Craft sodas – made by the same brewers who are behind some of LA’s most exciting breweries-in-planning – are growing in popularity, and we think they may be the Next Big Thing in the LA beer scene. We had our first run-in with home-brewed sodas at the LA Beer Week closing festivities at Union Station last October, and since then we’ve had the chance to try several creative concoctions. We’re hooked!
A New Attitude on Soda Bubbles Up
If you attended last year’s LA Beer Week festival you no-doubt remember the sweltering heat and blazing sun, and the craft soda table at the festival was a life-saver that helped keep beer fans hydrated and cool. The table was sponsored by some of LA’s homebrew clubs who ran a contest among their membership for recipes to pour at the event.
The contest was the excuse for Kip Barnes – one half of the recently Kickstarted LA Ale Works – to finally experiment with homebrew soft drinks, and his Thai tea-based Ketsara soda was a big hit with this writer.
Kip says that he was drawn to soda making as a way to share his creations with friends and relatives that didn’t drink and couldn’t enjoy his homebrew beer, and he was quickly hooked by the creative options that soda making offers. To a craft brewer experienced with the intensive processes of making beer, soda making is faster and more straight forward. It also has a more immediate result without the often unpredictable fermentation that beer requires. Kip also enjoys the culinary aspect of soda making:
Beer has an element of science to it. Soda is also food science, but it’s a lot more flavor balancing. There is no fermentation or chemical change past the boil and carbonation for soda. Other than flavors melding together over time there really isn’t much of a change and I appreciate that the element of mystery to beer is exciting, but not having that mystery is equally as exciting.
Not Your Parent’s Pop
The craft sodas that we’ve sampled over the past few months have been flavored with everything from tea to fruit to spices, though they’ve all had one thing in common: they are not cloyingly sweet.
Brewed to quench thirst and refresh palates, the brews use natural and unrefined sweeteners like palm sugar and raw cane juice instead of the high fructose corn syrup that’s been rightfully vilified in recent years. The sodas are closer to flavored mineral waters than the over-sugared mass market sodas, and it’s the brewers’ creativity and skill in creating a balanced and interesting flavor profile that makes these beverages special.
Last weekend’s Atwater Village Beer, Wine, and Food Festival featured a soda-fountain manned by the brewers from Pipe Dream Brewery, the LA River Brewing Co, and Los Angeles Ale Works, and they offered a welcome – and non-alcoholic – distraction from all the craft brews that were available at the festival.
Here’s a breakdown of what sodas were on-tap at the event:
Limond – Pipe Dream Brewing : Made with lime and almonds, this soda instantly brought back childhood memories of those red, white, and blue rocket pops purchased from Summer-time ice cream trucks. It was tart, sweet, with a depth and slight bitterness from the almonds.
Thai Tea – Los Angeles Ale Works: A variant of their Ketsara soda that used a different tea blend, this was supremely drinkable. Only slightly sweet, the soda really showed off the cardamom and spices of the Thai tea, and it was a great palate cleanser between beer tasters.
Giner Citrus – Los Angeles Ale Works: A citrus-heavy take on ginger ale that paired fresh and pithy flavors of orange and grapefruit zests with the piquant zing of organic ginger. Probable the best example of balance among the offerings; it positively begged for a shot of dark rum and a lime wedge.
Creme Berry – LA River Brewing: A fresh take on the cream soda idea, this had a great mild strawberry aroma and flavor, and a great creamy finish. It really smelled great, and it had just the right level of sweetness to remain drinkable and thirst quenching while still suggesting a plate of strawberry shortbread.
The Next Big Thing?
Craft sodas are not new, and there are plenty of commercial examples available (there’s even a chain of local soda shops that specialize in it), but with the explosion of popularity in craft beer and home brewing we think that a wave of locally produced small-batch soda is coming.
And Los Angeles’ next wave of craft breweries is poised to lead the soda revolution.