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The Best Place for Kombucha Is at the Bar

We think of kombucha as a health drink, but it’s also a great beer substitute when you’re not trying to get hammered

Varying flavors and shades of kombucha lined in a row Staff photo by Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

I recently flew from New York to Eugene, Oregon — an early morning haul — for a trip with my boyfriend’s family where, upon arrival, we stopped at a brewery for lunch. Now normally, mama (as I will unfortunately call myself) loves her juice (what I call booze to make dependency cute), but — be it the early hour, the long flight, or some sudden urge to start taking care of myself that occurred at high altitude — this day, I did not feel like drinking alcohol. I know, what a world!

But just because you don’t want to drink wine or beer or cocktail doesn’t mean you want to skip the feeling of drinking one, as proven by the sudden rise of sober bars. And while seltzer is great for the home and office, it doesn’t always cut it when you’re spending time with others who, unlike you, are slowly getting hammered on complex-tasting hooch. Enter my surprise savior: kombucha on tap.

I realize kombucha at the bar isn’t an entirely new idea, but it was new to me, having previously only drank it when I wanted to feel healthy and therefore superior to others. Who knew that I could experience this divine smugness at the brew pub as well as at the grocery store? Everyone, but me, apparently, but to continue on with this stale (nay, fermented) take, I’d like to suggest that all bars get on board with this on-tap kombucha thing as it’s far more interesting (and beer-like) than most non alcoholic options to date.

Like beer, kombucha can vary wildly in quality. Try a local Eugene batch of lavender and peach kombucha as I did and your go-to grocery brand GT Dave’s starts to taste (even more) like swill. Craving something less sweet? There’s a ‘buch for that, I’m sure, just as there’s a ‘buch for lovers of lagers, sours, and IPAs alike. They differ base on region, they differ based on ingredients and fermentation periods. There’s a lot of diversity to explore there! And while you might be saying “kombucha tastes bad,” remember that this is what people used to say about natural wine and now we can’t get enough of it. I mean, maybe your palate just needs to grow the hell up? Or you can just order something else! It’s none of my business!

Kombucha itself has a very low alcohol percentage of about 0.5 to 2 percent, enough to fuck up a house elf or baby... but only if the baby is a particular light weight. Far more seriously, it is NOT a good option for those struggling with alcoholism because even those trace amounts can trigger a craving for more alcohol. However if you’re someone who can safely drink trace amounts of alcohol, but chooses not to for your own reasons, kombucha is a far more affordable option than even most mocktails — a drink at alcohol-free bar Getaway in Brooklyn, New York, for example, costs $13, about the price of your average New York City cocktail — as it usually rings in between $4 to 6.

Perhaps you’re not yet sold on the idea and that is fine. I do not work for Big Kombucha and therefore will not be making any money off of its success. But next time you’re at the bar and don’t want to drink, just try it. Sneak it in a kombucha flask if you have to. It’ll almost feel like you’re drinking a beer like the rest of them, only you won’t feel like hell the following morning.