When Oak at Fourteenth shuttered last spring due to remodel after a fire, the staff and management seized a unique opportunity: While they scurried to get the restaurant rebuilt, they also spent the down months studying and creating so that when the place reopened, they'd be at the top of their game with a few surprises in store for guests.
One of those surprises was what owner Bryan Dayton cryptically called "different liquid options." Those options turned out to be a collection of bottled, housemade sodas -- a couple of which were infused with booze.
"We wanted to do something with full carbonation," Greg Van Wagner, the barman who spent his summer working on the project, explains. "When you carbonate on the spot, you often get either a lot of flavor or a lot of carbonation, but not both. The original vision was to do something Sigg-bottle like because you can't carbonate in glass."
Van Wagner says it took about three months to figure out how to get thicker liquids properly fizzy and then get them to stay bubbly in the bottle. "We took a Vita-Prep to kumquats, and then we had to figure out how to carbonate it. It took some special engineering. My girlfriend would come home and say, 'You're sticky.' I'd have Campari everywhere."
Eventually, though, he figured it out, and applied the technique to a variety of sodas, including non-alcoholic options -- like housemade ginger beer and kumquat and tarragon soda -- plus a couple spiked with alcohol, including that kumquat mix infused with campari as well as a blend of cucumber-basil soda and vodka.
So what was the technique? "I'm not saying yet," says Van Wagner. "We want to perfect our lineup before we tell the secret."
Dayton adds that anyone who understands the principles of carbonation could figure it out. He also notes that they have to do the sodas in small batches, which meant he and Van Wagner were at Oak until well into the night the day before their first soft-opening, packaging up the drinks.
They'll now rotate seasonal flavors, concentrating on citrus fruits -- Dayton cites a blood orange concoction in the works -- in the winter and lighter, breezier creations for patio sipping in the warmer months, which sounds like a perfect way to while away a summer evening.
"The eventual gimmick," says Dayton, "is to serve them and pop them open with an Oak bottle opener."
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