All posts by Barry Joseph

Working With My Editor on the Structure of Seltzertopia

So, “Where’re we at with Seltzertopia, the book?” you might be wondering.

Well, when I’m not on Facebook fielding press requests from NPR, I’m hard at work with my editor, Dena, trying to find the right structure for the book. What will make Seltzertopia not just original but stand the test of time is how we choose to frame the story of seltzer.

Over my 13 years working on this project I have structured, and restructured, it many many times. In fact, each new book structure drove the work that followed, inspiring the next set of interviews and research and the eventual writing of new chapters. It almost feels like making a sculpture out of marble. I keep wacking at it, then look from afar, then try again.

I think we’re almost there. It’s feeling good. I’ve made something rather complex, but accessible, like the structure of Netflix’s series Dear White People, because the stories are all interwoven. The story of seltzer is about many strands that, overtime, interconnect at different points, around different people or events, and then continue on their own. It would be SO much easier if the story of seltzer was a simple, linear, chronological narrative. But it’s not. Writing it has been so much more fun as a result and, I hope, will be that much more rewarding for you to read as well.

But first we need to nail it down. I think we’re close!

Hosting My Own Seltzer Tasting Party (compliments of Spindrift)

Last week, after my brief but illustrious appearance on NPR’s All Things Considered, I found a lovely message waiting for me on Twitter:

Twitter message

Now, if anyone knows me, they know my seltzer flavor of choice is… none. I make my own, with my old trusty Sodastream, and drink it straight.

On the other hand, who am I to turn down a free offer of seltzer? A few days later, this is the package I opened with my family:

That’s right – seven different flavors in 36 cans. Thank you Sprindrift! There was only one way I could imagine sampling them all – hosting a seltzer tasting party (for my family).

So here’s what we did. I made four columns of 4 Dixie cups each, with the number of their column written on each cup. Then I filled all the cups in a column with the same seltzer. Then I placed the cans in a row at the top (but NOT next to the same flavor).

Then, each member of my family took one cup from each column and, on a piece of paper, recording the number of the cup, their guess of the flavor, and their vote of how much they liked it (1 the worse, 7 the most).

After we each had tasted one from each column, and filled out our sheet, we went from cups 1 to 7, as a group, sharing our flavor guesses and our preferences. (My two favorite flavors I guessed to be Grapefruit followed by Cucumber; and I hated Lemon and Orange Mango).

Then I revealed, one at a time, what the correct flavor was for each cup. Anyone who guessed a flavor received a point. (That was when learned the one I labelled Orange Mango was the Grapefruit, and visa-versa, which meant my favorite one was ACTUALLY Orange Mango after all).

Then I tallied the votes to see which ones we like the most.

As a family, our two favorite are Orange Mango and Lemon. Our two least favorites were Cucumber and Grapefruit.

Personally, however, we had our differences. My son enjoyed the Strawberry, my wife the Blackberry, and I, alone, the Cucumber (which reminds me of the ice cold water in hotel lobbies).

My first choice is still a plain seltzer, but I appreciated Spindrift sending over the cases and now know where to turn next time I am feeling nostalgic for a hotel lobby.

NPR’s All Things Considered covers Seltzer (with ME!)

This morning on my Facebook group someone posted the following message. “Hi there, I am a producer for NPRs All Things Considered. Would you be available to chat about All Things Seltzer today? I am working on a piece and would love you have you involved.

I didn’t see the message until almost 1. I called, he interviewed me, and FOUR HOURS LATER there I was, on NPR, on a show I’ve been listening to for over a quarter century, in this really fun piece that does a good job of nailing the Seltzer Summer of 2017.

Here it is, from the NPR web site, both the full audio and the transcription. Grab a cold glass and enjoy!

Seltzer’s Popularity Bubbles Up In The U.S.

We may be in the middle of a seltzer bubble.

Americans are drinking nearly 170 million gallons of the fizzy stuff each year, and sales have gone up 42 percent over the past five years with no signs of slowing down. There’s even a restaurant in Boston offering a $40 flight of limited-edition seltzers.

“We’re now at a point in American history where seltzer is more popular than it’s ever been,” Barry Joseph, author of Seltzertopia, tells All Things Considered. He says today’s obsession with seltzer has its roots in 1971, when Perrier launched in the U.S.

“A new drink comes over from Europe in 1971 called Perrier, and suddenly people aren’t only interested in flat water anymore,” Joseph says. [Note: I should have said 1977! Whoops!] “Now, they like maybe a mineral water. They like the idea of sparkling water, and people rediscover this thing we’ve had around for a while: seltzer.”

Joseph says today people are turning to seltzer as a healthier option than soda. One brand in particular is having a moment among millennials: LaCroix.

