As mass-made sodas come under scrutiny—and the alcohol-avoidant seek livelier options—craft soda has presented itself as a trendy alternative.
The first soda, much like the first anything, was “craft,” but a new wave of back-to-basics soda-making is changing the way restaurants and bars approach their menus. Whether you refer to it as a soft drink, pop, pressé or even a mocktail, there’s more “craft” versions of it on cocktail menus than ever before, and that's improving options for non-alcohol drinkers and alcohol-lovers alike.
Take Belvoir, a U.K. beverage company best known for its elderfower cordials and pressé beverages. Founded in 1984 thanks to the super-popular homemade recipes of Mary Manners, a lady who lived in the rolling Lincolnshire countryside, the brand has gone global, its products from cordials to ginger beers sold on retail shelves as well as in mixologists’ concoctions. And there's been a massive cultural shift that made this growth popuar.
“Traditional sodas are under scrutiny and doubted by consumers due to their high sugar content and obscure ingredients lists, all while U.S. consumers’ appetites for non-alcoholic consumption has been rising significantly,” says Olivier Sonnois, CEO of Brands Within Reach, which distributes Belvoir and other craft sodas, sauces and snacks. “We work with a growing number of bars and mixologists, especially in New York and Miami.” Belvoir’s earthy ginger beer, for example, continues popping up in Moscow Mules around the country.
Bars and restaurants are increasingly making their own sodas, too. At the new Lower East Side restaurant Brigitte, mixologist Caio Maggi makes a cucumber soda in house for the “Two Sided Pleasure” cocktail, which also contains blackberry liqueur. When the restaurant brunch on January 1, 2018, Maggi says they'll serve cocktails designed to cure hangovers: drinks crafted with ginger, lemon, beet, celery and more juices, as well as a variety of house-made sodas.
Aside from perceived curative properties, fresh sodas offer a sophisticated alternative for the non-alcohol drinker. Phil Johnson, the sommelier at Gloria, says craft sodas have become wildly popular among guests avoiding alcohol, for whatever reason.
“A lot of pre-theatre guests don't want to get too sleepy during their show, so non-alcoholic drinks sell quite a bit,” says Johnson. “We offer artisanal sodas from Baladin, a famous Italian beer brewer located in Piedmont, Italy. We have their Cedrata and Spuma Nera sodas—the former is made with Calabrian citron fruits, and the latter is made with chinotto-style ingredients (myrtle leaf, rhubarb, orange peel). They have sold like hotcakes since we added them to the menu.”
Despite the restaurant’s embrace of higher-end, more thoughtfully-sourced soft drinks, Johnson refuses to hate on the sodas that much of the country still loves so dearly.
“I actually do love both Coca Cola and Diet Coke—they're part of the American palate. But I think if a guest is not drinking wine, an artisanal soda is more balanced and less cloyingly sweet with food than a Coke.”
In light of shifting consumer tastes, the craft soda industry is undoubtedly growing, even in a landscape dominated by Coke and Pepsi.
“Craft sodas represent a fairly small share of the U.S. soft drinks market today, but have grown at triple-digits growth for the past years,” says Sonnois. “And it is not unrealistic to think that craft sodas will represent a solid ten to fifteen percent of the total soda market in the foreseeable future.”