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You may want the following:
- Glass jugs of various sizes (also known as carboys, growlers, or demijohns)
- Airlocks, stoppers, and lids for the jugs
- Flip-top (also known as swingtop or Grolsch-style) bottles in various sizes, and/or wine bottles with corks
Some ferments prefer less exposure to air. These are best brewed in small-mouthed vessels. Large glass jugs, or carboys, are good candidates. These are available in a variety of sizes, including very large ones, allowing you to make very large batches if you wish. In the United States, apple juice is often sold in gallon (4 L) glass jugs, which work great for making gallon sized batches of hard apple cider — you get the ingredient and the equipment in one shot! Beer and sometimes kombucha are sold in half gallon (2 L) growlers from local breweries. Keep the bottle and don’t forget to keep the cap too. If you would like a jug larger than a gallon, check a local homebrew shop or the Internet. Larger jugs can be significantly more expensive than gallon jugs of apple juice, but you probably won’t need many larger jugs.
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Glass is the best material for jugs. Plastic jugs are cheaper, lighter, and easier to find, but the plastic could potentially leach from the jug into your drink. Some plastic containers are classified as food-safe by various authorities and agencies. Food-safe does not mean that they don’t leach — it just means that leaching is limited to a certain amount, which is a function of surface area, liquid acidity levels, duration of storage, and so on. A fermenting jug has a lot of surface area, and you may be leaving your drink in it for quite a while. If part of your reason for fermenting is to improve your health, then you probably want to limit your intake of plastic. You may already be getting plastic in other foods that you’re eating, especially if you eat in restaurants a lot or if you use a microwave. You can choose your battles and decide whether the convenience of a plastic carboy outweighs the risk. It’s hard to really know. Some folks will conclude that it’s best to play it safe.
Once you have your jugs, you will also want some airlocks with stoppers, especially if you are not able to tend your ferments daily (to burp them). Homebrew shops are a good place to find these airlocks, or you can buy them online.
One of the fun things about fermented beverages is their fizziness. The problem is that you can lose a lot of fizz when you pour your drinks from large brewing vessels into portion-size bottles or jars. Fortunately, there are ways to limit this fizz loss. A siphon pump and/or a suitable length of flexible hosing and some improvisation can allow you to get the liquid out of jugs with a minimal loss of bubbles. Siphon pumps are plastic, but because of the short duration of contact with your drinks, they don’t raise the same concerns as plastic brewing jugs.
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The process of moving your ferment out of the carboy or kombucha jar into smaller bottles is called (not surprisingly) bottling. You don’t absolutely have to bottle your drinks, but doing so lets you keep more of the fizz, lets you move them into the refrigerator for storage, and makes it possible to perform secondary fermentation in the bottle. Many sorts of bottles can be used for bottling. If you are ambitious, you can use beer bottles and get a bottlecapping machine, but this is not at all necessary. In fact, Mason jars are fine, and if you bottle in the same jars you’re going to serve in, you eliminate one round of pouring, decrease waste, and simplify cleanup. Flip-top Grolsch-style bottles are nice too, and because of their narrow neck, they preserve fizz for longer once they’re open; they are also fancier-looking than Mason jars. Empty bottles from store-bought kombucha are a great choice, too, because they are designed to be strong enough to hold a carbonated drink. Even wine bottles with corks will do for some ferments, although they can’t hold fizz as well as the others, and they’re not as durable.
More from Kombucha, Kefir, and Beyond: A Fun and Flavorful Guide to Fermenting Your Own Probiotic Beverages at Home:
Reprinted with permission from Kombucha, Kefir, and Beyond: A Fun and Flavorful Guide to Fermenting Your Own Probiotic Beverages at Home by Alex Lewin and Raquel Guajardo and published by Quarto Publishing Group USA Inc., 2017. Buy this book from our store: Kombucha, Kefir, and Beyond: A Fun and Flavorful Guide to Fermenting Your Own Probiotic Beverages at Home.