The art and work of Zeal Kombucha

Zac Nelson

Running a kombucha business means my day-to-day routine is varied. On any given day I might be checking with clients to make sure they are stocked with kegs of Zeal, and then dropping anything to make sure that’s always happening. I’m always planning extra things to do in the week: harvesting and prepping pine needles from the organic Christmas tree farm we get our pine needles from, ordering ingredients, doing bank stuff, tasting every vessel making sure it meets what we want out of the flavor. There’s lots of cleaning involved, and fixing anything wrong with the way the kombucha pours, like foaminess and CO2 pressure. On other days I might be prepping for farmers markets and events, making sure we have growlers and growlettes, cups, and lids prepped. I am always on the look out for new things to brew with, trying all types of beverages, from pickles and ferments to weird beer and artsy booze. I  also try making and mixing Zeal with other drinks.

Of course, this is all in addition to the fact that kombucha is not my full-time job, and that I’m also a working musician. My business partner Bobby showed me how to brew kombucha about 10 years ago though, and as I moved around over the years to Portland and California, I kept trying different things. When I came back to Sacramento a little over three years ago, multiple people started telling me it was the best kombucha they’d ever had, and some said they would carry it at their local businesses. So I asked Bobby, who had opened my world to kombucha, to start a business. Soon after we started ZEAL, and today we are expanding. It feels like a dream come true.

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Kombucha is meaningful to me in a different way than visual art and music has been. It’s a form of art, but it actually runs through the insides of your body. For those unfamiliar, kobucha is a light, effervescent fermented tea made using a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast (a/k/a a ‘SCOBY’). It is a probiotic, supports digest and the immune systems, amongst other health-boosting properties.

Running this company has taught me patience, and the importance of having a long term goal in mind while we sacrifice things in our lives to make this work. There are some 14 hour days, long nights, long drives. We’ve worked hard to try to phase out day jobs (getting close), learned to be supportive of each others personalities, and how to plan ahead in a manner that makes sense for the long term goals of our company and not just personal needs and wants. But it all appears to be worth it and continues to be an adventure. Watching and hearing over 100 people say they hate kombucha but love Zeal feels really wonderful. Me and Bobby feel that we make a solid beverage, one with fresh ideas on flavors and art direction. And we are honored to have Zeal for sale at many of the places it’s stocked — a lot of them are places that me and Bobby enjoy eating at, getting top notch coffee at, places we frequent often.

Running this company has taught me patience, and the importance of having a long term goal in mind while we sacrifice things in our lives to make this work.

For the most part, balancing my kombucha and music careers has been easy to do. Especially due to my lack of gear and a practice space, I have felt more comfortable lately doing improv-style solo sets. It has proven to be a more manageable approach, to make solo albums and work on collaborations at home, rather than worrying about getting six or seven people’s schedules lined up to practice my music and plan tours. I’ve had a blast touring and playing shows in the past, but I really can’t afford the time and money of touring at this moment. I’m really trying to build a solid foundation for my future with Zeal, rather than worry about trying to make a living off of my music. If that ever happens, great, I’m just prioritizing other things at this point.

Like I mentioned before, I also consider making kombucha to be a form of expression. The ideas might be presented differently when coming through food and drink, on a plate or in a glass and then destroyed upon ingesting, but I like to think about how it then collaborates within the body of those it affects. There are many huge different elements in comparison to making music, but showcasing ideas through food and beverages is in my opinion an awesome form of art.

Zac Nelson’s new record ‘New Once‘ is out now via Styles Upon Styles. Learn more about Zeal Kombucha here

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