If you’re looking for sodas on Founding Farmer’s menu, look in the Farmacy section.
That’s where the Potomac, Maryland, restaurant lists its house-made scratch sodas like lemon-lime, hibiscus, and vanilla, as well as New York egg creams, a Manhattan-style pop perked up with coffee and espresso, and a rotating cast of old fashioned phosphates.
The only commercially produced options are Coke and Diet Coke, which are not as popular here as their multibillion dollar advertising campaigns would lead you to guess.
Chief mixologist Jon Arroyo—you could call him the other king of pop—estimates that his handmade bubblers account for 70 percent of all soda sales.
Over at Washington, D.C.’s modernist Italian hot spot Elisir, seasonally inspired house-made sodas like rosemary-pear and strawberry-rhubarb sell at a three-to-one ratio compared to their commercial counterparts.
General manager Justin Kraemer oversees the pop program, which he views as an extension of the restaurant’s craft bar approach and a philosophical obligation.
“It’s a cop out to sell mainstream sodas if you have the ability and knowledge to make something better,” he says.
He uses three methods to carbonate his creations. Most often he uses a soda siphon or a SodaStream machine, though he simply adds soda water from the bar gun if he is working with freshly muddled fruits or herbs.
Keith Garabedian, owner of Philadelphia’s Hot Diggity, relies on a forced carbonation system that takes two or three days to work its magic. For him, the wait and work are worth it.
“Being a gourmet hot dog place, we don’t get to use a lot of fruit,” he says. “Making our own sodas was a way for us to take advantage of local produce.”
Sourcing organic herbs, vegetables, and fruit from nearby Green Meadow Farm in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Garabedian crafts sodas that combine unexpected flavors that PepsiCo would never attempt.
Think heirloom yellow tomato and peach soda, jalapeno-cilantro limeade, and summer root beer seasoned with orange, lemon, lime, ginger, clove, cinnamon, juniper, sassafras, sarsaparilla, and anise.
“We challenge peoples’ expectations of what a soda is or could be,” Garabedian says.
Hot Diggity’s effervescent elixirs have a shelf life of about two weeks, which is a relatively long time for homemade sodas. Without chemical preservatives, many go flat within a few hours to a day of their carbonation. “They’re intended to be consumed right then and there,” says Arroyo.
These modern day soda jerks are also eschewing high fructose corn syrup for natural alternatives like raw sugar, agave syrup, honey, and sugar cane juice. For diners looking to avoid artificial sweeteners, this turns into a selling point. And the prices for such quality aren't bad either: $3 to $5 a pop.
A bonus for mixologists and beverage program managers is that there’s always room for experimentation with house-made sodas. Arroyo is working on his versions of Mountain Dew and Dr. Pepper, but his Holy Grail is a pitch perfect cola.
“I won’t release it until I feel that we have something special,” he says. “You don’t want to mess up something that people have loved all their lives.”
By Nevin Martell