Rapper Big Dipper’s YouTube hit “LaCroix Boi” is an ode to the sensual possibilities of seltzer.

It’s somewhat mysterious how Continue reading NPR’s All Things Considered covers Seltzer (with ME!)

The Word Behind fnnch’s 9 Cans of LaCroix Paintings

If you haven’t heard, there’s a new exhibit, by a San Francisco street artist who goes by the name fnnch, dedicated to paintings, ala Warhol, of cans of LaCroix seltzer.

I CAN’t even. #fnnch #stencil #layers #greycocktails #fridaywiththeboys #andamiyra #nofilter

A post shared by James P-N (@jamespn) on

I wanted to share fnnch’s recent e-newsletter describing the thinking behind the project.

I half-jokingly refer to these LaCroix paintings as “soup cans for Millennials”. The paintings pay homage to the Warhol works in a few ways, being both the same size (16″ x 20″) and having roughly the same perspective on the cans. There’s a quote from Japanese poet Matsuo Basho that goes “Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought.” I believe that I’m exploring some of the same cultural and aesthetic territories as Warhol did with his soup cans.

There’s a wonderful quote from Warhol that I’m going to paste here in its entirety:

What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good.

There’s something special going on with LaCroix right now. It’s definitely part of the cultural zeitgeist. I believe that its rise can be credited in large part to the fall of sugar sweetened beverages like Coke, a trend I wholeheartedly support. The billionaires of Silicon Valley do not drink Coke. Movie stars do not drink Coke. But they do drink LaCroix. And you can too. There’s something wonderful about that.

The LaCroix cans were originally conceived in collaboration with a collector looking for an installation in his dining room. When I painted the 9 cans, I knew I had to show them to people, and he graciously permitted me to remove them from the house and display them at The SUB. What is for sale, which for simplicity I put on my website, are further paintings from the series. I am offering a limited edition of 5 paintings for each of the flavors except Pamplemousse, which is from an edition of 20. Each of these will have a unique white-on-white background.

fnnch has certainly put a finger on the cultural zeitgeist of the moment.

Meeting Seltzertopia’s Publishers for the First Time

It has been around four months since David Behrman, from Behrman House, contacted me with interest in becoming the publisher of Seltzertopia (after a cold call proposal I sent last February), telling me that my “manuscript brought smiles to the faces of our whole Editorial team”. It has  been quite a whirlwind ever since.

First I weighed their offer against two others. Then we had to negotiate the terms of the contract. Once all the logistics were out of the way, we were able to get to work. Dena was brought on board, their Executive Editor, and together we developed a schedule – which includes the timeline for when I send them revisions and they send back requests for further revisions, the development of a publicity campaign, the timing for getting rights for photographs, and illustrations, and creating the cover design… and so much more.

And in all that time, working over Skype, we never met in person. Until yesterday.

Taking a day off from work, I drove from NYC into Jersey to step into Behrman House for the first time. Parking in the wrong location, I accidentally entered through an employee entrance, right into the heart of their warehouse (okay, maybe it wasn’t so much of an accident…). Surrounded by wall-to-wall books, boxed and neatly organized on shelving, I was so excited, imagining how, in just a year, on one tiny corner on just one of these many shelves, there will rest Seltzertopia, ready for distribution.

Once inside I met David and Dena for the first time. They were even more sweet in person and couldn’t have been more welcoming. Dena gave me a tour of their offices, meeting all the staff, and returning to the warehouse as well, to learn how it’s run. Then we got down to work.

Over the next four of so hours, we hammered out challenges we all saw with the structure of the book. When should we foreground the human interest story line and when focus instead on seltzer’s history, or the many ways we bring meaning to it? We explored three different options for restructuring the book, and picked the one with the most promise (Now I have my homework).

Over a lovely lunch, we were joined by others on the team and, after answer their general seltzer questions, I introduced this group of non-millenials (myself included) to the cult of La Croix (through the La Croix Boy music video, the La Croix Over Boys t-shirt, and fnnch’s 9 Cans of LaCroix (2017)) and then explored various promotional opportunities. My two favorites so far is a Which Seltzer are You? quiz and a campaign for seltzer-lovers to share photos in response to the prompt: “Where’s do you find your Seltzertopia?” But who know – it’s still early.

By the end of the day, I was exhausted but so pleased to be working with this incredibly talented and thoughtful group of people. They both understand what Seltzertopia currently is and, more importantly, how it can become so much more. Their feedback was always insightful, incisive, and respectful. David often checked in with me to make sure I was comfortable with whatever direction we were taking, which was very kind.

