Douglas Wang, CEO of iDrink Products Inc., can’t turn water into wine, but he can turn wine into champagne (though not Champagne, a protected designation of origin). For that matter, he can turn any liquid into a bubbly version of that liquid. The machine that performs these miracles is called the DrinkMate.
DrinkMate’s more famous competitor in the make-your-own-bubbles business is SodaStream. Both use a skinny CO2 cartridge to pump bubbles into a liter of liquid, but SodaStream can carbonate only water (after fizzing the water, you can optionally tip in a dose of flavored syrup). iDrink’s patented “Fizz Infuser” adds a release valve that controls the pressure, allowing the safe fizzing of anything–fruit juice, coffee, wine, tea, cider.
In his office at iDrink’s world headquarters on Jackson Rd., Wang fizzed a little Pure Leaf Sweet Tea and poured two side-by-side samples. The carbonated version immediately made regular tea taste lifeless and musty. He says his daughter loves to fizz cider. A customer in Seattle recently suggested coconut water as a substrate. “It gives that crunching feeling on the tongue,” Wang says approvingly, having immediately tried it. He’s not a fan of coconut water, but found that effervescing it made it at least palatable.
Wang, an engineer, came to Michigan to work in the auto industry. A few years ago, he bought a partnership in a friend’s company in China called iSoda. iSoda had been limping along in the slipstream of SodaStream, making a similar water-fizzing product and selling a line of more sophisticated flavor add-ins (elder flower, pomegranate) for customers seeking something more artisanal than SodaStream’s “Dr. Pete,” “Fountain Mist,” and other thinly disguised pop knockoffs. He’s since gotten someone to invent the Fizz Infuser, bifurcated the company, and rebranded the American half of it as iDrink–all of these changes so recent that the company’s sign on Jackson Rd. still reads “iSoda.”
He also remains a partner in the Chinese iSoda, which is what the industry calls an OEM (original equipment manufacturer)–basically, a factory that produces whatever anyone commissions it to produce. It not only produces DrinkMate but manufactures similar products for its own competitors. (It doesn’t manufacture the SodaStream, though Wang says that even most of SodaStream’s components are produced in a Chinese factory. The Israeli-based SodaStream “puts in some bolts and nuts maybe, but the plastic case is made in China.”)
By next year Wang hopes to have the DrinkMate in big-box stores. He couldn’t put it into production fast enough to offer it for 2016 holiday sales, so it’s on Amazon for the time being. Though orders from anywhere in the world are filled and shipped from the Jackson Rd. address–sometimes packed by Wang himself–DrinkMate’s world headquarters doesn’t have a retail department.
Just down the road, Adventures in Homebrewing fills that niche. “It was accidental,” says Wang. “They hosted a party, and because we’re neighbors I went over there.” Adventures’ owner Tyler Barber was intrigued when he heard what Wang’s company was making and bought one. Since then, he’s offered them on his own website and in his salesroom, where you can pick one up for about $120.