Sparkle Shines

At San Antonio’s Cured, Chef Steve McHugh crafts eye-catching sodas.
At San Antonio’s Cured, Chef Steve McHugh crafts eye-catching sodas. Veronica Luna

Creativity in the sparkling beverage segment is giving sodas and spritzes their own renaissance.

Sparkling beverages are on the rise—and it’s not just Champagne.

At the Creole-centric Underbelly restaurant in Houston, Texas, the most popular drink order is a bottled fizzy water from Monterrey, Mexico, called Topo Chico. “We’ve had a great response—from people from all over the world,” says Matt Pridgen, the general manager and sommelier. “It’s quite a testament to how good the water is.” Each 12-ounce bottle sells for $2. Although it’s been on the market for 20 years, customers have only started to crave it recently. “Compared to other bottled waters, this has less salt content and larger bubbles,” says Pridgen.

Similarly, a bottled sparkling cider—Duche de Longueville, from Normandy, France—is a huge hit at Graze, a gastropub in Madison, Wisconsin, with James Beard Award winning chef Tory Miller at the helm. “It’s probably one of our more celebratory drinks. We serve it in a flute as we would Champagne,” says Jessica Stebbins, head mixologist.

Beverages with bubbles also take on artisan flair at several eateries, tapping into nostalgic roots for diners young and old. Graze’s Stebbins has rolled out quite a few non-alcoholic options, including a housemade vanilla soda dubbed Alicia’s Folly, in which she makes vanilla syrup and shakes it with milk and seltzer water. “It’s almost like a cream soda, but with vanilla,” says Stebbins.

Also on Graze’s beverage list is a signature housemade creamsicle soda. And Stebbins enthusiastically worked with Quince & Apple, a local producer of preserves, to develop the Tart Cherry Spritz, marrying grenadine, orange juice, and soda water. “It’s layered, so it’s colorful when it comes to the table. It’s a little fruity, sweet, and sour,” she says.

Graze isn’t the only eatery tinkering with craft sodas—with spirits and without. At Cured in San Antonio, chef-owner Steve McHugh loves making craft sodas. But these 6-ounce sodas, which were introduced last summer, have a twist: they are packaged in 325-milliliter bottles, and served with straws. A sticker featuring the restaurant’s logo is affixed to the bottle, making the offering an even greater boon for brand building and recognition.

“What’s great about offering these in summer is that we have this bounty of really good fruit,” says McHugh. Especially during summer and fall, it’s an innovative way to use low prices on seasonal fruits and vegetables. “We have a great heirloom tomato crop and all kinds of melons. You already have something that’s fun, interesting, and local.”

By making the sodas a kitchen project, McHugh built excitement in-house and leveraged the creative culinary minds therein. Not just mixologists, but also chefs, offered input. “We’re not a bar, we’re not a mixology bar. Above all, we’re a restaurant. Our food is not predictable and I don’t think our drinks should be either,” says McHugh. A plus for diners is that the drinks, which are made in batches the day prior, are immediately available. “People do not want to come into this restaurant and wait for a drink. If we can get a drink out in front of the customer faster, we’re that much farther ahead of the game,” says McHugh. “It’s an easy sell.”


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