Friday, October 7, 2011

Behind the Bar:

Dry Soda, Perlini, Scrappy

We Americans spend more money on soda than on real food. And it gets worse when you include flavored waters, energy drinks, and fruit juices, not to mention coffee and tea, and leaving aside beer, wine and spirits. We are a nation built on liquids enhanced with artificial flavors and sweeteners, and we're getting bulkier every day.

Sharelle Klaus
Into this fray, six years ago, stepped a local woman, Sharell Klaus. A foodie, yes, but primarily a high-tech consultant with four little kids. She set out, very deliberately, to create a new category of "natural" carbonated beverages (water, cane sugar, natural flavoring, and phosphoric acid) that would pair with food. She called it Dry Soda.

At the time, there were basically three flavors of canned soda: cola, lemon-lime, and root beer. So she thought about it for a while and came up with four candidates: Kumquat, Lavender, Rhubarb and Lemongrass. (She would soon add Vanilla and Juniper Berry, drop the Kumquat when it turned out that not many people knew what a kumquat was; she substituted Blood Orange.) Each flavor required a lot of experimental formulation in her Tacoma kitchen, a thousand batches each, Klaus says. 

Now 42, she's grateful for the guidance she received from a food scientist and a beverage industry consultant. Turnstyle Studio of Ballard, back then a startup as well, designed the appealing logo. Dry's flavors are developed in association with a company in California; the bottling is handled by an outfit in Portland. "Building a beverage brand is very expensive," Klaus acknowledges, so, in addition to its own sales team, Dry Soda has hired a savvy, $2 billion national food broker, Acosta, to make sure Dry gets onto the right grocery shelves and into the right restaurants (like the French Laundry).

There's an air of Energizer Bunny around Klaus. On the day she was named one of Seattle's 15 Women of Influence by Puget Sound Business Journal, she was launching a new flavor of soda, Wild Lime (think 7-Up on steroids) at Dry's headquarters in Pioneer Square, then hopped the red-eye to South Carolina to launch a new venture with Urban Outfitters. She'd been hoping to run in the New York Marathon next month, and hired her daughter's soccer instructor to be her running coach, but she concedes she's run out of time. "I'll have to put off the Marathon until 2012."

And then we have Evan Wallace, former physicist and ex-software engineer, who lives in a condo at the Market and spends a lot time in his "living room" downstairs, the Zig Zag Café.

Evan Wallace at Zig-Zag
Wallace is a tinker and inventor with a fondness for bubbles and abhorence of flat Champagne. How to keep the sparkle in a sparkling wine? Icy cold temperature helps; an airtight stopper helps, but really, once the bottle has been opened, the only way to keep the contents perfectly fresh is to exactly recreate the conditions in the bottle before the cork was popped. Wallace's solution, patented as the Perlage system, is to encase the entire bottle in a clear safety enclosure, and then repressurize the headspace of the bottle to its original state. At $200, it's an item for serious consumers of fine Champage.

But wait, there's another product from Wallace's company that will add sparkle to your bar: it's called Perlini, a kit (in a Mafia-style metal attachĂ© case) that includes a shaker, a pressurizer, and a dozen CO2cartridges. (Also $200.)  Here's a video that shows how the system works; here's another one of Seattle bar guru Jamie Boudreau using Perlini to make a sparkling Negroni.
Miles Thomas makes Negroni at Branzino

Boudreau's new place on Capitol Hill, Cannon, is also at the forefront of another trend for craft-cocktail bars: homemade bitters, which he keeps in glass pitchers atop the bar.

Finally, for bars that don't have the time to brew their own, there's Scappy's Bitters, a local company founded by Miles Thomas, who went from tending bar at Branzino to the forefront of the bitters trend. (Technically, if it doesn't contain bitters, it's not a cocktail.) But bitters have gone way past the dark-and-dodgy days of Angostura's, first concocted two centuries ago in South America and still brewed in Trinidad. Scrappy's comes in a handful of flavors (orange, lime, grapefruit, lavender, celery--ideal for Bloody Mary--and chocolate). Demand has been intense; Thomas keeps moving to bigger quarters (he's currently in Fremont) but the product remains handmade.

The Perlini allows bartenders to produced a greater range of flavors without resorting to traditional mixers. Dry Soda allows non-drinkers to enjoy the flavors as well. And Scrappy makes it all (bitterly) worthwhile.

1 comment:

  1. Gosh I miss a good drink! I live in Italy, in Sicily where making American style cocktails is not their forte. Their most awesome wines more than make up for this but sometimes there are those days where nothing would suit me better than a nice Martini or Manhattan, short of making it myself... well... now I'm homesick. Ciao!