Concerns raised about secret alcohol in kombucha, drink long lauded as health tonic – WPIX 11 New York

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NEW YORK — Kombucha is a wildly popular drink that has devotees believing it can help asthma, high blood pressure and prostate problems, even cancer.

About $600 million a year is being spent on it, with yearly growth of 25 percent expected.

Now it’s being called out for problems because of its alcohol content.

Kombucha has been around for thousands of years and is a non-alcoholic tea brewed from yeast and bacteria. The claim to fame for most of these elixirs is their live probiotics.

Lucie O’Donnell was a fan.

“I’m thinking that I’m drinking something with probiotics that’s good for my digestion,” she said.

As a mother of three, O’Donnell said she started drinking them in the afternoon at work as a low-calorie pick-me-up, looking to shed her final few pounds of baby weight.

Sober for seven years, Lucie never thought twice about the safety of the beverage.

Then something changed.

“I went out to dinner, and all of a sudden I’m ordering a glass of white wine out of nowhere,” she said.

O’Donnell said she drank GT’s Kombucha the afternoon before breaking her sober pledge.

“For myself as a recovering alcoholic, it sets into motion a compulsion I can’t stop,” she said.

For years now, GT’s Kombucha is labeled with a warning on its bottle saying it has “naturally occurring alcohol” because of fermenting. The label warns drinkers: “do not consume if you are avoiding alcohol.”

Kombucha, as a non-alcoholic drink, under federal law, is capped at no more than .5 percent alcohol, otherwise it would be taxed the same as beer and wine.

However, some kombucha brewers have been shown to come in far higher.

Noel Rivers is an attorney specializing in consumer protection.

“It rises over the allowable level, which is .5 percent. In some cases, it comes in at double or triple. The public needs to be made aware of what they’re purchasing,” Rivers said.

In fact, Rivers points to prior investigations that found alcohol levels five times higher than legally allowed and says she is now preparing a lawsuit on behalf of a client she says was severely sickened by the still-fermenting brew.

Rivers’ tests show recently purchased bottles of GT’s Kombucha tested above legally allowed levels, by as much as more than double.

She insists these drinks keep making more alcohol after they leave the brewery.

“Once you put it on the shelves, it continues to ferment and the fermentation process increases the level of alcohol,” Rivers said.

Andrew Schuman has pancreatitis, and drank kombucha.

“I get angry. It could have killed me,” he said. “I have two children. It’s pretty serious.”

He’s been warned by doctors to completely avoid alcohol.

Schuman said he drank a bottle and half of GT’s Kombucha.

“I drank kombucha and I started feeling it that night. My brother and son drove me to the hospital and that’s where I spent the next week,” he said.

There’s a track record of some kombucha makers breaking the law.

An inspector crackdown in 2010 found kombucha being sold at Whole Foods in Maine with alcohol levels up to 2.5 percent.

In 2015, several undisclosed kombucha brewers received warning letters from the federal government’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.

A class action suit against GT’s Kombucha settled in January with the company agreeing to pay more than $8 million over allegations they mislabeled antioxidants, as well as their alcohol and sugar content.  GT was forced to change its label and promised to have outside testing for alcohol compliance.

Those who said they’ve been harmed just want others to know what they’re really drinking.

“It’s horrifying to think that could be in the hands of minors or someone pregnant of myself a recovering alcoholic,” O’Donnell said.

Schuman is even more blunt.

“I can’t believe a kombucha, something that’s supposed to be healthy, could have killed me,” he said.

GT’s Kombucha did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but industry group Kombucha Brewers International told PIX11 News they’ve been working on this issue for four years.

They are pushing for legislation to raise the allowable alcohol to 1.25 percent and they said they believe Congress never intended to make kombucha subject to taxes that are intended for beer. The organization said their drink is not intoxicating, nor is it consumed as an alcoholic beverage.

