Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Chef Jeremy Miller's soda mission

Posted By on Tue, Aug 6, 2013 at 8:34 AM

  • John Fulton
Jeremy Miller
  • John Fulton
  • Jeremy Miller

Soda gets a bad rap these days, but, Jeremy Miller, founder of Miller's Artisan Sodas, wants to change that. With a freshly brewed ginger beer in hand - one he made himself with birch bark, real ginger, and sassafras - Miller laments how distant our relationship to food has become. "We are so used to thinking we know what something should taste like, that we forget what it needs to taste like, what it really tastes like," he says. In his experience, real always tastes better.

Miller studied culinary arts at the Art Institute of Atlanta. He further honed his skills at Jean-Georges in New York City, the French Laundry in California, and at the Asher Restaurant and Bluepointe in Atlanta. Most recently, he worked as executive chef at STK in Midtown. When Miller's wife felt sick during her first pregnancy in 2010, he soothed her with a homemade ginger ale. When friends and family loved it, too, he knew he was onto something. He decided to brew and bottle the fizzy drinks on his own and Miller's Artisan Soda was born. For now, Miller's soda comes in three flavors: root beer, ginger beer, and sweet tea, and you can find them on the menus at Buttermilk Kitchen and Bantam & Biddy.

Miller initially left STK in June to pursue his soda dreams full-time, but has since taken another kitchen job to work out some kinks, and, more importantly, pay the bills. CL caught up with Miller to learn more about his one-man crusade to change our relationship to soda.

What's wrong with conventional soda?

In my opinion, conventional sodas are selling a brand, and not necessarily a great product. I think that's what needs to change. Making real soda with real ingredients is great because it is better for you than all these preservatives, such as phosphoric acid used to make sodas shelf stable. Natural sodas are not only healthier, but more educational, because many sodas were created for an ailment or medicinal purpose. Who knew that cola was first made with cola nut?

What does real soda taste like?

People are so used to a fake taste and the sodas they grew up on as kids. I think that if they were to try a real soda, the difference is that it is more refreshing, because you can tell the ingredients are real and not produced in a lab. Interestingly, some folks say "wow, that is how it is supposed to taste," or "ummmm, no thanks, I'll go back to my Barq's root beer." People are very opinionated about their soda.

How do you make your soda?

We use all natural ingredients. No extracts, no syrups, and no flavoring. That is our mantra, and we stick to that. When we make a root beer, we use real vanilla beans and real birch bark. The way we do it is very simple. We use 5-gallon cornelius kegs. We open the top, fill it with the base and hook up the C02 tank. We carbonate over a few days.

How do you come up with your flavor combinations?

There are a lot of people doing craft sodas. It is kind of a small community, so we put our flavors out there on Twitter or Facebook. A lot of times, guys that are doing similar things in different areas will reach out and say "oh, how was that?" We bounce flavors off each other. But also, we just brainstorm what we like.

What are your plans for the future?

The plan is to keep our company small and awesome. We are going to grow really slow. We believe we have a great product that can hopefully, over time, change the minds of people [who drink conventional soda], because we will have differentiated ourselves based on real taste.

Kyle Bowman is the founder of Pretty Good at Life, a site whose mission is "to catalyze cultural change by encouraging people to live life upside down."

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