The TTB Issued New Guidance on Kombucha
The TTB continues to be interested in kombucha. The federal agency recently published new guidance. The term “kombucha” refers to a fermented beverage produced from a mixture of steeped tea and sugar, combined with a culture of yeast strains and bacteria. Some kombucha products also have fruit juice or other flavors added during production. The combination of sugar and yeast triggers fermentation, which may produce a kombucha with an alcohol content of 0.5% or more alcohol by volume. The TTB is the federal agency that regulates alcohol in the United States and it’s that last issue that has garnered the TTB’s attention.
Kombucha is increasingly popular and hitting more shelves everyday. Manufacturers are lining up to take advantage of the opportunity, but must be mindful of the special regulations that apply to beverages that contain alcohol, or may contain alcohol at some point. The way in which kombucha is made naturally produces alcohol and sometimes in amounts that rise above the 0.5% threshold that triggers regulatory requirements. In such cases, the manufacturer must have the appropriate state and federal permits in order to make and sell the kombucha.
Kombucha can be classified as a beer or wine depending on the primary fermentable ingredient. It would be classified as beer if the predominant fermentable material is sugar or a similar sweetener. It would be classified as wine if the predominant fermentable material is fruit or fruit juice as the fermentable material. Both beer and wine products must also comply with the TTB’s and FDA’s labeling requirements.
The following TTB chart highlights the analysis that each kombucha manufacturer must go through to determine if their kombucha is actually an alcoholic beverage.
Kombucha is AT OR ABOVE 0.5% alcohol by volume at any time
Kombucha is NEVER at or above 0.5% alcohol by volume during production, at time of bottling, or after bottling
Of course, it’s not so simple because even if the product leaves the manufacturer under the 0.5% limit, the threshold can still be met if the kombucha continues to ferment in the bottle.
In short, a manufacturer must have the appropriate federal and state permits before producing kombucha that contains more than 0.5% alcohol. At the federal level, such a manufacturer would need a Brewer’s Notice if the kombucha is classified as a beer or a Winery Basic Permit if the kombucha is classified as a wine. The manufacturer will need the corresponding state permit also—typically a brewery or winery liquor license respectively.
In addition to the new permitting and labeling requirements, the status of a kombucha product as an alcoholic beverage will also change how the product is distributed and sold at retail. Navigating the alcohol regulatory environment is truly an adventure.