The Basics Bottles

Hard Kombucha: What to Know and 8 to Try

You’re sure to find a new boozy ‘booch favorite among these offerings.

Hard kombucha cans
Image: / Laura Sant

Kombucha has come a long way. While the fermented tea is thought to have originated in China thousands of years ago, it first hit America’s radar back in the 1980s and ’90s, gaining popularity among the growing “wellness” movement. Initially hailed for its purported health benefits, it became a mainstay of the earthy, crunchy crowd, many of whom began brewing their own ‘booch. 

By the early aughts, however, kombucha had become commercial. It was no longer just in health-food stores or mason jars at home, but in beautifully packaged bottles at supermarkets and even corner bodegas. It was still a “health” drink, to be sure—one of its main selling points is that its live cultures are said to contribute to a healthy gut microbiome—but, now, a mainstream one. 

And then, as seems to happen eventually with nearly all popular liquids, an alcoholic version, referred to as “hard kombucha,” rose to the forefront. All kombucha is naturally alcoholic, but the alcohol is present in merely trace amounts. It’s made by steeping tea leaves in hot water and sugar, then adding a little bit of kombucha (from a previous batch or the store) and leaving it to ferment at room temperature for a few weeks, which is what produces the alcohol. 

Hard kombucha is made by leveling up the fermentation process. After the initial fermentation, brewers add more sugar and a new strain of yeast to the mixture, then lock it inside a fermentation tank for another week or two, resulting in an increased alcohol content. 

Just as the hard seltzer market seems to be plateauing, hard kombucha is having its own moment: What was once a relatively rare find now has its own section at many retailers. But contrary to hard seltzers, which all tend to have similar flavor profiles, each hard kombucha can taste wildly different. This makes sense, given that they contain live cultures and an array of ingredients, but it also makes many drinkers reluctant to commit to a six-pack of a product they haven’t tasted yet. Rather than leaving you to merely your gut (pun intended), this guide will help you decide which ‘booch is right for you. 

These are eight to try.

  • Boochcraft

    Boochcraft hard kombucha / Laura Sant

    Among the bigger kombucha brands, which include the likes of JuneShine and Strainge Beast, this one has the “boochiest” of flavors, which makes it a great choice for kombucha lovers; those new to the category or who like less funkiness might prefer a different brand. All its flavors are a reasonable 7% ABV; keep an eye out for the hard-to-find Lemon Maple flavor, considered by many fans to be the best.

  • Dr. Hops

    Dr Hops hard kombucha / Laura Sant

    Dr. Hops kombucha is big, both literally and figuratively. The cans are a full 16 ounces rather than the typical 12, the ABV ranges from 8% to a hefty 11%, and the flavors are powerful. It comes in four different flavors—Strawberry Lemon, Kombucha IPA, Ginger Lime, and Kombucha Rosé—each of which delivers sharp, crisp flavor with the light effervescence of a regular kombucha. The kombucha taste is assertive, but nicely balanced by the other ingredients. If you’re looking for a large can and a good buzz, this is the brand to reach for.

  • Flying Embers

    Flying Embers hard kombucha / Laura Sant

    Based in Ojai, California, Flying Embers is a brand with a purpose. After the kombucha brewing facility managed to narrowly escape destruction by the Thomas Fires in 2017, the brand was reshaped: The name was born out of that moment, when a flying ember could have wiped out everything, and the company now donates a percentage of all profits to first responders and efforts to prevent future wildfires. Its backstory should make you feel good about buying Flying Embers, and thankfully, the product delivers. The kombuchas come in a wide range of flavors (try the Orange Passion Mimosa) and ABVs (4.5% to 8.5%), with each featuring the trademark kombucha vinegariness.

  • Jiant

    Jiant hard kombucha / Laura Sant

    Jiant is a great entry point for those new to kombucha, whether hard or traditional. Its light, crisp taste has a good amount of hoppiness to it, making it a good stepping stone for beer drinkers, and at 5% ABV, it's one of the less-boozy options out there. Another brand from Southern California, its cans look like they could blend right into the wallpaper of a Palm Springs hotel, and the liquid within is pretty much exactly what you’d want to be sipping if you were there.

    Continue to 5 of 8 below.
  • Juneshine

    Juneshine hard kombucha / Laura Sant

    One of the biggest hard kombucha brands on the market, Juneshine is also probably the easiest to get your hands on. The San Diego brand has a beachy vibe, which comes through in both packaging design and flavors like Coco Rico, Mango Daydream, and Acai Berry. With its middle-of-the-road ABV of 6%, large variety of flavors (11 currently), and widespread availability, Juneshine is a great crowd-pleaser pick.

  • Kyla

    Kyla hard kombucha / Laura Sant

    Born out of “a quest for the perfect healthy-ish libration,” Kyla carries on kombucha’s original promises of well-being, but with a twist. While most kombuchas use sugar for the fermentation process, Kyla replaces it with Stevia leaf extract, which makes its beverages lower in sugar, calories, and carbs than other hard kombuchas. The result is a refreshing, tangy, highly carbonated beverage that does have a lingering taste of artificial sweetener, but really hits the spot on a hot, active day.

  • Strainge Beast

    Strainge Beast hard kombucha / Laura Sant

    Sierra Nevada’s entry into the hard kombucha game, Strainge Beast’s appearance harkens to its parent brand, with nature-inspired designs that evoke an outdoor adventure. In the same vein, these offerings have hop-forward flavors that marry kombucha’s tangy, fruity notes with the classic profile of beer. It’s eminently drinkable and comes in a wide variety of flavors, and, fittingly, is a perfect choice for beer lovers.

  • Unity Vibration

    Unity Vibration hard kombucha / Laura Sant

    Kombucha aficionados, this is your drink. Made by a Michigan-based couple, this company has been around since 2011 and stakes a claim to being the first nationally distributed hard kombucha. The flavors are unique (they include Elderwand, Kombuchelada, and Bourbon Peach, to name a few), and each features the vinegar-laced taste of small-batch, homemade kombucha. The strong kombucha flavor may prove too much for some drinkers, but for a true kombucha-head, this is the one to reach for—if you can find it, that is: It’s not as ubiquitous on store shelves as some of the bigger brands.