There was a point about 4 years ago where I was homebrewing every two weeks, had multiple batches of kombucha active and had started to play with water kefir and sauerkraut. My kitchen started to look like a biology lab. Needless to say I was very much into fermentation. And then life happened. Luckily I always had time for at least one batch of one ferment or another, but my time was limited with moving to a new state, finding and then working a full time beer job and raising two children. Passionately pursuing the ins and outs of fermentation was no longer a priority. Call it luck or intuition, but moving to Eugene, OR was a boon for someone as into microbes as I am. We have 2 homebrew shops, roughly 15 breweries, multiple distilleries, a world-class cider producer, an annual fermentation festival and a whole lot of people interested in all of the above. So while it took some time to shake out the larger life details, I can say with great pleasure that the urge to have fun with fermentation is back thanks to a few welcome additions. In part, the flame was lit by something spicy and new.
For years I had steered clear of Korean food under the impression that it was a bit of the fiery side for me to tolerate. Luckily in recent years having known more families willing to enlighten me I got exposed to a few tasty side dishes that kindled my curiosity for the funky stuff. Admittedly I watch a lot of Maangchi on YouTube and after watching her integrate kimchi and other fermentation into yet another video I figured it was about time to try a batch for myself. Other than a few confusing moments of trying to scale back the recipe size and also guess at how many pepper flakes to hold off things went really well. I like my cabbage well fermented so I did let it go considerably longer than she does, but all in all it wasn’t scary and I’ve been nibbling at it over the last few weeks to much delight. Using unfamiliar ingredients was enjoyable and reminded me to add foods I have on hand into products I had never really thought about before.
I’ve been a lover of Kombucha for years now, but I never really took to getting to creative about my addition of flavors. I’m usually happy without much else in it although I am partial to adding lime and ginger slices upon bottling. In regularly visiting small local markets, I noticed commercial Kombucha producers adding an array of seemingly out-there ingredients such as chamomile, lavender, turmeric and hops. Being a lover of IPA and realizing the small amount of hops I grow in my yard might work as a dry-hop turned out great in one batch. The herb garden we started last year provided a wonderful combo of mint and rosemary. Really what excited me was being able to walk out my door and start seeing (and tasting) homegrown fermentation creativity. The other thing that led to better and more frequent Kombucha is something I’d been meaning to do for years, but only recently felt the push to do – building a kegerator.
The Joys of Kegging
I’ve never hated bottling in the way that so many of my fellow homebrewers do. Perhaps it’s the love of seeing products from start to finish or the tangible feel of glass and the hiss of a well carbonated bottle being opened. All the romance aside, with the way my schedule and utter lack of time goes these days, I’ll reserve bottling for special occasions. I’ve been collecting used draft parts over the last two years knowing someday I’d have enough second hand soda kegs, spare regulators and other bits to throw something functional together. Realizing I could have homebrewed beer, kombucha, as well as packaging-free sparkling water at home was enough of a pull for me to seek out a deal on a chest freezer and finally put it all together. The amount of time I used to spend bottling homebrew and Kombucha really added up. Kegging takes a fraction of the time and takes far less floor space and setup. I was perpetually short on bottles, and given that I barely had time to brew, dumping any product due to lack of glass was a crime. It’s all this savings of time and space that has really been put back into experimentation and finding new techniques or products to make.
Because winter is thawing here, I’ve already got ideas going for what I can plant and have on hand in a few months to add to already existing ferments. Mostly some additional herbs to add to kombucha, a new variety of hop and possibly some vegetables to pickle. I’ve also gotten to homebrew considerably more recently and did my first lager. I am now plotting the next few months of beers to have on hand through seasons change. In the longer term, there’s a couple new-to-me ferments that I would like to take a crack at. The few real misos I’ve tasted have been mind-blowing, but something about working with koji is daunting. Someday I’ll get a proper miso and sake going, but until then, I’m just trying to keep the right amount of ferments on the counter going that won’t get my family to think I’ve lost it. While my temporary time away from frequent ferments was tough, I can say I’m glad the bug (really all the bugs) is back. Let me know in the comments what cool ferments you have going!