Life

A Blind Taste Test Of Hard Kombucha Brands, For All The Gut-Bacteria Loving Drinkers Out There

Kombucha is like the avocado toast of brunch foods. It’s an essential component in the regular diet of basic b*tches everywhere, myself included. If you’re not familiar with the bubbly libation, kombucha (“booch”) is fermented black or green tea (originated in Northeast China) that’s made from SCOBY – symbiotic cultures of bacteria and yeast. Sounds… intriguing, I know. But the result is a carbonated fruity drink that’s slightly sweetened, a tad tart, and downright refreshing.

Over the past decade, kombucha has grown in popularity here in the United States for its antimicrobial properties and probiotic benefits. Because it’s fermented, it naturally contains some alcohol (about 0.5%). But by adding an additional yeast strain to the fermentation process you can turn the alcohol level up to match that of a beer or hard cider (anywhere from 4.5% to 8%). This is typically called “hard kombucha” and it’s become a serious growth segment in the drinks world.

As someone who loathes pretty much any beer besides a Blue Moon, I hopped on the hard kombucha train as soon as I discovered it was a thing. I mean, it’s made with fermented tea. So it’s, like, healthy, right? But with more brands than ever hitting the shelves, I’ve begun to wonder which brands are best.

Yep, it’s time for another Uproxx LIFE blind taste test.

After three grocery store runs, two online orders, and little to no room left in my refrigerator, I gathered nine hard kombucha brands. Here’s the lineup:

1. Flying Embers
2. KYLA
3. Elossa Hard Kombucha
4. JuneShine
5. Bambūcha
6. Kombrewcha
7. Dr. Hops
8. Whalebird Kombucha
9. NOVA Easy Kombucha

PART I – THE BLIND TASTE TEST

I measured my booch satisfaction level on fizziness, fruitiness, and “oh sh*t that’s good”-ness. Since there are no real established kombucha tasting conventions, you’ll just have to trust my expertise.

TASTE 1

Via Chloe Caldwell

The moment I tipped the glass upward I got a slightly overwhelming whiff of ginger, so I expected tons of flavor once I took a sip. However, I didn’t find there to be much zest after all. The flavor I did taste? Not amazing, TBH. It also didn’t ignite that super bubbly sensation I typically expect from kombucha.

Overall, not the best place to start. Cheers to hoping it gets better from here!

TASTE 2

Via Chloe Caldwell

Again before even tasting it, I got strong hints of berry smells. Unlike taste number one, I could hear the kombucha bubbles sizzling as I went in for the initial sip. To my delight, that first gulp was like pouring a bag of pop rocks into my mouth. This kombucha is a little more on the bitter side, but the combination of tart, sweet, and carbonated is on point.

I’m a fan.

TASTE 3

Via Chloe Caldwell

This kombucha made me say, “meh.” It wasn’t great, but it also wasn’t horrible. It was a little flat and just kind of average overall. There were satisfying hints of flavor, but it wasn’t super strong. We’ll see how this one stands up against the remaining options.

TASTE 4

Via Chloe Caldwell

The berry, sweet scents are strong with this one. It almost smelled a bit like a slushy from the movie theater (as in: chockful of artificial syrup). After taking the first sip, I could quickly confirm that it was the sweetest option so far.

I honestly really enjoy this one, but the sweetness makes me think I could only have a few sips before wanting something else. It also tells me that the potential hangover from drinking one too many of these is no joke.

TASTE 5

Via Chloe Caldwell

My first reaction to this taste was “Oooh, that’s nice.” It’s sweet without being too sweet, ya know? It could be a little bit more bubbly, but in my opinion, the mix of flavors is just right. I’d say that this is definitely one of my top few picks so far.

TASTE 6

Via Chloe Caldwell

The first thing I have written down in my notes says, “Yum.” So, that’s a good sign. The flavor of this one is on the warmer side. There’s a hint of something different, but I can’t put my finger on it. It’s something more fun and more unique than the other tastes so far. It also covers up any tastes of alcohol pretty well.

I like it a lot, but this doesn’t really taste how experience has led me to believe kombucha is supposed to taste – if that makes sense.

TASTE 7

Via Chloe Caldwell

Whoa, this kombucha has a whole medley of flavors going on. And I love it! It tastes tropical, light, and refreshing. According to my taste-testing notes, “I would drink this on a summer day at the beach.”

TASTE 8

Via Chloe Caldwell

Holy fizziness! Taste number eight has a bubbly kick. The fruity flavor is delicious but slightly overpowering. This is definitely one of the sweeter hard kombuchas of the bunch. It sort of reminds me of an alcoholic otter pop, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

From my notes: “This is hovering somewhere in the middle of all the kombuchas I’ve tasted thus far.”

TASTE 9

Via Chloe Caldwell

Again, this is floating somewhere in the middle. The flavor is sweet and quite… eccentric compared to the rest. I genuinely like this one and would probably drink it from time to time. However, some of the other kombuchas piqued my taste buds’ interest a little more.

