Democrats and Republicans agree: The feds need to stay away from kombucha

Kombucha falls into a magic, bipartisan sweet spot of health food and government regulations.

Kombucha (Pouregon/Flickr)
Kombucha (Pouregon/Flickr)
Kombucha does not want to be regulated like alcohol. (Pouregon/Flickr)

This issue falls into a magic, bipartisan sweet spot of health food and government regulations. Democrats like one, and Republicans don’t like the other.

Rep. Jared Polis, a Boulder Democrat, and Rep. Scott Tipton, a Republican who represents the entire Western half of the state, are co-sponsors with Republican U.S. Senator Cory Gardner and Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, a Democrat, on a bill that would get rid of federal alcohol taxes on kombucha and update regulations to prevent the beverage from running afoul of alcohol regulations.

I’ve never had kombucha — really kind of feat for a white person on the Front Range, now that I think about it — but I’m led to understand that it’s fermented.

The same process that produces all the probiotic goodness that aids digestion and does all the other good stuff kombucha is supposed to do also produces a small amount of alcohol, and sometimes, not often but sometimes, there’s enough alcohol that kombucha suddenly falls under federal regulations for alcoholic beverages.

Some kombucha makers have received threatening letters from the Alcohol and Tobacco Trade and Tax Bureau, and Polis has been advocating for the industry for several years now.

The KOMBUCHA Act — Keeping our Manufacturers from Being Unfairly Taxed while Championing Health — would stop that from happening.

Here’s Polis on the KOMBUCHA Act:

“Kombucha is the fastest growing beverage category in the United States. This bipartisan bill will eliminate unfair taxes for kombucha brewers, many of whom are small businesses. By taking kombucha out from under alcohol in the tax and regulatory code, we can help a new industry grow throughout Colorado and across the country.”

And here’s Tipton:

“Too often, federal regulations get in the way of small business innovation. The challenges that the nation’s kombucha producers have come up against in the federal tax code are a clear example of this. I’m glad to join Congressman Polis and Senator Gardner to put forward this common-sense solution that will help create further economic opportunities for Coloradans.”

And here’s a guy who makes kombucha, Ed Rothbauer, president of High Country Kombucha:

“We are relieved that this bill will permit us to brew safe and compliant Kombucha here in Colorado while maintaining the correct classification as non-alcoholic. We are grateful to all of the original co-sponsors for their support of our growing industry of healthy beverage choices, and specifically to Rep. Polis’ for his help dealing with regulators on this issue since 2010.”

Kombucha might not cure cancer, but maybe the KOMBUCHA Act can heal our nation just a little.

Correction: This article has been changed to reflect that the agency that regulates kombucha is the Alcohol and Tobacco Trade and Tax Bureau.

Erica Meltzer

Author: Erica Meltzer

Erica Meltzer covers government and politics. She's worked for newspapers in Colorado, Arizona and Illinois and once won a First Amendment Award by showing up in the wrong place at the wrong time. She served in the Peace Corps in Paraguay and can swear fluently in Guarani. She gets emotional about public libraries. Contact Erica Meltzer at 303-502-2802, emeltzer@denverite.com or @meltzere.