Kombucha: the new kid on the cocktail menu

Are well-groomed 21st-century Don Drapers really sipping fermented, non‑alcoholic teas? Whisper it… yes

Image: Chris Burke

If Mad Men is to be believed, there was a time when a chap could drink 10 Manhattans, smoke a pack of fags, and still wake up looking like Don Draper. But things have changed. These days you won’t find the average man achieving bright eyes, clear skin and a razor-sharp jawline without some serious application. 

For a growing number of health-conscious types, that means regular doses of kombucha. Typically fermented from sweetened tea, this tangy, slightly fizzy non-alcoholic drink has been brewed in east Asia for more than 2,000 years. But more recently, it’s seeing an explosion of popularity in the west, both as a health drink and an alcohol alternative too.   

The stuff in kombucha that’s meant to be good for you is acetic acid (the same acid you find in vinegar). Champions of acetic acid claim it can improve digestion, reduce cholesterol and encourage weight loss. Former England rugby star Jonny Wilkinson was so persuaded by kombucha’s all-round benefits that he launched his own brand Kombucha No1 last year (though I find the fruit flavours rather confected).

Even if the science doesn’t hold up, a good kombucha can provide quite a satisfying alternative to booze (for a night or two, anyway). Which is, you could say, a health benefit in itself. 

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One of the best new-gen kombuchas is the urban-looking Jarr. Available in three natural flavours (£5.99 for 473ml) – Original, Passionfruit and Ginger – Jarr kombuchas succeed in being tangy without being vinegary. File them in your mind near rustic dry cider. I know bartenders who use them in cocktails: the hotly anticipated Tayer + Elementary bar, which opens in Old Street in spring, will have a bespoke recipe on tap.

Being a bit of a tea nerd, I also like the Real Kombucha range, which is brewed from a variety of different teas that really come through in the end product. Real Dry Dragon (£2.29 for 330ml) combines aromatic Dragon Well Green Tea with a refreshing citrussiness. Real Kombucha also does Royal Flush (£2.29 for 330ml), a Darjeeling kombucha with a touch of fruitiness, and a more robust recipe, Smoke House (£2.29 for 330ml), made with smoky black tea from southern China. 

Quite a number of top restaurants now offer kombucha as a food match. You can find brands like Jarr and Real on drinks lists from Hakkasan and The Fat Duck to Soho House restaurants. The real pioneer of kombucha in fine dining, though, was Noma. In its bestselling The Noma Guide to Fermentation (Artisan), René Redzepi and David Zilber devote an entire chapter to DIY kombucha recipes, which are almost as easy to make as a cup of tea. Home-brew, if you like, for the wellness generation. @alicelascelles

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