It seems we’ve found a way to get alcohol into just about every type of drink possible these days, and kombucha is no exception. Recently I head of kombucha beer, and was really curious about what it is and how its made.
While regular kombucha has an alcohol level of under 0.5%, kombucha beer has an alcohol level of between 3.2-8.0% due to added yeast and an extra round of fermentation. What makes kombucha beer different than hard kombucha is that it is usually flavored with hops.
Although it sounds simple, kombucha beers' extra alcohol levels make it an almost entirely different drink than regular kombucha. In this article, I’ll tell you how kombucha beer is made, it’s health benefits and risks, some of the best brands, and even how to make it at home. Let’s get into it!
How Kombucha Beer is Made
In order to fully understand kombucha beer and what’s in it, you need an overview of how it’s made.
All booch begins as sweet tea. What turns this sweet tea into sweet and sour probiotic kombucha is a living culture of bacteria.
This culture of bacteria, known as a SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast), is combined with the sweet tea in a jar and eats the sugar and caffeine in it to produce acids, carbon dioxide, and alcohol. This process is known as the 1st fermentation.
After 7-10 days, or once it has eaten enough sugar to make the kombucha bitter tasting, the SCOBY is removed from the jar and the 1st fermentation is complete. At this point when making regular kombucha, the booch is poured from the large jar into smaller brewing bottles that have flavoring in them. And the kombucha develops carbonation and flavor.
The booch will still undergo this process when being made into kombucha beer, but first it needs to undergo an extra fermentation to develop more alcohol and a hoppy flavoring.
During this fermentation, the booch is poured from the jar with the SCOBY into a separate container specially made for fermenting beer and wine known as a carboy.
Hydrated yeast, sugar, and hops are added into the carboy with the kombucha, and then left to ferment for 1-2 weeks.
After this, the kombucha beer is sealed into the smaller brewing bottles along with fruit, juice, and herbs to develop carbonation and flavoring
Then after 2-4 days in the brewing bottles, the kombucha beer is refrigerated and ready to be drunk!
How Much Alcohol is in Regular Kombucha?
The reason that minors can buy regular kombucha at the store is because under federal law, products under 0.5% alcohol by volume are not considered alcoholic.
Most store bought booch is just under this 0.5% mark, so it's allowed to be marketed and sold to minors
Home brewed kombucha however, is not as tightly regulated nor consistent batch to batch, so the amount of alcohol in it can vary a lot, anywhere between 0.5-3.0%
To give you an idea of how little alcohol is in regular store bought kombucha, the average beer has a 4.5% alcohol content. This means that in order to get the same amount of alcohol as a beer, which would still leave you far from the point of intoxication, you’d have to drink 9 bottles of kombucha! Talk about a stomach ache.
In fact, a similar amount of alcohol to that in kombucha naturally occurs in a lot of foods such as bananas, grape juice, vinegar, pickles, bread, yogurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi.
How Much Alcohol is in Kombucha Beer?
So while there is some alcohol in all kombucha as a natural byproduct of the fermentation process, kombucha beer and hard kombucha are intentionally brewed to increase the amount of alcohol in the final booch.
Which leaves the final alcohol level of kombucha beer usually somewhere between 3.2-8%
To help you understand how much alcohol this is and how it compares to popular alcoholic drinks, I’ve created the chart below.
% Alcohol Content of Kombucha Beer and Popular Alcoholic Beverages
Why You Should Drink Kombucha Beer
So why drink kombucha beer? What makes it better than regular kombucha? Heres a few reasons:
1. It’s alcoholic
I don’t think much needs to be said about this point other than the fact that alcohol feels really good.
And like I said before, although regular kombucha has a small amount of alcohol, it’s not going to get you buzzed unless you were to drink over 25 bottles in a small amount of time. You'd have a stomach ache and be throwing up long before you got even close to that number.
2. It’s tasty
One of the biggest strengths of kombucha beer over other alcoholic drinks is its unique taste. Kombucha beer has uniquely earthy, spicy and fruity flavors from ingredients like matcha, acai, rhodiola, yuzu, and goji that are almost never found in regular beer.
