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Is Hard Kombucha a Healthier Way to Get Drunk?

Hooch-Booch is delicious, but not necessarily nutritious

There are now seemingly as many wellness beverages as soft drinks. For instance:


Not to mention, all the stuff that bougie supermarkets like Erewhon churn out:

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Nor does any of that account for all the new forms of milk:

It’s clear that part of this big business is that these companies offer a luxurious experience — and thus, a social-media-approved status symbol — that boosts both your physical and emotional well-being. That is, the beetroot latte isn’t just good for your blood pressure, it’s grounding, which will make you grateful, which will make you more relaxed. Likewise, adaptogen teas are said regulate your mood and anxiety.

But you know what kind of drinks people have long considered the most effective for their emotional well-being? Alcoholic ones.

And so, not surprisingly, we’re beginning to see wellness drinks that pack a boozy punch — or the hyped-holistic-health beverage meets the “I need a drink” drink. Case in point: Flying Embers Hard Kombucha. According to their publicist, Flying Embers is “more than ‘hard’ kombucha. It’s a clean kombucha with naturally fermented alcohol, organic and unpasteurized with hand-picked tea leaves. It’s the first 100 percent organic alcoholic kombucha, and the only alcoholic kombucha fermented with adaptogenic herbs for sessionable taste and functional wellness.” (Kombucha is the cola equivalent of the wellness beverage market; semi-sparkly, fermented tea filled with probiotics that healthy people such as Kourtney Kardashian always advise to take up instead of Coke or Pepsi.)

The newest project from Bill Moses, the founder of the popular kombucha brand KeVita, Flying Embers offers three different flavors:

  • Ginger & Oak: “Delightfully clean and tart, with warming ginger-turmeric and an earthy mouthfeel.”
  • Lemon Orchard: “A therapeutic blend of citrus and lavender for a calming experience and mental clarity.”
  • Ancient Berry: “Elderberry for immune function and antioxidant-rich pomegranate and goji fruits, with the dry tannin nuance of a PNW wine.”

As a stoner who loves getting drunk once in a while but mostly can’t deal with how bad drinking makes me feel the next day, I figured Flying Embers was perfect for me. Kombucha probiotics plus adaptogens plus botanicals plus mint plus a buzz? How nourishing! All those ingredients Flying Embers names at least sound way more nourishing than say, a beer or margarita.

Obviously then, I taste-tested all three flavors with a friend, polishing off a bottle and a half before the night was over. (Each bottle contains about two to three servings, or the equivalent of a large IPA.) I loved them all, especially the ginger and oak, which was less sweet than the others. Similar to how a natural wine contains a more complex, funky flavor than a typical wine, these kombuchas tasted like a subtly flavored cider or fruity beer.

That said, I woke up with the same cloudy cognition I always experience after a night of drinking. Nobody promised me that the adaptogens would help minimize my hangover, but I kinda expected that they would. Also a problem: I wasn’t sure how much sugar or how many calories I consumed because the label didn’t list either. So for that information (and to understand just how healthy boozy kombucha really is), I turned to an expert — Dana Hunnes, senior dietitian at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center:

“Each of these beverages contains 4.5 percent alcohol by volume. This means they fall somewhere between a light beer and a regular beer, but they’re fairly close to a regular beer. As such, I’d expect them to have a similar number of calories to a regular beer, or somewhere in the 125 to 150 calorie range, possibly more depending on the amount of sugar.

“As for the healthfulness of some of the other ingredients, we currently live in a world of nutritional reductionism, basically where we take a nutrient out of context and list its health properties with the assumption that the individual nutrient of interest will behave the same way it would if taken within the whole context of the food from which it came. A great example is calcium. We know that calcium is needed for strong bones, but when it’s added to a Cocoa Puffs, the claim on the cereal box can be that the Cocoa Puffs supports bone health. But the rest of the cereal is nothing more than a sugary high, and the amount of calcium used is bested by the amount of calcium in the milk or non-dairy alternative used with it.

“With that in mind, while traditional kombucha may have some health benefits, including the probiotic and active cultures, there are some studies that indicate that kombucha potentially could harm the liver or kidney, which would be related to the fermentation of the product, possibly because it’s a different type of fermentation/yeast than that found in other products (beer, for example). In terms of some of the other ingredients, sure, they’re traditionally used as anti-inflammatories in Eastern medicine and ayurvedic and Indian medical traditions but that in and of itself doesn’t make something ‘healthy’ once taken out of the context from how it’s traditionally prepared. So while all of the ingredients in these products are ‘healthy,’ I’d also say it’s better to eat or drink them whole in their natural form.

“Nor do I believe we should mix alcohol and probiotics, because I worry that hard kombucha is just an excuse to over-drink alcohol — that is, it would be far easier for someone to over-consume these beverages because they’re ‘healthy.’ That said, I don’t think there is any harm to taking probiotics, even if the amount of probiotic in these products is probably insufficient to really provide significant benefit. I take one from VisBiome, and I give my son one called Ultimate Flora with numerous strains as well. In other words, there’s no harm in taking them, but remember that they’re not a panacea if the rest of your diet isn’t healthy.”

Per usual, in the battle between actual healthiness and branded “healthiness,” actual healthiness wins every time.