A Fresh Twist on Soda
by Shannon Mullen
Photographs by Katie Noble
Bill Creelman thinks he must be nuts. For one thing the founder of Spindrift Soda is trying to sell his new line of natural, carbonated fruit beverages during an international war on sugary soft drinks. What’s more, he insists on using only the freshest juice he can find. “There are only three fresh-squeezed juice producers in the United States,” Creelman says. “No one in their right mind would try to do this on a commercial level.”
But that’s exactly what Creelman is up to these days. He started Spindrift last spring after he sold Stirrings, a company he co-founded a decade ago to make all natural, gourmet cocktail mixers.
As a beverage consumer Creelman’s gone full circle. He spent his childhood drinking unpasteurized milk on his family’s farm in Leverett, Massachusetts, but as an adult he started swilling three or four diet sodas per day. In recent years, when soda came under attack by everyone from his mom to the United States Congress, Creelman decided to cut it from his diet and give the country’s largest beverage category a makeover.
“No one’s ever done a fresh soda,” he says. “There may be someone out there, but almost without exception sodas are made from syrup or concentrate.”
He’s discovered, though, that making a healthier alternative with fresher ingredients costs more, and takes longer. Creelman calls it “fulltime, full body” work.
Each week he gets deliveries of lemon, grapefruit, blackberry, orange and mango juice, shipped cold from his suppliers in one-gallon containers soon after it’s squeezed. The juice is then mixed by hand in small batches with triple-purified, carbonated water at a bottling plant Creelman contracted with inWorcester, Massachusetts. He chose the facility over a less expensive plant in California, so he could keep his operation local, and its carbon footprint relatively small.
Once the soda is bottled it’s stored and delivered cold to maintain freshness. Currently Spindrift is sold in select small cafés and gourmet markets in and around Boston plus a handful of other locations in New Hampshire, Connecticut and Maine.
“We feel like we need to cut our teeth locally, and consumers here are very honest,” Creelman says. He uses the words “us” and “we” a lot, but so far Spindrift is a one-man operation. Besides staying close to home, for now Creelman also wants to keep the company small enough to stay in business.
He has solid entrepreneurial instincts for an English major who never saw himself running a company, much less three of them. Before Spindrift and Stirrings, there was Nantucket Offshore Seasonings, which he partnered with and eventually purchased in an herbal homage, of sorts, to summers he spent on the island working as a com mercial fisherman.
Creelman says those days on the wind-whipped North Atlantic inspired him to choose the word spindrift, a nautical term for sea spray blown from the tops of waves, for the name of his new company. In selling the day’s catch to top chefs through the back doors of their restaurants, fishing was also his introduction to the food industry and its high premium on freshness.
Creelman says the rules for what we drink shouldn’t be any different, and he thinks his product fills a gap in the market for carbonated beverages between sugary fruit drinks and sodas full of syrup. “I think of myself as being on a sort of crusade,” he says. “Educating people about what’s in the soda they’re drinking every day, without being judgmental, and offering an alternative.”
Creelman spent the better part of a year perfecting his recipes to find the right proportions of carbonated water, pulpy fruit juice and unrefined cane sugar.Most of the fruit that provides his juice is grown domestically (the mangoes are flown in from India), and he takes great pride in the fact that he could tell his customers what tree the Eureka lemon in their sparkling lemonade came from.
The other Spindrift flavors currently on the market include sparkling grapefruit, mango-orange and blackberry. Creelman says he’s also developing a sparkling cranberry-raspberry soda that he’ll make with Massachusetts cranberry juice (not from concentrate) and a sparkling half-and-half soda made with lemon juice and freshly brewed black tea.
Creelman says some area colleges are selling his products as a soda alternative, and he’s getting inquiries from high schools now too, despite a push by Boston health officials to curb consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages in the city.
As for his own intake, Creelman admits it wasn’t an easy transition but he’s officially off all sodas except Spindrift, and his favorite flavor is blackberry.
For your nearest Spindrift retailer go to www.sprindriftsoda.com.
Shannon Mullen is a film producer and freelance public radio reporter whose work airs regularly on several NPR programs. She also contributes to Boston Magazine and other local news outlets. Her culinary experience includes stints as chef aboard a 1929 wooden motor yacht based in Newport, Rhode Island, and as garde manger in the kitchen of a French bistro in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.