Raising the Bar - The Soda Bar: The Art of Handcrafted Sodas

Thursday June 9, 2016 by Andrea Ramirez @ Torani

Torani Handcrafted Soda in a Mason JarSoda has been a staple of Western culture for three centuries, and a significant part of American life since the late 1800s.  A huge portion of wholesome pop culture in the 1950s literally sits in the middle of soda fountains. However, over the last fifteen years, soda sales have trended downwards for several reasons, health being the most prominent, with more consumers looking to avoid high fructose corn syrup. Other reasons, however, have to do with excitement – the standard offerings were becoming stagnant, and individuality – today’s guest wants products that satisfy their particular palates, that are interesting, fun and, above all, delicious.  Soda seems to be moving from mass toward craft and handcrafted or artisan brands – much the way beer has over the past 20 years.

We’ve seen large brands such as Coca-Cola® launch equipment like the Freestyle Machine that allows the drinker to create their own personal soda mix.  They also have a new Blue Sky Soda brand that offers a dispensed fountain beverage made with real sugar.  Meanwhile Pepsi has also launched multiple new soda brands in the craft space that also feature real sugar, like Stubborn Soda, and Pepsi 1893.  In 2015 their limited Dewshine™ product that was a clear citrus version of Mountain Dew® packaged in a growler or glass bottles was a viral hit.  Other boutique soda brands have expanded into the “real-sugar” fountain as well with their sodas, including Jones Soda Co.®Boylan® and Maine Root®.  Even discontinued (but much beloved) retro New York Seltzer made a comeback.

This is where handcrafted sodas come in. Handcrafted sodas capitalize on three of today’s hottest trends: Craft/Artisan, Customized/DIY and Fresh/Made-To-Order.  Torani introduced the Italian Soda to America when we first started producing syrups in 1925, and today we offer a wide variety of flavors and ideas for customizing sodas for today’s consumer.

In this age of celebrity chefs, cool pop-up restaurants, gourmet boutique eateries, and “food porn,” the idea of artisanal, individually created drinks to cater to any discerning palate is one that is sweeping the industry, and the sales potential of introducing a handcrafted soda menu to your establishment is infinite. The first thing in doing so is to treat handcrafted sodas with both respect and fun – if you think of the products as frivolous and silly, then your customers will as well and won’t bother; but also recognize that, at their core, sophisticated handcrafted sodas are incredibly fun items, and initial novelty can lead into long-lasting loyalties among your customers.

Consumers can be drawn into tasting, trying, and sticking with your handcrafted soda menu in a variety of ways. The easiest for you is that you can and should use any existing ingredients that you already have. Become your own five-star “fizz”ician – unleash your inner chef and experiment with sauces, syrups and purees that you have and see what delicious combinations you can come up with. While there are tried-and-true traditions to making handcrafted sodas, the flavor profiles are not at all set in stone. Have a Coffee Syrup and Chocolate Sauce? Try it out and see! You never know which flavors can suddenly crash against each other and explode like fireworks in a cup, and then you have a newly –created and exclusive flavor that only you can provide. 

One of our favorite unexpected mixes is a twist on a “Shrub,” which is a vinegar-based beverage from America’s colonia era.  Add 1 oz. Torani Signature Strawberry Syrup to 8 oz. sparkling water, then stir in a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar.  If the vinegar aroma overwhelms you, top it with a basil leaf (freshly spanked to release its aroma).  It’s an unexpected combination that’s incredibly food-friendly and refreshing.   Another fun treat which is growing in popularity is the coffee-soda.  Add 3 oz. cold brew coffee to 5 oz. sparkling water and ½ oz. of your favorite Torani Syrup (if desired).  Stir those together and top with whipped cream.  Suddenly cold coffee becomes a refreshing snack.  Torani offers dairy-friendly flavors, including Blue Raspberry and Orange, perfect for mixing up kid-friendly cream sodas – top off any soda with 1 oz. half and half, and if desired add a dollop of whipped cream to the top.

In addition to your own mixes, a good way to distinguish yourself is to use forgotten ingredients in your sodas, long-lost gems from the soda fountain heyday of the 1920s that will give your creations that extra kick and layer of authenticity that your consumer base will love. This includes things like lactart, which is a healthy and natural acid found in yogurt and buttermilk, and phosphate, a natural acid used to give Coca Cola® and other bottled sodas their tangy notes.

Also, remember the old adage that people eat with their eyes first. They also drink with their eyes. Using a variety of POP materials around your establishment, exalting the beauty and appearance of your handcrafted sodas will have your consumers’ mouths watering before they even get to the counter, and that is a big part of your job done already.

Torani Colorful Soda BarA good way to get started is to educate yourself fully in handcrafted soda creation, and we say from experience that it is much too easy to fall down the rabbit hole in terms of researching the history of methods of handcraft soda making, but it’s also incredibly inspirational and fun. Know which water works the best for you – seltzer water is the traditional way to go, as opposed to club soda (seltzer is just carbonated water, which is an ideal medium for your flavor combinations, while club soda is enhanced with minerals which can be detected by some discerning palates, changing the profile of your sodas) – and also make sure you have the proper equipment for carbonation (a spout plumbed in with seltzer is ideal for both practical and aesthetic reasons – it gives that “Wow!” factor to consumers to see it seemingly coming from nowhere).BUNN Refresh is a new piece of equipment that dispenses filtered, chilled sparkling water quickly – allowing you create delicious handcrafted beverages without the hassle of opening cans or bottles of carbonated water with each drink.

We are also happy to help! Visit Torani's Handcrafted Soda Microsite, includes ideas for photography and selling tools. We are proud to be part of this movement, and want everyone to experience it as well. There are other guides out there as well is helping you through the fun and fascinating world of handcrafted sodas - The Dispenser's Formulary: or, Soda Water Guide... and The Practical Soda Fountain Guide are great books from the halcyon days of the soda fountain in the early 20th century, and this clever flow-chart of the different types of handcrafted sodas from Lofty Pursuits is a fantastic thing to have at your counter.

All in all, handcrafted sodas are the delicious wave of the future, and there are ways to ride that wave for both your business and your consumers. There’s a brave new world out there, you just need to go create and drink it. 

Blackberry Italian Soda

Ingredients:

Instructions:
Pour sparkling water into tall glass filled with ice.
Add Torani and stir well.

Molly Mule

Ingredients:

Instructions:
Combine Torani and sparkling water in a glass
filled with ice. Stir and enjoy! 

Sarsaparilla Surprise

Ingredients:

Instructions:
Pour sparkling water into tall glass filled with ice.
Add Torani and stir well.

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