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SCDOR clarifies law after kombucha confusion

Published: Jun. 21, 2022 at 1:53 AM EDT
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GREENVILLE, S.C. (FOX Carolina) - There’s been a lot of buzz about kombucha sales in South Carolina.

The fermented drink recently sparked some confusion about how it’s sold.

In May, we reported on a gray area in a state law regarding the regulation of the popular health drink.

Some businesses stopped sales, while others started carding, and some out-of-state distributors halted shipments to South Carolina altogether.

“There’s been a lot of confusion,” Kava Konnection co-owner, Gabriel Coggins said.

Until recently, Kava Konnection in Greenville sold kombucha on tap.

Several months ago, Coggins said he learned about a South Carolina law that categorized the fermented tea as an alcoholic beverage.

The state had set a maximum alcohol content for beverages, but no minimum. This meant kombucha, which contains less than .5 percent alcohol, was considered an alcoholic beverage. This meant it could not be sold to anyone under 21 years old. Coggins said he had two options: either turn off his taps or spend thousands on alcohol permits.

“In line with our core values as a company being a non-alcoholic bar, the idea of licensing for alcohol felt kind of contradictory, but throwing that out the window, just the cost alone was not worth it,” Coggins said.

Coggins said his business took a hit when he decided to stop selling kombucha.

“We made changes. We got rid of our keg and our draft kombucha system. We went ahead and phased that out based off of the law. We were ready to completely phase that out with not having kombucha as an available option,” Coggins said.

That’s when things started looking up.

“We were ready to pivot, and here we are, we get to pull it back in. We were changing our menu and were having to retrain our customers, who were previously familiar with having this in conjunction to their other beverages, and now we get to remind them that they have what they have always been used to,” Coggins said.

Business owners and industry leaders contacted the state Department of Revenue and voiced their concerns. The DOR cleared up the confusion.

According to South Carolina Department of Revenue, “Standard kombucha is not subject to regulation...since it is a bacterially fermented tea and not a beer, ale, porter, or “similar malt or fermented beverage.” It is a type of tea with a specific process for fermentation that is different from that of beer and does not feature barley, hops, or malt. Kombucha is uniquely fermented with a bacteria and yeast colony that produces acetic acid and a low alcoholic content most similar to the composition of vinegar. It is also not a wine or cider because it is not fermented from fruit or berries.”

“The positive is, that we actually won. It’s nice to feel that our voice was heard,” Coggins said.

Kava Konnection plans to resume kombucha sales on Wednesday.