"Part of our spiritual practice is drinking kombucha," a temple spokesman told us.
Full Circle, the Los Angeles new age temple co-founded by 10 Things I Hate About You actor Andrew Keegan, has been raided.
An undercover agent from California's Department of Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) infiltrated the temple on Friday night, clearing the way for a 9 PM incursion by five officers who confiscated two kegs of blueberry kombucha from a neighborhood kumbucha brewery called Kombucha Dog.
Jason Dilts, Full Circle's communications and development director, called the raid "distressing," and explained to VICE that "part of our spiritual practice is drinking kombucha."
"It's a sacred tea to a lot of people who come into our temple. So to have a raid, saying we can't do the sorts of practices that we do on a daily basis is rather disturbing," Dilts said. He added that the event was a benefit for Sea Shepherds of California, and another charity that supports sustainable communities in Ghana.
According to Eduardo Manilla, a member of the Venice neighborhood council who witnessed the raid, the ABC declined to identify themselves when people repeatedly asked them who they were. "All they said was 'you'll find out on the report,'" he told VICE.
Kombucha is a preparation of tea mixed with yeast that is lightly fermented, resulting in fizz, and an alcoholic content that can sometimes exceed 0.5 percent. It tastes like green tea with light beer in it, and a splash or two of vinegar.
A beverage cannot be labeled non-alcoholic if it exceeds 0.5 percent. However, kombucha, like kefir, something that also has trace amounts of alcohol, isn't traditionally something drinkers imbibe in order to get sloshed. This became an issue in 2011, when Lindsay Lohan claimed her kombucha habit was what caused her to fail a test for alcohol.
"We weren't aware that we needed any sort of special license to sell kombucha," Dilts said.
"Kombucha Dog meets the legal definition of an alcoholic beverage, so it requires a license to sell it," Will Salao, supervising agent for ABC told VICE. "We went in and contacted the persons involved, got their identifications, and seized evidence," he said, estimating that the whole thing took "a total of a half hour or 45 minutes."
The raid came just one day after Keegan spoke at a town hall meeting organized by the LAPD, which concerned the controversy over the recent killing of a homeless man named Brandon Glenn. I was at the event that night, and heard Keegan speak about explaining another run-in with law enforcement. He claimed that during a charity event meant to raise money for multiple causes, he was "set up," by the LAPD and "had a very unfortunate situation in which I was taken down by ten police officers for no good reason."
Keegan was most likely referring to an event In 2011, when he was caught on video, screaming in pain as officers handcuffed him. He was reportedly uncooperative after police asked him to turn down his music, according to TMZ.
"I want to be really clear that we don't see those as being tied in together," said Dilts. ABC is a state agency, acting separately from the LAPD. However, Dilts said, "I would question the judgement of the ABC coming into the temple on Friday night when tensions are so high in Venice...It really does a disservice to the LAPD."
According to Salao, the timing was pure coincidence. "We wouldn't be there if there weren't a complaint," he said. Salao declined to name the person who notified the ABC, but explained that the complaint concerned the sale of alcoholic beverages in general, and "not kombucha particularly."
According to Dilts, this complaint was part of a series of complaints they'd received from other Venice residents. "We have not been able to serve alcohol at the temple because there's some concern with one specific neighbor next door."
The actual citation for selling alcohol without a license was given to an as-yet unnamed vendor who was working in Full Circle that night, not the temple itself. A court date has been set for July, and according to Dilts, Full Circle "will be monitoring this."
They also plan to lobby for a change in ABC policy, Dilts said. "We'll reach out to ABC ourselves, so that they know that kombucha isn't something they need to be worried about."
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