast. First transfer the kombucha from its jar into the carboy.
Next dissolve 1 cup of sugar in a few cups of warm water. Once the sugar water mixture has cooled, add to it ¾ teaspoon of dehydrated wine yeast.
After a few minutes the yeast will become active and foam, at which point you can combine it with your kombucha in the carboy and stir it in.
After also adding the cup of grape juice to the carboy, secure the airlock on top and set the container aside out of direct sunlight.
Now we wait. This fermentation will probably take 4-6 weeks. You’ll be able to tell that it’s done when no more bubbles are being released in the airlock.
Step 5: Bottling
After 4-6 weeks, the yeast fermentation is done and now we technically have kombucha wine. You could drink it at this point, but most people choose to bottle their wine for at least another 3 weeks to 3 months for it to develop more flavor and tartness.
Do this by transferring the kombucha wine, via funnel and/or siphon, from the carboy into all the flip top brewing bottles. Leave these bottles at room temperature and out of sunlight.
To know when the wine is finished and at its best, taste a bottle every week and then start drinking them when you think they're ready. To figure out how much maturation you want in your kombucha wine for future brews try letting a few bottles age for only a little bit and let others go longer and compare their tastes.
During the time you’re waiting for the bottles to mature you can make some more sweet tea and start a new brew of kombucha if you want. Then ideally, by the time you’re done drinking the brew you're making right now the next batch of kombucha wine will be just finishing up.
Once you’ve deemed the kombucha wine ready it's time to drink up! Congratulations on making your own kombucha wine! Keep working at it and each brew will be better than the last one and you’ll be pumping out gallons of awesome tasting kombucha wine in no time.