History: Matt Haley was a wonderful man. He was also a troubled youth, in and out of prison, battling drugs and alcohol. Once Matt figured his life out, dude went full angel and became a serious philanthropist, building schools and orphanages in India and also giving back to his local Delaware community. He also started a film company, a coffee plantation, partnered with an Italian winery and ran a restaurant consulting company. Talk about a 180. I have trouble putting my pants on in the morning. But first he started his signature restaurant, Blue Coast, in what would become a mini empire of restaurants in the Delaware coastal area. You know what people like to do in restaurants? Drink. You know what Matt and his business partner both couldn’t do because they were recovering alcoholics? Drink. Lightbulb: craft soda! So they started concocting flavor ideas. They wanted a cool, complex beverage reminiscent of a craft beer, minus alcohol. The process started with making syrups at his restaurant’s bars and serving cocktail-style sodas there. In late 2013, the next logical step was bottling. As Matt Patton (different Matt), General Manager of Fish On said, they wanted “a good experience for the guest who didn’t drink beer or wine, and that meant having a bottle at the table a server could open for you.” Today’s those bottles hold cuisine-influenced flavors like Blood Orange + Sage and Matt’s original signature, Black + White soda. Matt and his partners pride themselves on using the freshest spices, herbs, vegetables and unrefined sugars in their sodas, while also not using any preservatives. Matt Haley passed away in a motorcycle accident in India while there on a humanitarian mission. Today, his companies live on, including Matt’s Homemade Sodas.
Where to get: Currently, Matt’s Homemade Sodas are sold locally in the eight restaurants (including Blue Coast and Fish On) found along the Delaware coast. The company is working to get their sodas distributed to a wider market. In the meantime, if you’d like to get a hold of the stuff yourself, you can place an order directly with Matt Patton.
Nose: Herby; sweet balsamic vinegar; warm Italian bread loaf.
Taste: Sweet balsamic ginger ale. This is definitely an artisanal soda of the highest degree. Definitely a sipper. The main three ingredients in this soda after water and sugar are white balsamic vinegar, bay leaves and black peppercorn. Being a soda void of any preservatives, that allows the flavors to have more authenticity. The balsamic really sings here. It smacks you in the face on first taste. You may not be ready for it, but dammit it’s here, so answer the door, man. White balsamic vinegar is typically sweeter than its black relative, but not as quick or athletic. Hence, the white balsamic sits on the bench and gets put in soda, while the traditional balsamic makes the owners big bucks on the dinner plate. (You don’t get it? It’s is a sports joke; shh, don’t worry about it.) The white balsamic is accompanied by an herby ginger flavor. It isn’t spicy like ginger beer, more like ginger ale. Still, the ginger taste doesn’t cut the strength of the white balsamic quite enough. The balsamic flavor, while sweet and drinkable, is still potent. The bay leaf in this really stands out the more you drink it and begins to integrate more with the balsamic, ginger flavors. This is where the drink really shines. The pepper is there, but it’s so subtle that you probably wouldn’t notice it if you didn’t look at the ingredients label.
Finish: Lingering sweet balsamic, candied bay leaves and the faintest possible hint of pepper. The lingering aftertaste after finishing the entire soda has a vinegar funk to it. Have some gum on hand.
Rating: You gotta hand it to Matt’s Homemade Soda – they went for it, here. This is definitely something the craft soda adventurer should try because, honestly, who makes soda with balsamic vinegar and bay leaves? Sign us up. If you have an aversion to balsamic vinegar or had a weird experience with salad as a child, you probably wanna skip this one. This is a beverage meant to be savored while relaxing or having a nice meal. The balsamic is a little strong and will overwhelm some people, but the bay leaf helps mellow that out. It’s an extremely unique, chef-driven approach to craft soda. Don’t be surprised to see more adventurous ideas like Black + White pop up in the near future.