I first tried kombucha when I was in yoga teacher training in 2006. Back then, it was a thing my burner friends made in their reasonably-priced Brooklyn walk-ups. I thought it tasted like vinegar, but I love vinegar. So much has changed since then; just like Brooklyn, kombucha has gone through quite a transition. By 2013, the drink was both lauded as a digestive savior and scrutinized as hipster trend. It stayed the course, though. And now, several brands are bringing us kombucha that will get you tipsy, a.k.a. hard kombucha.
If you’ve given the regular stuff a chance, you might know that kombucha — a fermented beverage created by adding SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) into brewed tea — already has an alcohol content, albeit a tiny one. Most of the kombucha on the market has an extremely low alcohol by volume (ABV), less than 0.5%. But by adding more sugar during the fermentation process, makers can produce kombucha with up to 7% ABV, which is roughly the same as your average domestic beer. Ta-dah! Kombucha 2.0, if you will, complete with a buzz.
A little background on the classic, miniscule-amount-of-alcohol version: The Ancient Chinese called kombucha an immortal health elixir, largely due to its probiotic properties (probiotics are believes to aid digestion). Skeptics say that a lot of store-bought kombucha isn’t actually healthy or probiotic, as pasteurization kills off any living bacteria, good or bad.
Though the efficacy of drinking your probiotics is murky, most doctors will tell you that despite what studies say, if something natural helps your body function better, more power to you. I take a probiotic everyday and I like to keep my BAC on the low, so what I really want out of hard booch is for it to taste amazing and not get me drunk. If it helps me poop, that’s a bonus, but I don’t really need it to.
Back to the spiked stuff: If you genuinely like the taste of kombucha (I see you, lovers of kimchi, pickles, and other fermented goodies) and you’ve experiences the digestive perks, makers of hard kombucha say it has all the benefits of the less boozy variety. For the record, doctors will likely side-eye if you ask them to verify this. Still, it’s decidedly better than chugging vodka, so there's that.
GT's has a classic line of kombucha that has 3% ABV. This was the first hard booch I tried, and its appeal was partially name recognition. I’ve been drinking Gingerade since that fateful day in 2006, so I went with a flavor that I knew and loved. The Gingerade Classic had the same flavors I’ve come to love, with a little extra kick. At about $5, the delicate buzz it delivered was exactly right.
I wanted to try something a more firmly positioned as hard kombucha, so JuneShine (upon request after a friend’s recommendation) sent me samples to try. The pastel tropical color palette of was a delightful departure from the crunchy, slightly medicinal packaging of regular booch and the flavors were original and delicious. The Blood Orange Mint, at $5 a can, was 6% ABV and yielded a pleasant mingling of sweetness and tang that subdued the kombucha’s signature funk.
The buzz of hard kombucha is laid-back. It doesn’t feel like a party drug, which, as an introvert, is the highest endorsement I can give to anything. It’s the kind of adult beverage you can sip for hours (summer’s over, hard seltzer) and not worry about. No frantic Uber orders, no desperate hook-ups, no nights you don’t remember, just a clean steady buzz, and maybe a solid BM instead of a hangover. Win.