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Review: A Trio of Pineau des Charentes – Tiffon, Reviseur, and Chateau de Beaulon

Pineau des Charentes is perhaps the most unique “wine” you’ll ever encounter — in part because there’s actually no wine in it. What’s Pineau? Pineau des Charentes hails from the Cognac region of France (and thereabouts), where winemakers take (typically white) wine grapes, crush them into must, then — before it ferments (and turns into wine) — add Cognac to the mix to bring it up to about 20% alcohol. Then it goes into oak barrels. Young Pineau may spend a year or two in barrel; 8 months is the legal minimum. Older ones could be in barrel for 20 years or longer. The longer it spends in barrel, as with Cognac, the darker the finished product. Most Pineau goes into bottle between 17 and 18% abv, similar with Port (to which it is invariably compared).

To complicate things, sometimes red or rose wine grapes are used to make Pineau, though as with white Pineau, it is intended to be consumed chilled.

We’ve reviewed a Pineau just once before, a 20 year old expression, in 2011. Today we have the good fortune to look at a trio of these wines, spanning a number of the above styles. Thoughts follow.

Tiffon Pineau des Charentes – Made with white wine grape must, aged at least one year. Pungent and punchy, this drinks like a young Cognac, pumped up with fresh fruit. Notes of plump table grapes, apricots, and a lingering earthiness that recalls incense, green banana, papaya, and eastern spices. A somewhat unexpected combination of flavors, with sandalwood hanging on to a lengthy finish. B / $20

Reviseur Pineau des Charentes Vieux Pineau – This Pineau is based on white grape must but is aged at least five years before release. Lightly nutty, with ample notes of golden raisins and some sherried character, there’s an austerity here, with some oxidized characters coming to the fore. The finish mixes in brown sugar, some of that spicy incense, and a sandalwood note that gives it a hint of perfume. B+ / $35

Chateau de Beaulon Pineau des Charentes 5 Years Old Rouge – A red wine-based Pineau, aged five years. The red wine grapes give this more character — not to mention a brick red color — that pumps up the body with more of a Port-like character — darker raisin and prune notes, licorice, tobacco, and plenty of baking spice. Very sweet, the finish brings on notes of cola and tea leaf, with lingering hints of cloves. One to savor. A- / $30

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Simplest Go-to Bloody Mary Recipe

Simplest Go-to Bloody Mary Recipe submitted by /u/AdvancedMixology
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Drink Suggestions for someone who loves AMF’s?

I am going to be making drinks for me and my Fiancè to enjoy in the Jacuzzi tub in a nice resort room.

We really enjoy Audios Motherfuckers and I also intend to make a sort of cream soda vodka drink that I had at a restaurant. Those are my only ideas so far though.

He really loves Fireball so maybe I can incorporate that into a nice drink?

I love making drinks, yet my taste and knowledge on different ones is very limited so I would love to see any suggestions I can look into.

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Regular steel reserve drinker

I drink mostly SR because it is very cheap and very potent for a beer. where I live now, I can buy 4 24oz cans for $6.40 (with can tax). I am looking for any suggestions of beer that can get the job done for cheaper

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Review: Wines of Barefoot, 2018 Releases

Hardly the first name in high-end wine, Barefoot has made a major name for itself in the world of wines served exclusively at baby showers.

But seriously, the number of wines this mass producer is churning out is incredible, and today we look at no fewer than six of them, none priced above $9.99, including six “Champagnes,” a term used very loosely here.

NV Barefoot Bubbly Brut Cuvee Champagne – Approachable with notes of fresh fruit, including lemon and figs, all whipped up with a bit of bready brioche. I get an interesting cherry kick late in the game, but the finish is otherwise quite clean and refreshing. Altogether a pleasant surprise from a winery that’s mainly known for churning out ultra-sweet monsters. B+ / $10

NV Barefoot Bubbly Brut Rose Champagne – The pink version of the above is markedly sweeter and full of fruit — think maraschino cherries and strawberries, all infused into whipped cream. Heavily perfumed on the back end, it drinks a little like a fizzy version of Hawaiian Punch. C- / $10

