There's a new jerk in town, and it's not what you've seen before. His business cards picture a classic 1950s drug store soda jerk, but you won't find cola at this counter, nor a lick of high fructose corn syrup. Think, instead, of soda that could make a home at the farmer's market, with flavors like cucumber mint, blueberry basil, apple ginger, and lemon lavender. If the word you're looking for is “fresh,” it's just what Soda Jerk owner Cory Clark was hoping for.
“I really want it to be a culinary soda. When you go out to a restaurant and you don't drink [alcohol], you don't have that many options.”
As a remedy, Clark has been combining local herbs, fruits, vegetables, and extracts (these from Los Angeles) for months to create a “fresh soda” that can either stand alone or be a drink mixer (think cucumber mint and gin). He sources significantly from local farms (apples from Jerzy Boyz, blueberries from Tonnemakers, a range of berries from Sidhu Farms, and spearmint from Children's Garden), and thrives on mixing flavors.
“I like the challenge of making new stuff. My mind never stops,” says Clark. If an herb and a fruit really hit him, he plays with them in soda form. “Even a salad can tip me off.”
Open to anything, Clark allows that a cola, too, is certainly possible in the future, but “it would be different” –maybe a blackberry cola, where the cola note is secondary. “I try not to pattern myself after anything that's already out there.”
Formerly a cosmetic chemist, Clark is methodical by nature, which has helped him learn soda making. He researched flavors in bars and purchased equipment from the brewing industry, but found little information published on making soda, so has learned largely by trial and error. Basically, he makes “juice,” cools it, carbonates it, and cools it again for 24 hours. Most sodas have only a few ingredients (lemon juice, lavender, evaporated cane juice, and water, for example), and the apple ginger soda doesn't even have sugar.
When testing flavors, Clark says sometimes he hits it right away and “sometimes it takes ten times.” He always knows “when I've got it right,” though: “I can tell with [customers'] faces. It's really fun.”
Along with developing more flavors, Clark (whose personal favorite is pink grapefruit tarragon) would eventually like to start UV pasteurization so he can sell his soda to bars in kegs. He has also already developed several syrups to be available online in a few months, which people can combine with carbonated water to make their own soda at home.
Currently Clark sells at Ballard Farmers Market on Sundays (he prints his flavors on Twitter and Facebook before each market) and will be selling at the Queen Anne, Wallingford, and Edmonds markets this summer. Until then, Cinco de Mayo is already tickling this jerk's fancy, and we can look forward to some lime cilantro jalapeno soda in Ballard early next month. Olé!
Learn more about Soda Jerk soda at www.facebook.com/sodajerksoda.