The entrepreneurs behind Tourmaline Spring are betting on a thirst for purity.
By Joe Ricchio
Photographed by Gabe Souza
[dropcap letter=”O”]f all the lessons drilled into my consciousness growing up, the one about not drinking from a mountain stream — no matter how clear and pure it seems to be, lest I end up with giardia or a panoply of other parasites — has really stuck with me.
Yet somehow, as I’m led to the stainless-steel containment tank that surrounds the source of Tourmaline Spring’s “sacred living water” — the company tagline — I feel no trepidation. I’ve enjoyed this water out of bottles, but this is my first experience tasting it directly from the earth. My hosts remove the tank’s lid, and a flashlight beam reflects off the surface of the water inside, which burbles constantly from the pressure emitted by an underground aquifer extending miles below the Earth’s surface. I’m presented with a hand-blown, tourmaline-replica drinking glass, and into it goes a ladleful of the quasi-mystical aqua.
It is crisp, refreshing, and, most importantly, devoid of a single speck of sand. I down my first cup and hold out my crystalline vessel for another. I feel like a modern-day Ponce de León, stumbled upon some fountain of youth in the foothills of the Mahoosucs.
It’s all quite cabalistic, but take away the sparkly cup and the dramatic effect of pulling straight from a spring and what are you left with? Is Tourmaline Spring water truly more “sacred” or “living” than any other bottled water? Or just so much holy rolling, intended to create the ultimate placebo effect?
Co-owner Seth Leaf Pruzansky explains his product’s ostentatious labeling thusly: The waters of Tourmaline Spring have filtered down through layers of earth into an aquifer deep underground, made of rock that’s hundreds of thousands of years old and filled with pockets of crystals and gemstones. Then, after millenia, pressurization causes the water to fight gravity and bubble back up to the surface via the same cracks and fissures from whence it came.
“So basically, the water is filtered twice by Mother Nature,” Pruzansky says, “in a process that takes thousands of years and is impossible to replicate with machines, during which it’s exposed to miles and miles of crystal-lined vaults, making it so pure that it doesn’t need to be treated — to me, that’s pretty sacred!”
Tourmaline Spring was founded in 2016 when Pruzansky partnered with Bryan Pullen, who owns the land in Harrison on which the spring, known as Summit Spring, is found, some 750 feet above sea level. Pullen was already marketing bottled water under the label Summit Spring, which he still sells today. But while Summit Spring shares a source with Tourmaline Spring, it is, like most commercially sold spring water, treated with submicron filtration and ozone to extend its shelf life (some spring water brands, like Poland Spring, are also treated with ultraviolet light to eliminate organic contaminants). Pullen had dabbled in selling his Summit Spring water “raw” — untouched by filtration, ozone, or ultraviolet light — and Pruzansky saw an opportunity to better market the stuff.
To protect the spring from above-ground contaminants, Pullen built a stainless-steel containment device around it. To maintain its longevity, the partners capture only the surplus water that overflows, which is then gravity-fed to their bottling facility — they denounce the use of pumps or bore holes common among larger bottled-water companies.
“We never take more than Mother Nature intends us to,” Pruzanski says.
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Co-owner Bryan Pullen, in blue, built a protective enclosure around Summit Spring in Harrison, the source of Tourmaline Spring bottled water. The spring water comes to the surface at a rate of 38 gallons per minute and a temperature of 46 degrees.
For the 42-year-old Pruzanski, a Skowhegan native, the sacred water biz represents a sort of spiritual culmination, the result of a life spent chasing meaning and direction. As a young man, he lived as an ascetic in the Maine North Woods. He later turned to drugs and ultimately struggled with an addiction to heroin. After getting clean, he delved deeply into yoga and qigong exercise and meditation.
“Nothing was bringing me any closer to the truth I sought,” he says, “so I decided to pursue a more materialistic path. I became an overzealous entrepreneur, running two to five businesses at a time.”
One involved selling organic nuts. Another involved selling marijuana, which DEA agents intercepted Pruzansky carrying 64 pounds of in 2010. He served a three-year prison sentence, the last year of which he spent composing a 1,000-page, handwritten manuscript detailing the life that had led him to prison and analyzing his own destructive patterns.
“Though brutal,” he says, “it was one of the best years of my life, as far as personal development goes. I was in a state of some sort of enlightenment, not at all bothered by my surroundings.”
Upon release, Pruzansky partnered in an organic supplements venture with a friend who sometimes lectured on the health benefits of untreated spring water. Pullen, meanwhile, had owned Summit Spring since 2004 and was looking to evolve his brand. A commercial airline pilot who’d grown infatuated with the regional nuances of drinking water, Pullen found Pruzansky’s partner’s YouTube lectures and reached out. Pruzansky ended up teaming with Pullen, while his friend stuck to supplements.
So what, if anything, sets Tourmaline Spring apart from more recognizable bottled-water brands? For insight, I called up Martin Riese, a German-born, Los Angeles–based “water sommelier” considered by many the world’s foremost authority on water purity and taste.
“When it comes to bottled water,” Riese explains, “there are two big differences everyone needs to know. On one side you have purified waters, coming from a municipal source, then filtered or boiled to steam, chilled down, and infused with small amounts of minerals for taste before hitting shelves. On the other hand, you have water that comes from a naturally occurring source, be it glacial, spring, or well. In addition to their natural mineral content, they contain a high level of electrolytes — much more than purified water.”
It’s the difference between “fast food versus organic,” Riese says, with Tourmaline Spring in the latter camp and mass-market brands like Dasani and Aquafina in the former. At Ray’s and Stark Bar in LA, Riese maintains a 45-page water list for pairing with food, just as one might pair wine. Tourmaline Spring isn’t on the menu, but Riese is a fan — he recently Snapchatted a shot of himself clutching a bottle at the gym.
I get it: some of you are rolling your eyes right now. But as someone who’s sipped from the tourmaline cup — and who regularly notices conspicuous taste differences among, say, tap water, Evian, and Voss — Pruzansky’s enthusiasm doesn’t seem crazy to me. Sure, dubbing one’s water “sacred” and “living” is likely to raise a few skeptical eyebrows, but then it’s hard to deny the sanctity of the purest, most essential substance we live on.