Category Archives: Latest On The Book

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!

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.

 

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.

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.

 

End-of-Year Book Update

I thought I would take a quick break from the writing to share a little about the status of the book.

This Fall I have been working on strengthening the second half of the book, focusing on integrating in the story of Original New York Seltzer and it’s father/son founders. It’s a fascinating story and I can’t wait to share it all with you. Tomorrow I will finish a strong draft of this segment, which totals about 40 or so additional pages (a surprise to me, as I thought all core writing was finished earlier this year).

It’s been exciting to throw myself back into the research and writing phase – with new interviews and archives of 30 year old articles to comb through – and I’m almost sad this part is almost done. I get such an adrenaline kick from writing – most often during my morning commute on the M line.

Meanwhile, last week I went to my first “book” event at my agent’s office. It was for author’s pitching non-fiction books and editors looking for new books to sell. At least, that’s what was underneath the surface. On the surface, we were all at the same holiday party, drinking seltzer (what else!), eating cheese, and generally schmoozing. It was the first time I had to really sell my book in person – although, supposedly, I needed to pretend I was doing something else, making small talk or whatever – but it was fun. The my agent’s office couldn’t be more supportive of and excited about the project.

Back to writing!

Zeltzer Seltzer and Alphy’s Soda Pop Club

I just got off the phone interviewing Randy Miller, who at 17 – not yet out of high school – launched a new beverage company with his dad: Original New York Seltzer. The brand played a big role in making seltzer hip in the 80s and introducing the idea of  flavored seltzer in a bottle to America.

Through our interview Randy, who was very generous with his time and stories, turned me on to many things from the 80s of which I had no idea.

One was Zeltzer Seltzer. Anheuser-Busch, who was negotiating with ONYS for a purchase, decided to make their own, which ultimately failed. Check out this crazy radio ad:

When I asked about Randy’s famous jump – featured in the ONYS ad below – I learned about Alphy’s Soda Pop Club. But first the ad:

Turns out the jump wasn’t filmed FOR the ad. Rather, it was done, in part, for Alphy’s Soda Pop Club, and later used for the ad. Miller was the sponsor for the Club and, having always wanted to be a stunt man, used the opportunity to do his thing. But what, you might ask, was Alphy’s Soda Pop Club?

A regular attendee, who did this great but sad interview with fellow attendee Corey Haim about it, described it this way: “Alphy’s Soda Pop Club, the one and only disco designed for kids ‘in the industry,’ enjoyed a Hollywood lifespan of three years, from 1986 to 1989. With a clientele aged 16 and under, the club guaranteed a dance floor full of the hottest teen stars as well as all the free soda you could drink. It was the ultimate teenage wonderland.”

In the interview Corey talks about holding Miller’s tiger for him during his jump and about how close they were.

Randy Miller is one of the coolest people I have ever met… I hung with Randy a lot. He was one of my best friends. I will forever love Randy.

Yes, Randy not old started a multi-million dollar beverage company that changed the face of seltzer, he also had a passion for big cats.

Again, Corey:

One time, Randy, myself, and two other people—we were in a limousine with a jaguar, and Randy passed me the leash and said, “Hold it from here, and if he gets out of line, just hit him lightly on the side of his head and say, ‘Down! Down! Down!’ Just give him the commands I’m giving you.” And then suddenly the jaguar woke up in the limo and let out a RAAAAAWWR, so the vet who was in there had to shoot him up with a little bit of a tranquilizer. I mean, you’re talking about a wild animal in a limousine! You know what I mean? Everybody could have been dead! But by the time we got out of the limo, I was holding the jaguar and everything was cool.

How do I spend more than a decade writing this book and not learn about such a fascinating piece of seltzer history until now?!!

Interviewing George Williams, an 86-year old African-American seltzerman

When I interviewed Kenny Gomberg many years ago, proprietor of Gomberg’s Seltzer Works, he told me about a former employee, George Williams, who retired in the 1970s. An African-American who moved as a boy from North Carolina, he worked in a number of seltzer works around NYC for over two decades. I was very interested in his story – both as an individual and to the extent it shed light on the African-American labor that worked behind the scenes to keep the city in seltzer.

After a number of years, I finally got to sit down with Mr. Williams this week, now 86 years old (it’s been a busy week for me and seltzer!). It was fascinating to hear the tale of how he entered the business (while competing on the boxing circuit), learned Yiddish from his new boss, and spent five years fighting to get into the Hebrew Soda Workers Union.

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Visiting Pittsburgh Seltzer Works for the 1st Time

This past week I was in Pittsburgh and meet in person, for the first, John Seekings, proprietor of the Pittsburgh Seltzer Works, whom I have been interviewing for over 4 years and whose business is the centerpiece of my book. It was thrilling to meet him for the first time and to walk the floors of the Works. John was as generous as ever – with his time and stories – and helped me to understand the Works in a new way, up-close and personal.

I took a video that I will prepare and share at a later date but, in advance, here are some photos. (View all the photos here)

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John Seekings

 

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The infamous bottles of death (which open my book and introduce the readers to John Seekings).

 

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A seltzer filling machine and the Work’s sign.

Continue reading Visiting Pittsburgh Seltzer Works for the 1st Time

New Seltzer Article in Wall Street Journal; Mentions My Book

There’s a great new article in the Wall Street Journal on seltzer, “Buy Into These Bubbles: Seltzer’s Fizz Is Back.” Below is the excerpt that quotes me:

Barry Joseph, an associate director at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, began researching seltzer more than a decade ago after writing a review of a SodaStream machine for a Jewish news site. In response, he heard from dozens of people who wanted to share memories—of seltzer delivery men injured by exploding bottles and childhood egg creams, the combination of milk, chocolate syrup and seltzer that tastes like fizzy chocolate milk.

Mr. Joseph has written a book-length history of the beverage and is working to get it published. He says soda water was invented by Joseph Priestley,an 18th century theologian and chemist credited with discovering oxygen, who found a way to infuse water with fixed air. Several years later, Johann Jacob Schweppe, for whom the Schweppes brand is named, founded the technique to mass-produce fizzy water. The rise in inventive and homemade cocktails has helped draw more people to seltzer, Mr. Joseph says.

To read the whole article, check out this pdf a good fan sent me, or go right to their web site.