Some folks call it “soda” and some call it “pop”. Some folks use both and call it “soda pop”. One thing is for certain, it is a soft drink and Michigan has deep roots in the bubbly carbonated beverage industry. One of our nation’s oldest soft drinks was born in Detroit when James Vernor introduced his barrel-aged Ginger Ale at his pharmacy soda fountain in 1866.
Fast forward to the present day and you will find a few Michigan farms following in James Vernor’s footsteps and are farm crafting soft drinks with their homegrown ingredients. This is exactly what Steve and Kris Van Heitsma at Mud Lake Farm (Dorr, MI) are doing with St. Steve’s Farm Crafted Sodas. I first learned about St. Steve’s Sodas when visiting Root Cafe, Coffeehouse, and Spirits located in downtown Fennville. Root not only supports Michigan farms with their deliciously eclectic seasonally fresh menu options, but they also support locally distilled spirits, beer, wine, and soft drinks.
Steve and Kris were gracious hosts and invited me to tour their farm, which has been in their family for over 100 years. They handpick the elderflowers from their elder tree grove to brew tea that is incorporated in the Elderflower Soda (the elderberries are used in the Spiced Elderberry Cordial) and they grow ginger for the spicy and not-too-sweet Ginger Soda.
We recently celebrated the Summer Solstice (June 21) followed by Midsummer’s Day (June 24). Historically, this day marks the midpoint of the growing season for the farmer as it is the halfway point between planting and harvest. It’s a time of celebration and a perfect time for a soft drink. For those who want to celebrate with a spirited cocktail, ginger and elderflower are popular ingredients in crafting cocktails. There is a well-known joke among bartenders and mixologists that elderflower is considered the bartender’s “ketchup”. It’s simple, yet lends complexity to drinks and it virtually goes with everything – just like ketchup. With the summer season in full swing, cooling down with a carbonated cocktail is the perfect way to celebrate Michigan and support local farms and distilleries.
Iron Fish Distillery (Thompsonville, MI) is Michigan’s first farm-based distillery that produces field-to-glass premium spirits. Their award-winning Woodland Gin is distilled using winter wheat that is grown at their estate farm along with a bouquet of native botanicals with hints of concolor fir and juniper berries. It’s a perfect spirit to sip, relax, and enjoy Michigan summer!
1 1/2 oz. Woodland Gin (Iron Fish Distillery – Thompsonville, MI)
St. Steve’s Elderflower Soda to top
Garnish: Lime wedge
Fill a highball glass with ice. Add gin and top with soda. Stir and garnish with a lime wedge.
Another bubbly drink that was a popular summer cooler during the 1920s through the 1940s is the Gin Buck. It is appropriately named because it has a “kick” to it.
1 1/2 oz Woodland Gin (Iron Fish Distillery – Thompsonville, MI)
1/2 ounce lemon juice, freshly squeezed
St. Steve’s Ginger Soda to top
Garnish: lemon wedge
Fill a highball glass with ice. Add gin, lemon juice, and top with soda. Stir and garnish with a lemon wedge
By Angie Jackson, known as the Traveling Elixir Fixer, is a Master Culinary Mixologist, Brand Consultant, Author, and an Ambassador for Michigan GROWN Michigan GREAT.
In her 25-year career, she has designed and executed award-winning beverage programs for Chicago’s top bars and restaurants, numerous Midwest distilleries, national distributors, as well as global brands, and celebrities.