There's barely anything in the grocery store getting more grief from nutrition advocates these days than soda. But that hasn't stopped hearty entrepreneurs from showing off some new ones at the recent Natural Products Expo West, held at the Anaheim Convention Center.
We tasted several delicious sodas, most of them lower in sugar -- and higher in price -- than mainstream bubblies. The flavors are generally a little more sophisticated, with lots of herbs and lighter tastes.
"Soda isn't going away," says Steve Hersh, who owns the New York company Gus (for Grown-Up Soda) with his wife. But it's evolving.
Gus, Hersh says, has its Meyer lemon flavor in two of the country's top restaurants, Thomas Keller's Per Se in New York and French Laundry in the Napa Valley. There, and in other restaurants, it's a drink for the designated driver or for anyone else who doesn't want to consume alcohol but wants something more than water.
Seattle-based Dry Soda Co. has cucumber, juniper berry and rhubarb among its flavors -- and short ingredient lists with 70 or fewer calories in 12 ounces.
And Philadelphia-based Sipp, new to the West Coast, began life as a cocktail mixer but outgrew that role and now comes in elegant glass bottles and flavors such as pear-green tea.
Kent Goodwin and his herbalist wife looked to the past when they decided to start Organic Fair in Blaine, Wash.
"We're trying to offer high-quality soda like was served 100 years ago when the pharmacy served sodas," he said as he sampled his wares at the expo.
The syrups come in brown apothecary-style bottles, in flavors such as lavender-lemon balm and ginger ale. The ingredients come from the couple's five-acre farm.
And the consumer gets to decide how much syrup to add -- and gets a good reason to use that Soda Stream.