A few months ago I went to the Harvest Beer Festival put on by Minneapolis St. Paul magazine. After trying dozens of local craft brews, I spotted Verdant Tea. Surprised to see them there, I went over to sample some of their new Kombucha flavors. They were also sampling Tree Fort Soda. This is where I first discovered these delicious botanical sodas hand crafted by 18 year old Eva Duckler. We got the details on the Tree Fort Soda from Eva herself.
When did you start hand crafting your own sodas and what was your motivation? I began exploring the unusually vast world of craft sodas from a very young age. I grew up tasting all of the weirdest brands I could get my hands on—I have collections of inked-scrawled napkins from notes I’d take on flavor profiles of soda as a geeky middle schooler. Just as I’d watch adults around me swirl a glass of fine scotch and note the robust flavor, I’d be fascinated by the amber glow and full-bodied taste of delicious root beer. Because I had created my very own personal cultish devotion to flavor and the quest for the perfect soda, brewing my own seemed nearly sacrilegious.
Fast forward several years and I am working at Verdant Tea, a Minneapolis based tea house and tasting room. At Verdant, the experience is based entirely on the senses; they encourage exploration in all sorts of realms; from tea to chai I got to immerse myself in the brewing world. l was asked to help out with drink specials and began making small batches of herbal syrups for making hot steamers and sodas. They already had a tap system for kombucha at the teahouse so I decided to take a crack at an herbal drink to have on tap. People really loved the sodas I was making and as a culminating end of high school project I decided to make a business out of it. I graduated and decided to take a year off before heading off college to pursue the business further because I was having so much fun with it.
How much experimentation did you do to get the flavors you were looking for in each soda? The root beer took a lot of time—months of perceived failures. I probably went through 60 batches to even get it to where I wanted to share it with others. I had to learn a lot about beer brewing because there are so many parallels between the worlds and I needed to learn how kegging and bottling works. Once I got the hang of the brewing process and all of the equipment involved, I found it a lot easier to develop the ginger ale. If you are using fresh ingredients and real cane sugar you don’t have to work really hard to get it to taste good.
My favorite is the root beer. It’s so good and really different from traditional root beers. What in your opinion sets yours apart? The root beer is very different from what people expect of it. Because it brewed with real botanicals people are often surprised by how herbaceous the flavor is. I like it because it is a nod to what root beer was before America became obsessed with synthetically produced flavors and concocting products out a lab. The flavors of our root beer come from the rich history of using the drink as a medicinal tonic, or later as an alternative to alcohol during prohibition.
How did the name Tree Fort come about? I was looking for something that inspired nostalgia but also incorporated a sense for the botanical qualities of the sodas. I grew up playing in a tree fort and I imagine many others had a similar place of imagination and childhood wonders growing up.
Where can we find Tree Fort sodas? Currently it is available on tap at Verdant, East Lake Brewery, Lakewinds Co-ops, and in bottles at Seward Co-op, Linden Hills Co-op, and Caffetto. The Kowalski’s markets will be carrying it in bottles and on tap at select locations as well.
What does the future look like for Tree Fort? I’m working on building out a fully equipped brewery in Minneapolis. We are currently in the middle of demoing the space to prepare for some much larger tanks and other fun brewery equipment. This will allow us to get a lot more product out there and share it with more people. I plan on putting my heart into getting the operations side of things to a self-sustained state with the help of a great team by next fall when I will be leaving to attend Wellesley college. While I’m away I’ll be involved in the administrative and business side of things.
The owners of Verdant have invested in this new space as well and the current Verdant will be under new ownership. The new teahouse, taproom and shop will be located at 2009 E. 24th Street coming early 2015.
Interview by Sara Chars | Photos supplied by Tree Fort Soda