NV Barefoot Bubbly Pink Moscato Champagne – Super sweet, and super pink — it’s moscato, plus fizz! Initially peachy, overtones of strawberry pie quickly overtake the any potential subtleties in the wine, culminating in a marshmallow sweet finish. It’s blunt and straightforward with its sugar bomb sweetness but, for what it’s worth, it’s nonetheless surprisingly approachable as an aperitif. C+ / $10

NV Barefoot Bubbly Sweet Red Champagne – Daunting in its redness, this tastes a lot like moscato, only filtered through strawberry syrup. That’s not inherently a bad thing — who doesn’t like strawberries? — but the wine does tend to suffer from the same Hawaiian Punch problem as the Brut Rose, relying too much on fruit and sugar to do the heavy lifting. C / $10

NV Barefoot Pinot Noir California – A bit of a bacony mess, sweetened to within an inch of its life. There’s no real essence of pinot noir here, just a super-fruity strawberry bomb that could be anything. D / $7

NV Barefoot Merlot California – A mild improvement, if only because some tannin gives this wine a touch of much-needed structure. Otherwise, it still carries a ton of that intense roasted meat character, dusted with brown sugar and a bit of dried cherry. D+ / $7

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Mastering the Gibson with Meaghan Dorman

“I never really loved the Gibson all that much,” admits Meaghan Dorman, who has nonetheless created a picture-perfect version at her New York bar, Dear Irving.

Although she’s made them from time to time throughout her career—first at a sports bar and later at Lantern’s Keep, where “we definitely had a couple of Gibson drinkers”—it wasn’t until she opened New York cocktail bar Raines Law Room in 2009 that she began making them regularly. She went on to open Dear Irving in 2014, where she honed the cocktail to its current iteration. At Raines, the drink has traditionally resembled a classic Martini with an onion garnish (two parts Beefeater London Dry gin plus one part Dolin dry vermouth, finished with a garnish of commercial-brand Tipsy Onions), but when Dear Irving opened, Dorman wanted to steer the drink in a different direction.

“Raines is very classically focused and to-the-point. We don’t change recipes that much,” she explains of the distinction between the two bars. “Dear Irving is more whimsical and playful when it comes to riffs on drinks.”

As such, the bar gave her an excuse to tinker with a cocktail that she knew some people found unapproachable. “[Gibsons] can turn people off because they seem too astringent,” she notes. “I thought, I want people who don’t even drink Martinis normally to drink this Gibson.”

To address the astringency issue, Dorman softened the drink by rotating in citrusy Tanqueray 10 in place of more austere Beefeater, and Carpano Bianco vermouth in place of dry vermouth, which she favors for its botanical notes. “It’s not just a sweeter version of dry vermouth,” she says. “It really adds a lot.”

The next piece in the puzzle was the iconic garnish. Going in, she already knew she wanted the aesthetic pop of a red onion instead of white. “The red onions aren’t as harsh, and they’re beautiful,” says Dorman. She adapted her own quick-pickling recipe from one authored by Washington, D.C.-area bartender, Todd Thrasher, which she’d spotted in Imbibe magazine years earlier. With a base of Champagne vinegar, it’s sweetened with sugar and lengthened with water; additions of salt and coriander-heavy pickling spice add a savory accent. “I do think the Champagne vinegar makes a difference,” she says. “It’s so delicate.”

The brine is part of the formula, too: two scant barspoons (“a very light quarter-ounce”) are stirred into the drink. Finding the right amount took several tries; she recalls testing the levels with Tom Richter, at the time head bartender for Dear Irving, as they finalized the menu. “We decided to go a little heavier,” she says, noting that they were looking for a more savory drink.

Even so, she warns that even a little too much brine can tip the balance of the drink, and when training new staff, she advises: “It’s the most delicate two barspoons I hope you ever do in your life.”

After all of that workshopping, how did Dorman know when she had hit the mark? “The point of getting a Gibson over any other Martini is that you want that little savory onion note, without the salt of olives,” she explains. “The gin is still the hero.”

Making a Gibson at Dear Irving