I think that beer lovers and the beer snob community specifically would really love to try and experience the unique tastes and flavors that kombucha beer brings to the table.
3. It's low in sugar and carbs
Another highlight of kombucha beer is that it’s healthier than most beers out there. Most kombucha beers are no more than 100 calories, and are really low in sugar and carbs.
You probably wouldn’t believe it’s so low in sugar and calories if you didn’t read the label, since kombucha has such a strong and full flavor.
4. It's gluten free
Low sugar and carbs is great, but even better is that kombucha beer is gluten free. Meaning that anyone who is sensitive to or gets sick from the gluten in normal beer can drink as much kombucha beer as they want.
5. It has extra healthy acids
One of the biggest health benefits of regular kombucha is the healthy acids it contains. Well because kombucha beer is fermented longer and has a higher amount of alcohol than regular booch, it also has an extra amount of healthy acids.
Why Not to Drink Kombucha Beer
1. It's alcoholic
Alcohol makes both the pros and cons list of kombucha beer because although it feels really good to drink it, alcohol is a toxin that can be risky for your health. Excess and heavy drinking can lead to heart disease, cancer, liver damage, osteoporosis and more.
Alcohol can be enjoyed safely when drunk responsibly and in appropriate amounts, but it makes sense why some people will prefer to drink regular kombucha over kombucha beer to avoid the risks.
If you want to learn more about the health effects of alcohol, check out this really great article and diagram by healthline.com
2. It has no probiotics
Probiotics and their benefits are a big reason why many people get into drinking kombucha in the first place. Unfortunately, when you drink kombucha beer, the alcohol kills probiotics in your gut and intestines, nullifying any effects you would get from the kombucha.
On top of this, the higher amount of alcohol in kombucha beer and hard kombucha likely kills all of the probiotics in the drink itself.
Kombucha Beer Brands
If your interested in trying kombucha beer, a few popular brands to look out for at the store are:
If you try some kombucha beer from the store and find out you like it, you may want to try making it yourself at home. Below is a detailed recipe that will walk you through the process.
Kombucha Beer Home Brew Recipe (1 Gallon)
Tea Strainer 1 Gallon Glass Jar
Carboy and Airlock Lid Hydrometer
1 Gallon of Distilled Water 2 Tablespoons of Loose Leaf Black or Green Tea
1 Cup of Sugar 2 Cups of Starter Tea
SCOBY Flavoring of Choice
¾ Tsp of Champagne Yeast 1oz (30g) of Hops
Step 1: Brew Sweet Tea
The very first thing you need to do to make kombucha beer is boil 6ish cups of water. Once the water is boiling, remove it from the heat and mix in the sugar. After the sugar is dissolved, steep the tea bags for at least 30 minutes.
If you’re making a gallon of kombucha, you're going to use 8 tea bags or 2 tablespoons of loose leaf tea, and 1 cup of sugar.
If you want to make 2 gallons of booch, just multiply the amount of sugar and tea above by two.
If you’re using an irregularly shaped container, or don’t want to brew your kombucha to the gallon, you can use the numbers below.
To make 1 cup of kombucha you need:
0.0625 Cups of Sugar
0.5 Tea Bags or 0.375 Teaspoons of Loose Leaf Tea
0.125 Cups of Starter Tea
Just multiply these numbers by the # of cups of kombucha you want to make and you'll have the right amount of each ingredient.
Although a cup of sugar per gallon of kombucha seems like a lot, remember that this sugar is food for our SCOBY. In the end, most of it will be eaten and converted into acids and gases, and the finished kombucha will only have 2-6g of sugar per 8 ounces.
Step 2: Add SCOBY and Starter Tea
Next we are going to add the sweet tea to our brewing vessel, and fill up whatever space remains with water. You can use cold water to help the tea cool down faster.
Once the sweet tea has cooled down to room temperature, add in the SCOBY and starter tea.
Starter tea is just unflavored kombucha from a previous brew that will help create an acidic environment in the tea early to prevent mold growth.
