Is "Hard Kombucha" ... healthy?

What is Kombucha?
Kombucha is a fermented tea beverage with a sour taste, light carbonation and high levels of probiotic bacteria.
 
Completing another round or two of fermentation will substantially boost the alcohol level ... creating "hard kombucha."
June Shine acai hard kombucha can

Regular kombucha of course, does have trace alcohol produced during the fermentation process. In fact, the alcohol content in most kombucha drinks is less than 0.5 percent and therefore not enough for you to feel its effects and you do not have to be of legal age to purchase it. That’s why most kombucha is categorized as a non-alcoholic beverage. 

Some people are posting videos of themselves with Breathalyzers trying to determine how fast they will "get drunk" on hard kombucha. Hmmm. 

But the bit of alcohol in some kombucha brands that was not well-measured or regulated led to problems for some companies which unintentionally had as high as 2.5 percent alcohol by volume. That led to stricter testing standards of regular kombucha. But some brands got an idea from that controversy: intentionally over-ferment their kombucha to make it alcoholic ... on purpose.

Boom: a new product was born. 

package of "June Shine" hard kombucha with alcohol
Hard Kombucha 
 
But that Forbes piece is from September and now, the category is starting to get some legitimate attention. In New Hampshire, a new hard kombucha brewery is scheduled to open in November. That will mark the state's first licensed kombucha brewery. 
News article about hard kombucha brewery opening
According to Google Trends, searches for "hard kombucha" on Google peaked in late June heading into the 4th of July weekend and nearly peaked again (Google Trends score of 99) in mid-to-late August. Search volume is still high in late October.
Google trends graph for hard kombucha
Flying Embers hard kombucha manufacturer Fermented Sciences just raised $35M in a Series B, led by PowerPlant Ventures and Ecosystem Integrity Fund.
Flying Embers hard kombucha cans
"I was watching hard seltzer start to take off a few years ago, and the nexus of better-for-you non-alc trends into alcohol became pretty apparent to me. The first thing that came to my mind was the challenge and difficulty of keeping the alcohol in a kombucha under 0.5% in the non-alcoholic space. Why not let it go higher? It seemed like a natural progression," says Bill Moses. 
Flying Embers hard kombucha
Moses started Fermented Sciences, which produces Flying Embers hard kombucha. But Flying Embers is just one of many, many brands betting big on this alcoholic newcomer. 
bucket of hard kombucha cans over ice
Hard Kombucha brands: 
Jiant  
generic hipster male in hat with beard
(and there's probably someone in a Brooklyn loft right now planning to debut the latest hard kombucha brand next month)  
June Shine hard kombucha can
New York-based June Shine touts its "Jun Kombucha" blend as better: "It’s smoother and less harsh than the kombucha you’re probably used to drinking because it’s made with green tea and honey, instead of black tea and sugar."
June Shine hard kombucha can
June Shine comes in a variety of flavors such as:
  • Blood Orange Mint
  • Hopical Citrus
  • Cran Apple Cinnamon 
Kyla Hard Kombucha is brewed in Hood River, Oregon and features cans displayed on a beach. 
Kyla hard kombucha cans on beach
What's next:
Hard kombucha is part of the “good for you alcohol” trend. Other examples of this trend include non-alcoholic ginhard cold brewWhite Claw and Vizzy.
One could certainly draw a divide between these beverages if asking which are actually good for you and which are simply not as bad for you
bathing suit for women with White Claw slogan
But wait a minute. Are any of these "Crunk Kombuchas" or even the low-calorie hard seltzers actually good for you?
rapper lil Jon with kombucha
Or do the pros just get canceled out by the cons? Is downing a can of Truly hard seltzer truly good for you (Sorry, had to do it)? Or is it just not as detrimental as having a Budweiser? Either way, it's big business. CBS This Morning just ran a segment on the rise of "Mindful Drinking."
Case of Budweiser beer and bottle next to the case
Hard Kombucha health benefits?
Hard Kombucha has a higher alcohol content so some people question whether the alcohol kills off the probiotics, which are the good bacteria and yeasts. 
hard kombucha bottles

Holly Lyman, founder of Wild Tonic which brews 5.6 – 7.6 percent kombucha, says, “Probiotics don’t like alcohol, period. We don’t pretend to have any probiotics in our high-alcohol [kombucha] because alcohol killed them.”

Wild Tonic hard kombucha can

"And we’ve done a lot of testing on products out on the market, and there’s not a lot of viable probiotics in even lower-alcohol versions, even though companies claim that there are," Lyman told The Washington Post. 

Hmmmmm. 

A spokeswoman for Tura Hard Kombucha, which is produced by Boston Beer, the owners of Samuel Adams beer, told the Washington Post their drink contains shelf-stable probiotics, meaning it does not have to be refrigerated, unlike other drinks.

Tura Alcoholic Kombucha

“We experimented with a number of probiotics and selected one that remains viable in varying conditions such as wide-ranging temperatures,” the spokeswoman said. “When the probiotics are added to Tura, they’re in a dormant state and then activate when they are consumed.”

It’s hard to say whether it's "healthy," but hard kombucha is fermented from tea.

But according to their quotes in this Washington Post article about hard kombucha, some say it does contain great health benefits. 

“It’s definitely a healthy beverage,” said Tarek Kanaan, who co-founded Unity Vibration, an early producer of high-alcohol kombucha, with his wife, Rachel. “When I drink a gluten-containing beer, I feel a lot heavier and a bit more affected,” Rachel Kanaan said.

Unity Vibration kombucha beer cans 4-pack 

Therefore, it's likely to harbor at least some similar benefits to those of regular kombucha, which contains plenty of bioactive compounds including polyphenols. But, hard kombucha should not be viewed as a 'health beverage" and you won't get the helpful probiotics you find in whole food sources of probiotics or in a probiotic supplement. 

Ok, so what's the bottom line on Hard Kombucha?

While there is scant evidence to back up the health claims of hard kombucha purveyors, it is still bursting in popularity because of buyers' growing awareness of healthier products and continued interest in kombucha overall. It's likely also fueled by the desire to consume more probiotics in more convenient ways. 

sauerkraut

Again, the best way to ingest probiotics is through whole food sources like sauerkraut or kimchi. Another great way is through a trusted probiotic supplement like this new HMO Probiotic + Prebiotic available for pre-order now. 

 So by all means, take part in the hard kombucha trend if you're of legal drinking age, but don't expect to get any helpful probiotics from your bottle! 

 

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