The Rise of Craft Soda

Oskar Blues and other Colorado breweries are canning creations for the whole family.

Soda is suffering. The sugary drink has more than a few public image problems, and sales are on the decline. Annual per capita consumption of carbonated soft drinks fell to nearly 650 eight-ounce servings in 2015. While that seems like a lot, it’s the lowest since 1985.

Consumers are seeking out lower calorie, lower sugar drinks. Sugar taxes are inevitable, anti-obesity campaigners are unyielding and schools are increasingly banning vending machines. On top of it all, the negative press around aspartame and other artificial sweeteners has burst the diet soda bubble.

It’s time for a soda revolution. And maybe, just maybe, those revolutionaries are brewers.

Yes, craft beer brewers are now doing for soda what they did decades ago for beer: crafting complex, high-quality, locally made drinks that are made with the consumer in mind.

“Everything has gotten so homogenized in recent years. People are looking for something more,” says Chad Melis, marketing director for Oskar Blues Brewery. “People are trying to be thoughtful about where they are spending their time and money. There is a recognition of knowing who makes what you are buying.”

In this case, what you are buying is not beer, but soda. After years of serving the top-selling local craft root beer in Colorado, Oskar Blues expanded its B. Stiff and Son’s Old Fashioned Soda Pop Company this spring.

Like many breweries, Oskar Blues had served root beer in its tasting room and restaurants for years. When a friend—Brian Stiff, a Lyons resident and friend of Oskar Blues owner Dale Katechis—passed away in 2012, they decided to can their root beer with the B. Stiff moniker. With the spring expansion, they add four new flavors: ginger beer, orange cream, cream soda and black cherry.
“Our restaurants are very family friendly places. There are always a lot of kids there. We wanted something for them,” Melis said.

That’s part of the evolution of tap rooms, breweries and brewpubs. Once considered to be more like bars, today these institutions are family friendly hangout spots.

“When we first developed our restaurant concept, we didn’t see it as an environment for kids,” says Chea Franz, marketing, PR and brand manager for Fort Collins Brewery, which launched its canned soda line in spring. “And then our clients started having kids. Now about 60 percent of diners are families. So we serve milk flights, so the kids have something to drink while their parents do a beer flight.”

Craft soda goes along with that. Fort Collins Brewery had also made soda for their tasting room and restaurant for years. Diners kept requesting they put those creations in a can. When the company launched its canning line in spring of 2016, the staff realized it was the perfect time to develop a line of canned craft sodas.

“We looked at 30 different concepts and found the ones that fit us best,” Franz says. “We decided to go with something different from what’s out there.”

Different, in this case, means less sweetness and more sophisticated flavors. The Fort Collins Brewery craft soda line is made up of cucumber lime, blood orange basil and cherry vanilla. All three taste much different from anything sold in stores today. They are drier, more refreshing, more complex than your average cola.

“We basically just created the kind of soda we wanted to drink,” Franz said. “No caffeine, low in sugar, no artificial ingredients.”

Instead of newfangled flavor combinations, Oskar Blues sodas have an old-school theme. Creamy, crisp and bold, these are sodas for people who are craving a classic soda pop experience. Still, they too were conscious about what they were putting in their drinks. They even gave their original root beer recipe an overhaul, reducing sugar by 20 percent. All B. Stiff and Sons products are gluten free and caffeine free.

“We wanted to be thoughtful without sacrificing [on flavor],” Melis said. “High quality is our goal. No matter what we do, we want to make a better product.”

You can find B. Stiff and Son’s Old Fashioned Soda Pops in liquor stores and some grocery stores in Colorado, Wyoming, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Florida as well as at Oskar Blues Home Made Liquids and Solids in Longmont, Oskar Blues Grill & Brew in Lyons, CHUBurger in Longmont, CyclHOPS in Longmont and the new Denver CHUBurger. Fort Collins Brewery craft sodas are available at the FCB Modern Tavern in Fort Collins. They plan to have the craft soda line in six packs available at some liquor and grocery stores in late summer.

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