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Homemade fermented drinks

The market place seems to have no end of interest in other fermented drinks. It is no news that craft brewers are popping up all over the country. Cider makers are also much more prevalent now than say a decade ago. And of course craft distillers are also making news all around the country, and particularly in our new home of Tasmania. The range of new types of fermented drinks doesn’t stop there – we are constantly surprised at what crosses our lab benches.

The issue of alcohol in these drinks and their label statements is worth a mention. The wine industry is heavily and well-regulated in Australia. A recent search for regulatory statements for alcohol demonstrated that these other drinks seem less regulated. Beer, cider and spirits have rudimentary Standards in the Food Standards Code but don’t have the luxury of a government corporation such as Wine Australia to provide further guidance. If you are a spirit producer the best information (at least the best I could find) on how to measure the alcohol content in your product is on the ATO website! To say the ATO is not the best technical resource is a huge understatement.

And if you make fermented drinks like kombucha, kefir, ginger beer etc. – how do you know what alcohol levels are legal and how do you measure them? This has turned into quite interesting work for us.

Our work on kombucha for example has shown that the NIR instruments that have been used for wine alcohol analysis for many years may not be suitable for all fermented drinks. Kombucha is made to different rules regarding the additives permitted during its manufacture. The presence of these additives can unfortunately interfere with alcohol analysis by NIR. The most accurate way to determine the alcohol content of Kombucha is by distillation, followed by NIR. This distillation process removes the interfering substances and the result obtained will therefore be more accurate than NIR alone. Given that any beverage that contains more than 0.5% alcohol is required by law to have an alcohol label statement, it is extremely important to obtain an accurate result.