There has been a noticeable lack of kombucha in the drink coolers at the Kiva for a couple of weeks now. On June 18th, the Whole Foods chain of grocery stores voluntarily recalled all kombucha products because of concerns that they might have alcohol contents in excess of the .5% allowed by law. Subsequently, several major distributors and prominent kombucha manufactures such as GT’s Kombucha have stopped selling kombucha while independent testing is performed and brewing practices are refined to better comply with the law. This issue is not a health risk – while living kombucha cultures may continue to produce alcohol in the bottle after bottling, the alcohol levels do not exceed 1%, meaning you would have to drink 10 to 14 glasses of kombucha to get the alcoholic effect of a single glass of wine! The issue is one of labeling, as special permits and labels are required to sell and manufacture beverages containing more than .5% alcohol. There has been no government recall of kombucha and any decisions to stop selling kombucha by distributors and manufacturers have been purely voluntary.
Local kombucha manufacturer Oak Barrel Kombucha is also absent from our shelves at the moment; this is not a direct result of the alcohol issue. Oak Barrel is taking advantage of a momentary lull in large production orders to install 400 gallons of new oak barrels for fermentation, moving toward a larger batch production that will help make individual batches more consistent. They are also working with fermentation experts to introduce practices such as oxygenating the batches and using other advanced techniques to suppress the formation of ethanol alcohol in their batches. If kombucha ends up being more regulated than it currently is, Oak Barrel should be fine as the result of these new improvements! Jason and Julia at Oak Barrel are convinced that these changes to their production process will not only result in a more consistent kombucha that is always below the legal limit of .5% alcohol, but they will also result in a better product in general. If all goes well in the installation of the new oak vats and the implementation of these changes, Oak Barrel Kombucha should be back in the Kiva by the week of August 23rd – we can’t wait!