Humm Develops Non-Alcoholic Kombucha Brewing Process

Bend, Ore.-based kombucha maker Humm has developed a new proprietary fermentation process that the company says prevents the liquid from reaching an alcohol by volume (ABV) of over 0.5 percent.

Speaking with BevNET, Humm CEO Jamie Danek said that the company spent three years developing a fermentation process that ensures its kombucha will not increase in alcohol content when left unopened at room temperature. The new process has been in use since April.

“In our method, alcohol never goes above 0.5 percent [ABV], so there’s never anything to manipulate or remove,” Danek said.

Alcohol content has been one of the biggest long-term challenges in kombucha’s development into a mainstream beverage category. As a fermented beverage, all kombucha contains some trace amounts of alcohol, usually below the 0.5 percent alcohol by volume threshold for non-alcoholic drinks established by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). But if not properly refrigerated and stored, in-bottle secondary fermentation can cause ethanol levels to rise.

Over the years, several kombucha makers have attempted to tackle the secondary fermentation issue. Prior to its sale to PepsiCo in 2016, KeVita co-founder Bill Moses discussed his plans to begin using a “Verified Non-Alcoholic” label on its packaging, while Suja also labels its kombucha line “verified non-alcoholic.” Brew Dr. Kombucha, also based on Oregon, uses a high pressure steam system called a spinning cone column that separates ethanol from the liquid kombucha without affecting its bacterial profile.

Danek said Humm’s goal was to create a live and authentic kombucha without manipulating the product in any way. She offered limited details on the process itself, though she noted that it includes the use of a proprietary technology.

“We’ve taken what people use to brew kombucha in and we’ve enhanced it in a unique way,” she said. “It’s still a live, raw product, so it still doesn’t run on a clock and it’s not completely predictable every day, but everything is more streamlined, efficient, consistent and scalable.”

Speaking in general terms, Danek said the company worked to “eliminate the parts of the process that caused too much variability.” One of these steps was to change from an open to closed-top fermentation tank so that air intake levels can be controlled in both the first and secondary fermentations.

“The problem with [open-top fermentation] is that the wild yeast that’s in the air can come into the product and actually change the DNA of the culture over time,” she said. “It causes way too many variables that can lead to inconsistencies.”

Danek added that Humm will be focused on how to make the process and technology more accessible to a broad range of kombucha brewers.

“Our goal is to share this with the industry and to help the industry all up their game,” Danek said, while acknowledging that cost of the technology may be prohibitive to “97 percent of the kombucha industry.” She said Humm will be working “over the next year or two” to make the process accessible and to “talk about how we make this technology something that is more useful to more companies.”