I love soda, or pop as it is called in some places in the country, I always have, as it was a special treat when I was a kid. Actually, growing up in Virginia, it was referred to as “Coke,” as in the family that was responsible for bringing the Cokes & Oranges for the team to soccer games. A few weeks back, this was a discussion among my friends on Facebook. It drove one of them completely crazy that in the South any carbonated soft drink was referred to as “Coke,” whether a product of Coca-Cola or not. It isn’t a total surprise, then, that I became hooked on P&H Soda Co.‘s creations from the very first sip for their lively not-too-sweet flavors.
The best way to experience these products is to find them at one of the local markets around town where they set up a table and grab a drink. Anton Nocito and his wife Erica Rothchild are at the ready with their colorful bottles of handmade syrups and a Soda Stream to custom-make a beverage for you. They will mix and match syrups to your taste (with suggestions as to which flavors might work best together), throw in some carbonated water, and give it a quick stir before presenting you with a refreshing, and sometimes quite unique drink. In addition to their regular flavors, they often have seasonal ones, like Grapefruit or Lovage, in rotation as seasonal specials.
My first soda from them was a straightforward Lime & Ginger one. As I got to know Anton and Erica and their products a bit better, I started to trust their taste and branched out into Concord Grape, Hibiscus-Lime, Sarsparilla, and the amazing Chocolate flavored one that they debuted at the Grub Street-Hester Street Festival last month. What I enjoy about these beverages is that the are a great balance of fruit or herb taste along with a slight sweetness and a good amount of fizz. They don’t leave you with a cloying, sugary-coated feeling in your mouth, just a clean finish with the memory of the syrup’s personality lingering for a moment on your tongue. They are the perfect drink to pair with a sandwich from any vendor at the market or just on their own to savor when browsing among the other stalls.
For my next giveaway, to be announced soon, I approached Anton about contributing a bottle of his Cream soda. I wanted to have my readers get to know this great-tasting product. This is a favorite for a lot of folks, with flecks of vanilla bean in the syrup and a warm golden color. When you see the rest of the items I’ve included, you’ll understand why he paired it with them. He also took time from recovering from the most recent market events and prepping for the upcoming holiday season’s rush to answer a few questions about what he does and why.
How did you decide to start making artisan syrups and sodas? I know that you were inspired by the idea of the old fashioned soda fountain.
I started making the syrups as a prelude to opening the fountain. I was trying to think about what type of restaurant I would like to own and thought a soda fountain/luncheonette would be fun. I want something that could be accessible to everybody and that I could have fun with. While in the thought process I decided to start playing with making the syrups. Erica talked me into selling them at a market back in Sept. 09. While we where there people started to ask me about wholesale and so I started selling it to restaurants and stores. The rest is history…
How did/do you decide which flavors to make? How do seasonal ones come about?
I started making only seasonal flavors like cherry verbena or peach chamomile and then some of the basic flavors like lime and cream. Then I decided that is was more fun to have a straight flavor like ginger or hibiscus and mix it to order at the market for the customer. So if someone wants a lime hibiscus or a ginger lime or a cherry lime I could do it. It gave the customer some more options and also gave me a way to interact more. Seasonal flavors happen when I can get to the Greenmarket. I usually try everything once.
Are there any flavors you decided were too weird or that didn’t work? Do you have any that you’d really like to try to make?
I have tried a bunch of flavors. Some aren’t really something that I would sell. Sometimes some of the flavor combos sound good in theory but don’t work out. I don’t like to combine a bunch of different stuff to try to make something interesting. I’m not in it to be different but to make something that people can enjoy and not have to think much about. It’s more about a solid, really consistent drink. I’m not really trying to sell experimental stuff to people.
How do you source your ingredients?
Sourcing is an ongoing process. I try to buy local or from good farms when it comes to seasonal stuff. I try to support good farming practices across the board when I buy my spices and things that don’t come from a local source. It’s really about getting a consistent product. I have customers that sell the same flavors all year and want to be able to offer the best they can every time. Not something that is different from batch to batch.
What do you love about making hand-crafted sodas?
How do folks react when they first taste your soda? Do they get what you are doing?
I would say the reaction is good. I haven’t had anybody say they didn’t like something but I always try to steer them in the right direction. At first people didn’t understand. They where like soda, isn’t that something that comes from a machine or a can. I remember the first Greenpoint food market. Joann, the person who set the whole thing up was just looking at me trying to figure out what I was doing. I don’t think anybody expected to get a freshly carbonated beverage at any of the markets back then. Now you can go to any market and there is a soda person there.
So, when do you think we’ll see that soda fountain opening?
Hopefully within the next couple of years. I’m spending a lot of time now growing the syrup business while planning for the bigger picture.
P&H Soda Co.‘s bottled syrups are found at several local stores and markets in the New York City area as well as at several restaurants. Visit their website, like them on Facebook, and/or follow them on Twitter to keep updated on where you can buy their terrific products. You can see his appearance on The Martha Stewart Show here and a clip of him on Food.Curated here.