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Is Kombucha Illegal in South Carolina?

Is Kombucha Illegal in South Carolina?

Kombucha tea is a health drink that grew in popularity around 2016. The tea, fermented with live bacteria cultures called scoby is the product of a similar process to other fermented beverages like wine and may contain less than a percent of alcohol. Most kombucha brands do not have products with any alcohol content and the differences between brands has sparked a debate over whether it is safe to drink while pregnant or if increased intake could result in a DUI.

This debate has carried over into a new legislation in South Carolina that could require a permit to sell kombucha which could make access difficult. So, is kombucha illegal in South Carolina? Keep reading to find out.


Kombucha is a tea drink that goes through a fermentation process where fruit tea is stored with a live bacteria called a scoby which aids in the process. As with most fermented products, alcohol can sometimes be a byproduct.

The amount of alcohol in kombucha varies from brand to brand and the amount of time the tea was fermented. Some brands have as much as 0.5% ABV which is still considered nonalcoholic by most standards. In fact, an overripe banana has an ABV of 0.4%. Based on the evidence, kombucha is not alcoholic enough to be classified with beverages like wine or beer.

SC Lawmakers and a New Rule

Although kombucha is considered non-alcoholic, South Carolina lawmakers are making it difficult for companies to sell and customers to purchase the fermented tea beverage. New guidelines released by the South Carolina Department of Revenue says that stores and restaurants need a permit to sell beer and fermented beverages containing 6.5 alcohol by volume or less.

With no minimums listed, the new law could be interpreted to mean that drinks like kombucha could be on the list. As a fermented drink, it falls well within the limit of the new law. This means that retailers, producers, distributors, health food stores, farmer’s markets and other businesses that do not already have a liquor license. Without a license, these4 businesses could be vulnerable to legal action from the state.

Fermented Drinks and the Legal Limit

For kombucha enjoyers, alcohol content could be a concern. While the beverage itself is not illegal, driving under the influence of alcohol is. The South Carolina DUI inference level for blood alcohol concentration is 0.8% and while kombucha is well below the limit, consumption could affect BAC.

We've also seen situations in which police questioned a driver if they had drank anything containing alcohol. The driver, who had drunk a bottle of kombucha, answered truthfully, but tried to explain the low alcohol concentration. Nonetheless, this revelation still raised the officer's suspicions enough to result in a DUI arrest. 

Blood alcohol concentration or BAC is the primary factor evaluated during a possible DUI traffic stop. Law enforcement uses field sobriety tests and breathalyzers to measure a driver’s BAC.

  • Field sobriety tests: These evaluations typically measure physical signs of drunkenness. For example, a test may involve asking the driver to walk in a straight line or recite the alphabet backwards. Police also evaluate word slurring, eye movement, and lack of balance.
  • Breathalyzer: Police use a machine that evaluates the alcohol content of oxygenated blood on someone’s breath. Drivers’ breath into a tube attached to a device that is located at the police station or the county jail. Breath testing in South Carolina is always done post-arrest, meaning you've already been arrested regardless of the reading. 

Kombucha does not have the same alcohol level as wine or beer, but depending on your tolerance level, physicality, and the amount you drink, you could still test positive for some alcohol on the breathalyzer test. If you are pulled over for drunk driving, it is important to understand that a reading on a breathalyzer does not mean you are drunk. These devices can be faulty and prone to errors especially if not administered correctly.

Police and DUI prosecutors also have been trained that ANY amount of alcohol can cause the prescription medication to have unpredictable results.

Have You Been Pulled Over?

Whether you drank kombucha or another alcoholic beverage, you could face serious consequences for driving under the influence. Unfortunately, police will press charges if you do not pass a breathalyzer test and drinking kombucha could potentially cause you to fail.

If you have been pulled over, contact Law Office of James R. Snell, Jr., LLC. Our attorney has the in-depth knowledge and extensive experience you need to protect your freedom. We treat every client with the respect and compassion they deserve.

Contact our firm today and find out how we can fight for you!


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