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What is hard kombucha? And does it have the same health benefits as the traditional alcohol-free version of the drink?

Hard kombucha is the latest craze in fermented tea, with many people choosing it as a healthier alternative to beer and cider. With more flavours and brands of this boozy brew now on the market, it’s becoming more popular amongst the hip and health-conscious. But is hard kombucha good for you?

What is hard kombucha?

Hard kombucha has a much higher alcohol content that the traditional version of the fizzy, fermented cold tea drink.

To brew kombucha you mix sweetened black or green tea with a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) and leave it to ferment. This is what gives it a distinct fizz and tart flavour. Even with the traditional version of the drink, the fermentation process creates a trace of alcohol. However, the alcohol by volume usually reaches no more than 0.5%. As a result, most kombucha drinks are classed as non-alcoholic. Hard kombucha on the other hand, is deliberately fermented repeatedly and for longer to hike up the alcohol levels. The alcohol content of a boozy brew is typically around 4-7% ABV (alcohol by volume).1

How to make a boozy brew

Making high alcohol kombucha requires the same core ingredients as the regular version of the drink – water, tea, sugar and a SCOBY.

So, what's the difference? It’s all down to the amount of added sugar, a different type of yeast, and the length of the fermentation process. The non-alcoholic (or low-alcohol) version of the beverage only needs one or two rounds of fermentation. However, to increase the alcohol content, the process repeats several more times. By adding more sugar and another strain of yeast in the additional rounds, the alcohol content of the brew rises.

But is it good for you?

The gut-friendly potential of the traditional version of the drink is widely reported. This is down to the live cultures that can help to maintain a healthy population of bacteria in your gut. This may aid digestion as well as supporting your immune health (but there’s limited research to support these claims).2

But what happens to the live microorganisms as the alcohol levels rise? There are questions and various opinions about whether the good bacteria can survive in a boozier environment. There don’t seem to be any consistent answers, leaving any suggested gut-friendly benefits of high alcohol kombucha very much up for debate.

However, some of the other wellness perks of kombucha are more likely to withstand the extra fermentation.  For example, the beneficial acids remain in-tact, so the beverage retains some antioxidant capabilities. And being gluten-free, it can be a less bloating alternative to beer, especially for those with an intolerance to wheat. Finally, it may have a lower sugar and calorie content than more sugary alcoholic drinks. But all of this varies depends on the specific sugar and alcohol content of a specific brew.

In reality, any wellness boost offered by hard kombucha is likely to be fairly minimal. So, on balance, the boozy brew isn’t considered a health drink. However, for some people, it can offer some benefits over other alcoholic beverages.

Benefits of hard kombucha (compared to other alcoholic beverages)

  • Lower calories than some sugary alcoholic drinks
  • A gluten-free alternative to beer
  • Kinder on the gut (less bloating) than some alcoholic beverages
  • It often has a lower alcohol content (some are around 3% but can be higher)

Summary: What is the difference between kombucha and hard kombucha?

The main difference is that hard kombucha is intentionally fermented to have a higher alcohol content. This means it’s not suitable for children, under 18s, pregnant women, designated drivers and anyone who avoids drinking alcohol.

Whilst many hard kombuchas only have a relatively low amount of alcohol by volume, some of the high alcohol versions have around 8% ABV. As the alcohol content of pre-bottled varieties varies so widely, it’s wise to check the label before selecting your drink.

And finally, does hard kombucha get you drunk? The raised alcohol content could certainly leave you feeling tipsy. And unfortunately, although hard kombucha may be gentler on your gut than some alcoholic drinks, it can still give you a hangover the morning after.

Last updated: 17 August 2020