California – A Mecca of Craft Soda
10 Brands! Yes, Californians produce 10 great brands of craft soda! California is a big state, but that’s a lot of craft soda brands. Each brand represents the unique vision of its founders or its location in California. This is the kind of soda you remember drinking as a kid: the nostalgic stuff like old-fashioned root beers, sarsaparillas, ginger beers, and cream sodas. It usually comes in a 12 oz glass bottle and is generally sweetened with cane sugar, not high fructose corn syrup. Also known as artisanal soda, it is made in small batches with recipes designed by the “mom and pop” operations that created them out of their kitchen. This article introduces the 10 brands of craft soda brewed right here in California. It shares a little bit of the unique history of each brand, its city or town of origin, and the flavors available. Because everyone’s palate and tastes are so different it’s really impossible to rank them in order so we will just go down the list alphabetically:
Alameda Point Craft Soda Co. was started in 2016 with the idea of supporting local independent Bay Area bars and restaurants with beverage and service. They developed a variety of better-tasting sodas made with pure cane sugar and named after unique Bay Area locations. From the interactive map on their website it is clear that they have inundated the Bay Area and surrounding areas with their delicious craft sodas. Alameda Point Craft Soda can be found in locations stretching from Monterey to Napa and San Francisco to Livermore. They make mixers and craft sodas. Their beverages currently come in a 3 gallon Bag-In-Box format designed for classic fountain soda machines and bar guns, and premixed 5 gallon tanks or “kegs”. They are also planning to bottle their craft soda in 12 oz glass bottles in the near future. Alameda Point offers 7 mixers in their Monarch St. Spirits Alley line: Cranberry, Orange, Pineapple, Dragonfruit, Tonic, Sour, and Energy. They also make 12 unique craft sodas named after local Bay Area landmarks: Hangar 25 Cola and Diet Cola, Golden Gate Orange, Lost Island Ginger Beer, Olde Fountain Cream Soda, Grand Lake Sparkling Grapefruit, Oaktown Old Fashioned Root Beer, Cable Car Lemon Lime, Park St. Bridge Ginger Ale, Merritts Lemonade, Diablo Black Cherry, and Uptown Burgundy.
Batch Craft Soda proudly produces gluten free, pure cane sugar craft soda in California using natural ingredients including acacia bark, bitter orange tree blossoms, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, kola nuts, nutmeg, sarsaparilla root, and star anise. Batch Craft Soda believes that when you have a carbonated soft drink, it should be uncommonly good and pleasurable. Batch produces a variety of flavors including Cola, Diet Cola, Root Beer, Pink Lemonade, Orange, Lemon Lime, Ginger Beer, Shirley Temple, and the excitingly different Snozzberry. It is available in Bag-In-Box format and in 12 oz glass bottles.
As one review on their website says, “this is a microbrewery in the middle of nowhere.” It is located in Inyokern, CA. If you try to find it on a map, you will know immediately that the reviewers description is perfectly accurate. Inyokern is about 1/3 of the way from Bakersfield, CA to Las Vegas, NV, hidden on the eastern side of the Sierras on Highway 395. Indian Wells Brewing Company brews its craft beer and its craft soda from pure artesian spring water that trickles down through the earth from the snows of Mount Whitney and then bubbles up in the historic Indian Wells Spring. Though the Indian Wells Lodge Restaurant has been around since 1960, Indian Wells Brewing Co. was born in 1997. In addition to craft beer, Indian Wells brews up 6 delicious flavors of their Death Valley Brand craft soda: Black Cherry, Cola, Cream Soda, Orange Cream, Root Beer, and Sour Green Apple. They use pure cane sugar and natural ingredients such as black cherries, West African organic cola nuts, Tahiti vanilla beans, fresh sarsaparilla, birch root, raw ginger, and of course, their pure artesian spring water to provide a soda that gives you “a taste of the old west.”
Established in 2017, Moonglade Brews is a small family business out of Oceanside, CA that brews small batch, healthy, organic beverages including nitro cold brew coffee, ice tea, kombucha, and craft soda including ginger beer, root beer, and blueberry soda. Moonglade’s ginger beer is quite unique. It’s based on the authentic English ginger beer recipe using cold-pressed organic ginger, lemon and lime. They have year-round and seasonal flavors of ginger beer including watermelon ginger beer, apple-cinnamon ginger beer, pineapple ginger beer, mango ginger beer, and passion fruit ginger beer. Moonglade also uses real natural whole ingredients in their root beer including real sarsaparilla root, start anise, cinnamon, cloves, vanilla, maple and more. Same with their blueberry soda which is made from real wild blueberries with their natural antioxidant properties. Moonglade also uses half the sugar of other craft sodas.
