Created from a natural yeast and bacterial fermentation of a sweet tea, it may seem like an unlikely contender for drink of the moment. However, Greene King and Fuller's are the latest to join pubcos up and down the country in stocking the drink, which has proved particularly popular with Millennials.
Fermentation leads to a product that is virtually non-alcoholic, with Real Kombucha producing its range at 0.5% ABV. It is not marketed as a soft drink though, but instead as having its own distinct position as an alternative to alcohol.
Real Kombucha founder David Begg explained: “The drink is a light, sparkling, delicate flavoured drink,” Begg explains. “So the flavour profile is somewhere between one end of fruity Champagne and the other end a light scrumpy cider.
“Our approach and fermentation processes are very similar to the production of a Champagne or Prosecco. If you walked into our brewery today, we look very similar to a Prosecco maker.”
The drink is known for its fizzy, sometimes sour, taste but Begg said publicans should assure nervous customers that other flavours are “bigger and more visible than the subtle acidity in the background”.
He added: “It has a quite subtle acidity that is about the same level as the sharper white wines. But there are fruit flavours that come out of it, in our Royal Flush you can get notes of rhubarb and gooseberry and notes of citric fruits coming through.”
For pubs at a loss as to what dishes to pair the drink with, Begg said the three products on Real Kombucha’s portfolio work well with almost anything.
Royal Flush drink pairs well with white fish and cream sauce, Dry Dragon with shellfish, green vegetables and salads, and Smoke House acts as the red wine of the range, pairing with dark meats and chocolate desserts. Cheese with kombucha should be avoided though, as the acidity of both products often clashes, Begg cautioned.
Kombucha stockings in the UK have received criticism in the past for a high price tag compared to soft drinks; Real Kombucha 300ml bottles are sold at around £4.50 in London pubs. However, Begg said this is because of the complex fermentation processes that distinguish kombucha from soft drinks.
He explained: “We have a level of craft that is probably even more complex than most alcoholic drinks. However, we recognise most people still won't pay the same for a non-alcoholic drink that they would for an alcoholic one, so we tend to price ourselves just below most craft beers."
Given the drink originated from China around 2,000 years ago, what is it that has given rise to kombucha now? The answer, according to Begg, is a “fundamental change in drinking habits,” with more customers looking for healthy options at the pub. More young people in particular are choosing sober lifestyles, with the proportion of 16 to 24-year-olds who do not drink having increased from 18% in 2005 to 29% in 2015.
“The pub world is welcoming what we call the modern British drinker back into that great British pub,” Begg said.
In Real Kombucha’s terms, this drinker is more a health-conscious individual who still wants a fun evening without the hangover, rather than someone who avoids alcohol altogether. “It's not about quitting at 9pm,you just want to make sure you wake up with a clear head and body that is ready to get out in the world and to continue participating,” he added.
“Almost every pub and restaurant chain we're talking to has put together more sophisticated non-alcoholic offerings or are in the process of doing so now. There was virtually nobody doing this a year ago.
“It's been a very recent evolution but I don't see this as something that is a momentary fashion.”