With the emergence of spiked seltzers, juices and teas — and now hard kombucha — there are endless options to get a light buzz and feel a little better about your drink.
It's fizzy, it's flavorful, it's good for your gut. Still, it's not quite an excuse to go bottomless with hard 'booch.
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What Is Hard Kombucha?
Just like its lower-alcohol counterpart, hard kombucha is a bubbly fermented tea that's filled with gut-friendly probiotics.
Because kombucha is a fermented drink, it has trace amounts of alcohol, usually under 1 percent, but hard kombucha has higher amounts of alcohol by volume (ABV) and can contain as much as 8 percent — the equivalent of a really boozy beer.
To increase the ABV in hard kombucha, most brands will add more sugar and yeast to extend the fermentation process. Hard kombucha requires several rounds of fermentation than regular kombucha, and it's during the later rounds of fermentation that more sugar and yeast are added, according to Health-Ade Kombucha.
So is hard kombucha a healthier choice over beer, wine and liquor? Not necessarily. As with any type of beverage, all hard kombucha is made differently. Much like regular 'booch, some are much lower in sugar, calories and ABV, while others can be likened to drinking a full-bodied stout or a hearty Long Island iced tea (remember those?).
"Hard kombucha can be a gluten-free alternative to beer. It provides around 5 percent alcohol, which is more than the average beer. You might get a bit of a buzz while also helping your digestion, but if you're looking for true benefits of probiotics, I'd pick up a yogurt or some sauerkraut," Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You From Label to Table, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
Here are some things to keep in mind when shopping for hard kombucha.
Most hard kombucha needs to be refrigerated to keep its probiotics cultures alive unless specified on the label.
How to Buy a Healthier Hard Kombucha
1. Choose Low-ABV Varieties
Whether you're enjoying hard kombucha or a tall New England IPA, you're still drinking alcohol, so you want to be mindful of how much you're actually having.
Because some hard kombucha don't disclose their nutritional information, a general rule to follow is the higher the ABV, the higher the calories.
"Many hard kombuchas are up around 7 or 8 percent ABV, but you can find some at 4.5 percent or 6 percent, which I prefer," Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, nutrition and wellness expert and author of Smoothies & Juices: Prevention Healing Kitchen, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
2. Go Light on Sugar
Sure, it's impossible to avoid the sweet stuff completely because it's part of the fermentation process, but some hard kombucha brands will only use as much sugar that's needed and will not include additional amounts.
Paying special attention to the ABV will drop some hints about its sugar and carb content without having a nutrition label in front of you — but as always, read the label carefully if it's available.
"The lower the ABV, the lower the calories, which generally means that it's lower in carbs and sugar as well. Some of the ones that are at 4.5 percent even say that they don't have any sugar because it's all fermented away," Largeman-Roth explains.
"The ones at 6 and 7 percent will have around 5 grams of sugar, which still isn't terrible."
3. Take Caution With Add-Ins
If you're using hard kombucha as a mixer, consider it as a drink on its own. Because it already has alcohol, sugar and carbs, be mindful of the juices, garnishes and liquor you add to it, Taub-Dix says. Combining it with bourbon, vodka and other alcohol adds to the overall calories.
Today's hard kombucha is more than the old-fashioned tea, SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) and sugar. Some have cold-pressed juices, for instance, to enhance their flavor, Largeman-Roth says.
Others, like Flying Embers, will include adaptogens and nootropics in their hard kombucha, so if you are taking certain medications, be sure to consult your doctor to avoid contraindications.
"It is a popular mixer to add to alcoholic beverages to boost alcohol content further, but be aware that because of the fermentation process, it can give the drink a vinegar-like taste," she says.
"Some manufacturers add a lot of sugar to make it more palatable. If you're buying kombucha — hard or otherwise — check food labels to see what else you're getting in the bottle," Taub-Dix explains.
4. Be Mindful of Serving Size
The standard drink is 14 grams (0.6 ounces) of pure alcohol, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
A 12-ounce can of beer at 5 percent, 5 ounces of wine at 12 percent and 8 ounces of malt liquor at 7 percent are examples of this general amount. Some hard kombuchas are sold with two servings per can or bottle, so make sure to stick to just one serving.
"Some are in super big bottles, which I find annoying because they are fizzy and you lose the fizz unless you put a stopper in right away. I would stick to a single serving can/bottle if possible. That way you can make the decision if you really want to have another one," Largeman-Roth says.
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that women stick to one alcoholic drink a day while men can enjoy up to two.
To help you make healthier choices when shopping for hard kombucha, here are some of Largeman-Roth's picks, plus other ones to consider sipping. Cheers!
8 Healthier Hard Kombucha Brands to Buy
1. Strainge Beast
- ABV: 7 percent
- Per 12-ounce serving (Passion Fruit, Hops & Blood Orange): 180 calories, 0 grams fat (0 grams saturated fat), 15 milligrams sodium, 10 grams carbohydrates (0 grams fiber, 8 grams sugar), 1 gram protein
Coming in hot with three unique flavor combos — Passion Fruit, Hops & Blood Orange, Blueberry, Acai & Sweet Basil and Ginger, Lemon & Hibiscus — you'll find the right 'booch fit for all your strangest cravings.
But if you're looking for a lower-sugar flavor, opt for the Passion Fruit, Hops & Blood Orange. We personally can't decide what we love more, the effervexcent flavors or the Little Shop of Horrors-esque packaging design.
