What happened to GT Dave's Kombucha?

Editor's Note: This post has been edited from its original version. 

In the name of good health and a good read, each week we'll be bringing you a health product, complete with review. We're calling this feature Crunchy Granola -- even though we doubt much of this stuff tastes that good. This week: the controversy over Kombucha. (We didn't get to try it, but we got the back story.)

Kombucha: The vinegary, foul-smelling tea, elixir, or whatever, that all your hipster friends are drinking. Or were drinking.

This summer, the product from one of the drink's largest manufacturers, California-based GT's Kombucha, was pulled from local store shelves with little explanation.

We spoke with G.T. Dave himself about what prompted the sudden concerns that led to the product's disappearance and when fans can expect it back in stores. Check out his answers after the jump.

Kombucha is a fermented tea that contains live cultures of yeast and bacteria that's been consumed since the 19th century (mainly in Russia). Many who drink it for medicinal value claim that the tea helps helps with digestion, aids the immune system, and wards off cancer, among other things, but skeptics say these claims are unsubstantiated.

A pivotal point in Dave's life changed him from skeptic to believer. His mother, Laraine, was diagnosed with a fast-growing and aggressive form of breast cancer in 1995 after doctors found a golf-ball sized tumor. The outlook was grim. Laraine had been making and drinking kombucha as a beauty aid for two years prior, and Dave says doctors were floored when tests a week after her diagnosis showed the cancerous cells had not spread.

"During the time of her diagnosis, I was inspired and compelled," Dave says. "[Kombucha] blessed my family and could potentially bless others."

This source of inspiration became the driving force of his company, Dave says. He took his product and began hand-delivering to a local health-food store.

Fifteen years and countless bottles later, Dave says his product's popularity continued to skyrocket. But after legal alcohol-level concerns surfaced this past summer,  his product was pulled from shelves.

Concerns were raised that the drink's trace amounts of alcohol could increase above .5 percent when left unrefrigerated, Dave says. The concern originated on the East coast when a smaller kombucha producer's product was tested and pulled from shelves for the same reason.

"People are drinking [kombucha] for health reasons, not for the trace amounts of alcohol," Dave says. "The issue is not a consumer issue. It is a labeling compliance issue."

So Dave's decided to take on the laws that ultimately require him to alter his product before it can continue to be sold.

"Most of these laws [regarding alcohol content of store-sold beverages] were written around the prohibition period, and the .5 percent threshold is very arbitrary -- there is really no difference with a product that is slightly below or above," Dave says. "Our long-term goal is to change legislation, a mission that will take some time."

A lighter, "enlightened" version of G.T.'s tea is back in stores now, Dave says. Those who wish to purchase the original recipe will have to be of legal drinking age, and will have to fork over an ID at checkout.

"We are being asked to control something that is out of our control," Dave says. "That's why it was a confusing time." But all should be right in the world of kombucha soon, he assures us.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Kelly Green