Can you get drunk off of kombucha — if you really want to?

Kombucha is praised for its rich source of probiotics and low sugar content relative to other sweet drinks. It’s also known for something else: it contains alcohol

Vanessa Hrvatin 4 minute read December 17, 2019

Getty Images

There’s been a lot of hype recently around kombucha, a fermented tea beverage with acidity that tickles the tongue while tasting sweet at the same time. It’s praised for its rich source of probiotics and low sugar content relative to other sweet drinks on the market. But it’s also known for something else: it contains alcohol. Of course, this raises the question of whether or not kombucha can actually get you drunk. Here’s what you need to know about the drink.

How is kombucha made?

The first step in making kombucha is taking steeped tea — usually black or green — and adding sugar. You then add a SCOBY — a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast — and leave it to ferment for days or sometimes weeks, depending on batch size and personal preference. To finish it off you can add flavourings like fruits and herbs and leave it to ferment for a few more days.

Why does kombucha contain alcohol?

The process of making kombucha naturally results in alcohol. The yeast in the SCOBY consume the sugar, which produces alcohol and carbon dioxide. The bacteria then consume the alcohol to produce organic acids. While the bacteria are converting much of the alcohol into acid, some still remains as a by-product of this fermentation process. Yeast is temperature-sensitive, so refrigerating the bottled kombucha you buy in the store keeps yeast virtually non-active and alcohol production stops. If you leave it in a warm place, alcohol production may continue.

The golden question: Can it get you drunk?

The answer by and large seems to be no—the amount of alcohol that remains in kombucha after fermentation isn’t substantial enough to get you drunk. In Canada, federal regulations state that any beverage sold as non-alcoholic can’t have more than 1.1 per cent alcohol by volume (ABV) content. This number varies slightly by province (for example in B.C. it’s 1 per cent), but it ultimately means that the kombucha you buy in the store should only have trace amounts of alcohol.

That means you’d have to drink a lot — like, a lot — to feel intoxicated (take note of this failed attempt to get drunk off kombucha). It’s more likely you’d get sick before you got drunk.

Kombucha Brewers International says the beverage is “not intoxicating” and that any feelings of euphoria are “created as the body’s response to uptaking nutrition.”

But it is possible for kombucha to be produced with higher than 1.1 per cent alcohol.

A study in B.C. is testing alcohol levels in 700 samples of the beverage from around the province. So far, the research team has found that while most samples fall below the 1.1 per cent threshold, some have reached as high as 4 per cent, which in theory could get you feeling happy. This is rare though, and the researchers aren’t so much concerned about the possibility of getting drunk off kombucha (although they do note that some people who are sensitive to alcohol can experience mild symptoms, like facial flushing). Instead, their focus is more around public health concerns, like a toddler or pregnant woman unintentionally consuming alcohol via kombucha.

What about “hard” kombucha?

This new trend has really started to take off in the U.S., where kombucha intended to pack a punch is being sold in liquor stores. Companies are selling kombucha with alcohol content as high as 7 per cent, with a variety of names including “hard kombucha” and “kombucha beer.” There are some instances where the beverages are spiked, like Ace Hill’s Hard Kombucha which contains vodka. In other cases, the kombucha itself is brewed in a way that increases alcohol content. Increasing the amount of sugar and promoting yeast activity will result in higher levels of alcohol. Fermenting for longer and keeping the mixture sealed to prevent oxygen from entering will also increase alcohol content because without oxygen bacteria can’t convert the alcohol into acid.

All this to say, unless you’re buying kombucha at a liquor store, it’s pretty unlikely you’ll get drunk off the sweet beverage — like it or not.