AHPA Tackles Alcohol Analysis for Kombucha in Educational Webinar

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 3.04.03 PMThe American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) has gotten involved in the regulation of the kombucha industry. Last month, the trade group announced its support of the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act, a bill that would reduce excise taxes among other financial and regulatory burdens for kombucha brewers whose products contain more than 0.5 percent alcohol – the legal limit to be considered an alcoholic beverage under the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau’s (TTB) regulations.

Additionally, with backing from probiotic beverage brand Kevita, which in May pledged to contribute up to $100,000 for a Truth-in-Labeling initiative for the kombucha industry, AHPA has launched an educational program for kombucha brewers. Yesterday, in its second of three scheduled webinars, AHPA tackled the oft-complicated case of alcohol analysis with kombucha, an issue that’s been of concern to the category since 2010, when Whole Foods pulled kombucha products off its shelves over concerns regarding the beverage’s fermentation while sitting on shelves.

The webinar’s first presenter, James Neal-Kababick, who serves as director of Flora Research Laboratories touched on the issue of on-shelf fermentation while detailing the existing TTB-approved analytical methods for alcohol analysis in kombucha.

“With other types of alcoholic beverages there is a means to stop fermentation,” said Neal-Kababick. “Hops in beer, sulphites in wine, liquors are distilled. With kombucha, you still have the mother in the product and as long as you have live yeast and a food source those yeasts will continue to ferment the alcohol. For that reason you will see an increase in ethanol unless you do something to stop fermentation, but the stopping of fermentation techniques is in opposition to the desires of the makers of kombucha. It’s a little bit of a pickle.”

Sam LaBonia, president of Memphis-based Cornerstone Labs, followed Neal-Kababick, further exploring the aforementioned “pickle” as well as other testing challenges unique to kombucha.

“Everyone needs to understand that it’s a live product, which means it’s continuing to ferment in the bottle” said LaBonia. “We’ve done numerous shelf life studies and they all end up going above 0.5 percent at some point whether it’s one month or two months. It’s a live product, and that’s what people like about it.”

Earlier this year, in partnership with industry trade group Kombucha Brewers International developed a sample handling protocol to improve the accuracy and consistency of alcohol test results for kombucha products. LaBonia detailed his lab’s testing method, gas chromatography with mass spectrometry, along with the aforementioned sample handling procedures designed to minimize false positive results.

Both presenters would acknowledged the financial burden and challenges imposed on small kombucha brewers when trying to remain compliant with TTB guidelines, but stressed the importance of quality control and standardization for the industry.

“By industry stakeholders coming together and pooling resources, they can make these more affordable by sharing the load, just like laboratories come together to collaborate and reduce the cost of investigation and analysis,” Neal-Kababick added.