We are seeing more and more interesting styles of fermented drinks in our labs. A number of them (e.g. kombucha) are usually sold as a fermented beverage, but are not intended to be alcoholic. Often these drinks are marketed as a healthy alternative due to their fermented nature and also due to the lack of alcohol. In case you weren’t aware, there is a big move in the healthy consumer base for fermented foods.
It has come as a bit of a surprise to some of these producers that fermentation of the base (such as juice or tea) usually contains some sugars and therefore will produce alcohol. This includes drinks that are produced using wild fermentations, i.e. those that are not inoculated with commercially produced yeast but made from SCOBYs. (If you don’t know what a SCOBY is look it up, you can buy them freely…)
One of the main analytes we recommend for testing in these products is alcohol as there are regulations as to the amount of alcohol allowed in these drinks. Food Standard 2.7.1 “Labelling of alcoholic beverages and food containing alcohol” states that “food, including alcoholic beverages, containing more than 1.15% alcohol by volume” must be labelled with alcohol content. The Standard also states that an expression such as “non-intoxicating” can only be used if the drink has no more than 0.5% alcohol. And an expression such as “low alcohol” can only be used on drinks containing no more than 1.15% alcohol.
We recently had a customer bring in a sample of sparkling fruit juice from a small batch that had been through an uninoculated ferment and who was concerned about the alcohol content. No sulfur dioxide had been added to the brew and the pH had never been checked. Our concern was that as it was uninoculated, sulphite-free and of unknown pH, the brew could be home to any bugs that could be still viable and could be fermenting away in each and every bottle and so the alcohol content of each bottle could be different.
We tested four bottles of the same batch of drink and they all varied from 1.0 to 1.3% alcohol. Therefore the producer couldn’t be sure that all bottles in that batch were under the 1.15% and so the product could not be labelled low alcohol and so needed an alcohol statement.
So beware – if you are making low alcohol drinks, remember the limits of 0.5% alcohol and 1.15% alcohol. And any brew with alcohol content above 1.15% is an alcoholic drink and has to be labelled accordingly!