When word got around that Paul Meek, the face of local brew darling Kichisippi Beer Co., was in the process of starting up a line of “olde fashioned” soda called Harvey & Vern’s — let’s just say the city’s gourmet geeks were like kids in a candy store.
Make no mistake. There’s no alcohol in this relatively wholesome product, aimed at adults. While the reputation of mega-pop brands like Coke are under tremendous scrutiny these days for contributing to obesity and other ill-health conditions, Meek says the message is — if you’re going to drink soda, you want it to be all-natural.
He admits they weren’t legally allowed to call the product “all-natural,” so the bottles tout another one of its virtues: Canadian Original.
For food business owners like Ben Baird who just launched a food truck, Ottawa Streat Gourmet, the idea of serving locally-made, natural cane sugar-sweetened cream soda and ginger beer (the first two flavours in the line) just hit the spot.”I’m very happy to serve a product that is made with integrity of ingredients,” says Baird. The fact that these sodas contain no high fructose corn syrup — the devil of our food system —impressed him the most.
There’s been so much buzz building about the soda that even without the bottles being ready, kegs of it started popping up around town. It’s sold “on-tap” at The Wellington Gastropub, The Piggy Market and the Black Tomato, among others.
Grayson McDiarmid, a familiar face to many wine lovers from Play Food & Wine and Gezellig, was named “Chief Soda Jerk” for Harvey & Vern’s, becoming the soda’s Brand Manager a few weeks ago. Pouring a sample glass of the cream soda for me last week, he noted the missing bright pink colour — no artificial colours here — and nailed the taste description: “We call it the white freezie flavour.” Bingo.
The ginger beer has a slightly more refreshing taste thanks to the spicy zip of natural ginger mixed with ginseng, a root that is sometimes associated with a boost in energy. Meek, who was born in Jamaica, says the ginseng gives a more “Caribbean flare to it.”
When the bottles finally do arrive, at least 30 retailers, bars, and restaurants have signed on already and are waiting to sell it. Unlike Kichisippi beer, designed to be an Ottawa-only product, there is potential to take the sodas to a much wider audience.