Those in the wellness set have been well-acquainted with kombucha—a fermented tea—for quite some time; in fact, the beverage has been around for thousands of years, and is believed to originate from China or Japan. You can actually make your own kombucha by adding particular strains of bacteria, yeast, and sugar to your tea of choice (generally green or black), and then allowing the mixture to ferment for several days or weeks. The resulting fizzy compound contains probiotics and antioxidants, as well as the potential ability to kill bacteria and stave off disease.
Since people first starting drinking kombucha in the U.S., it’s gone through several iterations—from coffee kombucha to DIY-ing cocktails and mocktails with kombucha as the base. But now there’s a relatively new way to enjoy kombucha this summer that’s sure to be refreshing: hard kombucha you can enjoy straight from the can (or bottle).
Due to the fermented nature of kombucha, even the non-alcoholic version contains trace amounts of alcohol. But brewers have upped the ante by adding more sugar and more yeast, yielding in an alcohol content that is closer to 7 percent (in some cases) than the 0.5 percent present in regular kombucha. The other ingredients, however, remain the same—hard kombucha, at the end of the day, is fermented tea, with many of the delightful tastes of your favorite brew.
Looking for more intel about kombucha? Here’s what an RD says about the beloved drink:
While hard kombucha doesn’t necessarily retain many of the health benefits of normal kombucha, it still offers a delicious alternative to beer for the gluten-sensitive, or hard seltzer for those who have had enough White Claw to last a lifetime (read: me). Moreover, hard kombuchas tend to have less sugar and fewer carbs than the traditional beer, wine, or cocktails. In fact, a number of hard kombucha makers are looking to compete with the hard seltzers of the world by offering 100 calorie cans of their best varietals.
While there have been a few hard kombucha brands on the market for a while, there are tons of newcomers to the space, making it a true trend of 2020. When probiotics meet party time, you know you’re in for something good.
Here are some of the best hard kombucha brands to sip on this summer
1. Best overall: JuneShine ($30 for 12 cans)
With five standard flavors and two 100-calorie offerings, JuneShine is easily one of the best hard kombucha brands on the market. I can never get enough of the Midnight Painkiller, which features coconut, pineapple, orange, and nutmeg flavors along with activated charcoal. All JuneShine drinks have a pretty simple (and transparent) ingredients label: green tea, honey, juice, Jun kombucha (a type of kombucha fermented using honey instead of cane sugar), and spices. Most of the brand’s beverages have a 6 percent ABV per 12 ounces, comparable to that of a beer. The only downside: JuneShine is currently only shipping to California, Oregon, Nevada, and New York.
The brand also has a lower-sugar JuneShine 100 line, which has just one gram of sugar for each 4.2 percent ABV beverage. I’m a huge fan of the hibiscus lime flavor, though the pineapple orange is also a crowd pleaser.
2. Best for giving back: Luna Bay ($15 for four cans)
As hard kombucha brands become more ubiquitous, it can be hard to stand out from the crowd. But not for Luna Bay, whose kombucha not only tastes good, but will make you feel good for making a purchase, too. The female-run brand is the brainchild of Bridget Connelly and Claire Ridge, both of whom are passionate about supporting both global and local impact initiatives. In fact, Luna Bay is part of 1 Percent for the Planet, the international organization whose members contribute at least one percent of their annual sales to environmental causes.
Luna Bay has only three flavors, but they’re all unique and delicious. Of the three (Palo Santo Blueberry, Ginger Lemon, and Hibiscus Lavender), my favorite is the Palo Santo Blueberry, which is just tart enough to keep you interested, and just sweet enough to make it extremely drinkable. There’s also a limited edition Bourbon Apple offering, and all flavors clock in at 6 percent ABV. Currently, the brand’s drinks are available online at various retailers (including some Whole Foods locations) in Illinois, Colorado, Maine, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.
3. Best low-sugar option: Kyla ($20 for variety 12-pack)
Kyla’s kombuchas are some of the least sweet on the market, but that doesn’t make them any less delightful. Most of their kombuchas are slightly less alcoholic at 4.5 percent ABV. With just two grams of sugar and carbs per serving, Kyla is one of the best low-sugar options I’ve come across.
