Now that the party season is upon us, dull and lifeless sodas are taking a hike, and healthier, tastier adult soft drinks are taking over.

Having frequently been the designated driver, I am often resigned to an evening of boring beverages and am excited to even get a slice of lime with my Coke.

But finally, a better choice is emerging: High-impact independent sodas, formerly available only at health-food stores or gourmet delis, are springing up at your local chain grocery stores, Whole Foods ( WFMI) and Trader Joe's.

An indie soda is a great party alternative to a cocktail, especially for those times you need to drive or you're imbibing at the company party.

With dozens of flavors to choose from, the names of the sodas themselves seem to connote independence from the corporate world: Grown-up Soda (GuS), Maine Root Soda, Jones Soda ( JSDA) and Hansen Natural ( HANS)-owned Blue Sky Soda are just a few of the better-known companies.

Many of these, like Jones Soda, were originally only found in tattoo parlors and snowboarding shops but now have been adopted by the larger food retailers.

Bottled Benefits

Indie soda's calorie content often compares favorably with alcohol.

Most beer brands weigh in around 150 calories per 12 ounces, with lite beer about two-thirds of that. Hard cocktails and wine are also caloric, with whiskey at 75 calorie per ounce and red wine nearly 100 calories per 4 ounces.

Even a regular soda can have up to 160 calories for a 12-ounce can.

Compare that to GuS, at around 90 calories for 12 ounces.

Another plus of these adult sodas is that they are not as sweet as their big corporate counterparts. This more subtle sweetness -- without that heavy corn syrup overtone -- appeals to mature tastes. Also, many of these sodas are organic and use natural ingredients.

For example, GuS is 100% natural, made with real juice and real flavor extracts, pasteurized and kosher, with no caffeine.

Alternative Strategies

The Full GuS Line

Founded in early 2003, GuS is a product of Utmost Brands, based in New York City.

Founders Steve Hersh and Jeannette Luoh tried to create a soda that resembled what they and their friends thought a soda should taste like. And the flavors are definitely grown up: cranberry lime, Valencia orange and extra-dry ginger ale are three of the seven flavors GuS offers.

Maine Root soda calls itself "free-range root beer."

A handcrafted soda, Maine Root's organically sweetened brews have been on the market for four years. Now mainly available in the Eastern U.S., Maine Root can be found at Whole Foods, Central Market and many natural food stores.

This soda company also has a strong environmentally conscious philosophy and supports initiatives such as vegetable-powered biodiesel fuel alternatives.

In spite of its name, The Manhattan Bottling Co. has been a Brooklyn institution since 1895, and its award-winning Manhattan Special Pure Espresso is one of the most popular coffee sodas shipped worldwide.

Made from a secret family recipe for over a century, this drink uses all natural ingredients such as fresh coffee beans and pure cane sugar.

The company has recently expanded its original, diet and diet-decaffeinated coffee-soda line to include iced-coffee drinks such as cappuccino, mocha and hazelnut, and fruit-flavored sodas such as cherry, orange and sarsaparilla.

Since Manhattan Special is often more difficult to find in the stores than Jones or GuS, the soda does a thriving mail-order business on the Web, at sites such as Galco's Soda Pop Stop.

Jones' Pop Culture

One of the most unique beverages stories is that of Jones Soda.

Jones Soda Co. was a full-line beverage distributor in western Canada when it launched its own six flavors in 1996.

Jones implemented an alternative distribution strategy, placing branded coolers in venues such as skate, surf and snowboarding shops, tattoo and piercing parlors, and independent fashion and music stores.

Now Jones has an almost cultlike following and can be found at larger chains such as Starbucks, Barnes & Noble, Safeway, Target and 7-Eleven.

Pass the Turkey and Gravy Jones Soda

The product line has even expanded to include energy drinks, lip balm and frozen soda pops.

One innovative Jones idea is to feature constantly changing labels on its soda packaging, which are generated and submitted by its consumers.

Photos can be uploaded to its Web site and, if chosen, are printed and distributed on the flavor selected. Common themes are sports mascots, nature scenes, pets and modern art.

For holiday gifts, birthdays, weddings or any special event, myJones will print a personal photo on one flavor and ship the customized 12-pack as a gift within two to four weeks.

The Jones' flavors are definitely not for the conformist: In addition to the standards like cream soda, ginger ale and root beer, wilder choices include blue bubblegum, crushed melon and, only for the holidays, turkey and gravy.

So whatever your soda style, fruity or wild, now you can watch what you drink and join the party at the same time. Cheers!



Enjoy the Good Life? Email us with what you'd like to see in future articles.

Russell Dean Vines is Chief Security Advisor for Gotham Technology LLC and a bestselling author. His most recent book is The CISSP and CAP Prep Guide: Platinum Edition, published by John S. Wiley and Sons.

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