You want something to drink, but you don’t want to drink – not alcohol, anyway.
You know the drill at most restaurants: You can order a round of one of the usual suspects (Coke, Pepsi, etc.). You can settle for iced tea. You can ask for water.
Or, you can hope you landed at one of a handful of places that are making their own house sodas. Places like Kindred in Davidson, where general manager Blake Pope creates a new soda every few weeks from local ingredients, or Dogwood Southern Table, where bar manager Brian Lorusso is making ginger beer and shrubs from fresh ginger.
You could stop by Not Just Coffee at 7th Street Public Market for an Italian soda made from seasonal syrups, like grapefruit-mint, plum-allspice or cinnamon-orange. Or at Heist on North Davidson, where they serve housemade root beer and ginger beer they also use in recipes.
At Free Range Brewing on North Davidson Street, you don’t have to get a beer: Using local-ingredient concentrates created by Cleveland County farmer Jamie Swofford, Free Range offers sparkling sodas in flavors like blackberry ginger, muscadine rose and sumac hybiscus ginger.
Ordering a house soda at Kindred last week brought a tall glass with a cloudy mixture that looked like a milky iced coffee. Instead, it was a powerfully flavorful ginger honey soda that included muscadine juice and a hint of refreshing apple cider vinegar.
Blake Pope based the concoction on switchel, the latest culinary fascination in the beverage world. Also called haymaker’s punch, switchels (once a traditional drink among farmers) are made from fresh ingredients and just a bit of vinegar. Unlike shrubs, which have more of a vinegar tang, switchels are sweeter with just a bit of vinegar for balance.
“It was a refreshing thing to throw back when you’re hot,” Pope says.
When Kindred opened, it wanted to offer things for families who come in with kids, like its housemade Play-Doh. So Pope decided to start a soda program.
“It’s fun for kids, and it keeps me on my toes,” he says.
When the kitchen gets produce from local farms, he looks through it for soda inspiration. He makes the soda in a 22-quart keg and creates a new one when it sells out, usually about every three weeks.
It’s not just kids who are ordering it, he says. A lot of adults want something tasty that doesn’t pack a buzz, particularly at lunch.
At Dogwood near SouthPark, bar manager Lorusso’s ginger beer is so popular, he goes through 15 pounds of fresh ginger a week. The ginger beer, which includes a little lemon juice and simple syrup, goes into cocktails like the popular Dark & Stormy and the recent resurgence of the Moscow Mule. But a lot of customers just order it straight up, on the rocks.
He sees fresh drinks as part of having a complete beverage program. He loves to have something special for people who aren’t drinking for a variety of reasons, from driving to doing a cleanse.
“There’s nothing worse when you’re at a bar and three people are drinking and the fourth is not, like she’s pregnant. And she’ll say, “I’ll just have water.’ I love to be able to say, ‘Let me make you something fun.’
“To see the change of expression on their face is so much fun.”
Swofford grows produce for local restaurants at The Chef’s Farmer near Shelby and had started experimenting with ancient beverage styles like vinegar-based poscas and shrubs for health reasons. He was thrilled when Jeff and Jason Alexander of Free Range contacted him before they opened to ask if he wanted to make concentrates for sodas they could offer on tap.
“He really gets these flavor profiles, and he understands our needs for how it’s served,” says Jason Alexander. “They’re all delicious. It’s hard for us not to drink them all.”
Swofford says the mixtures give him one more way to use everything from his farm.
“Anything that’s not the most beautiful that chefs wouldn’t want can go into that,” he says. “And it’s pushed me to learn more about natural and local sugars.” He’s started making his own vinegars and experimenting with things like apple-lasses – apple cider reduced to a syrup.
While only a few restaurants are doing this now, he expects a lot more farm-to-table places will join in.
“I’ve seen it in larger cities,” he says. “On the beverage side, just to have something for everyone, they see that niche. Who wants to use the Coca-Cola guy and all his equipment when you can just do it yourself?”
Where to drink it in
Most sodas cost $4 to $5 a glass. We found these:
▪ Kindred, 131 N. Main St., Davidson, 980-231-5000, open lunch and dinner; closed Sundays and Mondays. Seasonal sodas made with local ingredients that change every few weeks. Currently: Ginger honey switchel with muscadine.
▪ Dogwood Southern Table & Bar, 4905 Ashley Park Lane (behind Whole Foods), 704-910-4919, open for lunch and brunch Sunday-Friday, dinner daily. Housemade ginger beer, plus shrubs and flavored syrups that change seasonally.
▪ Free Range Brewing, 2320 N. Davidson St., 980-201-9096, closed Monday-Wednesday. On-tap sodas made with local-ingredient concentrates from Shelby farmer Jamie Swofford.
▪ Heist Brewery, 2909 N. Davidson St., 704-375-8260, open daily. Housemade root beer and ginger beer.
▪ Not Just Coffee in 7th Street Public Market, 224 E. Seventh St., open daily. (Sodas only offered at 7th Street, but may be added later at the Atherton Market location). Italian-style sodas made from housemade seasonal syrups topped with sparkling water.
Want to learn?
Brian Lorusso of Dogwood Southern Table will teach a class on fall-themed cocktails, including syrups and bitters, 6:45-7:45 p.m. Nov. 9 at Savory Spice Shop, 2000 South Blvd. at Atherton Mill. $25. Register at the shop or call 980-225-5419.