In a move indicating its continued vigilance of the kombucha category, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) has updated and consolidated information on its website regarding the production, labeling and sale of kombucha beverages. Presented on a new page that includes an existing list of frequently asked questions that have been “reorganized for clarity,” according to the TTB, the government agency has also added a handful of new FAQs that “specifically address testing methods to measure the alcohol content of kombucha.”
The creation of the page comes nearly six months after the TTB included a note in its weekly newsletter reminding kombucha producers that kombucha drinks “may be subject to regulation as an alcoholic beverage.” The agency stated that “regardless of the alcohol content of the finished beverage when it leaves the manufacturing facility, when kombucha contains 0.5 percent alcohol or more by volume at any time, it must be produced on qualified premises subject to TTB regulation.” The reminder noted “in the past, our tests of kombucha in the marketplace revealed that many of these products contained at least 0.5 percent alcohol by volume.”
Executives from several kombucha brands told BevNET that while the FAQ format used by the TTB is different than in the past, the actual information is not new. Nevertheless, the TTB’s page includes a yellow-highlighted section titled “Important” and states that “TTB regulations on alcohol beverages DO APPLY to any kombucha that has less than 0.5% alcohol by volume when bottled BUT the alcohol content increases to 0.5% or more alcohol by volume at any point afterwards as a result of continued fermentation in the bottle.” The agency goes on to note potential enforcement actions, including civil and criminal penalties, for failure to comply with federal laws and regulations.
Within the FAQs, the TTB notes that if it picks up a sample of kombucha in the marketplace and determines that it is 0.5 percent or more alcohol by volume, regardless of whether the sample was under 0.5 percent at the time of production or if it was stored in an unrefrigerated area of a retail store, the agency expects the producer of the beverage to:
- Take corrective steps, such as adopting a manufacturing method to ensure that fermentation does not continue after bottling; or
- Qualify with TTB as a producer of alcohol beverages.
In an FAQ section titled “Testing Methods to Measure Kombucha Alcohol Content,” the TTB states that it “generally uses the distillation-specific gravity method, using a densitometer instead of a pycnometer” to test samples. However, the agency states that producers “may use any method that has been formally validated (e.g., that underwent a multi-laboratory performance evaluation) or that is otherwise scientifically valid for purposes of determining the alcohol content of beverages, including beverages that contain less than 0.5 percent alcohol by volume.”
While it appears that most kombucha producers currently employ the distillation-specific gravity method for testing alcohol levels, industry trade group Kombucha Brewers International (KBI) recently announced a partnership with the Association of Organic Analytical Chemists (AOAC), an organization that develops globally accepted standards of measurement, including many used by the TTB, to develop a new “internationally approved testing method that can accurately, consistently and repeatably measure the trace amounts of ethanol present in Kombucha,” according to a press release. KBI stated that in March, Live Soda Kombucha, a member of the trade group, in conjunction with analytical testing laboratory Cornerstone Labs had developed a new testing method for ethanol that “has been shown to produce more accurate results than any currently developed AOAC method.” However, KBI cautioned that it may take 1-2 years before a method is fully vetted and accepted by the AOAC.