If you’d like an alcoholic beverage but aren’t craving wine, beer, or liquor, finding an alternative these days is only difficult because there are so many options, from hard cider and hard root beer to hard seltzer and hard kombucha. Santa Barbara is a hotbed for the latter, as the leading San Diego County–based brand Boochcraft reports that our city is its top seller geographically.
The “soft” version of kombucha is a probiotic-rich tea that is fermented with only a trace of alcohol, typically under one percent alcohol by volume (ABV). Once it tops 3 percent ABV, it’s deemed “hard.” Most producers make theirs between 4 and 8 percent ABV, while everything from Chula Vista–made Boochcraft clocks in at precisely 7 percent ABV, including such popular flavors as Ginger Lime Rosehips and Grapefruit Hibiscus Heather.
Though federal laws don’t allow producers to explicitly claim that hard kombucha is good for your health, the perception that it’s better for you is rooted in reality: It has less residual sugar than flavored malt beverages, is naturally gluten-free, and is kombucha at its core, to which many attribute their well-functioning guts.
“Our product has probiotics just like regular kombucha,” said Boochcraft cofounder Adam Hiner. “We use organic black tea from South Yunnan Province in China. Our sugar is certified organic cane sugar used for fermentation, but it is all fermented away. We source fruits from farms all over California and beyond, always trying to find ingredients as close to us as possible, then working out from there. Our fruit is also coming from certified organic farms 100 percent of the time.”
Boochcraft isn’t the only hard kombucha on the rise. The overall kombucha industry was valued at $760 million in 2016 by market research company Grand View Research, which projected its market value would blossom to $1.15 billion by this year. The hard kombucha segment is about 10 percent of that, over half of which belongs to Boochcraft. The industry began with the New York–based Kombrewcha in 2013, which was purchased by Anheuser-Busch InBev in 2016. That same year, Boochcraft became the country’s second manufacturer and the first in California.
In April, Boochcraft began offering four-packs for $14, and 86 cases sold in Santa Barbara in just one week. Lama Dog accounted for 25 of those cases, far exceeding any retailers in Los Angeles or even hometown San Diego, according to Hines. Even looking at the top five retailers — which are heavy on organic-centric grocers like Whole Foods — in all three markets, Santa Barbara nearly outsold the two SoCal megalopolises combined.
“We do not know specifically why Boochcraft has done so well in Santa Barbara,” said Hiner. “We think it is the combination of the healthy, outdoor culture and the college crowd. We are still working to understand why Santa Barbara is such a hot spot.”