Drying out? Don't bet on it!

Forget the kids. Don’t worry about calorie counters. The real way to sell gourmet soda has always been at the bar.

But that’s changing.

While the ordinary rollout for an upscale CSD involved a heavy round of cocktail experimentation, the upscaling of the American taste bud – even among its children – appears to have brought the market out of the bar and onto the family table. And that means there are increasingly clear divisions in the ways some of these products should be sold.

That doesn’t mean you have to be a straight on-or-off premise retailer to make some cash off the gourmet CSD boom. But it does mean that you have to be savvy enough about your customers to walk the line between those who are looking for a product made for health and the ones searching for just the right taste for sin.

It turns out that if they’re looking for the latter, high-end sodas are the universal solvent – and they just might juice your sales. Between the cocktail recipe page at Grown up Sodas (GuS) and the unbelievable mixability of Essn, some of these products are definitely geared toward the adult sensibility. So are a variety of Ginger Beers – from Regatta to Virgil’s to Maine Root – all of which have a place in that most cloying of summer cocktails, the Dark and Stormy. And Airforce Nutrisoda, which still has a decidedly spa-like aura despite some attempts to move it into schools, has page after page of recipes for the no-calorie functional.

On the other hand, for many products – particularly juice sparklers – going top shelf no longer seems to be the top choice – the Switch, for example, has been revived as a product with a good-for-you vibe, and not one that’s necessarily good with vodka. While one can still find “Dizzy Lizzy” recipes on the Web, you aren’t going to see them on the Fizzy Lizzy Web site; both seem to embrace the New Wholesomeness. And Izze, last year’s PepsiCo pickup, is now pretty strictly for kids and their moms, via the lower-calorie “Izze Esque” line introduced earlier this year. Despite an early marketing push involving the drink’s mixability – still a strong point on-premise – Izze seems intent on fitting onto the wagon.

Dry, Boylan’s, Vignette and Cricket Cola seem to be walking their own path, meanwhile, relying on bold flavors – aiming either for sophisticated palates or nostalgia seekers — to give them a place at the table during mealtimes. Sticking with the gourmet palate keeps these products strictly in the soda section, along with a variety of high-end root beer products. Meanwhile, Jones, which seems intent on establishing itself as an alternative to Coke and Pepsi more than an alternative to wine or beer, is staying the course as a youth-oriented treat product, albeit one with greatly expanded distribution.

With the buyout of Izze last year, there was a terrific amount of buzz about the altsoda category. While it doesn’t appear that any have been ground under by a massive PepsiCo distribution push, the question remains whether any will gain momentum off that purchase. What else is one to do, then, but mix up a few cocktails, hand a soda to the kids, and sit down to dinner?