Illinois-based Cool Mountain has been creating gourmet sodas for almost two decades: since 1997, to be exact. So it’s safe to say they know a thing or two about the craft soda craze. Consumers are drinking up the craft soda trend by the gallons, so we asked Cool Mountain marketing director Robert Weiss to share his perspective about where the craft soda industry is heading, how the company is continually innovating and adding to their exciting product line, and why glass bottles are an essential factor in the brand’s formula for success.
What, in your opinion, is fueling the growth of the craft soda market, and where do you see it going in the coming years?
The popularity of craft sodas has sprung from a health-conscious trend of people making better, more flavorful and interesting food choices and pairings. The soda and soft drink industry overall has been experiencing a great change, with craft products leading the revolution and commanding a greater share of total sales. We find our industry growth to be quite similar to the craft beer industry boom and their expansion into the market. As I look into the future, I see some uncertainties with some of the long-term, well-established craft soda makers selling out to corporate interests. To me, it tarnishes the true American entrepreneurial spirit these sodas were born of and diminishes the artisanal, hand-crafted process with which they were made. As for us, with the demand for craft soda on the rise, we provide people with a premium flavor selection made with better ingredients and in small batches.
What spawned the idea for your new draft-style ginger ale? Was it market demand? Consumer demand?
All of the above. Our entire Chicago Draft Style line was originally only available in kegs and was sold primarily to colleges for parties and events. That market quickly expanded to include cities, festivals and small town celebrations just about anywhere anyone heard of us. By word of mouth alone, a demand was generated to such an extent that we not only decided to bottle the product, but to expand the line to now include Chicago Draft Style Root Beer, Chicago Draft Style Ginger Beer, Chicago Draft Style Black Cherry, Chicago Draft Style Cream Soda and Chicago Draft Style Ginger Ale — The Champagne of Craft Sodas.
Why did you decide on glass for your soda’s packaging over other materials?
All true craft sodas are bottled in glass. It’s the way the whole movement started. It’s the way it was done back when the soda industry was born, and it’s the right and only choice. We don’t believe you could have the true experience of a craft soda without it being bottled in glass. It wouldn’t conform to what I consider a traditional definition of “craft” if it was in anything but glass. For us, it’s really the taste — we want our beverages to replicate our formulas to exact specification, so that consumers taste the truest form of our product. This taste experience can only be delivered in glass bottles.
Cool Mountain took great care during the past 19 years finding, researching and testing historical recipes — specific flavors of a time when enjoying a soda was a more rich and satisfying experience, a time when all sodas were bottled in glass — and developing the perfect blend for each of our products. We want people to enjoy the great flavor without having to share its taste with the container it’s in. Our success has shown that consumers prefer the true taste of our soda, and that taste can only come from a glass bottle.
What made you decide to bottle the ginger beer in amber glass bottles instead of the clear bottles you use for your other sodas?
It was all natural, literally. Chicago Draft Style Ginger Beer shows the company’s future commitment to the “all natural” arena, with both our Ginger Beer and Chicago Draft Style Ginger Ale products using only caffeine-free, natural ingredients and pure cane sugar. The amber glass bottle made perfect sense: Its tint allows us to preserve the natural ingredients over their shelf life, while keeping its rich flavor and locking in freshness.
How can soda and other beverages can benefit from bottling in glass?
Quite simply, if you have a product that demands freshness, is aesthetically pleasing, one you want to stand out on the shelf, one that will interest a customer, and can keep a product colder longer and give the buyer a cool tactile feeling in their hand, it’s glass.
Your products are made in the USA. Why is it important to Cool Mountain to keep all manufacturing in the United States?
We have a corporate culture that believes companies need to do the right thing. We manufacture in the USA, creating jobs at home. We buy American products and encourage our customers and vendors to do the same to assure we can maintain the jobs we create. Chicago Draft Style is produced locally, in Chicago by Chicagoans, supporting local commerce and creating local jobs. We’re true believers in the “buy local” initiative. Also, both our Cool Mountain and Chicago Draft Style line are very environmentally conscious, bottling in glass and using only recycled materials in all our packaging.
What do Cool Mountain’s beverages and bottles say about your consumer?
Hip, trendy, cool, and traditional all at the same time. We have some of the finest art you’ll ever find on a bottle, and I believe it speaks to our total audience. From children to hipsters and millennials, to youth and senior citizens, our sodas are enjoyed by all demographics and lifestyles. Glass bottles give us a great canvas to attract and appeal to our audience. They have more discriminating tastes, a keen understanding of the active lifestyle, they look for the finer, more interesting things, and they never settle for the “everyday.”