If you bought a SCOBY online it will come packaged in starter tea. If you've brewed before and didn't save any starter tea from a previous batch you can use a store bought bottle of unflavored kombucha or a splash of distilled white vinegar to give the brew its initial acidity.
It’s important to wait until the sweet tea has cooled down to room temp to add the SCOBY because liquid that’s too hot or too cold can shock the bacteria culture.
Step 3: 1st Fermentation
After the sweet tea, SCOBY, starter tea, and water have all been combined in the brewing vessel, cover the top of the container with cloth or an old tea shirt and secure it with a rubber band. This will keep fruit flies and other bugs out.
Do not seal the jar with a lid or anything airtight, since we need oxygenated air to be able to flow in and out of the container to keep the SCOBY alive and functioning.
Wait 7-10 days for the SCOBY to ferment the sugar and nutrients in the tea into alcohol and healthy acids. Remember that the longer the brew ferments, the more sugar will be eaten and the more bitter it will taste.
Taste test the brew every day with the goal of reaching that perfect spot between sweet and sour. To do this I stick a straw about halfway down in the liquid and cover the open end with my finger to pull out some liquid to taste.
Once it has reached a bitter enough taste for your liking, the first fermentation is complete.
Step 4: Fermentation with Yeast
Now it’s time to add the yeast. 1st transfer the kombucha from its jar into the carboy.
Next dissolve 1 cup of sugar in a few cups of warm water. Once the sugar water mixture has cooled, add to it ¾ teaspoon of dehydrated champagne yeast. Keep in mind that there are different flavors of champagne yeasts available, with some adding spicy flavors while others adding more fruity flavors.
After a few minutes, the yeast will become active and foam. At which point you can combine it with your kombucha in the carboy and stir it in.
After also adding the 30g of hops to the carboy, secure the airlock on top and set the container aside for another 7-14 days.
You’ll be able to tell that the yeast fermentation is done when no more bubbles are being released in the airlock.
Step 5: Carbonation and Flavoring
After 7-14 days, the yeast fermentation is done and now we technically have kombucha beer, except it’s not yet carbonated or flavored. To change that you’re going to first partially fill the brewing bottles with whatever flavoring you want.
Figuring out how much flavoring to use depends on what you're using to flavor and will probably take some trial and error. To start you may want to fill the bottles up around a ¼ of the way with your flavoring of choice, and then adjust from there in future brews.
Once the bottles have their flavoring in them, transfer the kombucha beer, probably via funnel, from the carboy into all the bottles.
The sealed bottles with kombucha beer and flavoring will now sit at room temperature for 4-6 days.The length of time the carbonation and flavoring fermentation takes will depend on the flavoring used and quality of your brewing bottles.
During this time you can make some more sweet tea and start a new brew of kombucha if you want. Then ideally, by the time you’re done drinking the brew your making right now, the next batch of kombucha beer will be just finishing up.
Step 6: Refrigerate and Drink Up
After the 4-6 days have passed, refrigerate the unopened bottles of flavored kombucha beer. The cold air in the refrigerator will slow down the fermentation process and calm the carbonation, decreasing the likelihood of an explosion when you open them.
After the bottles have been chilled, it's time to drink up! Congratulations on making your very own kombucha beer!
If when you open the bottles there isn't enough carbonation, you can place them back at room temperature for a few days and they’ll resume the fermentation process and develop more carbonation.
It will take you a few brews to adjust the length of the fermentations and amount of flavoring to the levels you like. But once you figure it out, you’ll be pumping out gallons of kombucha beer that taste exactly how you want!
Kombucha beer is a really cool and tasty spin off of kombucha that I think will grow fast in popularity over the next few years.
Because kombucha is a health focused drink and the added alcohol in kombucha beer cancels out most of the health benefits, I won't be drinking kombucha beer often, but, I think it does have its place.
If you’re a beer or booze drinker that also likes kombucha or just want to try a healthier alcoholic drink that still has good flavor, I’d encourage you to give kombucha beer a shot the next time your on a beer run. Or just make it yourself at home!
If you found this article helpful and want to learn more about kombucha, how it relates to your health, and even how to brew it yourself, be sure to check out the rest of my website!