The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau and kombucha brewers are at war! Their back and forth battle has been in the news quite a bit lately and it sure it causing a stir within the fermentation and beverage industries. Kombucha is being attacked for supposedly mislabeling itself as a non-alcoholic beverage on market shelves. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau thinks kombucha should be labeled as an alcoholic beverage and be subject to alcohol regulation.
I have been following this story and I have to say, I’m frustrated. Yes of course, I’m biased because I’m an at home brewer and a huge advocate for kombucha consumption. But I think there is more going on here. I do not think it is a coincidence that while soda sales have been plummeting for the last five years, “Sales of kombucha jumped nearly five times between 2013 and 2015, to about $600 million a year,”according to retail analysts at Markets and Markets. I realize that to claim that the soda industry is using the power of federal government to try and eliminate the competition, sounds slightly like a conspiracy theory, but if the shoe fits…
Kombucha is so popular, and its’ claimed health benefits are preached by all booch drinkers. I spotted cases of Kevita’s new line of kombucha in the refrigerated section of Costco, being sold by the case. Yes, Costco! (Notice the label reads “Non-Alcoholic”)
There are small traces of alcohol in kombucha, which is a result of the fermentation process it goes through, but most mainstream kombucha brands’ alcohol levels fall below the federal limit of %0.5 by volume. I realize that I am not totally sure what the alcohol level is in my own home brew, but I do know that I have sat around my house and drank kombucha all day and never felt alcohol effects, ever.
Liquor is so heavily regulated, and if kombucha joins the ranks of alcohol on the shelves, many supermarkets and health food stores won’t be able to stock it. According to an article released by KQRE News, “ A kombucha tea can edge toward 1 percent alcohol if it is aged and not refrigerated. That’s about a quarter as strong as a Bud Light.” Colorado Congressman, Jared Polis, argued the issue in a letter to the bureau saying, “Eight spoiled kombuchas are roughly the equivalent of one beer, but that doesn’t mean we should regulate it like we do alcohol — it makes absolutely no sense.” What the issue seems to be is proper testing. Kombucha producers are asking the federal government for means of proper alcohol testing because the current methods of testing do not account for naturally occurring sediment, like strands of yeast.
I do think that consumers have the right to know if what they are drinking contains alcohol, even if the levels are low, but I also think that we have to take responsibility for what were putting in our bodies. If you are blindly eating and drinking goods from the store without reading ingredients, especially if you have allergies, or an aversion to alcohol, then you get what you pay for. If The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau can provide the kombucha industry with proper testing for alcohol levels, then those levels should be printed on the labels. However, those extremely low levels shouldn’t categorize these drinks as alcohol to be regulated and taxed like beer and wine.
I’ll be keeping my eye on this story and crossing my fingers that kombucha reigns victorious.