Big Jerk Soda brings offbeat flavors to northwest Florida

Soda Side Hustle. (Source: WEAR-TV)

Most folks are familiar with the "craft beer" trend. Craft beer is made when a microbrewery produces a small amount of brew that focuses on flavor and quality. Pensacola has several that are very popular.

Pensacola is also home to a craft soda company called "Big Jerk Soda."

It started as a hobby and a "side hustle" venture for a young couple, but is now on the verge of sweeping the south.

It all started with a month long trip to Wyoming. Vacations can be life changing, no one knows that better than Ryan and Jennifer Eaton.

Out west, the then-newlyweds found a terrific ginger beer they loved. Ginger beer is best described as a non-alcoholic strongly flavored ginger ale.

Once they returned home, the Eatons searched for a similar one, but no luck. Both have backgrounds in the food and beverage industry, and Ryan had some home brewing equipment on hand. After a lot of experimentation, they brewed their own batches and shared them at parties and outings.

Ryan said, "Friends who own bars and restaurants started asking for it." The Eatons experimented with other flavors like "lavender lemonade, They firmed up recipes and began business with just four area restaurant accounts. "We started officially in february, selling our stuff around town. It feels very fast," he said.

The process of making soda their way is a bit on the slow side, as every step is done by hand.

Ryan smiled, "We don't mind putting a little bit of elbow grease on the labels when we have to."

The Eatons work on flavor blends and mix the fresh fruit and sugar concoction at home.

They do the rest of their brew after hours at "The Leisure Club."

Ryan said it's a pretty simple, straight forward process, "Your flavor, your water, your carbonate and you chill it all down and let it sparkle."

They strive to develop offbeat flavors like "Pineapple Upside Down Cake", and "Strawberry Basil Sour" are their specialties.

Ryan emphasized their blends are all natural and contain about half the sugar of regular soft drink brands.

"We don't claim that anything we have is a health product, it's not, but we use fresh ginger in our ginger beer," he said.

They have customers and accounts from Mobile to Panama City and produce 15-hundred bottles a week. Ryan delivers and now works most of the time for themselves, the rest of the time he's a chef. Jennifer is a server. Their goal is for both of them to be full-time for themselves soon.

Jennifer explained, "It's great to be our own boss, and then also, to be a part of this really cool 'makers movement' that's happening in Pensacola right now."

When asked to give some tried and true advice for our viewers to create their own niche markets Jennifer said that people really need to share their passion for their product

with everyone they meet. She reiterated, "Do not to be afraid to talk about it, because that's how you make those connections."

She continued with this nugget; start so small you can fund yourself as you go along. Jennifer said, "Not everyone has an investor, or that start up cash, or a loan to sink into a new endeavor."

Once firmly established, Jennifer shared then it's finally time to allow yourself to dream large. The Eatons plan to franchise across the South, with the hope that franchise owners and bottlers will feature "Big Jerk" classic flavors along with their own, unique regional recipes.

Ryan said that once they're a Southern soda force, it will then be time to sell, hopefully to a major maker that wants to feature "boutique brand" like theirs. He laughed, "That is probably the ultimate dream. If a big boy wants to come talk, we'll happily hear them out."

If that's the way it goes for the Eatons, they'll start something new right away. Ryan shared that they have enough product ideas to keep them for decades. Their master "side hustle" plan is "create, sell, repeat."

You can find Big Jerk Soda at many area businesses including, The Apple Market, Perfect Plain Brewing Company, Aragon Wine Market, Sammy Barkers and Kingfishers Sandwiches among many others.

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