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Want a little kick with your live probiotics? Hard kombucha is the real-deal twisted tea, and there are a lot of options. While all kombucha is a little alcoholic, fermentation enthusiasts have taken it beyond the typical 1% to 2% ABV: an extra round of fermentation makes a product that is as strong as beer, or even wine in some cases, coming in at 5% to 11%.
“I love hard kombucha, being that I’m not a beer drinker and I like to take breaks from tequila,” says mixologist Mulu’nesh Miley, who's worked with hard kombucha brand Boochraft to create classic cocktails with the brew. “They are also lower in sugar and are gut-friendly.”
Perhaps you’re already a diehard kombucha fan, a lover of all things funky, or just curious about a new way to catch a buzz while caring for your gut. Here, the best hard kombucha brands to try right now.
Best Overall: Boochcraft
This certified organic brand uses only fresh, cold-pressed fruits and botanicals in its ‘booch. It also composts all fruit scraps, tea, herbs, paper towels and even past-their-prime scobys (the sources of bacteria and yeast that help turn tea into tangy, live kombucha). Plus, the company works to combat water waste as much as possible.
Boochcraft is also worth seeking out for the extremely pleasing can designs and the wide selection of flavors. The core group features out-of-the-box flavors like Apple Jasmine, Grapefruit Hibiscus and Blood Orange Pomegranate (all of which come in at a respectable 7%).
There's also rotating seasonal offerings like Watermelon Chili, as well as a small-batch Heirloom series with flavors like Heirloom Kiwi and Heirloom Peach.
“We look to bring in beverages that can be enjoyed from brunch to happy hour. Hard kombucha is a nice offering for the customer who is looking for a lighter, more functional beverage that still offers the buzz—and can appeal to our customers who are seeking healthier or more beneficial options.” — Chelsea Matthews, Founding Partner, Highly Likely
Best Budget: Jiant
To make this beginner-friendly hard kombucha, Jiant brewers use Dragon Well (or Longjing) green tea, which is known for its mild astringency and low tannins. The tea is mixed with water and sustainably harvested Himalayan acacia honey to make the kombucha that forms the hard drink's base. The honey comes through on the first sip, creating a mild, easy-drinking experience that finishes with a gentle sweetness.
There are four core flavors: Original (passion fruit and elderflower), Gingerly (ginger and lemongrass), Hicamaya (grapefruit and hibiscus) and Guavamente (guava and mint). There are also two seasonal flavors: Cool Beans (coffee and blueberry) and our current favorite, Taco Tuesday (pineapple and jalapeño).
At 5% ABV, these are easy-going hard ‘booches for a chill afternoon swinging in a hammock.
Best Craft: JuneShine
Bartender Chad Michael George, founder of Proof Productions, likes JuneShine for its balanced acidity, low sugar and natural fermentation. Made with a base of jun kombucha (a green tea-based kombucha sweetened with honey), this Southern California-based brewery offers flavors like Blood Orange Mint, Chili Mango and Iced Tea Lemonade.
But it’s the cocktail-inspired flavors that set this brand apart. Try the Midnight Painkiller (pineapple, orange, coconut, nutmeg, and activated charcoal for a dramatic color) and the Grapefruit Paloma for tangy takes on classic cocktails. The brand is also environmentally friendly—they’re carbon neutral and they also donate one percent of all sales to 1% For the Planet, which helps fight climate change.
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Best Flavors: Kyla
Brewed in Oregon, Kyla's hard kombucha comes with two levels of booziness: the Original at 4.5% and the Sunbreak Series at 6.5%. The Original lineup includes flavors like Ginger Tangerine, Hibiscus Lime and Pink Grapefruit—and they’re all worth trying.
But the stronger Sunbreak Series, which includes flavors like Lavender Lemonade and Pineapple Ginger Colada, has attracted a fandom of bartenders, including Chicago’s Miranda Breedlove, who particularly digs the Sunset Trio flavor. A tropical blend of passion fruit, orange and guava, it’s a not-too-funky nostalgic sipper for the summertime.
Best Organic: Unity Vibration
The self-described original hard kombucha (dating back to 2011), Unity Vibration is the hard kombucha for true kombucha fans. Packed with tang, funk and herbaceousness, these so-called kombucha beers are undeniably alive and complex. Made with organic, fair-trade ingredients and certified vegan, the brews are made with the brand’s flagship 30-day brewed kombucha, dried hops and produce like raw ginger root, fresh raspberries and peaches.
