The Renaissance of Craft Sodas: What They Are and How to Drink Them

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                                                                                                                                          Photo Credit: The Pharmacy Burger Parlor & Beer Garden

Have you ever considered making homemade barbeque sauce with craft soda as one of the ingredients? Craft soda can be far more than just a tasty carbonated drink—it has the potential to elevate all kinds of culinary experiences. Of course, it can be a delicious treat on its own. But it can also be an excellent counterpart to any meal, whether as a paired beverage or incorporated within a recipe. And especially during “Dry January,” when abstinence from alcohol is a trending practice, craft soda is a great liquor alternative and a delightful component for leveling up mocktails (nonalcoholic cocktails).

Craft soda is considered an art form at the establishments that still serve it today, like The Pharmacy Burger Parlor & Beer Garden in Nashville, Tennessee. The Pharmacy is among a growing sector of the soda market that honors craft soda and views it as more than just an ode to the past. Although craft soda is unmatched in its flavor profile and culinary possibilities, it’s easy to get lost in the monotony of mainstream sodas. However, after learning more about this versatile beverage, you may consider opting for a craft soda too.

What Is Craft Soda?

Unlike its mass-produced counterparts, craft soda is made with a commitment to quality ingredients. Typically produced in small batches, craft soda tends to stray from artificial sweeteners and high-fructose corn syrup, instead using natural sweeteners like cane sugar or honey. For example, The Pharmacy makes its own sodas using 100% pure cane sugar. This gives craft sodas a distinct and authentic sweetness. It also means craft soda is typically a healthier option compared to more commercial varieties.

Craft soda can trace its roots back to the late 19th century, when soda fountains were the social hubs of communities. It was in the 1880s that soda started to become mass-produced, birthing some of the biggest beverage companies to this day. Craft soda really started to gain popularity during the 1920s, though, due to the passing of Prohibition laws. As Smithsonian Magazine reminds us, soda fountains began springing up nationwide at the time, operating similarly to coffee shops today. Rather than merely offering Coca-Cola products, the soda fountains crafted their sodas on-site, allowing for a level of customization and creativity that set each soda fountain apart. Fast-forward to today, and the craft soda movement is a nod to those golden days and the artistry that once defined soda culture.

                                                                                                      Photo Credit: The Pharmacy Burger Parlor & Beer Garden

Craft Soda Today

Small-batch producers continue to emerge, breathing new life into a tradition that has faded with time. According to a 2023 IBISWorld market report, soda has historically been a declining market. However, today, craft soda is one of the few sectors of the $42.4 billion U.S. industry that is growing. Research firm Fior Markets reports that craft soda is undeniably rising, forecasted to grow from $587.75 million in 2020 to $855.22 million in 2028 worldwide. The craft soda revival is about to bubble over—and for good reason.

Ways to Use Craft Soda in Cooking

1. Silky Sauces

Craft sodas can elevate your cooking adventures. Use soda as a flavor enhancer in glazes, marinades, and sauces. Imagine glazing your favorite protein with a reduction made from ginger and lemongrass soda. Or use vanilla cream soda to add a sweet twist to a homemade barbecue sauce. 

2. Fancy Root Beer Floats

For dessert, take the standard root beer float up a notch by switching from the traditionally used root beer brands to a craft root beer, giving those familiar flavors a new depth. There’s a certain richness to craft soda that offers a multitude of possibilities as well as a new spark of creativity in the kitchen.

3. Craveable Mocktails

For anyone embarking on “Dry January,” craft soda is the perfect companion. Merely by itself, craft soda is a great, straight-up alternative to liquor. But it can also be incorporated to spectacular effect in mocktails, especially if you want something more exciting. Think botanical infusions, artisanal fruit blends, and nuanced sweeteners. Craft sodas are an excellent liquor alternative because they offer a similar complexity and a satisfying fizz that can mimic the experience of sipping a well-crafted cocktail.

Some great examples include a classic like a virgin mojito. Swapping out rum for a zesty lime and mint craft soda adds a delightful kick, thanks to the effervescence of craft soda. If you want something a little more sophisticated, start with an artisanal berry-infused soda, then muddle some fresh basil and add a splash of sparkling water. Both are delicious and refreshing, and all without a drop of alcohol.

Feel free to mix and match flavors, play with garnishes, and let your palate guide you when incorporating craft sodas into your arsenal. The key to successful recipes and balanced mocktails lies in experimentation. Craft sodas are versatile, and their diverse flavor profiles can complement various ingredients.

Conclusion

Whether you’re participating in “Dry January” or simply seeking a refreshing alternative, craft sodas are the perfect option. Ideal for sipping, mixing, and cooking, the distinctly authentic flavors of craft sodas are worthy competitors to mainstream choices. Enjoyed by itself or as an ingredient, craft soda invites you to explore, experiment, and savor the artistry in every sip. Cheers!

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