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Roaring Pines' Drew Dayberry measures cascara for a unique syrup. (Photo by Stephanie Breijo)
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A few blocks away, Stroops Heroic Dogs and Dutch & Co. serve up artfully infused craft sodas. (Photo by Stephanie Breijo)
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Roaring Pines soda. (Photo by Stephanie Breijo)
There’s soda made from waste on the menu, and it’s delicious.
Cascara, rarely consumed in the U.S., is often discarded or used for compost. But when these dried skins of coffee cherries find themselves steeped into syrup for Union Hill’s Roaring Pines soda, something special happens.
It’s here in this modern spin on the neighborhood general store that owner Drew Dayberry experiments, bringing roughly 30 varieties of craft soda to life using his own syrups and those of specialty makers from around the country. Sure, there are a few classics on the menu — an egg cream made with the standard U-bet syrup, or a simple vanilla soda — but it’s the wild pops with unique ingredients that fuel Dayberry’s mad science.
“I could sit here and make cream soda or vanilla syrup all day, but the same way I educate people on a weird broom, I want to educate them on a weird drink,” he says from behind the counter. “That’s the name of the game here.”
He measures out the caffeinated husks until they fill a pitcher to the brim and simmers them in water. Today’s batch is small, but still requires a few buckets of the coffee byproduct; larger batches of syrup, such as that required for a 5-gallon keg of soda, can call for up to 8 pounds— literal piles of the stuff. The shells steep for 10 minutes to draw out their natural cherry tone (too long and their taste becomes vegetal). Then they’re strained and the liquid finds its way back into the pot with fresh ginger that infuses the soon-to-be-syrup. And this is only one of Dayberry’s fanciful craft sodas — and Dayberry is only one of Richmond’s craft soda makers.
In Carytown, Garden Grove Brewing Co. focuses on craft beer, but its house-made soda is still one of its top sellers. A mix of sweet orange peel, wildflower honey, lemongrass and Hawaiian ginger, the ginger beer keeps guests coming back for more — often by the growler — to the tune of around 30 gallons per week.
“I don’t drink, so I kind of missed being part of the whole craft beverage revolution,” says Margaret Doyle, owner of mobile coffee cart Espresso-A-Go-Go. She’s tweaking her recipe for from-scratch ginger ale, which she hopes to launch this season. In fact, the craft cocktail movement is one of the largest inspirations of the craft soda revolution, and not just for Doyle. Just ask Michelle Shriver, co-owner of Dutch & Co. and Stroops Heroic Dogs, which make some of the finest sodas in the city. “It’s been happening for years,” she says. “I just think now that more pregnant women or people who don’t drink are asking for mocktails, it’s like, well yeah, that’s an easy fix — we already make our own tonic and ginger beer.”
Aaron LeMire is the bar manager and man behind Dutch & Co. and Stoops’ effervescent sodas. He estimates he produces 240 to 250 bottles per week after his mixtures of fresh juice, herbs and fining agents infuse for hours, and, much like craft beer, often go through multiple rounds of racking, which helps the soda to clear. “I like it to be fresh juice, not necessarily syrup, and lightly carbonated, not necessarily in-your-face carbonated. It’s working to add texture and acidity instead of just being syrup and water. It makes it seem more real to me and it relates back to cocktails a lot more.” LeMire walks the line between an artisan attempting to perfect flavor and a scientist trying to balance components, temperature and pressure. His final products — and those from his craft-soda peers— are well worth their efforts, measured by the increasing demand for some of the finest summer sipping in Richmond.