The small amount of alcohol in the fermented tea drink known as kombucha has made it a semi controversial beverage in recent years. With policies on kombucha changing from year to year and store to store, many people are confused about whether or not minors can buy and drink kombucha legally.
Kombucha does have some alcohol in it, but a low enough amount that it isn’t considered an alcoholic beverage by the FDA, meaning that at most stores minors should be able to buy it without being ID'd. However some stores that don’t trust how much alcohol is in the kombucha, since it can vary depending on how it’s stored, will ID anyone who buys it.
In this article I’ll quickly cover why there’s alcohol in kombucha in the first place and then go over where and where not minors can buy the stuff, if they can get drunk off of it, and what the federal laws are concerning the alcohol in kombucha. Let’s get started!
Why Kombucha Has Alcohol in It
Because alcohol is a natural by-product of the fermentation process, kombucha does contain a small amount of it.
All kombucha actually begins as sweet tea. What turns this sweet tea into sweet and sour probiotic kombucha is a living culture of bacteria and yeast. This culture, known as a SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast), eats the sugar and caffeine from the sweet tea and produces acids, carbon dioxide, and a small amount of alcohol.
So alcohol is a natural byproduct of the SCOBY fermenting the sweet tea into kombucha, and serves as more of a preservative than an intoxicant. In fact, a small amount of alcohol naturally occurs in a lot of foods, such as ripe bananas, grape juice, vinegar, pickles, bread, yogurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi.
How Much Alcohol is in Kombucha
Now that you know why there's alcohol in kombucha, the next question we need to answer is “how much?"
Kombucha can have anywhere from a 0.5% to 3.0% alcohol content, depending on how it’s made and stored.
Any kombucha you buy in the store, unless it’s hard kombucha in the alcohol section, should have less than a 0.5% alcohol content. The reason that brands try to get their kombucha under this number is because according to federal law, any product over 0.5% alcohol is considered alcoholic and can’t be marketed or sold to minors.
The problem is that even if a brand makes their kombucha under 0.5%, if it’s stored in too warm an environment or too long at any point on the way to or inside of the store, the bacteria culture inside it will continue to ferment and produce more alcohol, pushing the final alcohol level up to 1.0-2.5%
Home brewed kombucha, because it isn’t as tightly regulated nor consistent from batch to batch, can get up to a 3.0% alcohol content depending on how it's brewed and stored.
If these alcohol percentages don’t mean anything to you, here's a chart of how kombucha compares to popular alcoholic beverages as a reference.
% Alcohol in Kombucha and Other Alcoholic Foods and Drinks
Can Minors Buy Kombucha?
So can a minor legally buy kombucha? Or will they get ID’d at the register?
At most grocery stores minors should be able to buy kombucha, since technically it’s less than 0.5% alcohol and therefore not considered an alcoholic beverage according to the federal government.
However, because of controversy in the past about bottles of booch found to have more than 0.5% alcohol, some stores will card anyone who decides to buy a bottle. Even if you can get the same bottle at a grocery store down the street without being ID’d.
This is all because back in 2010 the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau tested some bottles of kombucha on the shelves at Whole Foods and found them to have 0.5-2.5% alcohol. Since a drink with that amount of alcohol is illegal to be sold to minors, Whole Foods pulled kombucha from their shelves while they searched for a solution.
This hurt a lot of kombucha breweries, especially smaller ones. Even though all bottles when they were produced were below 0.5%, the improper storage along the way to and at the store created a higher alcohol content.
After this event the FDA called for kombucha to be pasteurized, a process that kills the probiotic culture, removing any alcohol but also all the health benefits people drink it for. Kombucha brands resisted, and so Whole Foods and some other stores began to just consider kombucha an alcoholic beverage, carding anyone who wants to buy it.
So whether a bottle of kombucha is 0.4% or 1% alcohol, if you’re under 21 some stores may not let you buy it. All because the government created an arbitrary level of what amount of alcohol is allowed to be sold to minors and is scared that the rarely improperly stored 1.5% alcohol kombucha is going to get a 16 year old drunk.
Which brings me to my next point.
Can you get Drunk off Kombucha?
Since kombucha has some level of alcohol in it, concerned parents or curious children may wonder whether or not they can get drunk off the stuff.
If kombucha is properly stored and has around a 0.5% alcohol content, you’re not going to be able to get drunk or even buzzed off of it.
How do I know this? Well let's say it takes you 3 beers to get buzzed. The average beer is 4.5% alcohol. Which means that in order to get buzzed off of kombucha, you’d have to drink 27 bottles of the stuff.
Not only would this many bottles of booch cost you over $100, but it would cause you to throw up and become sick long before you got near 27.
But if you’re drinking a bottle of home brewed kombucha that’s at a 3% alcohol content, you’re pretty much drinking a low alcohol beer. So if you had a few glasses of the stuff you may get a buzz, but no one really drinks kombucha in high quantities like that. Most people only drink a glass or two per sitting.
Can I get a DUI from Drinking Kombucha?
The short answer is no, you won’t get a DUI from drinking most kombucha. However, if you were to have multiple bottles of a highly alcoholic home brewed kombucha in a short period of time, you may reach a point where you shouldn’t drive.
To get more specific, if you’re a man who weighs around 150 pounds, you would have to drink 4 or more bottles of 3% alcohol kombucha in order to surpass the legal driving limit of 0.8% blood alcohol.
But if you’re just drinking store bought kombucha I wouldn’t even worry about it. As I said before, a bottle or two isn’t going to get you buzzed, and definitely won’t cause your blood alcohol to rise anywhere near 0.8%
In summary, people under the legal drinking age should be able to buy kombucha at most stores since its alcohol level is low enough to not be considered an alcoholic beverage.
At the same time however, some stores will ask for an ID to protect themselves, since kombucha has been found to rise above 0.5% alcohol in the past when improperly stored.
I hope this article could help you out. If you’d like to learn more about kombucha, how it relates to your health, and even how to make it yourself, be sure to check out the rest of my website!