On the way home, in the car, in my head, I wrote an entirely new prologue, to sum up the new frame we want to explore for the book, and now I have to go off and restructure the Table of Contents.

David on the left, Dena on the right, some of their favorite recent books behind them.
David on the left, Dena on the right, some of their favorite recent books behind them.


Everyone switch! Now Dena on the left, David on the right, inside the warehouse.
Everyone switch! Now Dena on the left, David on the right, inside the warehouse.


In honor of Eli Miller’s retirement, two videos I made with him in 2010

In August, 2010, I spent an afternoon driving around Brooklyn with one of the few remaining seltzer men left in New York City: Eli Miller. It was a remarkable experience. I traveled with Eli as research for Seltzertopia. What I experienced that day became a foundational experience for this project, and an inspiration to keep fighting until I found the book a good home.

I had mixed feelings when I learned that Eli retired a few weeks ago – happy he can finally rest, and happy his route was acquired by Alex Gomberg (the youngest seltzerman in the country), yet sad Eli can no longer do what brought so much meaning, and love, into his life.

To make this transition, here – once again – is an edit of my footage from that day seven years ago, when I met Eli for the first time:

And as a bonus, here’s Eli reading to us the children’s story based on his delivery route:

I Competed on Stephen J. Dubner of Freakonomics’ New Podcast

Tonight I had a blast “competing” on Stephen J. Dubner’s (of Freakonomics Radio) new podcast, Tell Me Something I Don’t Know. With guest host Alex Guarnaschelli, the Food Network personality and chef at Butter, I and four others presented at Symphony Space before a packed house, each sharing something we know on the topic of food. (You get one guess about what I spoke about).

It was a super fun night (and great to be there with my sister as my +1) and I look forward to sharing it with you this fall when they launch their next season. Until then, here are a few photos.

Stephen Dubner and I afterwards.
Stephen Dubner and me afterwards.

I found a publisher! Seltzertopia hits the shelves late 2018

Get ready! In the fall of 2018, Seltzertopia: The Effervescent Age will finally hit the shelves.

Burt Reynolds celebrating the upcoming publication of Seltzertopia
Burt Reynolds celebrating the upcoming publication of Seltzertopia by Behrman House.

After more than a decade and a half of original research, delving into texts both ancient and digital, resources human and imbibed, Seltzertopia covers the more than 200 year history of seltzer manufacturing, by introducing the fascinating but little known historical and contemporary figures who have kept the bubbles flowing and exploring its diverse cultural impact in such areas as personal and global health, comedy, personal identity, and much more.

I wrote it because I love a good story, seltzer’s tale has never been told, and once I learned it I could not let it go.

If you are passionate about seltzer, or hold a general interest in food literature, micro-histories, or maker/DIY culture, this is the book for you (or your loved one).

It’s also just a damn good read.

In 1883 the Behrman family landed at Castle Garden in New York Harbor.
In 1883 the Behrman family landed at Castle Garden in New York Harbor.

I am delighted to be working with Behrman House. Nearly a hundred years old, this family run business is in perfect synch with a book that is about maintaining traditions over time through the dedication of mom-and-pop-style business practices.

I can’t thank you enough – the thousands of you who have supported me and this project through email, this blog, the podcast, and on Facebook and Twitter – sending me ideas, providing me feedback, mailing me photos, documents and books, and in general sharing your passion for seltzer.

If you are new here,  join our community of Seltzertopia by hooking up with us on Twitter and Facebook.

Better yet, use the form below to get infrequent notifications about the book, speaking engagements, deals and more.

Finally, maybe you want to help out, or just send me a comment. For that, please use the form below.

Next week, I hit the big time

That’s right, on June 14, at 6pm. I’m going to be on  the most powerful 500 watt station In America. It’s 1460 AM’s very own IN FOCUS With Dr. Dan & Friends on WVOX.

The photo below tells the whole story.

In the bottom is my daughter, wearing her baseball jersey, as we had just finished her game to pick up a present at the local comic store. She is in fact reading her free Wonder Woman comic, as it turned out to be Wonder Woman day (the new film opened the day before, and the store’s celebration included a women dressed as the superhero). Exiting the store, this man with a camera approached our whole family, inviting us to return inside as he writes for the Queens Gazette and he wanted us to pose with Wonder Woman. Which we did. And then after, when I mentioned Seltzertopia, he put away his camera, took out a microphone, and proceeded to interview me, on the spot (above) about the book, for his 6pm radio show.

And there you have it – how my daughter’s baseball, a local comic book store, and a cosplaying Wonder Woman got Seltzertopia and me into AM radio.

2016: The Year in Seltzer

As on-going research for my book, I track seltzer in the news. Who is drinking it? What are they drinking? Why, and with whom?

