Why Kombucha Was Almost Classified As Alcohol In South Carolina

With so much time spent at home in lockdown, many people adopted a new hobby during the height of the pandemic. Quite a few tried their hand at fermentation, and sourdough starters and kombucha SCOBYs were shared and adopted in communities around the country. But kombucha is popular beyond brewing it in your own kitchen. According to Market Watch, kombucha sales have catapulted from $1 million in 2014 to $1.8 billion in 2019.

Although it's been trending as of late, kombucha is definitely not anything new. WebMD says that the beverage made of yeast, sugar, and black or green tea is known to have been brewed for over 2,000 years. The mixture ferments for weeks, forming the SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) film on top and producing a fizzy, sweet, yet tart tea drink with probiotic benefits and a good dose of vitamin B and antioxidants. Along with the bacteria and yeast, the process also produces a small of alcohol. But is it enough to be considered an alcoholic beverage like a beer?

The buzz on alcohol in kombucha

So how much alcohol is in kombucha? Bon Appétit explains that kombucha isn't considered an alcoholic beverage by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau if it contains less than 0.5% alcohol by volume. The kombucha brands you're able to buy at any grocery store fall under this category unless you happen to wander into the beer aisle and find a hard version that contains about 3% ABV.

But in South Carolina this year, kombucha was almost classified as alcohol. Per the WPDE 15 News original story, the South Carolina Department of Revenue released new guidelines that would require a permit to sell any alcoholic or fermented beverage that has 6.5% ABV or less. No minimum limit was set, so kombucha was included. But after some conversations with the South Carolina Retailers Association and the Kombucha Brewers International, the department changed course and stated that kombucha will not be regulated like an alcoholic beverage (via WPDE's updated story). So don't worry if you forgot your ID, you won't be carded for kombucha in South Carolina.