The Funky Ginger (9.1% ABV, so watch out) is true to its name, with tons of zesty ginger on the nose and lots of funky, grassy and fermented flavor upon first sip. Meanwhile, the KPA (kombucha pale ale) is a deliciously spruce-y beer alternative with a grapefruit zest twist.
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Best High-Alcohol: Dr Hops
At 9% to 11%, this is one of the booziest ‘booches out there, but you wouldn’t know it from the taste, so sip slowly. There are plenty of flavors to choose from, including a juicy Kombucha Rosé for the wine drinkers. If you’re looking to make the jump from beer to hard kombucha, the IPA flavor is a great option: It’s like a hoppy shandy with just a touch of that signature kombucha tang.
Even with an IPA flavor in the lineup, Dr Hops founder Joshua Rood likens the brew more to a cocktail than a beer due to its "balance, fresh fruit flavors and relatively high alcohol content." Still, he says the alcohol itself is almost imperceptible. “There is also a fresh, living quality that is totally different than most mixed drinks," he adds.
Related: The Best Nonalcoholic Wines
Best for Cocktails: Flying Embers
A bartender favorite, Flying Embers offers a diverse array of flavors, from Berry and Ginger to more unexpected combos like Pineapple Chili and Watermelon Basil. Furthermore, it comes in a wide range of ABV levels, from 4.5% to 9%. With no sugar or carbs, these hard kombuchas are dry but still manage to be full of flavor. Wonderfully effervescent with big bubbles and just a touch of funk, they’re extremely quaffable. Plus, they work well in cocktails.
Flying Embers’ own Jason Hamilton likes to use the Grapefruit flavor in a take on a Paloma, or make a Michelada with the Pineapple Chili. The brand's name is a nod to the California wildfires--the Thomas Fire of 2017 in particular, which threatened the founders’ area. The fires also inspired action: The company partners with organizations to help provide burn shelters, fireproof gel for homes and aid to frontline workers.
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Best Low-Alcohol: Kombrewcha
Think of this Brooklyn-born, organic ‘booch as your session hard kombucha. Coming in at 4.4% ABV, Kombrewcha is the perfect day-drinking kombucha—brunch ‘booch, if you will. The flavors lend themselves to beach drinking or porch sipping as well.
There’s creamy-sweet Mango Pineapple, shandy-esque Lemon Ginger, the Berry Hibiscus that Dear Irving bartender Jena Ellenwood likens to the Red Zinger tea (“It legit smells like my childhood,” she says), and sweet-and-funky Blood Orange, which Ellenwood suggests serving in a salt-rimmed glass like a Margarita.
Skip the Mimosa, pair one of these cans with your Sunday acai bowl instead.
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What to Look for in a Hard Kombucha
Hard kombucha comes in a wide range of flavors. There’s really something for everyone, so keep your own natural preferences in mind when you’re looking for a can or bottle. Chances are, your favorite fruit or herb is out there in the form of a hard kombucha.
With ABV levels ranging from 4% to 11%, you can’t assume to know just how boozy your hard kombucha is without looking at the label; it’s like beer in that way. If you’re hoping for something light for day drinking, keep it closer to 5%.
If you’re a strict vegan, make sure you check the label for honey. Some brands of hard kombucha are made with honey, while others use cane sugar.
How is kombucha made?
At its most basic, kombucha is fermented tea. It’s made with black tea, green tea or a combination of the two; sugar or honey; and a strange, alien-like jelly substance called a SCOBY (which stand for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast). The SCOBY is key, kicking off fermentation and giving kombucha life. Essentially, you make a sweet tea, add the SCOBY and let the mix ferment. When it tastes to your liking, striking the balance between sweet and funky, the kombucha is ready to bottle.
How is the alcohol added?
To create more alcohol, brewers put their kombucha through a second fermentation with yeast and sugar. That process produces higher levels of alcohol.
What's the average alcohol content in hard kombucha?
While the ABV of hard kombucha can go all the way up to 11%, most brands stay within the 5% to 7% range. But check the label to make sure.
How many calories are there in hard kombucha on average?
Hard kombuchas can range in calories from about 75 to 150 calories. Calorie counts vary even among brands, so be sure to check the label if this is important to you.
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Justine Sterling is an experienced spirits writer and cocktail recipe developer. She has been writing about the wide world of drinking—from new spirits to cocktail trends to wines and beers—for more than a decade. Her home bar is always stocked with a range of spirits, from the staples to the downright strange. Her fridge is currently overflowing with hard kombucha, and she has serious opinions about Martinis.
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