Let's get the easy part out of the way. Is there alcohol in kombucha? Yes, a small amount. Even if it has undergone a distillation process (as has been undertaken by some kombucha breweries in the US), there will still be some alcohol present. But, that doesn't make it an alcoholic beverage. It is still a soft drink, and also, not all kombucha is brewed in the same way, which affects its alcohol content.
So, how much?
Some soft drinks and juice naturally contain trace amounts of alcohol, and we don't even think about it. Orange juice, sparkling apple juice, ginger beer to name some examples. Alcohol is a natural by-product of fermentation so, as with any fermented drink (and food for that matter, think rye bread), kombucha does contain alcohol. As a general guide it can range from 0.2 to 1.2%, depending on production and ingredients. Left Field brews are 0.5% ABV. By way of context, low alcohol classification, in UK legislative terms, are drinks which contain between 0.5% and 1.2% ABV.
Shall I compare thee to a ginger beer?
When I do tastings the question of alcohol content often comes up. And when I tell people it is 0.5% which is the same amount as in ginger beer (and we mean the non-alcoholic versions not their boozy counterparts), it comes as somewhat of a surprise. Did you know that kombucha and ginger beer are fermented in a similar way, even down to the symbiotic cultures of bacteria and yeast? Indeed, ginger beer was first brewed in England in the 1700s as an alcoholic drink, ask Bundaberg - they know a thing or two about it, and yet most of us today think of the soft drink ginger beer as the traditional version.
What about home brewed kombucha?
This is where it can get tricky. Homebrewers may use higher temperatures than in commercial breweries, to try to ensure any harmful bacteria is eliminated which can cause the alcohol level to rise. They may also ferment longer to get a fizzier brew, which can also have the effect of making a boozy brew. That's not to say homebrewed is not for you, it just has to be managed.
Commercial brewers (even smallbatch ones), ensure that temperatures are accurately controlled and timing is everything.
Further, here at Left Field Kombucha we brew with only the finest teas with no added fruits or flavourings in our brews which helps to keep the sugar, and hence the ABV, lower.
Should you drink it?
If you avoid alcohol entirely, then kombucha is possibly not for you, but neither would ginger beer be a goer for the same reasons. Otherwise, sit back, relax, and enjoy the fermented fizz.
Interesting notes: This blog post applies to the UK only. Different countries have their own brewing methods and alcohol licensing laws. There are breweries in the US producing alcoholic kombucha, 'hard kombucha', which are brewed up to 7% ABV.