Federal regulators have warned some makers of kombucha tea that their drinks have alcohol levels above one-half of 1 percent, which makes them alcoholic drinks under the law.
The fermented tea has become one of the country’s fastest-growing bottled drinks.
The Wall Street Journal reports two consumer complaints seeking class action status were filed in October in California that claimed Millennium Products Inc. engaged in deceptive practices in alcohol-content labeling.
The company makes GT’s Enlightened and Synergy brands of kombucha tea. One of the complaints alleges alcohol levels of up to 3.8 percent. Beer contains about 5 percent alcohol, the article notes.
Millennium says its products’ alcohol content is below the U.S. limit for labeling alcoholic drinks. The company argues the government’s method of testing is faulty.
“Nobody’s saying, ‘let me get a six-pack of kombucha and get wasted tonight,’’’ said Hannah Crum, President of Kombucha Brewers International, a trade group that represents dozens of producers.
The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), which sent out the warning letters, says it wants to enforce warning labels, minimum age requirements, special taxes and other alcohol regulations.
“There are people who can’t drink [alcohol] for religious or health reasons. Folks deserve to know what they’re drinking,’’ said Thomas Hogue, a TTB spokesman. The agency’s website notes, “The combination of sugar and yeast triggers fermentation, which may produce a kombucha with an alcohol content of 0.5 percent or more alcohol by volume.” The fermentation may continue after the tea is shipped, and sometimes causes bottles to explode.