Alcoholics Anonymous is meant to be a safe zone for recovering addicts, where both major and minor victories are celebrated, where a person can be held to a higher standard of accountability by a group of peers who aspire to reach the common goal of sobriety.
But small or even trace amounts of alcohol in something like kombucha can fall into a grey area for some members in the group. For one acquaintance of mine—who, for obvious reasons, will remain anonymous—this is a huge problem. She regularly imbibes in bottles of the fermented beverage, and recently found herself being tsk-tsked by bringing it to her AA group.
My AA friend attended her first meeting earlier this year after fearing she was losing her sense of self-control after moving to New York from a much smaller and less-bar-centric city. She quickly adjusted her lifestyle by giving up many of the people, places, and things that threatened to derail her on her path to recovery. Each completed step was a victory, each AA coin a talisman attesting to her hard work. And day by day, she trudged toward a happy, sober life.
Kombucha may or may not contain wondrous healing powers, as many of its most devoted drinkers claim, but it definitely contains booze.
When it came to kombucha, however, she wasn’t willing to give it up. She had been drinking kombucha and home-brewed stuff since 2006, and associated it with a multitude of positive advances in her health. For her, the theoretical health benefits were worth making an exception when it came to alcohol consumption at AA.
Kombucha may or may not contain wondrous healing powers, as many of its most devoted drinkers claim, but it definitely contains booze. The percentages are typically very low; for the commercial kind, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) says that it can be sold as non-alcoholic if it contains less than .5 percent booze.
Not all kombucha is created equal, though. At its most basic, kombucha is a sweetened tea that contains a slippery, living mat of stuff known as a “mother” or SCOBY—a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast—that produces various compounds including alcohol and acetic acid, the primary flavor of vinegar. Mmm.
Kombucha containing less than .5 percent alcohol by volume (ABV), considered non-alcoholic by the TTB, only goes through a “primary fermentation” process of five to 30 days, depending on desired taste. (The sugar level decreases over time and the kombucha becomes more vinegary.) “Secondary fermentation” happens when the liquid is bottled and allowed time to develop its flavor and fizz; ABV levels can reach above .5 percent, up to 2.5 percent. In order to reach ABV levels in excess of 3 percent, the beverage must have grains added and go through a third fermentation, producing what brewers call “kombucha ale” or “probiotic beer.”