While getting a buzz from kombucha can be as effortless as cracking open a hard one — or as difficult as sourcing a bottle of vintage GT’s from 2015 — the fermented tea drink also makes an excellent cocktail ingredient.
“Kombucha brings effervescence to cocktails, as well as acidity, which shows up from the probiotics built into it,” says Frank Mills, beverage director of Roy Boys in Washington, D.C. and creator of the forthcoming RTD range Daring Kombucha Cocktails. “It’s a low-ABV mixer or additional ingredient that shows up with a unique flavor profile.”
But just because ’booch is unique, doesn’t mean it’s not versatile. With its sparkle and signature tanginess, kombucha can lend complexity to refreshing long drinks and boozy classics alike. Here’s how to make your favorite cocktails a little more cultured with kombucha.
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The most straightforward way to mix ’booch and booze is in a Highball-style cocktail like a Rickey, in which using kombucha in place of soda water adds an extra layer of tangy funk to the classic gin and lime combination. Or simply pair different spirits with complementary flavors of kombucha (think Irish whiskey with ginger kombucha, or tequila with a grapefruit flavor). “Whether you choose a flavored kombucha or a basic one, it’s fun because it’s so light and bright, it almost plays off the hard seltzer craze,” Mills says.
According to Sergio Leanza, owner of London bar Funkidory, kombucha can pretty much work in any drink lengthened with a carbonated liquid. To make his riff on a Southside Fizz, he uses kombucha to top up a mixture of muddled sage, gin, lemon juice, and agave syrup, because, he says, “kombucha can heighten other flavors — the acidity adds an edge to the drink.”
Kombucha’s marriage of tartness and effervescence makes it a prime candidate for more sophisticated sparkling cocktails, too. Nazareth Rodriguez, bar manager of Mahiki London and co-founder of cocktail supper club Bang Tacos, brews his own kombucha and substitutes it for Champagne in a French 75 “to keep the ABV down;” Leanza uses kombucha instead of Prosecco in the recipe for his Holy Negroni, a riff on the Negroni Sbagliato. “The kombucha works perfectly because of its acidity,” he says.
For another approach to kombucha cocktails, focus on flavor, says Mills. “It’s all about finding an accompanying kombucha that brings the flavor of the ingredient you’d normally be using, so you can substitute it out.”
This was the guiding principle for Rodriguez when he developed the Hoxton-politan, a take on the Cosmo that swaps cranberry kombucha for cranberry juice. And when applied to other classic cocktails, the options are plentiful: Use pineapple kombucha instead of pineapple juice in a Piña Colada or a Painkiller, play with coffee kombucha in an Espresso Martini, add passion fruit kombucha to a Pornstar Martini.
Particularly tangy batches of lemon- or lime-flavored kombucha can even deliver enough acid to work in citrus-based drinks like Margaritas and Daiquiris – though there are a few special considerations when using booch in such cocktails, which are typically shaken. “The factor here that tends to be an issue, depending on the kombucha you use, is carbonation,” Mills says, noting the risk of an explosive shaker. His solution is to “add the kombucha after you’ve mixed everything else.”
Meanwhile, Leanza suggests avoiding the issue altogether by making a reduction with the kombucha, simmering it in a saucepan until its volume is reduced by half. This eliminates the kombucha’s carbonation and concentrates its flavors — though he notes that “a kombucha producer might say that the reduction would take away kombucha’s living, healthy qualities.” For a deliciously funky Daiquiri, it’s a sacrifice we’re willing to make.
Developed by: Frank Mills
- 1½ ounces gin, bourbon, or rye
- ¾ ounce lime juice
- Kombucha, to top
- Lime wheel, to garnish
- Combine spirit of choice and lime juice in an ice-filled Highball glass.
- Top with kombucha and gently stir.
- Garnish with the lime wheel, and serve.
Southeast Side Fizz
Developed by: Sergio Leanza
- 6 sage leaves
- 1⅙ ounces London Dry gin
- ½ ounce lemon juice
- ⅓ ounce agave syrup
- Kombucha, to top
- Gently muddle the sage leaves in a Highball glass to release their aroma.
- Add gin, lemon juice, and agave syrup to glass, and stir.
- Add crushed ice, top with kombucha, and serve.
Developed by: Sergio Leanza
- ⅔ ounce Campari
- ⅔ ounce sweet vermouth
- 2 ounces Fix8 Strawberry Tulsi Kombucha, or other kombucha
- Orange twist, for garnish
- Combine Campari and sweet vermouth in a rocks glass with a large ice cube.
- Stir until very cold.
- Top up with kombucha and gently stir.
- Garnish with orange twist, and serve.
Developed by: Nazareth Rodriguez
- 1⅓ ounces vodka
- ⅔ ounce fino sherry
- ⅔ ounce orange sherbet (recipe below)
- ⅓ ounce lemon juice
- 1 ounce cranberry kombucha
- Combine all ingredients except kombucha in a shaker tin, and shake with ice.
- Strain into a Martini glass.
- Top with cranberry kombucha, and serve.
Orange Sherbet Recipe
- Zest of 3 oranges
- 2½ cups superfine sugar
- 2 cups orange juice
- Combine the orange zest with the sugar in a bowl. Massage the zest into the sugar.
- Cover and let rest for 24 hours.
- Combine the orange-zest sugar and orange juice in a saucepan. Heat gently to dissolve the sugar.
- Let cool and store in the fridge.