How to Test the Alcohol Percentage of Kombucha
Wondering how to test your kombucha for its alcohol percentage? In this post we take a look at the different methods and equipment that is available, as well as which technique might be most suited to you.
Hey guys! Today we are going to be touching on the touchy and volatile topic of alcohol levels within kombucha! Before we jump in, I just want to outline some of the different circumstances in which alcohol testing is useful or required.
Reasons Why People Test Their Kombucha For Alcohol Levels
Testing Kombucha for Home Use
Most kombucha does not contain enough alcohol to be categorized as an alcoholic beverage. However it inherently contains some alcohol, and these levels can fluctuate. This low amount can be a cause of concern. For example for expecting and breastfeeding mothers, recovering alcoholics, and parents who want to give kombucha to their children.
Testing Kombucha for Selling
There are circumstances where due to a combination of conditions, kombucha’s alcohol levels can go quite far over 0.5%. This percentage is the amount at which beverages are considered alcoholic. This potential of kombucha to rise above the 0.5% mark can be problematic for brewers. Particularly those who wish to sell their product. If at any point your kombucha can be classified as an alcoholic drink, then you will need to register and comply with the liquor laws within your jurisdiction. This can be super complicated if you are just making a few bottles of booch to sell at the farmers market! Doing testing along the way to keep an eye on the alcohol levels produced within your kombucha is a very good idea if you are brewing to sell. Even on a small scale!
Making Alcoholic Kombucha
On the opposite end of the scale, by implementing a few tricks, you can encourage the production of alcohol within your kombucha. This experimentation can be a lot of fun, and yield up some tasty and buzzy results. To make a strong alcohol out of kombucha is not possible. However with some practice you can make a nice ale style kombucha – or even a kombucha ‘wine‘. If you are experimenting with making alcoholic kombucha, then being able to measure the alcohol levels produced is a big bonus.
Alcohol is produced in kombucha all the time by the yeasts. It is however eaten up by the bacteria. It is their food source. Which is the reason why not much remains at the end of the brewing cycle. Being able to test alcohol levels through brewing can help you to determine the perfect brew time and technique needed to get good results making alcoholic kombucha.
As you can see, there a many reasons to test kombucha’s alcohol levels! So let’s take a look at how to do this.
4 Ways to Test the Alcohol Percentage of Kombucha
Before we start, I just want to add in here that the most accurate way to test your kombucha is to send it to a lab. You will receive the most exact and reliable data by doing this. Unfortunately this can be expensive and cumbersome. Thankfully, nowadays there is equipment which you can use at home which is not complicated, bulky, or astronomically expensive. This equipment can yield reasonable results. While not exact to 0.01%, it can give the average home brewer a good indication of the general alcohol levels present in his or her kombucha. If however you wish to sell your kombucha, and need very exact readings, then you might have to consider getting your booch lab tested.
# 1 Hydrometer
Hydrometers are first up on the list, because they can test for alcohol as well as sugar levels. If you are interested in testing your kombucha for sugar concentration as well as alcohol – then a hydrometer can be a good choice. Hydrometers are inexpensive, and simple to use at home.
Triple Scale Hydrometer
Triple scale hydrometers are the entry level variety. They are super cheap at usually under 10 dollars for one. However they do not give very exact readings.
Precision hydrometers are more expensive, clocking in at about 30 dollars on average. They do however give much more precise readings, and so are a worthwhile buying choice if that is what you need.
While a precision hydrometer is more accurate than a triple scale hydrometer, neither of these will give 100% precise results. What they will do is give you a fairly close reading, but not one which you can rely on if you are selling your kombucha.
# 2 Refractometer
Like the hydrometer, refractometers are used extensively in the beer and wine making industry to measure alcohol levels during fermentation. They come in more expensive than triple scale hydrometers, but are roughly similar in price to precision hydrometers.
Refractometers can provide good value for money if you are looking to merely gauge the alcohol levels for home use. However they too do not provide sensitive enough readings for selling kombucha.
# 3 Anton Paar – Near Infrared Technology
The Anton Paar Near Infrared Technology is a new development in alcohol measuring equipment. What is great about it is that it is fairly precise. The readings are electronic, and do not need calculations like with the hydrometer and refractometer. In addition the units can be purchased online, and used easily at home. The downside is that the units however can also be very expensive.
# 4 Laboratory Testing
Laboratory testing for your kombucha is quite an expensive route. If done a couple times it could cost you a few hundred dollars. However it is the best route to go if you want to garner very exact results, and be able to prove that you had your kombucha tested by a trustworthy source.
So Which Method Should I Choose to Test the Alcohol Levels in my Kombucha?
If you are making kombucha at home and merely need to get an idea of what the average percentage of alcohol in your kombucha is – then either a refractometer or a hydrometer should work great. However keep in mind the margin of error.
If you are making kombucha to sell, then it might be a good idea to get it tested by a lab at some point. However, what you can do to save your time and money is this: Get hydrometer or a refractometer. Test your kombucha for a period of time, and gauge what the average percentage of alcohol is for your brew. If you are well below 0.5% then you can go ahead and do the lab testing. Even if only to get the paperwork.
If however your kombucha is apt to bump up to almost 0.5% from time to time, then you might want to implement some ‘alcohol lowering’ techniques and perfect those before sending a sample for lab testing.
Kombucha’s Potential Alcohol Levels
Unfortunately none of the testing methods available can test for kombucha’s potential alcohol percentage. If you test and bottle your kombucha – there is no guarantee that the alcohol level will be the same when someone drinks the kombucha. Live kombucha will continue to ferment given the right conditions – which means that more alcohol can accumulate.
So please keep this in mind when testing!
As you can see, testing the alcohol percentage of kombucha is can be tricky if you are looking for exact results. However, if you just want a good idea of the alcohol amount present in your kombucha, then there are a couple cheap and easy methods out there.
If you are making kombucha to sell, you might need to get a lab test done periodically. However you can still use the home tests to keep tabs on what range the alcohol percentage of your kombucha is falling in.