93 Ecorse Rd., Ypsilanti
Stepping into Unity Vibration’s tasting room is a trip—a George Clinton P-Funk Mothership kind of trip. The room, chrome-walled and colorful, could pass for the cockpit of a UFO, and what owners Tarek and Rachel Kanaan are creating in their funked-out, Ypsilanti UFO looks like the future.
With the world of craft beer expanding faster than the known universe, sour beers—farmhouse style, Belgian lambics and gueuze beers—lead the charge. But the sour flavor movement isn’t exclusive to beer culture. While our appetite for foods like Greek yogurt, pickles, and kimchi rode in on a wave of newfound world cuisines, which continues to surge as our nation’s diversity grows, sour flavors are also trending because of what they are not: sweet. As high fructose corn syrup processed foods seem to have dethroned cigarettes as the King of bad things you can put in your body, sour foods, at the opposite end of the flavor profile spectrum, have given consumers seemingly healthier alternatives. Even healthy beer. “Everything in moderation,” Kanaan said.
This golden age of sour foods and craft beer also has roots in DIY culture—pickling, fermenting, mustache grooming—and the emergence of a locally grown, artisanal focus on everything from ice cubes to pencil sharpeners. Whatever the origin of these cultural winds, at the center of the Venn diagram of craft beer, sour flavors, a focus on health, and crafty DIY pastimes and products, sits Unity Vibration. Kombucha beer hits the spot.
Exiting the tasting room and heading for the brew room, which shares the same roof (for now), head brewer Charles Fenech explained his process to me. Triple Goddess, Unity Vibration’s most popular beer, combines thirty day-brewed Kombucha, organic dried hops, yeast, and either ginger root, raspberries, or peaches in giant oak barrels for an open-air-fermentation period. After a time, Fenech and his brew crew use brix refractometers (sugar-level-testing instruments) to determine when the beer has reached the desired sugar content—highly proprietary information. After bottling but before distribution, the batch enters a bottle conditioning (natural carbonation) phase for two to four weeks. Cases of Triple Goddess stack up outside the brew room, inching out into the tasting room, waiting to be shipped.
“When I got here,” Fenech said, “there were five to seven barrels.”
Now with forty barrels in rotation, Kanaan says Unity is on track to bottle and sell upwards of 1,400 barrels this year. In comparison, Short’s Brewing Company sells over 30,000 annually.
“Our goal is to grow as big as we can,” Kanaan said. “We believe in our product and we want it to be out there as far and wide as possible.”
And it is. From San Francisco to NYC, Unity Vibration is sweeping the nation. I called Coit Liquor, a specialty beer and liquor store in San Francisco, to see what they had in stock and they were sold out of Unity Vibration labels. I called City Swiggers in NYC, a beer store with over 900 selections. They have two bottles of Bourbon Peach Triple Goddess, but they sold out of the raspberry and ginger options, one case of each, a month after their arrival.
As the demand for kombucha beer builds, so too will Unity Vibration. Literally. The Kanaans have laid the groundwork for a full-on kombucha beer campus and plan to break ground by the end of the month. A beer garden and a service kitchen offering a raw food and paleo menu highlight the prospective changes. The tasting room will move from the back of the building to occupy a space right off of Ecorse Rd. Within the proposed 5,200 square-foot expansion, Kanaan envisions the L-shaped lot as one “big, long, weird rocket ship.”
Unity Vibration is about to blast off.