by Brian Yaeger
Portland, Ore., is awash in breweries and taprooms, hence the sobriquet Beervana. And there’s one bottle shop that boasts some 300 different brands, only none of them are beer. That is, unless you count the non-alcoholic variety, like 40-ish root beers, dozens of sarsaparillas or birch beers.
Cosmic Soda Pop & Candy Shop also stocks Ale-8-One, which is akin to ginger ale and happens to be one of the oldest heritage brands of soft drinks, originating in Winchester, Ky., 87 years ago. Of course, there are also decidedly cockamamie concoctions including a line from Lester’s Fixins flavored like PB&J and Buffalo wings, as well as ones named Martian Poop and Zombie Brain Juice. Most craft sodas in the shop, and those springing up all over the country, are innovative and epicurean. Root beer is just the starting point.
Soda water dates back to the 18th century, and many of America’s most popular pop brands emerged in the late 19th century. Today, business is bubbling among craft soft drink producers. It’s no surprise that many flavorful soda concoctions hail from craft brewers. Sprecher (Wisconsin), Grand Teton (Idaho), Steelhead (Oregon) and Sea Dog (Maine) are just a few that have long bottled root beer and other sodas; Abita in Louisiana even incorporates terroir by using local cane sugar. It’s rather forward-thinking considering today’s beer enthusiasts’ kids are tomorrow’s potential beer consumers.
Look for sodas with fresh fruits, hand-squeezed juices and spices like coriander, cardamom and capsicum—creative, full-flavored beverages even a beer geek can get behind.
FIVE TO TRY
Phillips Brewing Captain Electro’s Intergalactic Root Beer: In blacklisting anything artificial, this B.C. brewery alchemized raw ingredients including sarsaparilla, cinnamon and molasses for this utterly distinct root beer.
Hotlips Soda Marionberry: Alongside fruit from Portland’s closest farms, sweet, dark marionberries achieve this pie-in-a-bottle taste.
Agrarian Ales Barley Pimento: This Oregon farmhouse-made draft soda (available in growlers) has a sweet barley malt base, but swaps hop spice for pimento kick, thus measuring in SHUs (Scoville heat units), not IBUs.
Brooklyn Soda Works Lemon & Thyme: New York soda jerks hand-juice all their fruit. Instead of lemon-lime, lemony tartness supports the predominant thyme.
Joia Lime, Hibiscus & Clove: From Minneapolis, the lime half of lemon-lime sodas couples with elegant hibiscus and fragrant clove for a tangy Key lime pie essence.