St. Charles East alums' craft soda now available in local breweries, restaurants
Frank Schiffner and his friend Josh Carnell have long had an interest in unique sodas from their days as students at St. Charles East High School.
From the history of old soda companies to the original flavors and artistic bottles, the pair traveled to various farmers markets and grocery stores all over the area in search of the perfect soda.
But as they searched, Schiffner, 27, and Carnell, 29, couldn't find exactly what they wanted. So began the start of their company, Sunset Soda, in 2014 as the two experimented with flavors at home. One year later, they began brewing their first batches of soda.
"We saw the craft beer boom and its rise. Soda was left out, and falling behind," Schiffner said. "We wanted to do original flavors, something new and interesting. Soda has been the same flavors in a generic bottle with a paper label or in a can for mass appeal."
After a few years of developing their sodas and creating a business plan, the aspiring entrepreneurs found a space in Geneva last summer. They began production of their first flavor, Short Shorts, a horchata root beer, in March.
Horchata is a sweet, creamy drink popular in Latin American countries, that is mixed with a traditional root beer to create a unique taste, Schiffner said.
"Short Shorts was so hard to get right. It took from 2015 until a few weeks ago to get it at a point where I feel it's perfect," he said. "I can truly say it's one of the best root beers in the country, and I've tried almost all of them. We're trying to make Michelin-star sodas. At least that's what I'm working towards making."
Sunset Soda's latest flavor, Poolside, is a citrus soda made with grapefruit, orange and hibiscus, and makes a great cocktail mixer, but also can be enjoyed on its own, Schiffner said.
The sodas are all made in small batches at the Geneva location. The sodas have no alcohol, no caffeine and no preservatives, and the sugar is all-natural, Schiffner said.
Schiffner and Carnell peel and cut all the fruit by hand before brewing it in their kettle and then adding carbonation.
Carnell said the brewing process takes about eight hours, the carbonation process takes about a day or two, and then another day to bottle and label the soda. The process yields about 56 cases.
"[Frank and I] have worked at different [beer] breweries, so we were in that mindset of discovering and exploring the raw ingredients to the finished product," Schiffner said. "Soda is more bare-bones compared to beer. With our soda, it's just processing raw ingredients -- fruit and spices. Our turnaround is a couple days, compared to beer where it takes weeks. We have a quicker process, but we try to tap into that brewing experience and knowledge. We want to make a [non-alcoholic] product that's comparable to craft beer."
The sodas aren't available in grocery stores but can be found at several area establishments, including Penrose Brewing, Geneva Winery, Geneva Ale House, Art History Brewing, Craft Urban, Alter Brewing and more. Customers can also order directly from the company for home delivery.
Carnell hopes his sodas can provide a high-quality, non-alcoholic option at breweries for minors or non-drinkers.
"I want to be the local craft soda company and have the best beverage offering," he said. "To me, after working at a brewery, the experience of going to a brewery should be fun and should be for everyone, including people who are under 21. We want to provide a better experience."
While Sunset Soda is just available locally, the two friends hope to eventually expand beyond the TriCities.
"We want to take on Coke and Pepsi," Schiffner said. "The goal is to provide great soda to first the Chicago area, then later, to the nation. But we're still expanding into local bars and restaurants. This is a passion of mine that I don't think will ever go away. It's a love. It's very rewarding to see people's faces when they try it and enjoy it."
For more information about Sunset Soda, visit sunsetsodaco.com.