Booze + Book Pairings: Sense Memory Sodas + THE FAYGO BOOK
Each week, WSU Press has paired our books with the insanely beautiful drink creations of Gates Otsuji, founder of Controlled Substances, a bar and beverage consultancy based in Brooklyn.
For our last installment, we have the Sense Memory Soda (non-alcoholic) and The Faygo Book.
Like probably everyone else who grew up in the Detroit area, I have fond memories and a special place in my heart for independent soda brands like Faygo and Towne Club, with their non-standard palette of flavors and bright cheery colors. The Faygo Book brought back so many memories of family celebrations, school, and time spent with friends – the stories in the book touched a deep emotional nerve, tied to my love of Detroit. I’ve lived in New York City for quite some time and make a living creating cocktails for a number of bars, restaurants, and hotels here, so when it comes to evoking those same comforting feelings, I thought, “I might not be able to replicate Faygo flavors exactly, but I’ve got to try.” Soda syrups are different from other syrups used in the bar world, in that they need enough sweetness and a certain amount of acid to create a balanced flavor when combined only with seltzer. Commercial fountain sodas use a ratio of 1:5 syrup to seltzer, hence the measurements in this recipe. For the acidic element, green apples are a natural source of malic acid, which lends a tart, drying element to the finish of the flavor. And then there’s the herbs and spices. If making soda syrups was as easy as just using fruit, we’d all be doing it, but the secret is adding the right herbs and spices to make the natural fruit flavors taste complex enough to keep you going back for more. The unexpected hints of earthiness found in the oregano and thyme add a subtle depth to orange and tangerine. The mahlab, in the Rock n' Rye Soda Syrup recipe, is a common middle eastern spice, made from ground cherry pits, which gives you a touch of a flavor somewhere between almonds and malt powder that you can’t find anywhere else. Admittedly, Faygo is a tough act to follow and I wouldn’t dream of calling these replacements for Faygo, but whether you call it "pop" or "soda," the experience should be fun and should make you feel like a kid again.
orange and/or tangerine, green apple, nutmeg, thyme, oregano, seltzer
strawberry, green apple, mahlab, star anise, maple syrup, seltzer
Orange Soda Syrup
1. Use a peeler to remove the skin of a small orange and place the peels into a container with a few sprigs of thyme and some oregano leaves.
2. Sprinkle 1/4 cup sugar onto the peels. Using a muddler or the end of a wooden spoon, press and twist the peels into the sugar, until the oils from the peels begin to saturate the sugar.
3. Thinly slice the peeled orange and add to the peel and sugar mixture.
4. Thinly slice half of a green apple and add to the mixture, along with a pinch of ground nutmeg.
5. Cover the mixture with 1 3/4 cups sugar. Rest this mixture in a cool, dark place to allow the sugar to absorb the juices from the fruit.
6. Once the sugar has turned to a liquid, pour in 2 cups water, and 1 cup of orange or tangerine juice. Add a couple drops of vanilla extract.
7. Stir the mixture to dissolve the sugar and rest in the refrigerator overnight.
8. Use a sieve or mesh strainer to remove as many solids as possible and store the syrup in a clean glass bottle or jar in the refrigerator.
Rock n' Rye Soda Syrup
1. Place 1 cup of quartered strawberries in a container with half of a thinly sliced green apple.
2. Add a pinch of ground mahlab (available from your local Middle Eastern grocer or online) and 1 ½ cup of white sugar. Toss to coat. Rest this mixture in a cool, dark place to allow the sugar to absorb the juices from the fruit.
3. Add 1 star anise, 2 tbsp maple syrup, and 3 cups water
4. Stir the mixture to dissolve the sugar, taking care not to crush the strawberries, and rest in the refrigerator overnight.
5. Use a sieve or mesh strainer to remove as many solids as possible and store the syrup in a clean glass bottle or jar in the refrigerator.
Sense Memory Sodas
1. Fill a tall glass with ice. Add 1 part soda syrup and 5 parts seltzer. Stir briefly and enjoy!
Gates Otsuji is the founder of Controlled Substances, a bar and beverage consultancy based in Brooklyn, with more than two decades of experience creating cocktail programs for brands like The Standard, Starr Restaurants, and The Edition. As a third-generation Detroiter, Gates is thrilled to partner with WSU Press for this series.
The Faygo Book is the social history of a company that has forged a bond with a city and its residents for more than a century. The story of Faygo, Detroit’s beloved soda pop, begins over a hundred years ago with two Russian immigrant brothers who were looking to get out of the baking business. Starting with little more than pots, pails, hoses, and a one-horse wagon, Ben and Perry Feigenson reformulated cake frosting recipes into carbonated beverage recipes and launched their business in the middle of the 1907 global financial meltdown. It was an improbable idea. Through recessions and the Great Depression, wartime politics, the rise and fall of Detroit’s population, and the neverending challenges to the industry, the Feigensons persisted. Out of more than forty bottlers in Detroit’s "pop alley," Faygo remained the last one standing.