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Soda grows up


Whether you call it soda, pop or (the ill-advised) soda pop, fizzy drinks have gone fancy.

Christina Nihira July 20th, 2011

While summer is still a scorching celebration, try treating yourself to a decadent soda. Curious cream sodas, spicy ginger ales, rich root beers, tart citrus beverages with genuine bitterness, complex colas — they’re all chilling out there beside surprising, one-of-a-kind flavors as diverse as cucumber, chocolate and jalapeño oil.

This is pop’s new time to fizz big.

The bubbly age reached its zenith years ago. Slowly, pop flavor lost its zing. Natural flavorings were replaced by artificial additives, real sugar was exchanged for high-fructose corn syrup and traditional bottles gave way to aluminum cans. Luckily, the sparkle is back, and local vendors are selling an amazing assortment of awesome sodas from Oklahoma City to Arcadia.


Enter entrepreneur Justin Thomas, who left an advertising career two years ago to pursue sweeter times. He followed his dream by establishing a candy and soda shop in historic Bricktown. When he opened the doors of the Bricktown Candy Company, he focused on solely selling old-fashioned treats, gelato and a lot of soda.

“My main goal was to give the tourist visiting Oklahoma City a ‘wow’ if they were looking for a unique shopping experience,” Thomas said. “I offer pop in glass bottles as opposed to (buying plastic at) 7-Eleven.”

Thomas sells 150-plus specialty sodas, plus standard favorites made with cane sugar. Frigid coolers contain a sampling of drinks, while other selections line the long tables against the back wall. This is where it gets interesting and tempting. It’s difficult to decide given the substantial options.

Consider trying one of the more unusual flavors and serving it along with a meal. Boylan’s Creamy Red Birch Beer might be a nice choice with duck. Most any of the root beers easily complement roasted meats.

Thirsty customers can purchase American classics — like Jones, Stewart’s and Sioux — at the store, 100 E. California.

“The nostalgic feel fits well with what we sell because people want to think about better days at a low cost,” Thomas said. “We get people here for a few nights that come to see us multiple times. We have locals who come every time they are in Bricktown.”

For many sodas, mature taste buds are required for a true appreciation. To some connoisseurs, indulging in a well-crafted soda is not meant to be a journey filled with wild sugar highs and crazy-colored dyes; rather, it’s a distinct sequence of unfolding sensations — scent, tang and fizz. It may not be as sophisticated as whiskey or wine tasting, but it’s consistently entertaining.

Aficionados that seek even more flavors need to head to Pops, 660 W. Highway 66 in Arcadia. The restaurant stocks nearly 600 brands and invites guests to visit the Soda Ranch.

There’s an overwhelming variety: classics, newbies, locals, imports.

Choices are grouped by color and range in the intricacy of flavor, bubbly carbonation, texture and tone, something guaranteed to satisfy the most finicky consumer.

“Our ‘cooler’ staff has tried each and every soda that arrives and are able to point guests in the right direction with their perfect selection,” said Marty Doepke, Pops general manager.

That’s helpful info when it comes to trying, for example, Virgil’s Root Beer. It tastes like the ingredients it’s made with: anise, vanilla, nutmeg, sweet birch, wintergreen, clove, pimento berry oil, balsam oil and cassia oil. Walking on the wild side, try the Brain Wash. Made in either red or blue, this fiery fuel is filled with a blend of herbs, caffeine and jalapeño oil. Rumor has it that every sip burns.

“The little kids love it,” said Brittani Class, a Pops server. “Teenagers and adults, not so much, as it leaves a ring on their lips or teeth. It’s the weirdest one I’ve found since working here.”

Many of the superior flavors come from juices and concentrates, oils and essences (as opposed to extracts) and such ingredients as molasses and ginger. And of course, when assessing sodas, style as well as context — how will you be drinking this soda? — are key questions.

Soda nostalgia seems to play a big role, too. Take, for example, Shreta Horn, who celebrated her birthday on a recent Saturday by coming to Pops for the first time.

“I was an Army brat and lived in Germany years ago,” she said. “It was by luck (I saw the soda I used to drink). I was so excited I had to get the Leninade (Soviet- Style Soda).”

Photo by Shannon Cornman

 
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