Kombucha is a complicated topic; most people aren't sure how the word is pronounced, much less how the tangy, funky beverage is made. Is it a type of beer, or a closer relative of Snapple? The fact that kombucha is a fermented beverage and contains a very low amount of alcohol confuses the issue further, but three Colorado congressmen are working to make the murky waters of kombucha regulation just a little clearer. Yesterday Senator Cory Gardner, Representative Jared Polis and Representative Scott Tipton introduced legislation that will allow kombucha brewers to continue making their products with less fear of running afoul of Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) regulations.
In the Senate, Gardner, along with Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, has introduced the Keeping Our Manufacturers From Being Unfairly Taxed While Championing Health Act (or KOMBUCHA — pretty clever, right?), while Polis and Tipton have introduced a companion version for the House of Representatives. Current regulations state that any kombucha that measures .5 percent alcohol by volume or higher during production, bottling or even after bottling (when additional fermentation could result in more alcohol) is considered an alcoholic beverage and must be regulated, labeled and taxed as such. The KOMBUCHA legislation will raise that level to 1.25 percent, giving brewers more leeway to allow for the natural yeasts and bacteria to do their thing.
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Several kombucha makers currently operate in Colorado, including Happy Leaf in Denver, Rowdy Mermaid and Upstart in Boulder, and TruBucha and High Country in other parts of the state. In past years, the TTB has targeted kombucha for violating the .5 percent alcohol limit, removing products from shelves and temporarily shutting down brewing facilities. But even at 1.25 percent, kombucha is not a good source of a buzz, and beyond that level, most kombucha fans consider the beverage unpalatable. Rowdy Mermaid serves a hybrid kombucha-beer at its taproom, but does not currently bottle the product, and the beer itself is brewed by another company.
Colorado's kombucha industry does an estimated $20 million in annual sales and provides hundreds of jobs across the state, according to the KOMBUCHA act's sponsors.