effervesS

664 Union Street, Brooklyn
AUGUST 6, 2013

KEYWORDS: WHATEVER COLA WANTS

 

The emergence of the handcrafted soda is something that I would have been more excited about in the years that predated the dotcom crash, for that is when I began drinking in earnest. Now that the Sodastream is a household name, it seems as though the cola wars are at an end. But maybe they’ve just taken a strange, quiet turn.

Effervess on Union street is a good example of where things have led us. Purchasing tokens gains you entry to the former laundromat, where poppy jingles play, like bubbles in a soda, and you're led to a soda machine that's about ten times as wide as a regular one. It has no brand names, just cryptic letters and numbers on the punch buttons, A-36 BB-90 C-55 E-1 J-72 and so forth. An iPad video screen in the center of the machine plays short videos.

In one video, you see a freckled young woman, on top of a rooftop in Brooklyn, staring at a pink-orange sunset, while a melodica and ukulele play. The camera lingers, then there’s a solid pink-orange color on the screen, with a letter and a number. After punching this code into the machine, it delivers a soda can that’s roughly half the size of a normal one, with a design that looks like the sunset. The soda tastes a little like a grapefruit soda, like Ting or something along those lines.
Another video starts, a black and white cartoon of three kittens tussling in some folded laundry, rolling around in it until, to their shock, they're each fully dressed and ready for school. The camera goes black, and then there’s another code on the screen. This one is a cola, and for all I know, it could well be any of the colas out there, but I'm willing to swear it tastes a bit more old-timey.

Effervess understands that soda isn’t just a beverage, it’s an accent. Sodas suggest sophistication, energy, calm, health, insight, competency, zest for life, new beginnings, nostalgia. If their appeal was based on taste, few people would drink them at all. You need an impression of what soda is in order to appreciate it.

But back to those commercials: Brooklyn chef celebrity Larp Berman is in her kitchen, chopping kale, when suddenly she pauses, looks at the camera and says, “I think it's the little things,” and then another code flashes on the screen. We see a young artist along the Greenpoint water front, painting something large and red, when suddenly he pauses. Seeing the camera, he straightens his glasses, takes a sip from a blue can marked J-72, and says in a slightly snide, knowing tone, “I'm sorry. It’s the taste. I mean, I'm sorry.” And then he shrugs and goes back to work on a mural for the rival brand, the red-buttoned C-55.

Some have argued that the J-72 – C-55 rivalry is the whole reason that Effervess exists. It’s an experiment to see if the cola wars could be restarted even if both brands were bottled by the same company.

“I really won't be happy until the C-55s rise up against the J-72s,” says owner Hal Smith, “I mean, they're just so smug.”

His partner and husband Nick Hazely offers a practiced disbelieving look. “Rise up against the great taste that helps you fight a hangover? Really?” Hal sighs. “That hangover rumor is killing C-55.”

The decision to not give the beverages names was based on the idea that the commercials themselves should guide what the beverages tasted like. As a result, both Smith and Hazely find themselves regarding letters and numbers in a different context. “It’s very weird, but I was at IKEA, in the returns department, and my ticket had a number for one of our sodas that I really don’t like” says Smith, refusing to give the ticket number, “So I bought a yogurt, came back, and took another one.”

In their former lives, Smith and Hazely both worked in advertising, but it was an easy decision to move to start an artesian soda machine. “I've always liked soda,” says Smith, “I remember driving through North Carolina in the summer and thinking, this is Mellow Yellow country. And I would try to stock up on Mr. Pibb, but a six pack of Mr. Pibb under your bed does not count as stocking up.”

Hazely liked soda in a completely different way, “I was obsessed with who was endorsing what. I can tell you where I was when the Crystal Pepsi commercial first aired. I mean, I can’'t tell you Hal’s birthday, or our anniversary, but an extinct beverage that was once considered the great white hope of. . . Oh my god. That’s it. I need to make Crystal J-72!” and he runs off, presumably to his soda laboratory.

His husband follows after him presumably to create C-55 Clear.
This is the one thing I worry about when I go to Effervess — that by having a preference in soda I’m somehow working to destroy a happy marriage.

Once you’ve made your selections, there’s a large dining area with a large menu that has ten variations of french fries (curly, ridged, dill, pepper, parmesan, manchego, rosemary to name a few), a wide swath of potato chips (salt and vinegar, Old Bay, sriracha) and brick oven pizza.

A large screen plays Effervess commercials before vintage TV shows. Hazely prefers “anything with a weird color palatte—I like Star Trek for that reason, but Three's Company seems to work well.”

One three-year old seemed completely confused by what was going on. “Jordan, we talked about this,” his mother said, leaning over him, “This is special soda, its different!” Confused, the child asked again for his favorite soda. “We get that all the time! This is a very special place, where we can find sodas that don’t exist anywhere else. We talked about it before we got on the subway.” The child’s face registers a quiet disbelief.

His mother, sighing, turns around and, taking the child’s hand, walks out the door to find a Pepsi.

 

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