Tucked into a light and airy first floor space on the corner of Central Wellington’s Dixon Street and Eva Street, is Six Barrel Soda Co, a boutique soda factory serving up natural soda, brewed coffee and small bites to Wellingtonians.
If you thought soda couldn’t be cool, you’ve got to try one of these modern soft drinks. We pulled up a stool at their bar and sipped one of their finest concoctions – celery tonic.
“So that’s the sugar water base with celery seed and fresh celery, some ginger for a bit of spice. The celery seed is that nice savory flavour that you get in a lot of Indian cooking. And then you add cucumber, apple, fresh celery and ginger. So it’s loosely based on an old New York soda. So crisp and fresh,” explained co-founder and the brains behind the beverages, Joseph Slater.
Six Barrel Soda has fast become a mainstay for locals, with its boutique soda blends available from many local cafes, bars and grocery stories. Six Barrel have created unique flavours such as feijoa, celery tonic and hibiscus, all with fresh ingredients.
“The name to start off with is from Sixth Barrel – which is a sixth the size of a regular barrel. So it’s a tiny little barrel that wine makers and distillers would use to make test batches and their more experimental stuff. And we kind of like that idea of being a more experimental version of the bigger mainstream products.”
Sixth barrel is a bit to hard to say so they cut it down to Six Barrel Soda, nice and snappy.
The business is just over four year in now and they have expanded their range a lot since the start. In the beginning they only sold the soda syrups, with a range of seven.
“We’ve now got 11 soda syrups and one that rotates seasonally. And a range of six bottled sodas and we’re about to add four more to that range. So quite a big range of products for a smallish company,” said Slater.
Small they are, with a team you can basically count on one hand. But this hasn’t held them back from doing very well with wholesale supplying. They’re growing year on year and are really focussed on establishing themselves locally and abroad.
Unsurprisingly, this isn’t Slater’s first foray into small business.
“Before doing this we had a bar and restaurant in Wellington, here. And I was making syrups for the soft drinks there, just as a way to do something a little more interesting than just the standard coke, lemon, cranberry juice that most places had. And we noticed that a lot more people were not drinking booze and still wanting to have a grown-up drink when they go out.”
“And for us that was really cool because traditionally if you weren’t drinking a beer or a wine you just got lumped with a kiddie drink or something that was pretty nasty. So we wanted it to not be embarrassing to not get booze and to give some love to that non-alcoholic category.”
At the same time a lot of people are using SodaStream at home again. There’s been a bit of a revival, more so in New Zealand than in Australia.
“Very much here, a lot of people have SodaStream and like having sparkling water at home as well as making up drinks. And most of the other brands you can use for that are full of chemicals and are pretty nasty. So we’ve seen a lot of interest for our syrups for that.”
Soda syrups were once the only way you could get soft drinks. You had sparkling water and mixed it with a cordial. At one stage they were quite good and then there was a few generations of just cheap and nasty brands.
Sodas and syrups have a bad reputation for their sugars but Six Barrel only use a base of filtered water and fairtrade cane sugar. And then they’re all flavoured with different fruits, spices and fruit oils.
“A big part of the problem with that a lot of companies use refined sugars, our is a pretty natural fairtrade cane sugar so it’s good stuff and I think choosing ours is a healthier option.”