“No Soda In The House”
My Mom was a little crazy about soda growing up, and frankly, about any food that wasn’t raised by a local farm/cider house/butcher. I distinctly remember deliveries of 5 gallon milk containers, still warm, from which we would skim the top cream and later use to make butter. Our maple syrup came from the Ripleys, a local sugar house up the hill. From our yard you could smell his wood furnace and maple sap from February until April. We even raised our own chickens and we would collect the eggs every morning.
So when it came to soda, the only thing allowed in the house was natural–clear (no artificial colors!), made with carbonated water, sugar, and some kind of natural flavor. What a treat! I would sit in the car on the way to a little league game and savor every sip. My favorite was Clearly Canadian, specifically blackberry, which I believe is still around.
In recent years, I have been faced with making beverage decisions for my own kids. As I started to look around, I realized that the soda business has virtually stood still in the last 30 years. You can still find the big brands, which often include corn syrup or aspartame, artificial flavors and colors, and a few natural brands, which are derived from water, sugar, and some kind of syrup or concentrated juice. But no one was delivering anything with REAL, WHOLE, FRESH Ingredients. Why couldn’t it be done?
Something else happened: I developed an addiction to Diet Coke, specifically 12 oz cans. I found myself shopping at Whole Foods, then running across the street to the Mobil station to find a DC can (plastic bottles just didn’t do it). From 2003-2009, I consumed at least 1 Diet Coke can a day, and very often 2 or more. Soda became this giant contradiction in my otherwise healthy lifestyle. And my kids took notice.
In summer 2009, I began to explore using fresh ingredients in sodas. We first had to source them (not easy), then understand the regulations (complicated), then find a great partner to help us bottle (nearly impossible). With my colleagues Larry Freedman and Meghan Stephens, we spent 9 months until we were finally ready to produce our first batch.
As it turned out, despite all of planning and preparation, I realized right away exactly why no one had attempted this in 30 years. Fresh juice does not WANT to be carbonated. Here is an email about our first day of production, sent by the plant manager.
“Without modifications to your raw materials, we will be unable run Blackberry. Blackberry by nature is a huge foamer, and with the pulp in it, it even gets worse. Apart from reducing the pulp in the Blackberry significantly to avoid explosions, you’ll have to reduce the pulp in the Mango Orange product as well.”
It turned out to be a disaster. The filler and the carbonator started and stopped for 2 straight days. I ended up spending 5x what I had budgeted. In the end, we donated most of the first batch of Blackberry and all of the Mango Orange to the Food Bank of Boston.
After that first production, we made some adjustments and 2 months later went back into production. It was still very difficult, particularly handling the fresh unpasteurized juice and pulp, but it was delicious and customers responded. Today, we still produce 500 cases in a run, and make it very frequently to keep the product fresh. Little by little we are making progress and I believe the product is better each time we produce.
I don’t drink Diet Coke any more.
And my kids drink their favorite soda, Spindrift, but like everything, in moderation.