Across the country, chefs, bartenders and soda jerks are transforming the common soda. Highlighting seasonal ingredients and sometimes employing techniques from behind the bar, they’re offering sodas that rival their beers and cocktails. Here are some of our current favorites, coast to coast.
Brooklyn Soda Works (Brooklyn, New York)
One fateful night in early 2010, Caroline Mak and Antonio Ramos decided to make their own homemade ginger beer. Things progressed quickly, with friends encouraging them to make other soda flavors and to sell at the Brooklyn Flea. Three years later, they have a production space in Brooklyn, and you can find their sodas on draft at restaurants throughout New York City and at Smorgasburg in the Brooklyn Flea. They offer new flavors almost weekly, with unique combinations, like Concord grape and fennel seed and raspberry and peppercorn. And if you don’t live in NYC, you can still get a taste—try your hand at making a batch of their original ginger beer recipe.
Minimalistic, yet warm and welcoming. Simple comfort foods, elevated by painstakingly sourced and prepped ingredients. Contradictions abound and exist in harmony at Seattle’s perpetually packed Delancey, so a housemade soda made with beer fits right in. A beer shrub, to be specific. Carmel notes shine through the fizzy tang of the kolsch-based shrub, making this distinctive soda a great alternative to beer.
Duckfat (Portland, ME)
Famous for heavier fare, like fries cooked in duck fat and crème anglaise milkshakes, chef and owner Rob Evans has veered toward the near-medicinal with his housemade sodas. While his saffron orange crush and sarsaparilla are not too shabby, we especially love his refreshing cider vinegar and maple shrub, a blend of raw cider vinegar, raw honey and maple syrup.
Eleven Madison Park (New York City)
The EMP Egg Cream epitomizes the restaurant’s high-low, NYC-centric ethos. Swapping in melted Mast Brothers Madagascan chocolate for the more traditional Fox’s U-bet syrup elevates the old New York treat to a place of nostalgic nirvana. While it’s always available at EMP, you can also try your hand at the classic soda at home.
Franklin Fountain (Philadelphia)
Since 2004, Eric and Ryan Berley’s bustling soda fountain, named for their personal hero Benjamin Franklin, has been slinging floats and fizzing phosphates. Their menu has more than 25 flavors of housemade sodas to choose from, including an orgeat-kissed “Japanese Thirst Killer” and an orange-and-rose flavored “Egyptienne Egg Shake Phosphate,” and still, the Berley boys are constantly tinkering. In the works at the moment? The “Hemingway’s Dream,” a tangy, absinthe-flavored soda they hope to garnish with molded sugar green fairies.
The Ice Cream Bar (San Francisco)
You name the soda, and this pop stop has it. From phosphates and lactarts to malts and floats, Ice Cream Bar is a one-stop-shop for soda diehards. You can even build your own soda with an array of syrups, ranging from birch to rosewood to wintergreen.
Local Mission Eatery (San Francisco)
Local Mission’s owner, Yaron Milgrom, says that his mission is the Mission. As a child he fell in love with artsy 24th street, and his casual, farm-to-table eatery is for the people who populate it. Everything is seasonal, including the housemade sodas, which range from flavors like grapefruit/tarragon in winter to kiwi and cucumber in fall. Their luscious tangelo cream soda is a particular neighborhood favorite.
The Majestic (Alexandria, VA)
In one of the DC areas more family-friendly neighborhoods, the Majestic offers a mix of approachable, mostly local foods. They began making their fruit-forward sodas as a healthier alternative to bottled sodas, and they haven’t looked back. Sodas on offer rotate regularly, from a dessert-like orange cream to a more grown-up grapefruit-juniper soda.
Northern Spy Food Company (New York City)
Housemade soda syrups at this East Village café reflect the seasons and often find their way into the more grown-up drinks on their menu. Spring sees the arrival of sweet, tangy strawberry rhubarb sodas, and summertime favorite watermelon-basil staves off that steamy NYC heat.
Penny Diner (Portland, Oregon)
Homemade syrups? Check. Old-school phosphates? Check. Penny Diner uses their syrups to flavor everything from classic cocktails to sans-alcohol seasonal sodas. You can even score a grown-up Egg Cream spiked with Fernet-Branca.
Seven Lamps (Atlanta)
In addition to an impressive menu of cocktails (including “beer-tails), this Buckhead spot offers made-to-order “jerk sodas” that highlight seasonal flavors and classic comforts, like spicy ginger beer.