Jim Ellison and Mike Cryan bring a line of beet sugar-based carbonated drinks to Central Ohio.
Let’s get one thing clear: It’s pop, not soda. And if you’re thirsty for a pop, locally owned Ohio Pop Co. is here to supply you.
The proprietors behind this 2-year-old business—Jim Ellison and Mike Cryan—began developing separate pop-focused projects several years ago. The duo met at the Food Fort, the commissary and kitchen incubator where Ellison worked as coordinator; Cryan’s food truck, The Flat Top Pizza Co., was a client.
Ellison’s inroad to pop was paved by a blistering honeymoon in Italy, where he and his wife turned to the thirst-quenching carbonated soft drink Fanta Orange. A peek at the ingredients showed real fruit juice and no high fructose corn syrup. Back home in the U.S., Ellison moved on to co-found the tour-runner Columbus Brew Adventures but mulled over ideas for an Ohio-focused pop business.Like what you’re reading? Subscribe to our weekly newsletters.
Cryan began crafting syrup and seltzer mixes for his truck. “Nearly everything the truck served was scratch-made,” he says. “But it seemed like all of the conversations in the window during service revolved around whether we had any decaf diet cherry [pop].”
As Ellison developed his model, coming up with the name Ohio Pop Co., he caught wind of Cryan’s work and pitched a partnership. The two began formally producing their line of soft drinks in April 2019.
The pair uses Midwest-sourced ingredients whenever possible, including beet sugar for its sweetener, sourced from Ohio and Michigan.
The pops are Ohio in name, too. The Small Step Lemon-Lime pays homage to Ohio-born Neil Armstrong. The Seven Timers Ginger Beer refers to Ohio’s seven U.S. presidents (some also claim an eighth president, Virginia-born William Henry Harrison, as an Ohio commander in chief), and the South Bay Bessie Grape pop nods to the fabled Lake Erie monster.
They named the cola Nemesis because, as Ellison says, the recipe has been Cryan’s white whale for nearly seven years. “Our palates are so wired for Coke or Pepsi,” Ellison says. “It’s impossible to make a cola that people understand. It’s taken [Mike] forever to get it.”
Cryan develops the flavors through extensive research and testing. In addition to brewing batch after batch of recipes—Cryan figures he’s brewed over 100 different types of ginger beer alone—he’s consulted 1800s-era pharmacy soft drink formulas, Belgian Trappist brewing methods and bartending techniques ranging from pre-Prohibition to present day.
The two are quick to acknowledge the food truck owners, brewers and chefs who have served as Ohio Pop’s sounding boards. “They say it takes a village, but this took a city,” Ellison says.
The company’s longest-standing focus group is Ajumama owner Laura Lee and her sous chef, Sean Cristales. “It was so helpful to be able to just hop on her truck for an impromptu tasting and get fantastically detailed feedback,” Cryan says. They also credit Smokehouse Brewing owners Lenny and Alex Kolada with helping to scale their recipes for brewery production.
Where can you take a swig of Ohio Pop? Find it in bottles served from Ajumama, Kenny’s Meat Wagon and Por’ketta food trucks, or on draft at The Ohio Taproom, Smokehouse Brewing Co., Outerbelt Brewing and Keller Market House in Lancaster. ohio-pop.com