Buy it: CraftCity.com; Price: $5.99 per can
- ABV: 4.4 percent
- Per 12-ounce serving: 120 calories, 0 grams fat (0 grams saturated fat), 10 milligrams sodium, 9 grams carbohydrates (0 grams fiber, 6 grams sugar), 0 grams protein
Largeman-Roth likes Kombrewcha's hard 'booch, which comes in three tongue-tickling flavors: royal ginger, lemongrass lime and berry hibiscus.
Made with USDA-certified organic ingredients and a modest 4.4 percent ABV, these spiked sips are perfect for a light drink at brunch or a picnic in the park. Plus, they're only 120 calories and have 7 grams of sugar per can.
3. Booch Craft
- ABV: 7 percent
- Per 12-ounce serving: 150 calories, 5 grams sugar
Founded by three firends from San Diego, Booch Craft is all about brewing with organic fruit and locally sourced ingredients.
Their core collection of hard kombucha, which includes Ginger-Lime (one of Largeman-Roth's top picks), lemon maple and orange pomegranate, has an ABV of 7 percent and features fresh-pressed juices.
They also have a seasonal selection of hard kombucha that highlights annual produce, like winter citrus and watermelon, and an heirloom series of small-batch recipes.
Buy it: Drizly.com; Price: $14.19 per pack of 4
4. Flying Embers
- ABV: 4.5 percent
- Per 12-ounce serving: 85 calories, 0 grams fat (0 grams saturated fat), 0 milligrams sodium, 0 grams carbohydrates (0 grams sugar), 0 grams protein
If you have a more adventurous palate and want something more than just probiotics in your hard kombucha, Flying Embers includes their signature adaptogen root blend of ginger and turmeric in their drinks, so you can eat, drink and fight stress.
Brewed with that true California farmer mentality, these hard kombuchas don't shy away from combining sweet and savory flavors, such as Watermelon Basil Sea Salt, Pineapple Chili and Grapefruit Thyme.
But they also have some classic blends. For example their berry flavor incudes elderberries, goji berries and raspberries.
5. Kyla Hard Kombucha
- ABV: 6.5 percent
- Per 16-ounce serving: 180 calories, 0 grams fat (0 grams saturated fat), 0 milligrams sodium, 7 grams carbohydrates (1 gram sugar), 0 grams protein
Craving a fruity cocktail? Kyla's hard kombuchas are brewed with a new level of zest and tartness that'll make you pucker up. Some flavors include Pink Grapefruit, Ginger Tangerine and Hibiscus Lime. This Pineapple Ginger Colada hard kombucha is from their Sunbreak series, which celebrates the flavors of summer.
While this fizzy drink is on the higher end of the kombucha ABV spectrum, it is still low in sugar and carbs. Kyla's classic hard kombucha flavors also have lower ABV content at 4.5 percent.
The other great thing about Kyla's hard kombuchas is that they don't need to be refrigerated. If you're feeling fancy, pour one out of the can or bottle into a tall glass with some ice and garnish with your favorite fruits and herbs.
Buy it: CraftCity.com; Price: $12.99
6. Wild Tonic
- ABV: 5.6 percent
- Per 8-ounce serving: 119 calories, 12 grams carbohydrates (11 grams sugar), 0 grams protein
Founder Holly Lyman loved painting with beeswax before she started working with honey and a ferment called Jun, which involves fermenting with tea, honey and a SCOBY instead of cane sugar. The result is a lighter and smoother taste than the harsher vinegar flavor that some hard kombuchas have.
To enhance the flavor of their brews, Wild Tonic uses organic fruits, herbs and spices, as well as botanical essences.
Committed to sustainable farming practices, Wild Tonic composts all of their teas, herbs, fruits and flowers. Consider recycling their signature blue bottle to store your own drinks.
Buy it: WildTonic.com; Price: $29.98 per pack of 8
7. June Shine
- ABV: 6 percent
- Per 12-ounce serving: 143 calories, <0.5 grams fat (0 grams sautrated fat), 46.1 milligrams sodium, 7.2 grams carbs (3.4 grams sugar), <1 gram protein
Another hard kombucha brand that uses a Jun ferment, JuneShine is brewed with green tea, honey, SCOBY, juices and spices. They do use some organic cane sugar during their fermentation process, but any residual sugar comes from organic fruit.
Made to match the mood you're in, June Shine's hard kombuchas come in seven unique flavors. Their Midnight Painkiller, for instance, features coconut, pineapple, orange, nutmeg and activated charcoal honey.
For something that tastes more like a fruity IPA, the Hopical Citrus includes — you guessed it — hops, pineapple, orange and grapefruit.
Buy it: JuneShine.com; Price: $29.99 per pack of 12
8. Dr. Hops Kombucha Beer
- ABV: 9 percent
- Per 8-ounce serving: 110 calories, 0 grams fat (0 grams saturated fat), 11 milligrams sodium, 6 grams carbohydrates (4 grams sugar, 4 grams added sugar), 0 grams protein
Made for every craft beer lover, Dr. Hops' kombucha beers feature a wide selection of familiar hop flavors, such as Mosaic, Citra and Cascade. They like to think it's beer with a boost for your gut — not your belly.
Their IPK, a play on IPA, is brewed with dry-hopped mosaic and citra, as well as guava and kumquat. If you're a fan of beer but can't have the gluten in it, this is a great way to satisfy your dreams of hops.
Buy it: DrHops.com; Price: $89.99 per pack of 12