In a world of high-fructose corn syrup-infused soft drinks, Soda Vie sodas are made from natural ingredients. The first soda sample we sip has been “aging” for three or four weeks, enough time to show off the heat of ginger mingled with the herbaceous zing of Thai basil.
Sean Henry, a proprietor of Soda Vie, gently nudges the stopper on the cobalt blue bottle with his thumb and beckons me to lean in close.
He wants me to hear the faint popfftttt — just like Champagne — as it ekes past the stopper. An old-timey-looking bale top, the sort of clamp typically used on Grolsch lagers, holds the stopper in place.
That effervescent sound was the fizz of carbonation; a sure sign the yeast that is a part of the natural fermentation process has finished its job.
Henry skips the fine dining pomp of Reidel stemware and pours three different samples of Soda Vie’s Thai basil clove into plastic condiment cups. The local bubbly — which is handmade and naturally brewed in minuscule batches in the back of a hot dog shop in south Kansas City, Mo. — actually has more in common with a Bordeaux or a Belgian quadruple than a Coke.
The first soda sample we sip has been “aging” for three or four weeks, enough time to show off the heat of ginger mingled with the herbaceous zing of Thai basil. The second three-month-old sample definitely tastes “clove forward.” The third gulp is a double-strength batch originally intended to be a bar mixer that “deepens the experience,” one that Henry acknowledges might clash with various food pairings.
We move on to compare root beer with a hint of African coffee against one with chili overtones.
“You can totally taste the cayenne pepper,” Henry says, a pink blush rapidly spreading across his nose and cheeks to meet his red hair and beard.
But the smoky overtones need something sweeter to add balance. “Maybe ice cream?” I say.
Henry rises from the table and returns with cups of vanilla ice cream. He pours root beer over the top and pronounces the impromptu float quite tasty, even though a premium ice cream shop he approached about carrying Soda Vie “just didn’t get it.”
In a world of high-fructose corn syrup-infused soft drinks, Soda Vie (www.sodavie.com) is a refreshing change of pace. The sodas are made from natural (and, where feasible, organic) ingredients, including fresh ginger, whole cloves, fresh Thai basil and, when a bit of sweetness is required, cane sugar.
Unlike popular commercial sodas, which use water that has been highly charged with carbon dioxide (a process known as forced carbonation), Soda Vie goes into the bottle still and achieves its sparkling quality a few days later as it naturally ferments. The process takes anywhere from 12 hours to three or four days. The finished product must be refrigerated (to keep the gas from building up to the point where it showers a customer when opened) and each bottle comes with an expiration date.
Since January, Henry and business partner Benjamin Topel have been brewing their artisanal sodas in nano-batches — six and a half gallons, or 48 bottles, at a time. All the production work, from peeling and juicing the gingerroot to snapping the bottles shut, is done by hand. The soda sells for a premium price: it ranges from $3 to $4.25, plus a $2 bottle deposit.
“We’re just emulating what a tavern owner was doing 100 years ago,” Henry says, although lab tests have confirmed that there is no more than trace alcohol in the finished brew. “It’s not that esoteric a process.”
Their Soda Vie lineup, which is growing as fast as they can think up new and interesting flavors, includes Thai basil clove, mojito, pineapple-cilantro, cucumber, celery, citrus kicker (ginger beer with grapefruit and cayenne pepper), strawberry-mint and strawberry-lavender. For fall, they’re mulling over sodas featuring figs, quince and apples.