“This will be my first legit batch of Old City Soda, Cleveland’s first micro-soda company,” Mike Gulley says from the main floor of his 5,000-square-foot production facility in the St. Clair Superior neighborhood.
Up until today, one day after he officially passed his inspections and received his bottling license, Gulley had been whipping up his in-demand sodas at home, in the kitchens of family and friends, and behind the bar at various places of employment. His path to soda entrepreneurship began five years ago at the Fairmount, where he first brewed up a batch of ginger beer. He went on to sharpen his skills at XYZ Tavern and Market Avenue Wine Bar, adding various cocktail-friendly elixirs to his repertoire.
While the sodas can be enjoyed on their own over ice, Gulley formulated them specifically for use in cocktails. Along with the rise of craft cocktails comes the demand for better mixers, and bartenders are always on the lookout for higher quality products. Gulley makes his without corn syrup and artificial flavors, relying instead on fresh fruit juices, pure cane sugar and even, in some cases, honey.
“My goal is to make the best product available while still making money — these are expensive sodas to make,” he notes.
Fresh-frozen fruit juice is shipped from Florida within 24 hours of being pressed and pasteurized, Gulley says. Working in 30-gallon batches, he brews various flavors like grapefruit, tonic, ginger, lemon, hibiscus, strawberry-ginger and lime.
“I’m really excited about the lime soda,” he says. “It’s made with lime, lemon and a little orange juice. Mix it with tequila and it’s an instant effervescent margarita.”
Gulley will begin kegging and bottling his sodas for delivery to a handful of wholesale accounts. Diners will likely begin seeing them soon at Spice, Flying Fig and Lava Lounge to start, then, as he brings on more help, a larger network of local restaurants. He hopes to add a retail component before the end of the year.
Gulley has been working around the clock for months getting the old woodworking shop ready for commercial soda production. He intends to use the industrial space for happy hours, pop-up dinners and “soda club parties” with food and live entertainment.