DeRushaEats: Or Drinks? Joia Soda

Is this the era of the artisinal soda? The local creators of Joia certainly hope it is.

We’ve seen chefs like Scott Pampuch and Steven Brown making their own sodas using natural materials for a couple years. Mixologists like Johnny Michaels and Nick Kosevich excelled at creating non-alcoholic cocktails, many with the sparkle of soda. So it only makes sense that this focus on natural ingredients and creative flavor combinations starts showing up on our grocery store and co-op shelves.

Dan Oskey, the master bartender at The Strip Club Fish & Meats, is one of my favorites in town (his Cobra Kai drink is perhaps the cocktail I’d want on my death bed). A couple months ago he told me about a new venture he was working on called Joia.

The whole idea started with Bob Safford, a former Twin Cities marketing exec, and a night at Bradstreet Craftshouse. Bob told me he was enjoying a cocktail, layered with different flavors, and thought: “Why can’t we have soda like this?”

He ended up hooking up with Dan (they have a mutual hairstylist at Level Salon), and Dan started testing flavor combinations. Hundreds of them. They focus-grouped many of the flavors with friends, and ended up with four flavors that are on the market right now.

Originally, Dan’s concoctions had around 220 calories—which is simply too much for a 12-ounce bottle of soda. So Bob worked with the same beverage consultants who helped refine Crispin Cider, to reformulate the ingredients, still using natural products and creating a layered flavor. The bottle on the market right now is 110-120 calories, about the same as an Izzy flavored soda.

Local marketing guy, local mixologist, locally-connected consultants—even the bottles are made in Shakopee.

So how do they taste? I tried all of the flavors and shared them with friends, and the universal opinion was that they are delicious. And refreshing! This week, Bob and I met at Byerly’s (one of the local retailers for Joia) and tasted the four flavors together. Fancy!

Lime, Hibiscus and Clove: Very light, very drinkable, perfect for a summer day. You can really smell the hibiscus, and taste the clove.

Grapefruit, Chamomile & Cardamom: I don’t like grapefruit—it’s too tart for me—but this isn’t tart at all. The chamomile and the cardamom provide the perfect counterpoint.

Pineapple, Coconut & Nutmeg: Whoa. This tastes most like a cocktail to me. First you taste the pineapple, then the coconut, then the nutmeg. If you don’t like coconut, you won’t like this drink; but if you don’t like coconut, then you’re pretty much anti-American. There’s also a hint of cocoa in this drink—which is really nice.

Blackberry, Pomegranate & Ginger: This soda is bright red, it’s the most full-flavored of the bunch, but still surprisingly refreshing. One of my friends didn’t like the aroma right out of the bottle (she thought it smelled Kool-Aid-like), but when she poured it in a glass, it was more pleasing.

Bob said Joia is perfect for a party “when an ordinary soda just won’t do.” They also are perfect for the at-home bartender who wants an easy, fancy cocktail. These sodas already have the layers of flavor—just add vodka, gin or rum and you’re set. I’d think a lot of restaurants would enjoy using these as secret mixers—so they can pretend that they have mixologists behind the bar.

Right now you can get Joia at Kowalski’s and Lunds & Byerly’s for between $4.99-$5.99 a four-pack. It’s also in the market at Heartland in St. Paul.

My only question about the flavored-soda category is whether people will drink it often enough for it to be a big money-maker. Bob sure hopes so.