BEVERAGE carefully crafted
At Gusto Pizza Co. in Des Moines, Iowa, ingredients ranging from
pizza crusts and sauces to chorizo and salad dressing are all made in-house,
often with local ingredients, so featuring Millstream, a local craft soda
brand, on the menu was a natural fit. “We are local and we support local,”
says general manager Brendan McConville.
Sipping on spiked soda
Honoring local history led Hillside Farmacy in Austin, Texas, to add
craft sodas to its menu. The restaurant is located in a former pharmacy
where the original owners operated a soda fountain. As a nod to the past, the menu
features housemade sodas such as Country Doctor, a combination of ginger, fresh apple
and cinnamon, and Pickpocket, a strawberry, basil and balsamic soda—all made with
local ingredients. The sodas are offered virgin or spiked.
“We have a full craft cocktail bar and use as many local ingredients as we can on
our bar menu,” says general manager Emily Long. “Using our own sodas in our craft
cocktails was a natural fit.” The craft sodas provide a depth of flavor that would be
impossible to achieve with traditional soda, she notes.
The demand for high-end mixers led bartender/beverage consultant Mike Gulley
to create Old City Soda. The Cleveland-based craft soda maker sells nine sodas,
ranging from conventional mixers such as lime and grapefruit to offbeat palate
pleasers such as strawberry/ginger and hibiscus/cinnamon. Gulley believes that
bartenders who aren’t making their own ingredients in-house should be using the
next best thing: craft soda. “It’s the difference between using real ingredients versus
artificial flavors,” he says.
“When you drink craft soda, you can taste each individual ingredient—it’s a
noticeable sum of its parts,” says Alex Dando, lead bartender at The Commoner in
Pittsburgh. “In a cocktail, the differences between a regular soda and a craft soda has a
profound impact on the end product.”
But soda is still familiar, and Dando believes that seeing “soda” on the cocktail
menu, even when it’s paired with offbeat ingredients, makes guests feel more at ease.
The cocktail menu at The Commoner takes advantage of the juxtaposition of familiar/
unfamiliar ingredients to prepare drinks such as Road Soda, a blend of Aviation 130-proof
gin, Lustau amontillado sherry, Natrona Bottling Company sarsaparilla reduction,
Jack Rudy small-batch tonic and lemon. Turkey on Rye is made with pumpernickel/
caraway-infused Wild Turkey 101 rye, black peppercorn/celery reduction, lemon and
Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray Soda.
Selling Local Flavor
For customers of a certain age, cream soda, grape
soda and ginger beer will be familiar, but millennials
might not recognize the vintage soda flavors—and that
can lead to lots of questions for servers.
Just as some restaurants train staff to discuss wine
and beer lists, Burger Antics, Brookfield, Illinois, trains
staff to become experts on its craft soda offerings. The
restaurant hosts regular tastings, and talks about the
nuances of the flavors.
At Gusto Pizza Co., Des Moines, Iowa, servers are
trained to talk about the features of craft soda,
explaining that it’s caffeine-free and made with natural
cane sugar. The training helps, but it’s the flavors that
sell soda. In the six years since Gusto Pizza opened,
craft soda has remained popular at all three Iowa
locations. Says general manager Brendan McConville,
“We’ve never had someone try it and not like it.”
The craft sodas at Hillside Farmacy, Austin, Texas,
sell themselves, says Emily Long, general manager.
“People recognize that it’s unique, not something they
see everywhere, and want to order them when they
have the chance.”
ABOVE, LEFT TO RIGHT: Boylan Bottling’s birch
beer, left, and black cherry sodas are served at Burger
Antics, Brookfield, Illinois. Housemade sodas at Hillside
Farmacy, Austin, Texas, are made with local ingredients.
OPPOSITE, LEFT TO RIGHT: A coffee soda at Hillside
Farmacy. The Road Soda at The Commoner, Pittsburgh—
Aviation 130-proof gin, Lustau amontillado sherry,
Natrona Bottling Company sarsaparilla reduction, Jack
Rudy small-batch tonic and lemon.