Vancouver and its surrounding areas are seeing rise in small batch, locally made beverages. From kombucha to herbal soda to ginger beer, these non-alcoholic concoctions are popping up at neighbourhood farmers’ markets and into cocktails at some of the Lower Mainland’s most beloved restaurants. As with all small businesses, the people behind these thoughtfully crafted drinks are just as important as the ingredients they’re mixing with.
Dickie’s Ginger Beer
During a six-month bike trip across Asia, Dickie’s founder Stephen Tufts became inspired by all the small businesses he encountered. Upon returning home, his hunt for a decent ginger beer in the city led him to start Dickie’s in 2014. Tufts, who sells at many Vancouver farmers’ markets, uses the ginger beer as a way to connect with his community. “I’ve lived in many different cities, and whenever I think about what makes them so special, it’s because of a small business: people working hard for something they care about,” he says. Unlike most commercial ginger beer, Dickie’s is made using cold-pressed ginger juice, along with cane sugar and lemon, so it’s as fresh as it gets (shelf life is generally four weeks refrigerated). Tufts works “like the milkman,” delivering new batches to restaurants constantly. The name pays homage to his childhood best friend, who is “always crafting up cocktails when he’s hosting people.” For Tufts a personal favourite is the Moscow mule, which no doubt he recommends making with his own brew.
Namasté Apothecary Soda
While Isabelle Ranger has been crafting tea since 2006 under Namasthé Tea Company, turning such blends into natural sodas and simple syrups has become a new venture for her. Currently Namasthé’s apothecary sodas are offered in two flavours: Pemberton Cola and Sassafras Soda, the latter of which is comparable to root beer. “It’s really fun to be able to do something that’s created out of a tea base with herbs and spices, and doesn’t have any preservatives added,” says Ranger. Just like the teas, Ranger’s sodas are made using locally foraged ingredients, as well as imported organic herbs and spices from Japan, Sri Lanka, and Nepal. “To be able to offer something to clients that has a lot of ingredients from the region yet still tastes like your cola or root beer—that’s really nice for people,” she says. The Whistler-based trained herbalist plans on softly launching the bottled sodas and simple syrups in select restaurants and coffee shops this fall, but those curious to try it sooner can stop by Aphrodite’s Organic Café and Pie Shop on West 4th Avenue in Kitsilano.
Sip is a line of natural sodas made using sparkling mineral water that is infused with fresh herbs. Food scientist Jennifer Martin noticed most “natural” beverages on the grocery shelves weren’t actually doing a lot to reduce sugar, and felt a strong need to offer a healthier alternative. “I wanted to draw attention to the amount of sugar in beverages since it’s really driving diabetes, obesity, and heart disease,” says Martin, who has a history of diabetes in her family and is pre-diabetic herself. Martin spent several years working in the food industry before launching Sip in 2010. With four distinct flavours—Cardamom Berry, Lavender Lemon Peel, Coriander Orange, and Rosemary Lime—the sodas offer a “sophisticated non-alcoholic option,” or pair perfectly with gin, if that’s your thing. Distribution has recently been scaled back, as Martin says she wants it to be more of “that special drink,” offered only in cafes and restaurants rather than being a mass-marketed product. Currently, Sip can be ordered online through foodiepages.ca or at select Whole Foods locations in the Lower Mainland.
What started as a labour of love for proclaimed “Kombucha Queen” Ellen We eventually turned into a business, although it wasn’t planned. Once she discovered kombucha at the grocery store and quickly began reaping its digestive benefits, We started to brew it at home. “It became a passion project to try and roll it out into our community, do some education, and have some awareness on this strange thing called kombucha,” she says. Spark offers a drier taste than most kombuchas. Launched officially last summer, We’s kombucha and craft sodas are made exclusively with Namasthé Tea, cane sugar, and organic fruit infusions. We says the flavours, which include Ginger, Mojito and Blackberry Mango, have earned a “fierce local following”. Spark is currently available through growler fills at farmers’ markets across Vancouver, as well as in Whistler and Squamish. We says she has no plans to expand the distribution of Spark or to bottle it, and will only deliver to places she can drive to within a day. “It’s our contribution to reducing waste and being sustainable,” she explains. “And we feel it’s important.”
Mixed with your favourite spirit or sipped lonesome with ice, these natural, local fizzy products offer sweet, carbonated comfort.
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