With or without alcohol, kombucha’s fizzy, fermented tartness can be an acquired taste. But based on industry reports, it’s one people are happily—and increasingly—acquiring. According to Nielsen, hard kombucha’s market share of the alcohol industry increased nearly 250% last year and 70% of all kombucha consumed in the United States is on the West Coast.
San Diego is smack in the middle of the probiotic revolution. Local kombucha companies like Boochcraft, JuneShine, and Local Roots are gaining traction in the alcohol industry. At the same time (both nationally and locally), craft beer continues to grow, but at a slower rate than years past. These hard kombucha early adopters each offer their own spin to consumers; for example, Boochcraft is higher in alcohol content while JuneShine has the most flavors. But after trying an assortment from all three brands, it’s Local Roots that has converted me from a die-hard beer drinker to booch buff.
Local Roots doesn’t seem to be as widely distributed as Boochcraft, nor is the branding as exquisitely designed as JuneShine’s. But each one of the three canned 6% ABV hard kombucha flavors sufficiently jolted my tastebuds enough to seriously consider swapping my beer fridge for a booch fridge.
Strawberry Mojito blends strawberry, lemon, and mint with a little bit of that expected funk forwardness on the nose, but finishes smoothly without any lip-smacking tartness or residual sweetness. The Booch Mosa, a play on everyone’s favorite brunch beverage, marries orange, ginger, and turmeric for a refreshing, bubbly alternative that frankly I could drink at any hour of the day.
But for the top spot, it’s the Cali Mule. It’s really easy to go overboard on ginger, but Local Roots keeps theirs restrained and balanced nicely with the lime to avoid a gingery afterburn. It’s genuinely hard to tell there’s alcohol in this; I could easily see myself accidentally drinking a four-pack of these at a summer barbecue and nodding off on my friend’s couch. But I think the main draw is the moderate savoriness this flavor brings—it’s thirst-quenching and bright, but never falls into the sweetness trap of sugary mixers used with spirits. The flavor finishes like a beer, but doesn’t leave you feeling heavy or bloated.
Local Roots also uses raw cane sugar as opposed to artificial sweeteners like Stevia, which can bump up the sugar content a gram or two. It’s a sacrifice well worth making, in my opinion. At 140-150 calories per 12 oz., the caloric values of their hard kombuchas fall between most mainstream hard seltzers (100-110 calories per 12 oz.) and beers like India Pale Ales (averaging around 180-200 calories per 12 oz.), but let’s face it—nobody should be drinking alcohol in order to get healthy. Still, these can be considered a slightly healthier option for those looking to make small changes in their diet.
There are plenty of additional hard kombuchas as well as non-alcoholic options on tap at Local Roots’ taproom (dubbed "The Boochyard"), and there’s likely to be much more to come. By recently acquiring Latitude 33’s Vista brewhouse, they can increase output to meet increasing demand. That move comes just in time, as breweries like Novo Brazil are pivoting into the hard kombucha space to diversify their beverage portfolio. In 2020, it’s looking like everyone is getting on board with the booch