Simply put: excess capacity.

Goose Island Vanilla Cream

Production breweries require three main components: brewhouse, fermentation, and packaging.   On many occasions a production facility fills the fermentation tanks to capacity.  The beer is not ready to bottle, and there is no place to store newly brewed beer.  Therefore, bottling and brewing equipment as well as employees sit idle.  Many breweries fill this gap by producing craft sodas.

These sodas are often made with unusual ingredients, like real fruit juice and ginger or unusual techniques, like gas-fired kettles. Non-traditional flavors like orange cream, grape and true ginger are produced, but of course root beer is a popular option.  Additionally, many of the sodas are all natural and use cane sugar versus the standard high fructose corn syrup.  Sprecher makes their Cherry Cola with Wisconsin cherries and brews it in a gas-fired kettle.  Goose Island makes all their sodas caffeine free and most are all-natural.  Appalachian Brewing even makes the unusual Birch beer.  Obviously not your run of the mill products.

Sprecher Cherry Cola

The breweries get a few benefits from making soda.  First, they do not have idle hands and equipment thus increasing their profitability.  Secondly, I think it adds a touch of family.  For one, Beer Bitch has something to drink.  While I do not have kids, I wonder what going to a brewery, ordering a sampler and trying to convince a five-year-old he doesn’t want any of it is like.  More than once I have seen parents ask for a couple empty sampler glasses and pour the kids samples of soda.  This creates the opportunity to fill brewpubs during the day with families that may shy away from the bar atmosphere at night.  In fact Sprecher’s brewery tour offers the option to taste soda instead of beer and Lakefront gives non-beer drinkers their Golden Maple Root beer.

In the end the innovation to make soda has more than likely lead to a bigger impact to micro-brewing than one imagines.  If nothing else it at least shows people that there is yet another type of food that can come from something besides a multinational corporation.


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