Undercover Sting Targets Kombucha at Venice Spiritual Center
Undercover agents with the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control seized several containers of kombucha during a nonprofit fundraising event on Friday night at the Full Circle spiritual center on Rose Avenue in Venice.
ABC agents issued a citation for selling alcohol without a license after they observed the effervescent fermented tea being served, ABC Special Agent in Charge Will Salao said.
“We’re a complaint-driven agency, so when someone notifies us about what might be an illegal activity, we respond to it,” Salao said. “They were cited for a misdemeanor for selling alcohol without a license.”
Actor Andrew Keegan, a co-founder of the New Age spiritual center, said the temple and events venue was hosting a fundraiser for the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society that night.
“They may be a complaint-driven agency, but we’re an intention-driven organization and our intentions are pure,” Keegan said.
“Kombucha is something we’d never imagine to be an illegal substance, and it’s frustrating the system has that perspective,” Keegan said. “We’re certainly taking full responsibility for co-creating the event. We try to put our best foot forward. We wanted to raise money for Sea Shepherd as a community; that’s how Full Circle operates.”
John Carr, an ABC spokesman, said the citation was given to “an employee or representative of the church.”
Salao said the ABC often approves single-day alcohol sales permits for community functions but had not granted an alcohol permit for the May 8 party.
Full Circle spokesman Jason Dilts described the temple as a community spiritual center — “a place where people from different backgrounds who are looking for a spiritual experience can come together,” he said.
“Part of our spiritual practice is that we serve kombucha,” Dilts said. “We were very surprised and concerned when we saw the agents wheeling the containers of Kombucha Dog out of the fundraiser.”
Kombucha Dog, according to the brand’s website, is a raw and undiluted form of kombucha that is made with organic ingredients and contains both probiotics and antioxidants.
“Traditional kombucha is a fermented tea that may be over 0.5% alcohol. Instead of weakening our product with water and other additives so it can be sold to people under 21, Kombucha Dog is brewed undiluted, creating a pure, full strength kombucha — the most potent on the market,” the website states.
The alcohol content of Kombucha Dog is “usually no more than 1%,” it continues, and “it is not possible to get drunk by consuming even large quantities of kombucha in a short period of time.”
The kombucha sting comes less than two months after the ABC and LAPD officers conducted a mass inspection of about 100 Venice restaurants, bars and liquor stores — the largest operation of its kind to ever take place on the Westside, Salao said.
Those inspections followed nearly two years of complaints by many community activists that there is an overconcentration of liquor licenses in Venice.