Kombucha is made from sweetened tea and scoby culture (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts), creating a functional beverage that is growing in popularity with health-conscious consumers. While kombucha-making normally involves minimising the drink’s naturally occurring alcohol after fermentation, Kombrewcha has instead sought to embrace the alcohol content and is sold as a hard kombucha.
Until now Kombrewcha has had a 3.2% ABV, but this week the brand - which is part of the portfolio of AB InBev’s accelerator ZX Ventures - has announced it is upping the alcohol content to 4.4% ABV. This puts it on a par with beer, propelling it firmly into the alcoholic beverage arena.
A 'sophisticated yet approachable flavor profile'
Billing itself as 'the world's first hard kombucha', Kombrewcha is based in Brooklyn, NY, and its drinks are made with organic and fair trade ingredients.
The brand is available in original, royal ginger, lemongrass lime and berry hibiscus flavours, which all offer a ‘sophisticated yet approachable flavor profile’.
Kombrewcha can be drunk from the pack or used in cocktails - typically mixed with a stronger alcohol such as gin.
Kombrewcha says its decision to boost the alcohol content is in direct response to consumer feedback: “We heard from our customers they wanted a higher ABV for Kombrewcha to be a true substitute for other beverages in a social setting”, says Garrett Bredenkamp, CEO, Kombrewcha.
But with a busy alcoholic beverage category boasting everything from low ABV beer to high strength spirits, where does kombucha fit in?
“Kombrewcha provides an alcoholic drink option for people who want elevated taste and refreshment that still fits in their balanced lifestyle," Bredenkamp told this publication. "It is an alternative to beer, but also goes well in situations where people might also typically drink wine, like a mid-week meetup or low key weekend gathering.”
The health halo around kombucha will help it appeal to consumers who enjoy an alcoholic drink and socialising with friends - but still are conscious about their overall health and wellness.
“Our core consumers are 28-45 year old females who live active, balanced lifestyles," continued Bredenkamp. "For them, Kombrewcha checks all the boxes – it’s a delicious drink that provides fizzy refreshment while still letting them feel good about their choice to drink.”
A 12 fl oz can of 4.4% ABV Kombrewcha contains 120 calories, 7g of sugar and is gluten-free (for comparison, a Bud Light at 4.2% ABV contains 151 calories, while a Budweiser at 5% ABV contains 145 calories).
Making a mark
But how can kombucha make its mark in the alcoholic beverage category, against the competition of established choices such as beer, wine, cider and spirits?
Its existing popularity can help it make the transition, says Bredenkamp. “Most of our consumers already know and like kombucha, so for them it's an easy choice to start to drink hard kombucha when they might typically make other choices.”
But Kombrewcha is aware that it will have to do more than that to change people’s drinking habits and encourage them to think of kombucha as an alternative to other alcoholic beverages.
“Education and awareness are the two biggest challenges,” said Bredenkamp.
“We have to make sure people are exposed to the brand and they understand what it is and why it can play a role in their lives. We do this through massive amounts of sampling events, both in retail stores and at events (marathons, food festivals, yoga retreats) and partnerships (Flywheel, Lululemon, etc).”
Beginning in March, Kombrewcha will expand its distribution to the Pacific Northwest, which has the highest per capita consumption of non-alcoholic kombucha in the country.
A packaging revamp sees the brand transition from bottles to cans and draft, available at retailers and bars and restaurants in New York City, as well as the greater Portland and Seattle metro areas.
In New York, Whole Foods and Trader Joes are expected to be key launch partners, while in Portland/Seattle Kombrewcha is expected to be available at Whole Foods, Total Wine, Safeway, Albertsons, QFC, and Fred Meyer, as well as other natural retailers. Six-packs will retail for $11.99 (prices may vary).
Pictures: Kombrewcha/AB InBev; getty/baibaz