You might have heard about kombucha, the fermented drink that seemed to appear on the shelf of every grocery store overnight. But drinks have been fermented for centuries. There’s a whole world of fermented drinks out there, from beer to ginger ale to our favorite, kombucha.
What Is Fermentation? How Are Drinks Fermented?
Our ancestors knew there was something special about fermented drinks, even before we understood the science behind the process. The first evidence of fermented beverages comes from 7,000 BCE. Previous generations mastered the art of fermentation across the globe, innovating hundreds of different drinks.
We’ve only improved since then. Their experimentation, plus modern science, led us to our favorite fermented drinks of today.
Fermentation is the process of chemically breaking down organic matter, usually kickstarted by bacteria, yeasts, or molds. These organisms feed on sugar, using it as fuel to break down the sugars and convert them into a new form, such as gasses or alcohol.
Fermented drinks only need three base ingredients:
- A base liquid
- A sugar source
- Something to break down the sugar, like yeast.
This mixture is left alone to ferment, AKA the yeast or bacteria eats up the sugar and transforms it. Fermentation time can vary from a few days to a month, depending on what you’re looking for in your drink.
All fermented drinks produce a little alcohol as a byproduct of fermentation, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they all have enough to require an ID to purchase. A shorter fermentation time will produce less byproduct, which is ideal for non-alcoholic drinks. For beverages with a buzz, fermentation times will be a bit longer.
What Drinks Are Fermented?
Cultures worldwide have invented their own versions of fermented drinks. Some, like beer, are more well-known, while others, like kvass, might be unfamiliar. We’ve gathered some of the most popular fermented drinks for this list, but it’s just the tip of the effervescent iceberg.
This probably won’t come as a surprise, but our favorite fermented drink is kombucha. This fermented tea has been around since 220 BCE and started its life in eastern Asia.
From there, it traveled the silk road over to Europe, where it gained new popularity. Tea and sugar shortages of World War II threatened the future of booch, but kombucha couldn’t be tamed, eventually reaching today’s widespread popularity.
Our favorite variation on this classic fermented favorite is hard kombucha. We brew booch with a botanical buzz to complement kombucha’s signature tangy taste. We take pride in combining the ancient art of booch brewing with modern, innovative flavors that feel just as good as they taste — but we’ll get more into that later.
Along with traditional kombucha, another non-alcoholic fermented favorite is ginger ale. Its origins start with its predecessor, ginger beer, a favorite in 19th century Great Britain. The first ginger ale was brewed in Ireland in 1851, offering a non-alcoholic alternative to the popular drink. Today, ginger ale is enjoyed on its own or as a mixer for a variety of cocktails.
The most defining ingredient of this timeless beverage is — you guessed it — ginger. Like all fermented beverages, ginger ale contains sugar, so keep an eye on labels when purchasing ginger ale. Many commercial brewers pack in extra sugar to sweeten up the drink but sour your vibe.
Next, we’re heading over to eastern Europe to learn about kombucha’s long-lost cousin, kvass. Kvass is one of the most popular drinks in this region, especially in Russia. In fact, in the 1960s and 1970s, while ice cream trucks were all the rage in America, Russians would line up at kvass trucks, waiting for their summer treat.
Unlike some of the other drinks we’ve discussed, kvass’s main ingredient is actually bread. Russian brown bread is first soaked in water, followed by yeast and potentially a few other ingredients for additional flavor. The mixture ferments for a few days, and the result shares the same fizzy texture and tartness as kombucha.
How could we talk about fermented drinks without mentioning beer? This is one of the oldest drinks in the world.
Beer was first brewed from barley in ancient Mesopotamia. These ancient beers had a thick texture that resembled porridge (gross, we know). Women were also responsible for brewing beers and served them to supplement meals. Enter the world’s first drink pairing experts.
Today’s beers are still often brewed from barley, along with other grains such as wheat and rye. That means that beer usually has gluten, so our gluten-free fermentation fans should look into another beverage. (May we suggest our hard kombucha?)
Rivaling beer for the title of “most famous fermented drink of all time” is wine. The key ingredient of wine is grapes, which provide the sugar yeast needs to ferment. Ancient cultures from Rome to China made wine across the globe.
Winemaking has obviously made its way to the United States, with vineyards scattered across the country, from California (our home state) to Ohio. Whether imported or local, we’re just happy winemakers don’t stomp grapes with their feet anymore.
Our next ancient drink is mead. Sometimes nicknamed “honey wine,” mead is unique because it’s a combination of water, yeast, and honey rather than cane sugar. Originating over 4,000 years ago, mead was brewed across the continents, from Europe to Africa to Asia.
Unfortunately, mead’s honey content means it’s not vegan-friendly. Vegans looking for a fermented treat can turn to a sugarcane-based option, like our hard kombucha (see what we did there?).
Last on our list is kefir, a drink fermented from milk using special kefir grains. (Although they’re not really grains; they’re more similar to a SCOBY used to make kombucha.)
Kefir calls the northern Caucasus region of Russia home, and Russians kept the fermented milk a closely guarded secret for years. Kefir was associated with longevity, so owning kefir grains became a symbol of wealth and status.
Today, the secret is out, and kefir is enjoyed in several other regions. Like mead, traditional kefir is not vegan, although it’s sometimes made with water instead of milk to make it vegan-friendly.
Ancient Brewing Meets Modern Science
At Flying Embers, we take the traditional fermentation process and use modern science to create innovative drinks with a botanical buzz.
All of our ingredients are USDA-certified organic. One of these ingredients is our black tea blend steeped with an adaptogen blend of turmeric, ginger, and ginseng for maximum flavor and feel-good taste.
All fermented drinks need some form of sugar to give yeasts fuel to start the fermentation party. Sugar can come from a few different sources, including fruits and honey, but we like to keep our booch vegan-friendly and as clean as possible, so we opt for organic cane sugar.
We use just enough sugar to ferment our booch to perfection, leaving nothing behind. By the time fermentation is finished, there’s not any sugar left, which is why we can boast zero grams of sugar in each drink.
Instead of using additional sugars to flavor our kombucha, we rely on organic plant botanicals and superfruits to create our inspired flavors like Watermelon Basil and Pineapple Chili, for a lighter, brighter buzz.
On top of being certified organic and vegan, our drinks are also gluten-free and keto-friendly. We’re committed to making drinks that fit into every lifestyle so everyone can enjoy them together.
Fermented drinks are nothing new, but they’ve stood the test of time with their endless popularity. The next time you reach for a can of beer, ginger ale, or our Flying Embers hard kombucha, you have fermentation to thank.