Barfly: New hard kombucha has Hawaii connection
Kombucha is a type of tea that’s been around for thousands of years and contains antioxidants and probiotics that can help with digestive health. It can also get you tipsy.
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Kombucha is a type of tea that’s been around for thousands of years. Fermented like beer, it contains antioxidants and probiotics that can help with digestive health; some claim it may even help fight disease.
It can also get you tipsy.
Since it’s fermented, all kombucha contains a minimal amount of alcohol (1% to 2% alcohol by volume, but a few brands have developed methods to create a stronger beverage, ranging from 4% to 6% ABV, or higher).
Honolulu residents searching for a health-conscious way to get a buzz now have a handful of options when it comes to knocking back what I’ve affectionately begun calling “Da Booch.”
One of the newest brands on local shelves is JuneShine, which hails from San Diego, but has Hawaii ties. Co-founder Forrest Dein grew up surfing and hiking on Maui, and launched the brand a little more than a year ago with a vision to create an “ethical and planet-friendly alcoholic beverage.”
Along with Dein, Kahana Kalama, JuneShine’s creative director, and Gwyn Reyes, director of new markets and partnerships, also hail from the 50th State.
JuneShine isn’t for the faint of heart — the first can I popped, Blood Orange Mint ($5.99 at Whole Foods), was a challenge for me to finish. Friends I’ve talked to who don’t like kombucha enjoy comparing it to vinegar, and this one was just too sour for my taste. The Rose is much more approachable, and I’m also intrigued by the Midnight Painkiller, made with flavors of coconut, pineapple, orange and nutmeg.
Another booch brand worth searching out is Vetura, Calif.-based Flying Embers, which adds an “adaptogen root blend” of ginger and the herbs astragalus, turmeric and ashwagandha to create a “high vibrational beverage” with no additional sugar that is also gluten-free. The Lemon Orchard flavor ($3.99 at Whole Foods) reminds me of drinking an extra-fizzy hefeweizen beer, while the Ancient Berry could pass as a funky, sour-style brew. And a new flavor, Grapefruit Thyme, also is available in Hawaii.
Total newbies, however, will probably want to try one of the offerings from Arizona-based Wild Tonic, which uses honey to help cut the kombucha and make it more palatable. The Blueberry Basil ($6.99 at Foodland) tasted like a carbonated honey wine, with hardly any of the funkiness found in JuneShine and Flying Embers products.
IF YOU just can’t get down with Da Booch, there are alternatives when it comes to enjoying a “healthier” alcoholic beverage. Spiked seltzers are the latest rage, thanks in large part to the surging popularity of White Claw Hard Seltzer ($18.99 for a 12-pack at Whole Foods). Like hard kombucha, they all clock in at 4% to 5% ABV, with 100 calories or less per 12-ounce can.
As a ’90s kid, hard seltzer reminds me of Zima, which has made a comeback of sorts in recent years. But that stuff is malt liquor made with barley, while White Claw is made with “fermented gluten-free grain” (the exact type isn’t disclosed), to which carbonated water, natural flavors and cane sugar are added. Other brands, like Truly Hard Seltzer and Bon & Viv Spiked Seltzer, openly disclose that the liquor content in their products comes from fermented cane sugar.
During a tasting session last month, I found White Claw to be the most approachable of the brands I could find on store shelves. There was hardly any flavor, alcohol or otherwise, other than a faint hint of fruit. But that’s the point with this stuff — it’s supposed to be light and refreshing, a quaffable session beverage that won’t make you feel full like beer or wine, and won’t get you smashed too quick like hard liquor.
Looking for something that actually tastes like it has alcohol in it? Give Truly a try. Want more flavor? I found the offerings from Bon & Viv to be the boldest in taste.
And if you want to support local, search out cans of Ola Hard Seltzer, which is made by Hawaii island’s Ola Brew Co. I saw 6-packs of cans featuring flavors like lemon-lime, lemongrass and ginger for $10.99 at Whole Foods last month.