In restaurant-saturated landscapes of America’s (always hungry) urban centers, it’s downright impossible these days to stroll more than a few stomach-rumbling blocks without bumping into a food truck. Since Kogi BBQ whetted our appetites for roving meals-on-wheels just a few short years ago, chef Roy Choi and crew have become the boundary-pushing luminaries who launched a thousand entrepreneurs, breaking old brick-and-mortar models of dining and lowering the barrier to entry for many aspiring chefs.
Today, artfully redesigned box trucks and converted pop-up campers are so omnipresent and ready to meet our need for delicious (and sometimes ridiculous) snacks that we’ve almost taken for granted how easy it is to grab a kosher waffle topped with slow roasted duck at 2 a.m. on a Tuesday.
Drinks, though? That’s a different story.
Due in large part to strict licensing issues for cocktail pop-ups, open container laws and the negative connotations associated with drinking and driving, mobile cocktail bars have been slower to gain steam than their dinner-based counterparts.
One company, though, is determined to rev up the engines of cocktails-on-the-go. Road Soda—a mobile craft cocktail bar catering service—might just be the pied piper that bartenders need to begin pushing their operations toward a more road trip-happy lifestyle.
Operated by childhood best friends and Manchester, England natives Ben Scorah (a longtime bartender most recently at The Lion in New York) and Mark Wiseberg (a former engineer at Aston Martin), Road Soda uses one-of-a-kind technology to serve tens of thousands of batched cocktails a night from inside their 1967 Airstream.
Road Soda ... has the potential to help re-image how mass quantities of cocktails are produced with both speed and precision.
"Mark organized some big festivals like Glastonbury [after working for Aston Martin] then married an American girl he met at Burning Man," said Scorah. "They moved to America together and he got really into the festival scene. I told Mark it would be really cool if we could create something that we can take into the festival, and people could get great cocktails that they wouldn’t usually expect in that environment."
In many ways, the goal of Road Soda seems remarkably similar to the intentions expressed by the Kool-Aid Man in 1970s commercials. A crowd of people (in Road Soda’s case, likely at a concert) look dejected because they’re hot, sweaty and don’t have anything to drink. Suddenly, the heroes (Kool-Aid Man and Road Soda, respectively) burst onto the scene like beverage Messiahs, saving the day with liquid cures. Thus far, their catered cocktails-on-demand services have quenched the thirst of crowds from Coachella and Bonnaroo, to Art Basel and numerous private parties.
Road Soda’s commitment to pushing the limits of technology and mobility has the potential to help re-imagine how mass quantities of cocktails are produced with both speed and precision. No design element has been left unturned inside Road Soda’s shiny silver bullet, from an ergonomically correct bar to a cocktail-on-draft system that can replicate the phenomenon of a drink being shaken or stirred by using a different combination of gases such as carbon dioxide and nitrogen. The drinks they're able to concoct using the system range from classics (like a margarita) to more elaborate egg-whites-and-foam concoctions.
In a feat of mathematical wizardry that seems mundanely magical, the company has even created a spreadsheet that automatically generates an ingredient shopping list whenever they plug in a cocktail (say, a Moscow Mule) and the number of drinks they need to make.
Still, there are variables that remain out of their control. "We did a Ramos Gin Fizz [at Tales of the Cocktail] and before New Orleans, we were at an event in Utah. When we tested [the drink] in Utah it came out perfectly—beautiful foam on top—but when we made it in New Orleans, in the heat, it didn’t come out as foamy. We try and make everything as controlled as possible. When you go to a new city, though, it kind of flips everything up because the environment is different, the air pressure is different."
In addition to Wiseberg and Scorah, a third member, Mike Doyle, recently joined the nimble team. "Our guy, Mike, he was working at restaurants in Vegas, but gave up his apartment to come on with us. We say he’s our batchologist. He doesn’t have a house right now, he lives with us on the road. He’s responsible for getting the airstream from A to B and making sure the batches are all good," said Scorah.
... for the gentlemen of Road Soda, the road really does go on forever and the party never ends.
There’s something undeniably romantic about the allure of the open road, and for the gentlemen of Road Soda, the road really does go on forever and the party never ends.
"We spend most of our days on the road," mused Scorah. "Since May, I’ve had a week in New York, where I live. It’s kind of cool to travel and see America and learn about how different states and cities operate. We definitely operate under the Burning Man mentality of ‘leave no trace’ wherever we work. We’re very eco-friendly. We don’t want people to know we’ve been there."
Now with brawn added to the mix of science and art that’s driven Road Soda’s success thus far, it feels as if a convoy of Airstreams whipping up Manhattans could be imminent.
"We’re finishing construction on our second [Airsteam] right now. The idea is that we’ll have one on each coast or one in England. Draft cocktails aren’t there right now, but it would be nice to introduce Europe to that. Licensing laws are a little bit easier than America to operate pop-up bars so there’s the opportunity to do fun events."
Road Soda isn’t the only cocktail bar attempting to take the show on the road. Earlier this year, a trio of Boston-based bartenders set out to launch The Barmobile, raising over $40,000 for the project on Kickstarter. The group plans to outfit a 20-foot, 1950s Flexible Airliner with four taps and two wells—among other features—and carve out a wandering, liquor-soaked niche in the greater Boston area.
The Barmobile’s "never-ending quest for fun, cocktails and the American way," also holds a similarly patriotic sentiment to that of Road Soda. "We decided to use an Airstream because it seemed really American," laughed Scorah, "and we’re really American … only not at all."
While it might not snuggle in exactly with our founding fathers’ vision, the mobile cocktail movement’s scrappy, self-made bootstrapping and (boozy) Manifest Destiny would likely warm the hearts of our knickers-wearing, heavy drinking ancestors. After the Constitutional Convention, the leaders of our fledgling government downed 54 bottles of Madeira, 60 bottles of claret, eight bottles of whiskey and seven bowls of alcoholic punch, among other liquors.
Rest assured that if a mobile cocktail bar had been around, the drinks at the afterparty would’ve been much better.