Add Kombucha to your cocktail ritual

By / Wine + Drinks / October 23rd, 2019 / 2
Ryan Ringer makes Kombucha cocktails

I only use kombucha on two occasions — when I am drinking and when I am not drinking.

Kombucha is bubbly, fresh and acidic, and the perfect way to make a sober October a bit easier. For those not interested in going dry for a month, you can now get your hands on tasty, alcoholic kombucha such as Pombucha — a blend of Ontario apple cider and kombucha, and Zen — a vodka-spiked canned cocktail from Kelowna. These hard versions got me wondering about using kombucha as a cocktail ingredient at home.

Ryan Ringer of Toronto’s Grey Tiger cocktail bar is famous for house-made kombucha and some of the city’s best drinks. I went to him for some expert advice on making and using kombucha at home.

“We make kombucha at home and in the bar. It’s pretty easy but making a really good one takes practice,” says Ringer. “When using kombucha in cocktails, I’ve stuck with commercial brands for the sake of consistency. Some really great kombuchas with nice, long-lasting carbonation make really high-quality drinks.”

That was good news for me, since I did not want to wrestle with my own Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast (SCOBY). It is a slightly icky, pancake-shaped live culture used for brewing kombucha from tea — a tricky operation. Using kombucha in cocktails is easier. Ringer tells me it is the perfect cocktail “lengthener” — an ingredient that transforms a short drink into a tall one without watering down the flavour profile.

“It’s just so versatile, with so many flavours from fruity to herbal,” he says. “It brings out acidity and flavour, and a good one can add some dryness to the drink. It can be like using shrubs since it’s got a slight vinegary note.”

As such, it is great to tinker around with kombucha. It could be used in place of soda water in a Collins-type drink or Mojito (especially if you can find a good mint kombucha) or instead of ginger beer in a Dark ‘n’ Stormy. It can even be used as a substitute for pop in a conventional rye and ginger cocktail and other highballs —drinks most of us gave up because they induced sugar comas and lethal hangovers. However, Ringer warns that some commercial kombucha is overly-sweet (especially fruit ones) and that you have to compare a few to find the perfect dry one. But it is worth a little extra effort. He says: “[Kombucha] is like a parallel extension of the exciting world of tea. This is great because tea offers a whole new flavour universe. That’s what excites me most.”

Ringer shared a recipe for a kombucha cocktail named the New Trick Mule from an old Grey Tiger menu. He says the recipe is fairly simple, approachable and plenty of fun.

New Trick Mule

1 oz rye (Lot 40)
1 oz Cocchi Rosa (or Lillet Rouge)
1/2 oz ginger liqueur (Domaine de Canton)
1/2 oz pink grapefruit juice
1/2 oz lime juice
1 dash Angostura bitters
2 oz light ginger kombucha

Shake all ingredients, except the kombucha, with ice. Strain over new ice in a Collins or Mule mug. Top with kombucha. Optional garnish: mint sprig and slice of candied ginger.

If you’re not sure what brand kombucha to grab? Quench’s Lisa Hoekstra reviewed RISE Kombucha and it works well in cocktails. 


Christine Sismondo is a National Magazine Award-Winning drinks columnist and the author of Mondo Cocktail: A Shaken and Stirred History as well as America Walks into a Bar: A Spirited History of Taverns and Saloons, Speakeasies and Grog Shops.

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