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Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2008

Gourmet Sodas

Milwaukee’s Sprecher stands above the rest

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More flavor than water, more pep than juice, nothing quenches the thirst like the sweet carbonation of a cold soda. These fizzy soft drinks date back to the mineral waters discovered in natural springs. Ancient cultures, like the Romans in Bath, England, for example, believed that bathing in and drinking the water from these natural springs could cure disease and promote longevity. Since then, soda’s reputation as a healthy tonic has disintegrated into that of a liquid villain, and understandably so. In a market dominated by corporate soft drink giants who produce oceans of the sweet beverage as cheaply as possible, quality ingredients and distinct flavors have taken a back seat to monetary gain. But not all sodas are creat ed this way. Some, like Randy Sprecher’s gourmet sodas, float far above the rest.

What makes Sprecher sodas unique is that they are brewed in handmade, gas-fired vessels that reach temperatures as high as 1,200 degrees. “This high temperature allows me to impart molecular changes no one else can get in a soda,” Sprecher explains, noting that these subtle changes give Sprecher sodas their hallmark flavors. As Sprecher puts it, “The flavors you taste in our sodas you just can’t buy.”

Sprecher, who began brewing root beer at home before he started selling it from Sprecher Brewery in 1988, now produces eight gourmet sodas, all of which are gluten and caffeine free. Sprecher Root Beer is by far the company’s most popular beverage, currently outselling all of Sprecher’s other brews—both hard and soft—combined. The root beer is known for its rich, balanced flavor that comes from using a combination of corn syrup, pure vanilla, aromatic botanicals and Wisconsin honey straight from the combs at Indian Summer Honey Farm. In June, The New York Times rated Sprecher Root Beer No. 1 in a tasting review of 25 different root beers. Like all of Sprecher’s gourmet sodas, this dark, rich brew will hold a frothy head when poured properly into a frosted mug. “All of our sodas are designed to hold a head,” Sprecher says, “just like a beer.”

Sprecher Brewery uses Wisconsin-made ingredients whenever possible, including Door County cherries in the Sprecher Cherry Cola and Roland ginseng in their Ravin’ Red soda. Other noteworthy flavors include Sprecher’s Cream Soda—a delicious blend of pure vanilla and honey that creates a balanced and subtle caramel flavor—and their all natural Puma Kola. Each batch of Puma is made from scratch using real vanilla, honey, a pinch of cinnamon and high-grade kola extract produced from trees native to the tropical rainforests of Africa.

What truly sets Sprecher apart from its corporate counterparts is the joy and creativity employees bring to the brewing process. They spend countless hours experimenting with new and innovative ingredients and techniques to create unique flavors. For example, Sprecher is currently working on an infusion that can be compared to champagne without alcohol and ginger ale aged in a chardonnay wine barrel. Sprecher Brewery also sells special beverages only available at the counter of the brewery, including Triple X, an alcoholic root beer aged in an oak bourbon cask. You just have to know to ask.

Randy Sprecher says he stands behind his gourmet sodas with confidence. “Right now, we don’t need to do anything different; just make more,” he adds with a laugh. “We love to have people sample the sodas because once they taste it, we have a customer.”

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