Hipster cliché or not, craft sodas are showing up in bars and on menus nationwide, and that’s a good thing. Move over, high fructose corn syrup and artificial colorings, there’s a new carbonated beverage in town.
Craft sodas are reaching their tipping point. Joining the ranks of trendsetters like DRY Soda Co., WildCraft Soda, and SIP are a rising number of restaurants, bars, and nano-producers who are using some surprising raw ingredients to produce their seasonal products. DRY really set the modern standard for craft sodas; the Seattle-based company specializes in scarcely sweetened beverages that make for elegant refreshers or mixers.
Flavors like Rhubarb, Lavender, Ginger, Blood Orange, Juniper Berry, and Cucumber also pair well with appetizers, salads, or a cheese course. Miniscule WildCraft Soda, founded by DC native Nathan Zeender, takes a different approach, using foraged ingredients like elderberry, rose hip, sarsparilla, and burdock and licorice root. The resulting draft-only sodas have a distinct Colonial American vibe.
In Brooklyn, perhaps the epicenter of craft foods, Caroline Mak and Antonio Ramos recently moved their tiny, three-year-old company into slightly larger digs. Brooklyn Soda Works was born of the couple’s love of mixing up a great cocktail. They began selling their craft beer-influenced (because they’re carbonated in-keg) sodas at Brooklyn Flea. Instead of carbonated syrup or concentrate, the sodas are made with fresh-squeezed juices, using ingredients sourced farmer-direct from the Brooklyn Grand Army Plaza and Union Square farmers’ markets.
Esoteric seasonal flavors include Yellow Plum & Basil; Concord Grape & Fennel Seed; Strawberry, Hops, & Pink Peppercorn, and Grapefruit, Jalapeno, and Honey. Bring on the gin or vodka, please. One of the most unusual- and delicious- craft sodas on the market comes from Northern California’s Eatwell Farms. Farmer/co-owner Lorraine Walker started making whey-fermented sodas four years ago, using Lactobacilus-rich, organic milk by-product from Petaluma’s St. Benoît Yogurt, and fruit and herbs from her farm. The result- Drinkwell Softers- have a gentle fizz, and subtle creamy note on the palate.
Walker mixes a base of fermented whey, sugar, and salt with water and fresh fruit juice. Then, she adds aromatics. The result are seasonal flavors like Lemon Verbena, Lavender, Rosemary, and Rose Geranium. Walker sells the sodas at markets (most notably, San Francisco’s famed Ferry Plaza Farmers Market). Explains Walker, “It’s always been my goal to encourage people to think about beverages the same way many of us think about our food; made with locally-grown, organic ingredients. What we drink should figure into the concept of the local food movement just like produce, meat, eggs, and dairy.”
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