That isn’t to say that the brand doesn’t also offer some stronger varietals—my personal favorite flavor, Coconut Crush, comes in at 6.5 percent ABV. Impressively, Coconut Crush still only has a single gram of sugar, and I’m in love with the addition of yuzu and—wait for it—sea salt that really sends the beverage over the edge.
4. Best variety: Wild Tonic ($30 for 12 cans)
If you’re all about packaging, Wild Tonic likely takes the cake as the prettiest of the hard kombuchas. Its delightful little bottles are cute enough to display on your counter, though rest assured that it’ll take you no time at all to empty out their contents. Wild Tonic makes three kinds of kombucha—there’s the 5.6 percent ABV line, the impressive 7.6 percent ABV reserve line, and for the traditionalists among us, the non-alcoholic line.
The brand also has an impressive roster of flavor combinations and names. My personal favorites include the Dancing Naked (which features notes of Zinfandel and somehow clocks in at just five grams of sugar despite its 7.6 percent ABV), and the Tropical Turmeric, which honestly could not get more wellness-friendly.
5. Best for beer-lovers: Unity Vibration (starting at $4 per can)
Branded as the original hard kombucha, Unity Vibration calls its alcoholic kombucha “kombucha beer,” and it certainly reads more beer-like than the other offerings on the market. Founded in 2011, Unity offers kombucha beers that combine the company’s 30-day brewed kombucha, dried hops, and a combination of fruits, spices, and herbs, including ginger, raspberries, peaches, juniper, and grapefruit.
The Unity Vibration kombucha beers are considerably stronger than others I’ve come across—for example, one of my personal favorites, the KPA kombucha beer, boasts an impressive 8.2 percent ABV. It’s absolutely delicious thanks to its oak-aged double-hopped brewing technique, and its blend of juniper berries and grapefruit rind. If you’re a beer drinker, you’ll likely be intrigued by Unity’s offerings—while they’re sweeter than any traditional ale or lager, they’re hoppier than many of the other hard kombuchas on our list, and as a result, more interesting tasting as a whole.
6. Best for adventurous tastebuds: Flying Embers ($40 for eight cans)
Some of the most compelling hard kombucha flavors I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing have come from Flying Embers, whose nine offerings are about as diverse as you could hope for from a kombucha startup. The brand also has some of the least- caloric hard kombuchas (if that’s important to you), like the delightfully refreshing Watermelon Basil + Sea Salt, featuring 0 grams of sugar and 85 calories at 4.5 percent ABV.
My absolute favorite flavor, however, is the Pineapple Chili, which isn’t necessarily spicy but is certainly interesting, and pairs delightfully with your summer BBQs to come. It’s also slightly stronger than most at 6.8 percent ABV per 12-ounce serving.
7. Best low-ABV option: Kombrewcha ($14 for six cans)
Proving that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with simplicity is Kombrewcha, whose clean and elegant branding is reflected in its hard kombucha offerings, all of which are 4.4 percent ABV and feature minimal ingredients. While there are only three flavors—Berry Hibiscus, Royal Ginger, and Lemongrass Lime—they’re all truly delicious. All flavors are based on black tea, so they have a bit more of a kick than the green tea-based offerings that can be found from some other brands, and all Kombrewcha’s kombucha is certified organic.
8. Best if you have a sweet tooth: Boochcraft (starting at $6 per can)
Juice meets kombucha in Boochcraft’s delicious hard kombucha offerings. If you’re looking for a fruit-forward option, you can’t go wrong with this brand, whose delightful flavors all feature fresh-pressed real fruit juice. All of Boochcraft’s ingredients are not only organic, but locally sourced as well, and include fruits and flowers like apples and jasmine, citrus and sweets like lemon and maple, and classics like ginger and lime.
While Boochcraft’s kombuchas tend on the strong side of things (they come in at 7 percent ABV), they’re also have a bit more sugar than other options on this list. The beautiful Apple Jasmine flavor, for example, has 11 grams of sugar.
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