Finding a local beer, wine, cider or liquor has become easy in Western North Carolina, while tracking down nonalcoholic beverages made in the area has proved more of a challenge.
However, the latter scene is growing. A new soft drink maker is setting up shop in Asheville to turn out draft ginger beer as well as bitters flavoring for cocktails. House Soda Co. will join a nonalcoholic drink community that includes Buchi, which makes kombucha, a fermented tea drink; Waynesville Soda Jerks, which produces a line of bottled soft drinks; Devil’s Foot Beverage Co., which produces canned ginger beers; and Oskar Blues Brewery, which, along with its beer, produces a line of sodas.
House Soda recently showcased its product at the AVL Beer Expo presented by the Asheville Brewers Alliance. “We will be operating out of a commissary kitchen to start,” says Spencer Schultz, bar manager at Asheville’s Rhubarb restaurant. He’ll run House Soda with Rebecca Bronson and looks to open the small operation in a few months.
“I’ve always wanted to open my own business,” Schultz says. Originally from Highlands, he sees an opportunity in producing soft drinks and bitters.
“I learned to make draft soda at Rhubarb,” he says. “I think there is a market for nonalcoholic draft product in Asheville.” He notes that his products will function not only as stand-alone beverages but also as cocktail mixers.
Schultz’s ginger beer is made with apple cider, freshly pressed ginger, lime juice and honey. He eventually will branch out with grapefruit-rosemary and watermelon sodas, but ginger beer will be his focus. “Essentially, we will have a nonalcoholic brewery,” he says.
As for his bitters, Schultz is starting with a spiced-orange product. The bitters do contain alcohol, similar to the amount in vanilla extract.
He hopes to sell his ginger beer at restaurants and bars as well as breweries. “I see the breweries as the biggest market,” he says. “Sometimes you are not drinking [alcohol], but you still want to hang out.”