Good nose ... exquisite raspberry bouquet ... a taste of licorice with kumquat finishing notes ... Is it wine? No, it's soda. PJM's culinary correspondent Nancy Rommelman has the inside dope - or is it pop - on this latest foodie fad.
by Nancy Rommelmann
In the metropolis that is food, you receive all sorts of signals. Some are urgent, ringing your buzzer until you let in the pomegranate molasses or Plymouth gin or Reese’s Big Cup, all of which turn out to be great. Others are more like wallpaper glimpsed in the apartment across the street. Sure, the print seems sort of interesting, but do you really need to ring the lady’s bell and get a closer look? The latter was the case for something called Dry Soda, which for the past year has made occasional darts into my peripheral consciousness. A few months ago, I might have gone so far as to imagine it as pink and powdery and formulated in a lab, a sort of Pixie Stix for grown-ups that, when poured into your mouth, spontaneously reconstituted.
I didn’t get further than that until last week, when while walking in downtown Seattle, I saw a shop whose expansive yet spare gallery made me think it must hold the full retinue of Herman Miller furniture, but which in fact sold only item I could carry in my hand.
“Are you here for a tasting?” asked Carrie, DRY Soda Co.’s postmodern soda jerk, standing behind a bar lined with champagne flutes. I told her, why not, and proceeded to watch her pour tasting shots of each of DRY Soda’s four, well, sodas.
“These are savory sodas,” Carrie said, sliding me the kumquat. “They’re meant to be paired with food, so I’ll have you try the driest first.”
The kumquat smelled like a bouquet of orange blossoms. Rather than a slap of syrup on the tongue, there were teeny tiny bubbles releasing a citrus tingle. Nice.
“The kumquat has a high acidity, so you’d pair it with very rich, very fatty foods, like duck and oysters and risotto,” said Carrie, adding that DRY Soda’s founder created the soft drink line in 2005, when she was pregnant. “Sharelle loves wine and was tired of not having something to drink with her dinner.”
Okay, I thought, as Carrie slid over the rhubarb. “I like this,” she said, “with macaroni & cheese.”
Like all of DRY Soda’s sodas, the rhubarb was subtly aromatic; any fruit taste more idea than insinuation, and barely sweet, which for me is good, as aside from the occasional can of tonic to cut the gin, I don’t drink soda, finding it too sugary, as well as a profligate way to spend calories. I’ll almost always choose a three-ounce bar of Scharffen Berger 82% Cacao Extra Dark over a 16-ounce Coke. Or, as DRY Soda’s sleek laminated Serving Suggestions card suggested the rhubarb be paired with, a repast of veal or cassoulet or winter vegetables…
Which is when I realized I was swallowing more than soda; that I was wading into a lifestyle eddy; that I, meaning the demographic I, was just the customer DRY Soda was looking to hook. Between 25 and 45? Check. Stunned when, the last time I ordered a “small soft drink” at the movies, I was given a quart, thus making long-suffering husband listen (again) to harangue about health insurance costs rising exponentially with American caloric intake? Check. Respond to streamlined designs, in particular those rendered in burnt-orange? Apparently. Fancy oneself ecumenical when it comes to dining, both sentimental for what our grandmothers cooked and experiencing a secret squinch of pride at knowing a good Thai green curry from a great one…
“Try the lemongrass,” said Carrie, which a DRY Soda crib card told me was “dry, bright, grassy, medium acidity,” and I guess it was, and I guess, as it also told me, it would go well with sushi and shellfish and goat cheese and asparagus. And yet half my brain was out the door by the time I got around to the lavender, because how much did I really want to engage with a lifestyle beverage, or what the three-page foldout DRY Soda pamphlet described as “the first culinary soda”? Was it really any better than a Pellegrino with lime? And how would I feel with a fridge full of the twelve 12-ounce bottles I could order for $33.85 (with shipping)? I’d feel like an ass, that’s what; like someone waiting to open her refrigerator so her friends could see her soda, at which point, if they were friends, one would properly tell me to get out back and drink a warm Dr. Pepper in order to get right.
I didn’t like the lavender, despite the twenty-page DRY Holidays booklet that proposed bringing it to work, in order to “add a little sophistication to your company’s next event… and give everyone something to talk about.” And, in a big burnt-orange thought bubble, the admonition to, “Watch your diet. Try new things. Treat yourself to something special. Whatever your resolution, DRY Soda can help you get there.”
I resolved to get out of the pool.
DRY Soda is available online at www.drysoda.com; at Whole Foods Markets, and many retailers, restaurants and hotels.
Nancy Rommelmann is a columnist and feature writer for the Los Angeles Times, the LA Weekly, Bon Appetit and other publications, and a frequent contributor to Portland Food & Drink. She is the author of several books, including %%AMAZON=014026373X Everything You Pretend to Know About Food And Are Afraid Someone Will Ask,%% and the recently completed memoir, Leaving Los Angeles. Her personal blog can be read here.