Category Archives: Seltzer Means Refreshment

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.

SELTZER IS STILL HOT (AND HIP)

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.”

SELTZER LOVERS UNITE

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”.

UNICORN TEARS AND OTHER FLAVORS

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.

THE NEW BUZZ FROM SELTZER

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).

THE SCIENCE OF SELTZER

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!

MY BOOK

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.

 

Trying Phosphates and More at Hamilton’s Soda Fountain and Luncheonette

Today my family took my sister for her birthday to Hamilton’s Soda Fountain & Luncheonette, in Greenwich Village. The food is fantastic and cheap – old style luncheonette food at old fashioned prices (a hot dog for $2) – but the star is by far the soda fountain. Alex, the soda jerk, was generous enough to explain his awesome concoctions (based on old recipe guides) that he’s been perfecting for more than a year before they opened.
The video below shows his egg cream. I’ve never seen it made this way before – U-bet’s chocolate syrup last! – but I’ve had worse.

I was SO excited to have my first phosphate. I’ve read all about them but had no way to really understand what they were all about. The base here was cherry and root beer (their cherry syrup is incredible – now my favorite Lime Rickey). The phosphate cuts the sweetness and makes the taste more crisp. It was interesting but not sure it’s my new thing. Check out how it’s made:

My sister ordered this Strawberry Puff (flavored soda with whipped cream). Their seltzer, I have to say, is fantastic!

This Kight’s Egg Phosphate is not just a regular phosphate (which smooths the sweet and heightens the crisp) but also includes a raw egg. I have been equally excited, since writing my book, to try both a phosphate and a raw egg at the same time – and now I got to try both at the same time. I can say now I’ve done it – I can see why people who were low on cash and lower on protein might have favored this – but next time I am at Hamilton’s (and I plan to go back in a few weeks) I will definitely turned to my new favorite – the Lime Rickey.

It is fascinating to visit here after a trip to the Brooklyn Farmacy and Soda Foudnation. While everything at Farmacy is phenomenal – and serves my favorite egg creams – I think they seek to evolve the recipes while Hamilton’s aims to bring back or preserve the old recipes. That’s interesting. And even more interesting is to see over time if the city’s new-found interest in soda foundations is big enough to support both directions.

Hungarian Siphon Fountain/Monument

My Hungarian contact, Kiss Imre, sent me this fanastic photo today. He wrote: “How do you like this fountain from GYŐR, the town where our ÁNYOS JEDLIK invented his soda making technology?” According to Wikipedia, he was a Hungarian inventor, engineer, physicist, and Benedictine priest. He is considered by Hungarians and Slovaks to be the unsung father of the dynamo and electric motor.
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But, in any case, isn’t this just so cool! It looks like it is made of a thick glass, the color of the average green seltzer siphon.

New Strange Summer Flavors from Polar Seltzer


For some reason, the good folks at Polar Seltzer release some rather strange flavors to beat the heat. Last winter, as you might recall, we saw Eggnog, Candy Cane, Pumpkin Spice and Granny Smith Apple. This summer we are looking at: Minto Mojito, Ginger Lemonade, Pineapple Passionfruit, Pina Colada and Orange Mango.
The Huffington Post takes one for the team and reviews them all.
Some highlights from the review:
– this flavor had an overwhelming aroma of sunscreen that was “a little scary.”
– It “tastes how it smells, not a compliment,” said one.
– Several noted a “mouthwash” and “toothpaste” taste that ruined the drinking experience.
Read them all here.

Jahn’s Soda Shop

First opened in 1897, Jahn’s (pronounced John’s, was an old-fashioned ice cream parlor and restaurant with locations in the New York City area and Miami-Dade County, Florida, and was famous for its huge Kitchen Sink Sundae. They used to be all over the city. Now the last one, in Jackson Heights, Queens is the only one still operating. Well, it’s actually a Greek diner, but their MENU is Jahn’s, which I will feature below after a photo of my daughter enjoying her Egg Cream. A visit just to read the menu is worth the trip, but don’t ask the waitstaff what any of it means, as no one knows!
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Video with Richie Strell, the seltzer siphon king

Mel Stuart, the director of the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, made this video for a TV show which was never to be. This segment takes us into the home of Richie Strell, the seltzer siphon king. Although this show was never produced, Richie has a copy and was generous enough to share it with me so I could share it with all of you. Richie gave me a fantastic interview which is central to the segment in my book on the history of, and current interest in, the seltzer siphon. I am glad to be able to share this, as Richie such an interesting and knowledgeable person.

