Hard kombucha is one of the latest boozy trends to hit the market and is loved by those who want a refreshing alcoholic beverage that’s less bloating and seen as a healthier alternative to beer. Often when my wife invites her friends around to one of our beery evenings, I’ll have to call in the local beer depot where more and more hard or alcoholic kombuchas are invading the self space every day.
Traditionally seen as a health drink, all regular kombuchas use yeast in the fermentation process and contain trace amounts of alcohol, but when that alcohol content goes over 0.5% it becomes a hard kombucha, as classified by the US Tax and Trade Office.
But does hard kombucha offer the same health benefits and probiotics as traditional kombucha? How does a hard kombucha differ from a traditional kombucha? And finally, how is it made? What gives it that extra alcohol kick?
What is Kombucha?
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last twenty or thirty years, it’s likely you have heard about kombucha, so I’ll keep this brief.
Dating back to ancient times, kombucha is thought to originate from China where it was first brewed over 2,000 years ago. Simple ingredients like tea (usually green or black), spring water, and raw cane sugar are added to a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast, otherwise known as SCOBY, and then left to ferment.
The SCOBY converts any sugars into CO2 and alcohol to make a fizzy sweet-and-sour drink which has become a favorite choice among health enthusiasts. Kombucha bacteria includes lactic-acid bacteria that work as a probiotic and also contain a healthy amount of B vitamins.
All kombucha drinks contain a trace amount of alcohol as a result of the fermentation process, but it’s when the alcohol level goes above 0.5% ABV and enters the average beer range of 3.5% to 7.5% ABV it becomes a boozy kombucha, otherwise labeled as hard kombucha.
How Does Hard Kombucha Differ from Regular Kombucha?
The main difference with a hard kombucha is the time it is allowed to ferment. Most companies, after the initial fermentation, will add additional sugar and another strain of yeast to a secondary fermentation process, which converts the extra sugars into yet more alcohol. You may also find that some boozy kombucha producers add artificial or natural flavors to improve the taste.
Although hard kombucha may enjoy a similar ABV to beer, it isn’t considered to be beer due to the origin and type of fermentation used in the process. Beer uses wheat or other grains, while kombucha uses tea leaves and healthy bacteria cultures. However, the Tax and Trade Bureau does classify high alcohol kombucha as a beer, which means some kombucha brands like KYLA Hard Kombucha have to label their boozier kombuchas as “Kombucha Beer.”
If you suffer from celiac disease or gluten intolerance, a bottle of kombucha is a great alternative to beer, as it traditionally contains no wheat. (Check the label before drinking if unsure, as some flavorings may not always be celiac friendly).
What Does Hard Kombucha Taste Like?
Describing the taste of hard kombucha varieties can be as hard as trying to explain the flavor of your regular, non-alcoholic kombucha. It has that same tart, zing, and sweet flavor, but additions by some of the commercial kombucha makers can result in a different flavor profile every time.
Companies like Flying Embers Hard Kombucha produce a range of kombucha flavors using only natural ingredients, all of which are certified organic and use only a natural fermentation process. Flavors such as Ginger And Oak, Lemon Orchard, and Ancient Berry all taste like kombucha but with a more complex fruity and funky flavor — a great alternative to cider. The bottles proudly display a label that claims 0g of sugar, meaning all the sugar has basically been fermented into alcohol.
Does Hard Kombucha Offer the Same Probiotics Benefits?
Although regular kombucha claims a multitude of health benefits as one of its biggest selling points, it’s hard to do the same for the hard kombucha category. It is, after all, an alcoholic beverage — which doctor is going to recommend that? (Certainly not mine!)
Those probiotics, which give standard kombucha its health elixir claim, don’t like alcohol. Although some kombucha brewers will argue alcohol content shouldn’t affect the kombucha cultures, others don’t support this claim.
Holly Lyman, one of the founders of Wild Tonic hard kombuchas even goes as far as to say they don’t pretend to have any probiotics in their higher alcohol kombucha, as “the alcohol will certainly have killed them.”
Are There Any Health benefits to Hard Kombucha?
Although the probiotic health benefits may not be there, don’t totally write off hard kombucha as a healthy beer alternative. Compared to spirits like vodka or whiskey, and many beers, hard kombucha brings a lot more to the table. Being brewed with natural ingredients like black or green tea and healthy bacteria cultures will provide a range of minerals and antioxidants which can be beneficial to our health.
Hard kombucha also contains many of those good-for-you acids including lactic acid, acetic, gluconic, and butyric acids which can help with digestion, increase the nutrition you get from foods, and boost the activity of antioxidants.
With most, if not all, of the sugars turned into alcohol, alcoholic kombucha comes in at much lower calorie levels when compared to similar servings of other alcoholic drinks. For example, a 12oz KYLA Hard Kombucha only has 100 calories compared to an 8oz Mojito which offers 242 calories. The carb content is also much lower than similar-sized beers, with even a light beer like Bud Lite containing over 3 times as many carbs as a 12oz serving of hard kombucha.
The Bottom Line on Hard Kombucha
At the end of the day, you must remember that hard kombucha is an alcoholic drink, so we can’t exactly say it’s “healthy.” No alcoholic beverage is ever going to be considered a superfood by health specialists, but it is certainly a better choice than some of the sugary mixed drinks and cocktails you often see on the supermarket shelves.
The main exception to that rule would be people who have a gluten intolerance or have been diagnosed as having celiac disease, as most kombuchas have no wheat or barley in them, and therefore no gluten.
Instead, enjoy hard kombucha for what it is: a tangy sweet-and-sour beverage. As with all adult, alcoholic drinks, enjoy it responsibly for the different tastes it can offer — not because you think it’s going to make you super healthy. Some of the varied, flavored kombuchas can be a welcome alternative to those who just don’t like the taste of bee or as a refreshing alternative to a fruity cider.