SC law affecting kombucha causes confusion for local businesses

Published: May. 5, 2022 at 12:31 AM EDT
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Greenville, S.C. - A popular health drink may be harder to find.

Some business owners say they have no choice but to pull kombucha from their shelves after a new law causes confusion.

Kava Konnection is one of several small businesses in Greenville that put a pause on kombucha sales.

Gabriel Coggins, who co-owns the non-alcoholic bar in Greenville said a new law has created confusion about how to proceed with sales going forward.

Coggins has been selling kombucha at since he and his mom opened the restaurant in 2014.

“For us, a big idea and concept behind our establishment is that we’re non-alcoholic. We’re an alternative to that,” Coggins said.

Kombucha is a fermented tea that has recently grown in popularity. Advocates say it offers numerous health benefits and helps with digestion and boosts energy. Kombucha has trace amounts of alcohol due to the fermentation process, usually around .05%.

Coggins recently learned about a South Carolina law that states businesses need a permit to sell “beers, ales, porters, and other similar malt or fermented beverages containing less than 5 percent alcohol. He said this means he couldn’t sell the drink to anyone under the age of 21 and he would need an alcohol permit.

“For us, it just made it a complete deterrent from continuing to carry it,” Coggins said, “My biggest quarrel, and I think anybody else that has been affected by it in some degree of the industry, we weren’t made very aware.”

We reached out to the Department of Revenue for clarification. A spokesperson said “standard kombucha is not subject to regulation” since it is a bacterially fermented tea.

They referred us to the law, which does not mention kombucha being included or excluded from regulation.

“Ideally, maybe the positive that can come out is that the law is at least reevaluated, and can you have kombucha at least be exempt with certain guidelines,” Coggins said.