As a growing number of health-conscious consumers seek better-for-you booze, a tangy-sour sparkling beverage that’s been around a long time is moving from the wings to center stage. That fizzy friend is kombucha. While no alcoholic beverage can be considered unequivocally a health tonic, hard kombucha comes closer than most.
Like regular, nonalcoholic kombucha, the hard type is fermented from black or green tea and a bit of sugar. Like soft kombucha, the hard type can be flavored with ingredients such as berries, hibiscus, ginger, grapefruit, lemon or lime. Both are made using a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast), which breaks down the sugar and creates the CO2 bubbles of kombucha’s signature fizz.
Even regular kombucha contains trace amounts of alcohol—usually no more than a negligible 0.5 percent. The hard version usually clocks in between 4 and 6 percent ABV, comparable to a low-ABV beer. It is sold in shelf-stable cans and bottles.
As a category, hard kombucha has steadily grown in sales since 2014, when the first commercially available brand, Kombrewcha, launched in Brooklyn.
“We wanted to create an approachable brand and drink that resonated with a wide variety of consumers who treat themselves well, but aren’t afraid to treat themselves,” says CEO Garrett Bredenkamp. Kombrewcha now makes four hard flavors: berry hibiscus, ginger lemon, mango pineapple and blood orange.
As recently as 2017, the category was represented by only three brands. Today, there are more than 20. According to the trade group Kombucha Brewers International, sales of hard kombucha have grown from $1.7 million in 2017 to more than $12 million in 2019. “It’s thrilling to be part of a category that has seen such exponential growth,” says Kombrewcha’s Bredenkamp.
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Hard kombucha appeals to consumers for several reasons: It’s low in alcohol and sugar, is naturally gluten free, and contains live probiotics. That constellation stood out to Forrest Dein, cofounder of JuneShine, based in San Diego. “The idea started for us,” Dein says, “with a simple question: Why do we know so much about the food we buy at the store and so little about the alcohol? There are so many honest, transparent and organic foods that we love. We grew frustrated by the lack of similar alcohol brands.”
Looking to remedy that, in 2018 Dein helped launch JuneShine, a hard-kombucha brand with flavors that appeal to all kinds of drinkers, like acai berry (popular among wine lovers), Hopical Citrus (popular among beer drinkers), and blood orange mint. All start with a base kombucha made from green tea and honey that’s crafted with organic cane sugar and brewing yeast.
Hard kombucha is not currently produced in New Jersey, but you can find brands such as JuneShine, Kombrewcha, Jiant and Flying Embers at major retailers, including Super Buy Rite, ShopRite and Total Wine.Click here to leave a comment