It takes something special to stand out in today’s $760 million kombucha market, which features everything from ayurvedic formulations to a colloidal silver blend. Enter Sacred Springs, a Grand Rapids, Michigan-based company that produces the only kombucha infused with sound.
Joel Andrus and Geoff Lamden, the duo behind the start-up, use singing bowls and tuning forks to imbue kombucha with sound at every stage of fermentation—a relatively straightforward process in which a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, or SCOBY, carbonates sweetened tea. A healthy SCOBY, a.k.a. “mother,” makes babies that homebrewers often pass on to friends and family, which is how Lamden got his first one in 2004. Andrus became Lamden’s brewing partner a few years later when they discovered a mutual interest in making mead, an ancient honey-based beverage poised for a comeback, and compatible brewing rituals.
Lamden, multi-instrumentalist, sound therapist, and naturopath, initially saw the vitamin-and-probiotic-packed kombucha as a way “to create a conversation within my own body.” He began incorporating the teachings of Dr. Masaru Emoto, whose theory is that human intentions and sounds could influence water’s molecular structure, into his brewing regimen. With various instruments, including a didgeridoo, Lamden experimented with playing different frequencies, durations, and combinations of tones. Working solely with unflavored kombucha, he discovered that lower frequencies made for a smoother tasting beverage, while high frequencies brightened the booch.
“I could take like ten jars of the exact same kombucha, being brewed at the same time, but put different vibrations in each jar and make completely different flavors, even though all I was doing was putting different vibrational patterns and nothing else,” Lamden explains.
It may seem a bit mystical, but science is firmly on Sacred Springs’ side. Studies not only reveal that microbes converse with each other via chemical signals, but also that sonic stimuli can affect bacterial growth and pigmentation and increase yeast metabolism. The beverage industry offers additional anecdotal support: Beer makers have played everything from Wu Tang Clan to Chopin to their brews. Metallica recently released a whiskey that is cask-aged to selected Metallica playlists (one for each batch, all available on Spotify). And an Austrian vintner says that classical music allows his yeast to use up more sugar for a woodier, drier wine.
Both flavors I tried—Root of Life and Flower of Life—were tightly effervescent and crisp like new money, characteristics Lamden says come from the dissonant sounds played during brewing. The taste is slightly piquant, but the acidity is balanced out by understated sweetness and remarkably subtle flavor, despite heavy-hitting ingredients such as beet, hibiscus, and turmeric. If there were a Venn diagram of floral, citrus, and herbal, the taste of Sacred Springs kombucha would lie at their intersection.
But “vibrational ingredients”—yes, they’re listed as such on the label—aren’t the only elements that impart the brew’s finely-drawn flavors. Lamden, a self-described “palate junky,” also credits the tannin composition of the teas they use. After nearly 20 years of combined kombucha-making experience, Lamden and Andrus have found that green Sencha and gunpowder teas yield a “light, crisp kombucha” and provide a great base for added flavors. This flouts kombucha orthodoxy, which unrelentingly prescribes black tea, something Andrus likens to, “brewing beer and saying, don’t ever use wheat, don’t ever use rye, you can only use barley.”
Upending conventional wisdom and following their intuition also defines their business ethos. Instead of securing financing, in 2016, they started their company “with two five-gallon buckets and fifteen bucks,” Andrus says laughing. Since then, Sacred Springs has evolved into a distinctive brand sold at 70 locations with a weekly demand for approximately 350 gallons of kombucha. At this point, other companies would mechanize the process. Instead, Andrus and Lamden brew all that booch by hand in their Jenison, Michigan facility. “It’s still the same process, just a larger container,” says Lamden proudly.
And they plan to keep it that way. Wary of the pitfalls of rapid growth, they’ve already scaled back, pulling product from a few major stockists and refocusing on supplying kegged kombucha to venues to reduce environmental impact. Their latest enterprise is a taproom in Grand Rapids, a metro area increasingly known for its beer and spirits.
Sacred Springs plans to stay non-alcoholic, but they are carving out a space within the area’s craft brew scene as what Andrus terms, a “kombuchery.” Siciliano’s, a homebrew and winemaking supply store, was the first place to buy their kombucha. “That’s who we are completely,” says Lamden. “We’re not the health food store kombucha, we’re the homebrew beer store kombucha.” The taproom, situated at 1059 Wealthy Street, the dividing line between a historically Black enclave and the gentrified East Hills neighborhood, is creating its own niche in a city with a surprising number of hipster bars and artisanal coffee purveyors for its size.
“I just figured there was a huge missing piece in our society of a place to go and have a conversation and not get jacked up on coffee or drunk on alcohol,” Lamden says. “I keep going back to conversations. That’s really why we started the company. I’m hoping Grand Rapids has an award for ‘best place to have a conversation.’ That’s my goal.”