Locally made carbonated drinks-from cocktails to soda-are popping up on menus and pouring from taps all over the city. Here's a look at the sudden obsession with bubbly beverages

Locally made carbonated drinks-from cocktails to soda-are popping up on menus and pouring from taps all over the city. Here's a look at the sudden obsession with bubbly beverages

It's Thursday night and the scent of root beer-wintergreen, sarsaparilla bark and vanilla-is thick in the air. John Lynch stirs the fragrant syrup, with only the sounds of Simon & Garfunkel singing softly from a boom box in the background to keep him company.

He's nervous. Tomorrow his root beer debuts on tap at the Ohio Taproom in Grandview, and he hasn't seen the growler shop's system yet. Will his soda go flat? Will the color be right? To be safe, he quickly adds more sarsaparilla bark, creating a darker, more pungent syrup. He'll laugh about this moment later, saying, "You probably don't want to change the recipe the night before." But it is the first wholesale account for Rambling House Soda Pop and he wants everything to be perfect.

Business is starting to grow for the small line of small-batch all-natural soda pop that made its debut at ComFest and was sold at the Pearl Alley Market all season. And more places throughout Central Ohio have expressed interest in serving Lynch's simple soda pops to their customers.

His goal? Ease into things with five "hip" accounts on tap before bottling for retail sales. Conversations with the Columbus Food League and Curio at Harvest provide encouragement, as do initial sales at the Ohio Taproom where Lynch seemingly had nothing to worry about.

"We went through a keg in one day," says Ohio Taproom owner John Evans. "It seems to be working really well."

The soda pop production facility in an unassuming building at East Hudson and Indianola was originally intended to be a microbrewery. Using the craft beer model from the late 1980s, Lynch stepped into new territory and learned to make soda by trial and error, improving with every batch. Why the switch? After 10 years of working in the beer industry, Lynch wanted something less intense.

"There's a lack of pretentiousness with soda pop that I love," he says. "The beer industry has gotten so serious. Soda pop is a more light-hearted thing to go after."

There is something light-and fun-about the carbonated beverage world, and it's not just the CO2. Bubbly drinks, which have been nationally trending for a few years, have been popping up throughout Columbus in many forms, both with alcohol and without, on tap and in the bottle.

Skip the Gun

First up, it's important to note just how the bubbles appear in our DIY culture. While diners can find artisanal bubblies on draft, served as cocktails in individual bottles and poured by the glass in select restaurants throughout Columbus, it is unlikely to find local libations coming out of a soda gun. The lines that connect carbonated water with bagged syrup at the push of a button are often owned by Coca-Cola or Pepsi, who install them at restaurants in exchange for a non-compete contract. Elizabeth Lessner of Columbus Food League (which operates restaurants including Dirty Frank's and Tip Top Kitchen & Cocktails) chooses to evade the big guys by using alternative options (such as Columbus' own Frost Top Root Beer) for all of her restaurants because they're local and fit with the company's brands, she says.

Why Bubbles?

In our current Ball-jar laden world of pickling, fermenting and celebrating all things scratch-made, it was only a matter of time before Columbus' culinary creatives would take on the mass-produced bubble makers. Creating effervescent beverages based on recipes from days gone by gives producers and mixologists an opportunity to showcase what our ancestors sipped when they sidled up to the soda counter.

Chances are it was something made with simple elements. "We searched for old-fashioned recipes," Lynch says. "We wanted to go back to where soda pop was using all-natural, whole ingredients."

Rambling House's cola recipe (supposedly the original one for Coca-Cola) is made up of lemon, lime, orange, nutmeg and coriander. "These are the types of ingredients you'd find if you went back 80 years. There was no high-fructose corn syrup in 1940."

The trend does more than highlight our history. For local mixologists, the addition of CO2 enhances the experience for multiple reasons.

For Nicole Hollerman, bar director at Veritas Tavern in Delaware, the addition of bubbles helps her customers try libations-such as the famously bitter negroni-for the first time. "There's something about the bubbles that opens up the flavor and allows it to more gently enter your palate," she explains. "It softens the drink."

She also credits carbonation with enhancing her drinks as a whole by showcasing individual elements. One of the nine hand-carbonated drinks on the Veritas menu is a version of the gimlet. "[Carbonation] gives a whole new texture to something that people have been drinking forever. The bubbles are these pockets that give space between the flavors," she says.

Ease is a factor as well. At Mouton, the bottled cocktails that come with a metal straw are served in half the time it takes to make a drink to order. "All the work is up front," says bar manager Logan Demmy. "It ended up being a couple of hours on a Monday. And it decreases the time that the customer has to wait for a cocktail." He adds, "Though the goal isn't to make it easier. It's the experience that matters."

Don't discount the effects of dilution. Cris Dehlavi, who has been making small batches of bottled cocktails at M since May, explains, "If you're adding club soda, you're diluting your drink. But we're carbonating the actual liquor. We're taking the actual cocktail and making it bubbly. So it's awesome. In that respect, it's a brilliant idea. You don't have to water down your cocktail to get bubbles."

Plus, she adds, "everyone loves bubbles."

Locally made carbonated drinks-from cocktails to soda-are popping up on menus and pouring from taps all over the city. Here's a look at the sudden obsession with bubbly beverages