An Interview with Emma Christensen About Her New Book: True Brews

published May 21, 2013
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This is a very exciting spring for books here at The Kitchn! A couple weeks ago we told you about my new book, Bakeless Sweets, and this week we’re turning the spotlight to another book from our team: True Brews, by Emma Christensen, our very own recipe editor. Emma has written about beer for The Kitchn for many years, and she has become a knowledgeable expert in brewing it as well — and her new book shows you how you can make it for yourself. But she doesn’t stop at beer —  wine, kefir, kombucha, and fizzy sodas show up in True Brews too! 

Today we have an interview with Emma, talking about her new book. Come read all about brewing in small apartments with minimum equipment, the most surprising things she learned while writing the book, and the most refreshing drink for summer!

(Image credit: Ten Speed Press)

What sorts of recipes are in True Brews? 
Pretty much every fermented homebrewed beverage I could think of, really! Take your pick from soda pop, kombucha, kefir (both milk kefir and water kefir), cider, beer, sake, mead, and fruit wines. Each chapter focuses on a different beverage, starting with a master recipe explaining the particular ins and outs of that beverage and then going into some recipes for you to make. 

When did you first get really interested in fermented drinks? 
Beer was my first brewing love. I got into it after some friends gave me and my husband a homebrew kit for our wedding. My husband and I brewed together for a while (and still do on occasion!), but my nerdy passion for it quickly surpassed his. A few batches of beer, and then I got interested in making yeast-fermented sodas. And then I heard that a friend of a friend had made sake at home, and so of course I had to try that. The rest of the brews followed in quick succession.

What’s your favorite aspect of brewing all these different drinks? 
I love the way that the fermentation process transforms these simple ingredients. Fruit juice is just fruit juice until you add some yeast — let it ferment for a few days and you have soda pop, let it ferment a little longer and you’ll get fruit cider. A little longer and you get wine. At every stage, the brew takes on new, interesting flavors. Every time you brew, it turns out a little differently — I love being surprised when I take the first sip.

Brewing beer and other fermented beverages can seem really intimidating to a newcomer. Which recipes in this book require the least equipment? 
You can brew soda pops with nothing more than recycled plastic soda bottles, fruit juice, and a pinch of yeast. Even baker’s yeast will do, though I prefer the flavor of champagne yeast (which you can pick up at a homebrew supply store or online).

This said, every recipe in the book is tailored to be one gallon or less and uses the same basic set of equipment. You probably have many of the pieces of equipment, like stock pots and strainers, in your kitchen already; to brew things like beer and wine, you just need to pick up a few inexpensive pieces of brewing-specific equipment from a brewing supply store or online.

What about people living in small apartments? Is it hard to brew things like beer and wine if you don’t have a lot of space?
Not at all! I live in a small apartment myself, and this is part of the reason why I started brewing 1 gallon batches. Smaller batches mean smaller (and less) equipment and less space needed to store both the equipment and the bottled brews. I also think 1 gallon batches are a great starting place for beginners — it’s much easier to control all the different brewing factors, from heating water on the stove to keeping the equipment clean. Once you master 1-gallons, it’s an easy step up to larger batches if that’s what you want. People are always surprised when they come into my apartment — they expect to see tons of brewing equipment all over the place, but it’s actually all in one closet.

Can you tell us a little about the most interesting things you learned while researching and writing True Brews? 
Honestly?! That wine doesn’t need to be aged to be drinkable. It takes about 4 to 6 weeks for the yeast to finish fermenting the wine, and it’s pretty darn good right then! Of course, yes, it just gets better and better the longer it sits (I have some meads and wines that are now two years old and are starting to get crazy-good). But you always hear not to even touch the bottle before at least a year goes by… pffft! Drink it when it tastes good!

What’s your favorite recipe in True Brews for summer, and why? 
Can I pick two?! Definitely make the watermelon-mint soda (pictured just above). It’s so refreshing on a hot day and so much fun to serve guests. But for sheer wow-factor, make the hard lemonade. We think of commercial hard lemonade as being an uber-sweet drink that barely tastes like lemons, but this recipe is more like real lemonade, tart and sour….just with alcohol. I love it. On a steamy summer afternoon, there’s nothing better.

If you have a little extra time on a weekend, which recipes from True Brews are you going to make? 
I am a brewing nerd, so it’s always a toss-up what I’ll make. If I see some great blackberries at the farmers’ market, I might buy some to put in my next batch of kombucha — or if I can get a deal on a whole flat of berries, I’ll make a batch of blackberry wine. Or if I’m out of beer, I’ll swing by my local homebrew shop and pick up grains for an IPA. Almost all of the recipes are doable on a weekend afternoon, so my vote is always to brew what you’re most in the mood to drink.

One last question: kefir, beer, kombucha, wine — if you had to drink just one, which would it be? 
Don’t make me pick! Ok, if you insist, I’d have to go back to my first love: beer. Beer is fairly easy to make once you know the basic steps, but it is also endlessly versatile. There’s always something new to learn and new to try. I never get tired of making it — or drinking it!

True Brews is out now! Find Emma’s book at your local library, independent bookstore, or Amazon:  True Brews: How to Craft Fermented Cider, Beer, Wine, Sake, Soda, Mead, Kefir, and Kombucha at Home by Emma Christensen

→ Read more about True Brews at Emma’s personal blog:

(Images: Paige Green for Ten Speed Press/True Brews)