Barley + Rye: Get your craft soda game on at the General Muir

A new bar program on the horizon, and tips for making your own libations
Soda of the day: Orange, grapefruit, and mint

Photograph by Osayi Endolyn

Great things happen in the General Muir kitchen—our former critic Bill Addison named it the Best Restaurant of 2013—but fun things go down at the bar as well, even when you skip the booze. My cravings take me to Emory Point for lunch, seeking out that warm Reuben oozing with Russian dressing and gruyere. But I realized that once I’m at the counter, it’s the daily soda that gets things moving in the right direction.

Kathryn Fitzgerald is the mind behind these daily soda creations, a passion she discovered not long after coming on as a bartender in September 2013. One crowd favorite is her orange crème (fresh squeezed orange juice, vanilla-infused with cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger). The soda maven’s duties have recently expanded into management, in preparation for the forthcoming Yalla at Krog Street Market. There, Fitzgerald says, she’ll continue making and serving sodas from fresh, local ingredients. So who will maintain the General Muir’s fizzy direction?

Michael “SQRLZ” Searles (Cibo E Beve), is launching the new bar program at the Muir, who will give the current lineup a “facelift,” Fitzgerald says. Once Yalla opens, the plan is that Fitzgerald will pass down a set soda menu for the General Muir.

I spoke to barkeep Graham Lansford (Southern Art Bourbon Bar). Lansford recently won some bragging rights at the Last Call Bartender Battle, where barkeeps compete with pre-set ingredient options—he won a round against Thomas McGuire of Prohibition. Lansford says his most popular improvisation was a Biscoff cookie and raspberry fizz (a play off the Ramos gin classic).

We talked about making sodas at home after I enjoyed his creation of the day: carrot, grapefruit, and a touch of mint syrup. Below, Lansford offers suggestions for making the perfect summertime refreshment.

Go with what you like. Kathryn liked fennel and licorice, lots of anise notes. I love citrus, pineapple, and ginger.

Consider a theme. Are you doing Tiki? Going for something more savory? Think about what you’re making the soda for and aim in that direction.

Choose a base. Always go with fresh fruit or veggies. Tomato is great, believe it or not. Celery, too. Cherries and berries are in season. Go big with your base flavor—it should be the most forward.

Keep it simple. For starters, try to stick to three ingredients or less (not including the soda). If you go too crazy, you can muddle up the flavor. If I had to make a soda at home right now, I’d go with a straightforward pineapple and ginger.

Next, extract the juice. Blend it, pulverize it, use a food processor, whatever you have. Then strain it (keep in mind you’re making a concentrate).

Mix the ingredients. Go with your gut on portions and taste frequently.

Gas it up. If you want to carbonate at home, that’s going to take equipment, like a soda machine or an ISI gun. If you don’t have those, you can just add soda water. You can even bottle and batch it to use later—Ikea sells bottles with stoppers for just a few bucks.

Find a balance. How much juice you use depends on your glassware. Most people will have a 10-ounce Collins glass, or a 16-ounce pint. First add ice cubes. I use two to three ounces of the juice per glass, then top off with soda water.

Update: This post originally stated that a new bar and soda program would launch under Searles and Lansford. Lansford is moving to work with Arianna Fielder at Bellwoods Social House, which is set to open in July.