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Why does 'hard kombucha' exist? We drank it to find out.

Flying Embers' Lemon Orchard

Flying Embers' Lemon Orchard Sarah Brumble

A few weeks back, the folks from California’s Flying Embers emailed to ask if I’d considered incorporating “mindful drinking” into my upcoming weekend plans. If not, perhaps their dry fermented, “handcrafted hard kombucha” featuring a blend of ashwagandha, turmeric, ginger, and astragalus might be the ticket? 

Flying Embers’ 12-ounce cans of… komboozechas come in four flavors: Ancient Berry, Grapefruit Thyme, Ginger & Oak, and Lemon Orchard. All are “sessionable” at 4.5% ABV, and boast that they contain zero sugars while being gluten-free, organic, and vegan. 

So… In an informal poll conducted over the several-week time period it took to acquire samples of Flying Embers’ product (since distribution expanded this past April, but hasn't yet quite arrived in Minnesota) respondents either definitely saw alcoholic kombucha coming, or find the whole thing so dumb it can't possibly be real.

Most people just laughed and got a whaaa? look on their faces.

Those few who weren’t surprised stared off into a middle-distance, more convinced than ever that we’re rapidly approaching a point in time when all drinks will meld into one PRIME BEVERAGE to satisfy all our bullshit desires, needs, and escapist fantasies in a single liquid vessel. (You know they’re making Soylent Rum Punch slushies spiked with Five-Hour Energy somewhere in Washington state, maybe chucking in just enough CBD for that perfect homeopathic balancing effect…)

The sheer existence of hard kombucha elicits a reaction. No one we spoke to found themselves somewhere in the “Yeah, whatever” zone. 

I mean, my very first thought involved all the Californians who’ve been getting drunk in plain sight during yoga class. No one expects the Spanish Inquisition booze kombucha! Immediately thereafter I sincerely wondered why it exists at all. 

My fellow taste-tester and I fell down a Liberal Arts Depression Spiral™ the likes of which was yucky but not uncommon. Upon emerging, we discovered alcoholic kombucha, as a thing, probably exists thanks to focus groups, for a Venn diagram of humans who don’t actually overlap in the real world… or at least in the upper Midwest. 

The company's origin story sounds like a bunch of thinly spun cockamamie (“in a hundred-year-old stone wine cellar [they] built a laboratory and began to dive deep into the ancient alchemy of fermentation”) mixed with money: 

“Flying Embers was founded in 2017 by Bill Moses, proven beverage entrepreneur, co-founder and former CEO of Kevita sparkling probiotics, which acquired to PepsiCo in December of 2016. Flying Embers is a presentation of Fermented Sciences Brewing… While the brand has had great success since launching, it was nearly destroyed by a wildfire that occurred near Ojai, California in 2017. Today, the team of passionate brewers credit mother nature and local firefighters for its escape from a potentially-disastrous ending. As a result, they give back 1% of its profits to firefighters based locally in Southern California.”

Flying Embers' Ancient Berries

Flying Embers' Ancient Berries Sarah Brumble

Clearly I had to know what the product of successful alchemy (!) tastes like, hence sending off for samples of Flying Embers like ye olde prairie lady ordering from the big city’s Sears catalog. 

It's not that a few of Flying Embers’ flavors aren't legitimately delicious. (The others tasted like fizzy, organic lo-proof Mr. Clean.) In a blind taste test my compatriot described the Ginger & Oak version as, “spicy and woody – like if La Croix went to college, drank too much, and had to drop out.” I thought they were going for a health-Chardonnay thing. The Ancient Berries might have been likened to “ancient Fruit by the Foot” at first sniff… The only soda I'll drink is grape, so I wasn't mad about it.

To be clear: No matter how much I enjoyed my Lemon Orchard over ice in the shower, there’s no valid reason for anyone to drink hard kombucha. (Shower hard kombucha is some simulation shit, too.) This drink concept, as a whole, is too poisonous for the health-conscious set, and not boozy enough for the hard set.

In the end? Would drink again because I'm nothing more than a very opinionated raccoon who didn't hate it like she expected to. 6/10 

The only logical reason we could come up with buying a sixer of these involved traveling to your new partner's family’s house at Thanksgiving and being so nervous that – no matter what you do – you simply cannot poop. Flying Embers isn’t so boozy that you’d blow your scene in front of the new fam, yet it might give you that extra oomph to loosen you up in two ways at once. 

Luckily Thanksgiving is coming, and the holidays are really frickin’ hard… Much harder than these kombuchas, one could argue?

 

Wanna pester the folks at Flying Embers about a hard date for Minnesota distribution? You can do that here.