Dallas-Fort Worth has reinvented its beer drinking habits with a craft beer wave, and now we can turn our attention to soda. Oak Cliff Beverage Works makes soda the way it used to be made, with cane sugar, before the soda industry changed over to using high-fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners.
If you've eaten at Snappy Salads, Buzzbrews, Velvet Taco, Liberty Burger, or Babe's Chicken Dinner House, you've seen Oak Cliff Beverage Works' lineup of sodas at self-serve machines, in creative flavors such as vanilla cream soda, black cherry, vintage root beer, mango spritz, cherry limeade, and real lemonade with 12 percent juice.
Founder Bryan Wilder had spent 30 years in the beverage industry when he recognized that there was a demand for natural sugar-cane sweetened beverages, and so went out on his own. For a few years, he did Oak Cliff Beverage Works as a side business, until he decided to throw everything in.
"I was doing other things to make a living, but I saw there was a trend developing and reached the point to where I got serious about it," he says.
Wilder was in the industry long enough to remember the days before high-fructose corn syrup was introduced. "At the time, it just seemed like a cheaper product that you thought did the same thing," he says. "In the ensuing years, we realized what a massive difference HFCS made."
One of the differences he observed was that sodas made with HFCS allowed the drinker to consume more at one sitting, which he feels has contributed to maladies such as obesity and diabetes.
"I'd be at a restaurant and get one or two refills of my soda without thinking about it," he says. "When I changed to drinking soda with sugar, I couldn't get through an 8-ounce bottle. It's not scientific, it's observable."
Wilder says he became more passionate about this "because I think what we’re doing is good," he says.
Companies such as Boylen, Jones, and Hansen's make cane-sugar sodas, and in recent years, the big soda companies have dabbled in cane-sugar products, with the most recent being Pepsi's "1893" drink, containing kola nuts, sugar, and sparkling water.
"It's a scary thing when you think about competing with companies like Coca Cola, but they can't compete with me," he says. "I'm not playing in their ballpark. I'm going after customers who want this and don't know we're here.
"What we do is craft soda. We wanted to make soda with real sugar and knew it tasted better."