A New Crop of Soda Pop: Naturally flavored fizzy drinks create more pairing options
This is officially the decade of food arts and craftiness. Making headlines and menus are handmade edibles like small-batch chocolate, beer, distilled spirits, bitters, and myriad fermented foods.
Farmers’ markets overflow with farmstead jams, honeys and cheeses, and butcher shops have made an unprecedented comeback. A shaky economy combined with a ravenous urban homesteading movement has made DIY food not just trendy but smart.
The latest trend: soda. But we’re not talking about syrupy-sweet, neon-colored carbonated beverages in flavors like “Brain Wash.” Or even classic cola. The new craft sodas tend to come in two varieties. In one camp are those that are made from a recipe of well-considered— and often esoteric—seasonal ingredients, designed for use as cocktail mixers or for drinking straight up as a nonalcoholic bever- age, enjoyed for its own sake—perhaps paired with, say, a nice cheese.
In the other camp are “dry” sodas, those with very little sugar so that the dominant flavors—fruit or other botanicals—stand out. These refreshing alternative libations, like their sweeter cousins, also play nicely with cheese.
Caroline Mak, cofounder and co-owner of Brooklyn Soda Works, along with her partner, Antonio Ramos, found almost instant success by making sodas for the cocktail crowd. Mak, 31, is an installation artist; Ramos, 30, is a chemist. They had no intention of starting a business, says Mak, who is originally from Hong Kong.
“We were just trying to make the world’s best mixer to go with our really good liquor selection,” she says. Influenced and inspired by the craft beer movement, the couple’s first creation was a lemon ginger beer, followed by a grapefruit, jalapeño and honey soda, and another concoction made with cucumber, lime, and sea salt.
“We don’t make syrups or concentrates and then add carbonated water, which is how most sodas are made,” Mak explains. “Instead, we use only fresh-squeezed juices (they work directly with farmers, many of whom they meet at the Brooklyn Grand Army Plaza and Union Square farmers’ markets), and we carbonate in-keg, which is similar to how a brewer works. We prefer to think of our product as carbonated juice, rather than soda.”
Due to the prohibitive cost of bottling, Brooklyn Soda Works beverages are sold on draft, although some wholesale clients, such as Manhattan’s venerable Blue Hill restaurant, do order their product bottled. The couple hopes to be able to bottle all of their beverages for retail sale in the near future, which will enable them to widen their distribution throughout the boroughs.
That Brooklyn is ground zero for the craft food and beverage movement was a stroke of good fortune for the unwitting entrepreneurs. “I think craft soda is just part of the natural evolution of this movement,” Mak says. “People are realizing they can buy great artisan cheese and charcuterie, but if they want a comparable nonalcoholic beverage, there’s not a lot of choice out there.” Until now.
Soda to Sip with Cheese
Brooklyn Soda Works
Pair summer sodas, like Rhubarb and Star Anise, with fresh or mold-ripened chèvre for an elegant, cool snack. Strawberry, Hops, & Pink Peppercorn calls for a milky, creamy cheese like Robiola Piemonte to balance the bitterness of the hops and bite from the peppercorn; look for Robiola della Langhe (cow and sheep’s milk).
Dry Soda Co.
Seattle’s DRY has created a sophisticated new genre of soda with its minimally sweetened, botanical - and fruit - flavored libations, equally at home on the rocks or as mixes. Try the Blood Orange or Lavender soda with any style of goat cheese or Corsican Brebichon; the piney earthiness of Juniper Berry begs for a mild sheep’s milk cheese like a young pecorino or Berkswell.
Oak at Fourteenth
Award-winning mixologist and Boulder, Colorado, restaurant proprietor Bryan Dayton makes his own sodas in-house and bottles them for sale at his restaurant. Varieties change seasonally, but crowd favorites include Cucumber- Basil, which works with fresh cheeses, such as chèvre, or a mold- ripened wheel like Camellia from Redwood Hill Farm. The Blueberry soda does right by Ossau Iraty or a mellow blue cheese.
P&H Soda Co.
Creations from this Brooklyn-based, “all natural soda syrup company” (adjoined, serendipitously, to a small cheese shop called Eastern District) retail nationally at select specialty shops and restaurants, and online. Specialties include a handful of out-there flavors such as Lovage (similar to celery), which we recommend with a sheep’s milk cheese, such as Zamorano or La Serena, or a blue cheese (especially when the soda is spiked with a nip of gin). Pair the Ginger syrup with seltzer and a buttery semisoft cheese or a stinky washed rind.
Written by Laurel Miller