The trends and highlights I observed I now package for you, my crew of seltzer lovers, as 2016: The Year in Seltzer.


Last year, 2015, was the year the media rediscovered seltzer. Or, rather, finally noticed that America had been rediscovering the drink for decades. “Seltzer’s Fizz Is Back” announced the Wall Street Journal. “How Seltzer Water Became Cooler Than Coke” wrote The Washington Post. The Chicago Tribune’s was my favorite: “How something as tasteless as seltzer water won America’s heart.”

This year, the theme was, as Boston Magazine put it, “America’s Seltzer Obsession Shows No Signs of Fizzling”. The Wall Street Journal offered another example: “New York’s Seltzer Market Bubbles Over– Sales of the fizzy drink are up 42% over the last five years”.

And let’s talk about the hip factor. This one popular tweet captured the seltzer zeitgeist:

As interpreted by a writer at Lucky Peach, “A seltzer renaissance is upon us. The new seltzer wave is much simpler than these so-called ‘analysts’ make it out to be: seltzer is just cool right now. You don’t get a whole wall dedicated to yourself at the new Whole Foods in Williamsburg by being ‘healthy’—you get it because you’re cool.”


From GQ’s combatively titled, “Seltzer Isn’t a Trend, It’s a Way of Life” to the Yale Herald’s “Ode on the soda syphon,” writers were declaring not just their love for the carbonated beverage but claiming an identity as a seltzer lover.

GQ wrote: “Seltzer isn’t a fucking trend to me; it’s always been my beverage of choice, which has nothing to do with an ironically cool can design or using the French word for ‘grapefruit.’ Rather I’m a New York Jew and that’s what we do. We drink seltzer.”

Meanwhile, readers at Yale learned how “Those of us with a die-hard allegiance to effervescence are in a class of our own. We can discuss the mouthfeels and flavors of various carbonated offerings with the kind of technical jargon generally reserved for theoretical physicists.”

How do we know there’s a rise of people identifying as seltzer lovers? Because people are starting to be haters, as in this lame but sincere attempt on Gizmodo: Seltzer Water Sucks”.


Every season Polar Seltzer, the Boston area-based company, releases seasonal flavors, like Watermelon Margarita and Mango Berry, “to surprise and delight diehard Polar Seltzer aficionados.” They are always warmly welcomed by seltzer lovers. But this year, interest hit a fever pitch.

In March, Polar delivered 5,000 cases of their creatively named, limited-release flavor: Unicorn Kisses. Described by the company as tasting like “sparkling rainbows,” fans came up with their own theories, like cucumber melon mixed with candy apples. Before long, cases were selling on eBay at exorbitantly marked-up prices.

As if one media-savvy flavor run wasn’t enough in 2016, Polar ended the year with yet another new twist: the mystery flavor. Arriving in stores with no warning or description, social media exploded in collaborative efforts to figure out just what was in their seltzer, such as: “It tastes like frosty the snowman melted into a puddle of unicorn tears and angel kisses!”

And unlike in the past, where new flavors were touted on their “Limited Editions” page, this one still remains a mystery, as if it escaped from their flavor research lab out into the wide-world.


It started in March with Mashable’s “Alcoholic seltzer is the fizz you never knew you craved,” then “Why Spiked Seltzer Will Be Your New Rosé This Summer,” and then it just never seemed to end. Week after week, another article came across my stream announcing the latest trend: alcoholic (or “hard”) seltzer.

Just to give you a taste of the trend, in the last few weeks we’ve seen “Hard Seltzer, A Healthier Alcohol Alternative” (CBS Philly) and “Enter hard seltzer: Alcoholic seltzer finds growing market of health-conscious drinkers” (The Baltimore Sun).


Every year we see a spat of articles, based on the latest science research, arguing why seltzer is good, or bad, for us. This year science focused our attention on one study that received significant coverage, making the case that cold seltzer is the best way to quench a thirst (compared against warm, flat water). A win for carbonation!


Last spring I acquired a new editor, who has been fantastic. All summer we worked on the new proposal, and by fall she was out there shopping it around. It you are an editor, or know one, who might be interested in a phenomenal book about this history of seltzer and the passion it ignites in people around the world, please let me know.

I was featured in a fantastic episode of Gastropod, which looked at (everyone say it with me) seltzer.

Finally, I posted by summer 2015 video tour of the Pittsburgh Seltzer Works, the oldest continuous seltzer works in the country. Little did I know, as its proprietor John Seeking displayed his deep commitment to every brutal aspect of running a contemporary works with century old machinery, that he would close its doors just a few weeks later. Will it return some day in a new form? That’s definitely one of the many things to watch for in 2017.