Federal regulators say that several kombucha-makers’ fermented health teas are significantly boozier than they’re supposed to be: Legally speaking, nonalcoholic drinks aren’t supposed to exceed 0.5 percent alcohol, a smidgen above a rounding error, but the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau has “fired off warning letters in recent weeks” to manufacturers it suspects of engaging in funny business, The Wall Street Journal reports. Tests of certain kombuchas have reportedly shown ABV levels as high as 3.8 percent, the same number listed on the side of a Carlsberg or Narragansett Light. These warnings also apparently coincide with a couple deceptive-marketing lawsuits filed in California against Millennium, the maker of GT’s Kombucha.
For kombucha that’s too alcoholic, producers can reconfigure the level of booze, or register the drink as a bona fide alcoholic beverage and add a warning label. (Or there’s a third option: Do neither and pay a fine of up to $11,000 per day.) But some contend nothing’s wrong with their kombucha — it’s that the TTB is running tests that aren’t sophisticated enough to tell the difference between the harmless acid in kombucha and alcohol, which has a similar density.
“Nobody’s saying, ‘Let me get a six-pack of kombucha and get wasted tonight,’” the president of Kombucha Brewers International tells The Wall Street Journal, though the Feds seem less worried about people getting purposely bombed on yeasty tea and more concerned with parents, religiously devout hipsters, or anyone else who may be avoiding alcohol entirely.