We have been blessed with spectacular weather for all of July and no doubt cold beverage sales have been going through the roof. When we think of the word ‘soda’ we usually think about the big manufacturers out there, the Cokes and Pepsis of the world, but today on Food Matters on CBC Radio’s All Points West, I a much smaller sodamaker to talk about.
These sodas come in stubbies, and it’s been a long time since I drank anything out of a ‘stubby’ which used to be the bottle shape for 95% of Canadian-made beer. But when I took my first swig out of a stubby full of naturally-fermented and slightly fizzy pickled ginger and lemon soda I was cheering the return of the stubby. This slightly vinegary concoction called Ginger Shrub is sharp and refreshing and rescued me at the end of a very hot day at a night market in Parksville. That’s where I met Mandolyn Jonasson with her wild array of creative beverages from her Island SodaWorks company.
The other flavours I had for Jo-Ann Roberts to taste today were Victoria Lemonade, which has organic lemons along with rose petals and vanilla bean, and then Dandelion Flowers and Citrus, with yes, dandelion flowers, lemon juice, and lemon, lime and grapefruit zest.
Mandolyn is big on fresh, bright flavours, and that’s what helped attract her to making sodas, she started with ginger beer, which was helping with some health-related issues she was having but when she started going to the Comox Valley Farmers Market and discovering all the wonderful fresh flavours and aromas there, she started doing even more experimentation.
This is soda like you’ve never had it before. Mandolyn takes all-natural ingredients ranging anywhere from pickled Japanese plums to those rose petals to dandelions I mentioned and ferments them in the bottle with a very small amount of organic cane sugar, resulting in a low-sugar, good-for-your gut, tasty beverage. The way most sodas are made today is that you mix together a lot of artificial flavours and a lot of sugar and water and then you carbonate it. But while her company is relatively new, the concept is old…we’re talking the Middle Ages here, when this fermenting process was used to kill bad bugs in water and preserve fruits and vegetable flavours.
There were a couple of reasons that helped her decide to make soda as part of a business. One good reason was that the more sodas she made for people the more they wanted it. And it was a flexible business that allowed her to spend as much time as possible with her young daughter. The business could fit around her daughter’s schedule.
Because this is such a different beverage, she had to jump through several regulatory hoops to get the provincial authorization necessary to sell her product in the first place, mostly because she’s calling it a soda. And it IS a hard sell at first…as I watched Mandolyn in action at the market she had to do quite a bit of explaining to people in describing exactly what her product is and how it is made, every single one of them, and convince them to spend $4 a bottle. However, she says she has the most loyal clients in the world. Once they try it and like it, they come back, they might buy 12 a week for the family. She admits that these sodas are not for everyone, but she laughs that people who do like it are ‘like addicts’.
Bartenders (or mixologists) are also creating cocktails using Mandolyn’s sodas as a base. Her flavours change with the season and availability of local fruits and produce, I think she’s doing a peach based soda right now. So maybe in the future this natural product will start making a dent in the popularity of those ubiquitous, fizzy, high-fructose corn syrup product sales. For now it is only available at the farmers markets she attends in the Comox Valley area.