Members of the “MTV”-generation, having come of age during television’s heyday, were bombarded with commercials. The thirty-second “spots” showcased the familiar Golden Arches and, of course, Coca-Cola. Winner of the “cola wars,” it is a tall glass of “Coke,” brimming with ice, that many of us associate with “thirst quenching.”
Sports stars drank coke. Celebrities, from singers to actors, drank coke. Coke and Coca-Cola products were popular “placements” on sitcoms, even Hollywood blockbusters on the silver screen.
Paul Meek, owner of Ottawa’s Kichesippi Beer Company (866 Campbell Avenue), wants to share a different memory. It is more idyllic. While summering on a farm in Quyon, Quebec (now part of Pontiac), his grandfather treated him to old fashioned soda. He remembers riding the West Carleton-Quyon Ferry from Ottawa and opening a bottle of something sweetened with cane sugar.
Old fashioned soda is what Meek will produce at the brewery that brews Kichesippi’s Natural Blonde (an all malt pale ale), 1855 (a dark ale), and seasonals Wuchack Black and Logger.
Formerly the home of Heritage Brewery, it has been three years since Meek took ownership of materials and equipment at the brown bricked building off of Carling Avenue. In 2011, Meek and his half dozen staffers produced approximately 30,000 L of beer. This year (2013), he expects to produce 290,000 L.
“We make beer for the NCR [National Capital Region] … Ottawa, Rockland, Kemptville, Barry’s Bay, ” said Meek when we sat down with him to chat soda.
“One-hundred and forty [establishments] serve [Kichesippi] beer.”
When customers to the brewery ask him about opening a pub, following the brewpub trend, Meek points to the restaurants and pubs that serve Kichesippi Beer.
“They already do such a great job!”
To meet the growing demand, Meek and his brewmaster Don Harms have had to install larger capacity tanks. The upgrade included a new 4000 L “brite” tank.
The former 2000 L tank, which used to hold beer ready for bottling, has been re-purposed to make soda (1500 L/batch), something Meek promised his wife he would start producing a year ago. Expertise wasn’t the issue. Harms used to work at Propeller Brewery in Halifax, Nova Scotia, which also produces soda. Last year’s hectic brewing schedule simply didn’t permit Kichesippi any time to work on anything else.
Flavour-wise, Meek opted for ginger beer. His wife Kelly asked for cream soda. Their son, root beer.So, Kichesippi aims to release “Harvey and Vern’s” branded ginger beer and cream soda on Monday, April 29th. Root beer will follow this coming fall.
Meek created the brand, giving a nod to his grandfather (Harvey) and father-in-law (Vern).
Presently, thirty local businesses are on board to retail Harvey and Vern’s, from restaurants to food trucks. They include Stephen Beckta’s Gezellig, Patrick Asselin and Nick Ringuette’s Brothers Beer Bistro, The Black Tomato, Ben Baird’s The Urban Pear (and Ottawa Street Gourmet food truck), The Piggy Market, and soon-to-open The Albion Rooms. Pascale Berthiaume of Pascale’s All Natural Ice Cream wants to make floats for food events. The boys behind the Chesire Cat Pub are opening an ice cream parlor two doors down from their Alice’s Village Cafe, called Carp Custom Creamery. They also plan to top Harvey and Vern’s with ice cream.
Unlike Meek’s core business, which involves kegs and growlers of beer, retailers will mostly be purchasing Harvey and Vern’s bottled.
This means another upgrade. Kichesippi’s former bottling line bottled 1500 bottles in six hours. The new line will bottle the same number in just one.
When it is installed, Meek has but to adjust the pressure and fine tune how much air will be left in individual soda bottles. Thereafter, Kichesippi can start supplying the city with something that may well be unique to Ontario, small batch all-natural soda.
“We make a quality [craft] beer product. We wanted to make a premium non-alcohol product as well…for when beer or wine are not appropriate.”
Only, don’t call Harvey and Vern’s “pop” in front of Meek. There is no sodium benzoate preservative. There is no artificial colouring. The ginger beer is flavoured with ginger and ginseng. The cream soda is flavoured with vanilla extract. Both are sweetened with Lantic cane sugar, which comes from El Salvador and Guatemala. So, there is no high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).
“[Manufacturers] don’t make [soda] like ‘they’ used to. We slowed down the process…took the time…did it right.”
“We prefer to sell it quick and keep it fresh.”
The Kichesippi emblazoned beer-cycle (Beer Bike) will double as a soda-cycle at outdoor events around town this summer.
Recently married, I pointed out Harvey and Vern’s would make great beverage options at wedding receptions. Caterers will likely look into the soda for corporate events.
As someone who usually looks for something non-alcohol on the drink menu when I dine out, I was ecstatic when George Monsour chose to serve fruit spritzers in lieu of pop at Back Lane Cafe (1087 Wellington Street W.). Both the syrup and soda water are made in-house. At one point, his staff even experimented with a cola syrup.
I know I will be looking for Harvey and Vern’s on menus this summer.
Regarding how Harvey and Vern’s cream soda and ginger beer will taste, the cream soda I sampled tasted of cream but was not cloyingly sweet. According to Meek, commercial sodas are manufactured to carry a 40 to 46 g sugar payload per 355 mL serving. His sodas clock in at 36 g. I fear some will be taken aback by the cream soda’s off-white colour, neither dyed pink nor blue to provide the requisite “cotton candy” visual cue.
A ginger beer fanatic, I have four varieties of ginger beer, ale, and soda in the fridge at all times. Meek and Harms crafted their ginger beer to “start off light.” Then, you will “taste a spot of bitterness from the ginseng and experience a long spicy finish.” What impressed me was, unlike Jamaican-style ginger beers, Harvey and Vern’s doesn’t come with the characteristic raw burn.
Robbie Bargh of the Gorgeous Group, which will open Albion Rooms (33 Nicholas Street), remarked Harvey and Vern’s ginger beer would be perfect for cocktails.
Michael Blackie’s Dark and Stormy
What You’ll Need:
- high ball glass
- 2 ice cubes
- Black Rum (normally Goslings Black Seal Rum)
- Ginger Beer
- Lime Cheek
- With two ice cubes in the high ball glass, pour in 3-4 fingers of rum, depending on how strong you want your drink.
- Top with ginger beer. The ratio of rum to ginger beer should be 1:3 by volume.
- Garnish with a lime cheek.
With a number of other ginger beers on hand, Blackie took some time from his preparing to open his newest venture NEXT (formerly the Sixty Four Hundred Celebration Centre) and tested which ginger beer worked best with popular Kraken. Based on its sweetness and spiciness, Harvey and Vern’s stood out. Other commercially-available ginger beers overpowered the rum, either too sweet or too spicy.
With Spring in the air, it is high time we make new soda memories! April 29th can’t come soon enough!
Belated Friday Appendix: #GoodEatsBlogs
We are fast approaching Easter weekend, so this week will be a short one. Last week was March break for parents and school-going children. As a result, we’ve only two recipe suggestions to share.
The first comes from Rebecca Stanisic of A Bit of Momsense. Consider her sesame noodle bowl a quick dinner solution. I make something similar, only I use soya sauce sparingly in my kitchen. Ree, the Pionneer Woman and the originator of this recipe, essentially dresses cooked noodles in a vinaigrette, which can be modified to include freshly-squeezed citrus, cooked garlic, and different flavoured vinegars.
The second comes from Crystal McLeod of Ottawa Valley Moms. She shares a recipe that is Easter breakfast appropriate, almost a quiche with a potato crust. I want to try the recipe with shredded potato and onion, aiming for a latke-style crust.