This is what probably happened: thousands upon thousands of years ago, men found fruit left rotting on the ground. They ate it and it gave them a funny sort of feeling. Eventually, they learned to control the decay and use it to make tasty beverages, like wine and beer.
If you’ve ever felt the urge to make beer at home, you’ve been bitten by the same bug that bit Emma Christensen. The avid home brewer and author of True Brews: How to Craft Fermented Cider, Beer, Wine, Sake, Soda, Mead, Kefir, and Kombucha at Home (from Ten Speed Press) is a self-professed fermentation freak. Here, she tells us about all the crazy things she’s had brewing in her kitchen.
How did you get into home brewing?
My first love and greatest love is brewing beer. I got into it right after my husband and I were married. Some friends of ours gave us a gift certificate to a local home brewing store as a wedding present. We went through the first batch and it was honestly pretty awful, but there was something about that whole process that I just completely fell in love with. I brewed a second batch and at some point my enthusiasm for brewing outpaced my husband’s. And I took off on my own brewing adventures.
How did you make the leap to loving all things fermented?
I came across a recipe online for a ginger ale that uses the same kind of yeast you use to bake bread. It’s a fermented ginger ale. I tried that and it was amazing. It totally opened my eyes to this other kind of home brewing project that you can do. Then, I heard about a friend who brewed sake, so I had to learn all about that, too. Eventually, I was like, maybe I should put this into a book. And that’s exactly what I did.
Can you explain on the most basic level what is happening when you ferment something?
All fermented beverages are a pretty simple equation of taking some sort of sugary liquid, adding some yeast and then letting it sit for a while. That sugary liquid can be anything from beer wort when you brew beer to fruit juice or honey. The yeast eats the sugar and produces carbon dioxide and alcohol. The longer you let it sit, the more alcoholic it will get. So, if you want to brew soda pop, you do make a little bit of alcohol as a byproduct, but mostly you’re just capturing the carbon dioxide. If you’re making wine, you’re not worried about carbonation. All you want is the alcohol.
Your book makes brewing at home seem easy. But what can go wrong?
People are often worried about the drink itself. Pretty much all fermented beverages are pretty darn safe to drink. Because when you add alcohol into the equation, bad bacterias can’t survive. Fermentation requires a lower pH environment, which is just not conducive for the kinds of bacteria that could make you sick. You have to try pretty hard to make a beverage that will actually harm you.
Any other dangers?
Exploding bottles are a valid concern. Especially with more quickly fermented beverages, like soda pop and kombucha. The way to prevent it is just to follow the recipe and keep your wits about you. I also recommend bottling in plastic bottles.
Any other tips for brewing in general?
It’s important to keep things clean. You’re not going to pick up anything that will necessarily harm you, especially if you’re brewing beer and wine. But if you’re equipment isn’t super clean, you can end up with some pretty funky flavors. Funky bad, not funky good.
What are some of the benefits associated with fermented foods and drinks?
When it comes to health benefits, we’re mostly talking about kefir and kombucha. You can make some arguments for the health benefits of beer, wine and sake, too. But the health claims associated with kombucha and kefir include everything from remedying hair loss to menopause. One thing that’s 100% sure is they contain probiotics, which are known to promote good gut health. So they help with digestion, keeping everything OK down there.
Is your apartment just filled with crazy brewing equipment?
I guess there is a bit of a mad-scientist-laboratory look to my kitchen. But these home brewing projects are definitely doable in any size apartment you have. Partly because the batch size is so small here. And there’s not much equipment investment. It’s a lot of things you already have in your kitchen. I brewed all the recipes in this book in a big pasta pot my mom gave me after I graduated from college.
True Brews is available now wherever books are sold. Click here to read more.