Curating the Great Egg Cream Debate, at the Forward

This week I wrote a piece for the Forward’s blog about the debate over the best way to make an egg cream. I interviewed a few egg cream “experts” then opened it up to their readers. It was a lot of fun to put together, and even more fun to watch the debate unfold.
The Great Egg Cream Debate
By Barry Joseph
There’s something about an egg cream that can bring out the debate in some people. “There is egg cream on your face,” wrote one reader, “if you fall for those explanations of the egg cream.” Another simply wrote “Hogwash!” Luckily these were letters not to us but the New York Times, throughout the 1970s, in response to articles making one claim or another about the correct way to mix the drink. No egg cream article comes without a slew of detractors. Luckily our readers were more polite in response to Leah Koenig’s recent article, “Egg Creams Make a Comeback”, but were no less contentious. When Koenig described the delicious drink re-imagined to include maple, coffee, and even olive oil, some readers cried foul.
Arguments over the correct way to make an egg cream are nothing new. Disagreements can arise about the ingredients (most traditionalists say nothing will do but Fox’s U-bet chocolate syrup, milk and seltzer), the order they’re placed in the glass, or the proper length of the mixing spoon. As a publication of record, the Forward might not be able to settle this historic debate, but we can at least contribute to the latest round. We want to hear from your thoughts on the new breed of egg creams, from the return to classic to the provocative nouveau. To get it started, we asked a range of experts for their take on the topic, inquiring, “What do you think of non-traditional egg creams?” Check out their positions below and add your own.

Daniel Humm is the executive chef of the rarefied Eleven Madison Park, which now serves every table an egg cream composed of vanilla-malt syrup, organic milk, olive oil, sea salt and seltzer.
New York is a constantly evolving city, and with that, its cuisine evolves as well. I certainly love the traditional egg cream – it is almost an art form – but what I love more is that this city allows us to re-create our own versions of the original. And that’s what cooking is all about—finding inspiration from somewhere and then using your creativity to make it your own. I know that it is hard to accept change, but in a city of constant forward movement, we must embrace it!
Josh Konecky is the owner of New York City’s Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop which opened in 1929.
Would I drink one? No. Our restaurant is not going to branch out into anything other than chocolate, vanilla, and coffee (when I can find it). Eisenberg’s is a very traditional place so I stick with the traditional way to make an egg cream.
Jeremiah Moss writes the blog Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York a.k.a. “The Book of Lamentations: A Bitterly Nostalgic Look at a City in the Process of Going Extinct.”
This trend of dressing up the egg cream and slapping a big price tag on it is part of a larger trend in which foodies take the ordinary food of ordinary New Yorkers, like hot dogs and pizza, and upscale them for a more affluent and “discerning” clientele. It’s not unlike the movement of the wealthy into poor and working class neighborhoods. The new egg cream becomes “artisanal” and “exclusive,” just like the new real estate across the Lower East Side. So you could call this the gentrification of the egg cream. It’s a hostile takeover. Leave the egg cream alone — it’s perfect just the way it is.
Amelia “Madame Bubbles” Nahman runs her “Egg Cream Cart” in San Francisco’s municipal parks, in front of bakeries, and at Bar and Bat Mitzvahs.
I think non-traditional egg creams are great. I’m a traditionalist with a broad world-view. I make vegan egg creams with dark chocolate syrup, and I try to use biodegradable cups and paper straws because my audience demands it. I have seen egg creams in bottles, and can’t bring myself to drink one. The food universe is an evolving place, and our tastes fall in and out of fashion.