Kombucha alcohol scare is a boon for St. Paul's Unpeeled brand

Last week, local retailers pulled bottles of the fermented tea kombucha from their shelves after the federal government issued a warning about its alcohol content. Kombucha is marketed as a nonalcoholic beverage, which means the alcohol content must be less than 0.5 percent by volume--but recent testing of some kombucha brands, including the popular GT, has found some blends continue to ferment in the bottle and raise the alcohol content to as much as 3 percent, which is as high as some low-alcohol beers. So now we know why post-rehab Lindsay Lohan has been drinking so much of the stuff.

The popular GT is temporarily off the market while the problem gets resolved, but GT's loss has been a gain for local kombucha maker Unpeeled.

"The reason why I'm still able to sell tea legally is because I've been monitoring my beverage's alcohol all along, and it's well below .5 percent," says Unpeeled's Dr. Mike Johnson. Johnson says his beverages are tested by a third-party lab--the same one that tests many General Mills products.

Unpeeled, which Johnson started about two and a half years ago, is a "younger" product than many national kombucha brands, meaning it hasn't been fermented as long. It is refrigerated immediately after it's bottled, which also keeps the alcohol levels low, Johnson explains. (And likely the reason it doesn't have GT's characteristic "fizz.") Johnson says he's added another shift to his bottling line to keep up with demand he's seen from co-ops and supermarkets like Kowalski's in the five-state area. "I can get it to shelves in one day," he says.

Many drink kombucha for health reasons, though claims have yet to be well substantiated. For more info, compare what Unpeeled has to say about kombucha's health effects vs. the Mayo Clinic's version.

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