Located in Gardena, CA, Real Soda is actually a soda distributor – perhaps the largest soda distributor in the world – but the founder and proprietor, Danny Ginsburg, the “Soda Sommelier”, has invented several of his own craft sodas over the years. He has Gardena Grape, Looks Like Orange Tastes Like Grape, and Redondo Peach. He also offers Pedro Punch. There are several stories about how Pedro Punch got its name. It could have been named after the local port city of San Pedro, or it could be that Pedro, one of Real Soda’s employees, didn’t have a retirement plan set up so Danny created a soda named Pedro Punch and vowed to donate $1.00 from the sale of each case of the soda to Pedro’s retirement fund. The mystery may never be solved. My favorite soda invented by Danny Ginsburg is the very timely Make America Grape Again. With all the political chaos and division these days, wouldn’t it be nice just to make America grape again! Danny’s most famous and most popular craft soda creation is Leninade. The label on the bottle encourages you to “get hammered & sickled” as you drink this soviet-inspired revolutionary red lemonade. This is definitely a craft soda with a “taste worth standing in line for!”
As their website says, River City Soda “brings you back.” This is soda pop the way it used to be made. Janet and Bob Lake started and had run Blue Dog Beverage, a craft soda beverage distribution company in Northern California, for about 10 years before deciding to create their own root beer. They had tasted the over 60 root beers that they distributed and still felt that their was room for improvement. After 2 years of experimentation they finally came up with what they felt was the flavor that would make the best root beer float you ever had and “bring you back” to times gone by. You’ll have to judge for yourself but I think you’ll agree that River City is an amazing root beer. After developing the perfect root beer, the Lakes turned to developing other flavors of old time craft soda. They make 50/50 Orange Cream which tastes like a Creamsicle in a bottle, River City Blueberry Lemonade Soda which is reminiscent of Sweet Tart candy, and River City Ginger Beer which is lightly sweet with some heat at the finish. It Makes a great Moscow Mule or a River City Whisky & Ginger. River City Brand sodas can be found at many grocery stores up and down the west coast such as Save Mart, Raleys, Nugget, Safeway, and Fred Meyer.
Sparky’s Fresh Draft Root Beer is made by Knox Brewing, located in Pacific Grove, California. It’s a result of years of home brewing and experimentation – 10 years in fact. The formula was finalized in 1999, and the root beer was named after Sparky the cat who hung around watching Kevin Knox perfect his creation. One thing that makes Sparky’s Fresh Draft Root Beer unique, and probably the reason why it took Mr. Knox over 100 test batches to perfect the formula and bring it all together, is the fact that it has over 12 ingredients. These include birch, local California honey, pure cane sugar, and based on the taste, may also contain vanilla, wintergreen, spearmint, cloves, anise, and more. Another thing that makes Sparky’s Fresh Draft Root Beer unique is that it is kettle-brewed just as many craft beers are. In addition, root beer is the only flavor of craft soda that Knox Brewing creates. Obviously, this gives them some real expertise in the root beer world as they have put all their energy and creativity into this one product. Sparky’s comes in the 12 oz glass bottles typical to craft soda, and also in 22 oz glass “bombers” just like craft beer. The thing I love most about Sparky’s Fresh Draft Root Beer is the saying on the box: “Leading the Root Beer Revival!” I didn’t even know there was a root beer revival, but if there is, I’m glad to be a part of it!
Sunshine Bottle Works which launched in 2008 is located on the Central coast of California. They offer 4 all-natural craft soda flavors. All are sweetened with 100% cane sugar though the company uses 20% less sugar in its sodas than is used in most mass-produced sodas. Sunshine Bottle Works All-Natural Root Beer contains the flavors of sarsaparilla, vanilla, clove and anise. Sunshine Cream Soda is heavy on the vanilla, and proud of it. In fact, the description on their website says, “enjoy the bold vanilla bomb.” Sunshine also makes a ginger beer which they describe as “hazy and spicy.” Lastly, Sunshine Bottle Works makes a unique soda called Spezi. It’s a special mix of cola and orange. Sounds delicious!
Launched in 2017, Swell Soda Company rides its craft soda wave right out of San Diego, California offering 9 unique flavors of Southern California beach-inspired flavors including Tangerine, Pineapple, COLAfornia, Pomegranate, Wild Blueberry, Coffee Vanilla Cream, Lime-N-Lemon, Big Ginger Ale, and Diet COLAfornia. Of course the bottles have cool beach life images on them like surfers, waves, and sunsets. All flavors of Swell craft soda are made with real cane sugar. The founders created the soda to bring them and their community back to their childhoods of watching cheap surf flicks in Pacific Beach, playing around in the ocean in Children’s Pool in La Jolla, and drinking sodas and eating dipped frostie cones on the beach. The company believes in family, community, diversity, and in celebrating life. As they say on their website, life is beautiful, life is swell, and soda makes people happy. So accept their invitation and ride the barrel with them. The craft soda barrel that is!
Other Hidden California Craft Soda Companies
Above are the 9 most visible craft soda brands in California, but I know there are other hidden gems that are just getting a start, or are still working on their website, or are very local to their areas. In fact, just as I was finishing this article I found my 10th California craft soda brand: Burly Beverages in Sacramento, CA, and I’m sure there are more. California really is a Mecca of Craft Soda so plan your pilgrimage to the land of beaches, movie stars, and the sweet, delicious craft soda!