The Sizzle of Fizzle

Craft sodas give beverage menus a creative, nonalcoholic edge.

Craft sodas are bubblinginto restaurant beverage programs, and innovative drink masters are concocting compelling beverages that actually focus attention on non-alcoholic offerings and, in particular, sodas.

“It’s not cool or trendy to drink the average soda. People are expecting something creative, something different,” says Jade Mathews, co-owner of Hillside Farmacy in Austin, Texas, which boasts a revolving array of craft sodas, such as the Pickpocket (strawberry, basil, and balsamic), the Rosewood (lemon and rosemary), and Root Cola (carrot, ginger, and peppercorn).

“Our menu was creative and we wanted a creative outlet for our drinks as well,” Mathews says.

Hillside is far from alone in the craft soda rush, an emerging trend seeking to reverse years of declining soda sales and reenergize consumer interest in carbonated beverages.

At Chicago’s 2 Sparrows, house-made “Sparrow Sodas” include the Birds Nest (raspberry, lemon, and juniper) and a cucumber, mint, and lime creation artfully dubbed the ‘Cool As A…’ soda. While another Chicago restaurant, Mercadito Hospitality’s nearly two-year-old Tavernita, dispenses the White Grape (white grape, rose water, and golden raisins) as well as Ginger Chile Ale (fresh ginger, guindilla, and orange blossom honey) from a keg delivery system.

“A Sprite is a Sprite and Coke is Coke, but these craft sodas enhance the experience at our restaurants and differentiate us from the competition,” Mercadito Hospitality managing partner Alfredo Sandoval says.

Representing a fresh alternative to restaurants’ nonalcoholic beverage staples, ambitious mixologists have leveraged local, seasonal, and natural ingredients—from honey and cane sugar to oils and herbs—to produce craft sodas with dynamic flavors.

“Farm-to-table and organic have become so mainstream in culinary that it’s only natural they’d move to the beverage side,” Sandoval says.

While some specialty grocers have embraced craft soda, Paul Tanguay of Tippling Brothers—a national beverage consultancy and the force behind Tavernita’s beverage program—says restaurants continue running behind the curve.

“In restaurants, it’s been difficult to find creative beverage options beyond alcohol,” Tanguay says.



A number of beverage stocks moved down yesterday after industry publication Beverage Digest released soda sales numbers for 2013 that indicated volumes fell 3% over the previous year,


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