DRY Soda: When You Want A Seltzer-Soda Middle Ground

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[Photo: Robyn Lee]

We drink a lot of seltzer at Serious Eats—a lot. Helps hydrate between the short rib sandwiches, the cupcakes, and the wine tastings. But as appreciators of flavor, we're always trying to jazz it up a bit; recently, I've been on a cranberry-bitters-in-the-seltzer kick; others have long been fans of the "little bit of juice, whole lot of bubbly water" route. Basically, we're always looking for soda alternatives. And while some of us like diet soda more than others, none of us particularly like the fact that we're guzzling aspartame/sucralose all day.

Which is why I think we all took to DRY Soda so quickly. This Seattle-based company makes not-too-sweet soda that's sweetened with cane sugar, in sophisticated flavors like rhubarb, cucumber, and juniper berry, at around 45-70 calories per bottle. The sweetener difference isn't made up with stevia or sucralose. It's all sugar, there's just a lot less of it.

So they've got a little more heft and body than a seltzer, but not too much more. And all of them are remarkably true to flavor. Whether that's good or bad? Depends.

Rhubarb absolutely has that sour-vegetal flavor going, but a little too strongly; this one actually could've used a little more sugar to balance it out. (We've never said a soda needed more sugar before. This shows you how restrained they are.) Cucumber, on the other hand, is fresh and juicy, that cucumber water you'd get at fancy health clubs smoothed and rounded out by just a little sweetness.

Some were polarizing. John didn't love the vanilla bean, but Carey loved it—finding it just what cream sodas always want to be, but aren't. It's the sweetest and the vanilla flavor's vivid, but doesn't come off as cloying. ("I was afraid this would taste like vanilla vodka," said guest taster Lauren, "but it didn't!") Lavender is a tricky flavor; if it's too strong and a bit sweet, it just ends up tasting like soap; too strong and not sweet, and it's powerfully bitter. This one was perfume-y in a way that John didn't mind, but others did. If you're a fan of British lavender chocolates, you'll dig these.

Blood orange and wild lime don't necessarily carry the "blood" and "wild" elements of those flavors, but they're more than enjoyable orange and lime, sweetness well-balanced by acidity. And juniper berry may have been the most interesting of all: like a gin and tonic in mild soda form. (The flavor doesn't come across as weak, just mellow.)

What we liked best is that these felt genuinely refreshing, in a way that soda often doesn't. On a hot day, a cold Sprite might taste great, but if you guzzle a whole one you're left with that "ugh, sugar" feeling. Guzzle one of these and you're good. This was put to the test recently after a moderately raucous night of Bachelor-watching, DVR-cursing (when it stopped recording 5 minutes before the rose ceremony), and state-of-the-world musing—all fueled by wine, of course; at some point we switched to DRY soda and it felt soothing, not worse-hangover-inducing. It's not every soda we'd drink to hydrate, but this feels like one.

They sell online for $1.33 each ($32/24-pack) and retail at high-end groceries, etc. around the country for a bit more.

About the authors: Carey Jones is the editor of Serious Eats New York and co-editor of Serious Eats: Sweets. Follow her on Twitter (@careyjones). John M. Edwards writes about soda and occasionally fast food for SE and eats 85% of the food Carey orders. Follow him on Twitter (@johnmedwards).

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