PART II – THE RANKING

9. KYLA (Taste 1)

Via Via KYLA

Price: $4.99 / 16 oz can

Taste Test Flavor: Pineapple Ginger Colada

Info:

From the website: KYLA Hard Kombucha is a fermented and fizzy, light and refreshing, alcoholic kombucha beverage brewed in Hood River, Oregon. Lower in sugar, calories, and carbs, and filled with live kombucha cultures, it’s most likely your favorite drink.

Bottom Line:

Maybe the heavy ginger taste just isn’t my thing, so I’d like to try one of the other flavors. But for the purposes of this taste test, it’s a no for me. If you like ginger, give it a shot.

8. Elossa Hard Kombucha (Taste 4)

Via Via Elossa Hard Kombucha

Price: $8.99 / 6

Taste Test Flavor: Berry Ginger

Info:

From Instagram Page: It’s fruity and zingy, with the perfect amount of fizz.

Bottom Line:

I do like this kombucha a lot, but the sweetness level was a bit much compared to the other options. I’m actually surprised at how low I ranked this because this is usually the brand I typically buy – it’s also one of the only hard kombucha brands that’s available at Trader Joe’s, where I do most of my grocery shopping.

7. Dr. Hops (Taste 3)

Via Via Dr Hops

Price: $6.99 / 16 oz can

Taste Test Flavor: Rosé

Info:

From the website: The most potent, pleasurable, and raw hard kombucha on the planet. No B.S.

Bottom Line:

Saying Dr. Hops is the most pleasurable kombucha on the planet is a bold claim. Now that I realize I was tasting the wine-inspired flavor of kombucha, it makes sense that I noticed something off (I called it “eccentric”) about it.

It’s good, but there are certainly better options.

6. Whalebird (Taste 6)

Via Via Whalebird

Price: $32.99 / 8

Taste Test Flavor: Electric Feel

Info:

From the website: A fragrant bouquet of lavender electrifies the palate and pairs with the subtle sweetness of rose hips and the zesty kick of lemon myrtle in our balanced black tea kombucha.

Bottom Line:

I honestly agree with their statement above. The hints of rose mixed with the warm flavors of the tea were nice and smooth. I also liked that its flavorful kick camouflaged the alcohol. However, the strong flavors were slightly overpowering in that, as I said during the tasting, it didn’t really even taste like kombucha.

5. NOVA (Taste 9)

Via Via NOVA Easy Kombucha

Price: $36 / 12

Taste test Flavor: Mango, Ginger

Info:

From the website: A rare combination of health, balance, and shockingly great taste.

Bottom Line:

Claiming that an alcoholic beverage is healthy, even if it is kombucha, is a tad questionable. However, I will say the uniqueness of the tropical mango flavors caught my attention in a good way. Overall, this kombucha was decently tasty, earning it a top-five ranking.

4. Flying Embers

Via Via Flying Embers

Price: $29.99 / 12

Taste Test Flavor: Watermelon

Info:

From the website: A little sweet and slightly tart with a dash of sea salt. A culinary combo straight from the garden that brings together two of summer’s most delicious flavors.

Bottom Line:

I can see why this brand is a popular one, and this flavor in particular really is the ultimate summer concoction. It was surely a contender for my top three spots, but the remaining brands pulled through for the bronze, silver, and gold medals.

3. Bambūcha (Taste 5)

Via Via Bambūcha

Price: $45.99 / 12

Taste Test Flavor: Hawaiian Hibiscus

Info:

From the website: A tart Hawaiian hibiscus flower infusion paired with the essence of citrus zests creates an effervescent and aromatic brew. Chef crafted with certified organic ingredients.

Bottom Line:

Effervescent is right. I had never heard of this brand before conducting the taste test, but it didn’t disappoint. I’m pleased to have found it and will likely be drinking more of these in the weekends to come.

2. JuneShine (Taste 7)

Via Via June Shine

Price: $36 / 12

Taste Test Flavor: Blood Orange Mint

Info:

From the website: From sunset sessions to late-night antics, this dangerously drinkable flavor has become a crowd favorite for any occasion: a tangy, yet soothing sip of sunshine.

Bottom Line:

I’ve been wanting to try JuneShine for a while now because I’ve always heard good things about their hard kombucha. I’m happy to report that it is, in fact, worth the hype. I know that their ingredients (and branding) are on point because, referring back to my notes in the above taste test, I said it’s the perfect summer day drink.

So yes, I do agree that it’s like a “soothing sip of sunshine.”

1. Kombrewcha (Taste 2)

Via Via Kombrewcha

Price: $11.99 / 6

Taste Test Flavor: Berry Hibiscus

Info:

From Website: We set out to create a beverage for those seeking balance in life. Between alcohol and organic ingredients. Between taste and a healthy lifestyle. Between a refreshing drink and a revitalizing get-together.

Bottom Line:

Kombrewcha, as another brand I wasn’t previously familiar with, surprised me as the number one spot in my hard kombucha ranking. “Refreshing” and “revitalizing” is 100 percent an accurate description of this drink that’s perfectly fruity, fizzy, and downright tantalizing.

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