Casamara Club’s amaro sodas inspired by Italian beverages

Casamara Club's non alcoholic drinks are inspired by bitter Italian amaros. Courtesy of Casamara Club

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Casamara Club's non alcoholic drinks are inspired by bitter Italian amaros. Courtesy of Casamara Club

A liquid balm for leisure time

It’s aperitivo hour, but I’m not at a dark trattoria in Italy. I’m at my house, as I have been for close to 200 days. It’s now a home, workplace, restaurant, gym, school and vacation retreat. I’ve carved out some necessary time of repose and slipped into a leisure suit. OK, not really. Actually, I opted for a leisure soda.

Detroit-based Casamara Club’s sodas sip like a less-structured cocktail, and are much funkier than a typical soda. These nonalcoholic soft drinks, inspired by bitter Italian beverages, are the brainchild of Jason LaValla. Each has only 15 calories and packs a wallop of flavor with only 4 grams of sugar.

“The soda thing came about because I was drinking a ton of seltzer, but started to get bored of it,” LaValla said. He would drop in bitters or juice, or add a little syrup for some whiz-bang. “Anything to amp up the flavor a bit.”

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Onda soda has woodsy sage desert aromas, light citrus from fresh lemon, juniper berry flavor with bitter chinotto and dank salinity. Angela Hansberger/For The AJC

Credit: Angela Hansberger

Onda soda has woodsy sage desert aromas, light citrus from fresh lemon, juniper berry flavor with bitter chinotto and dank salinity.
Angela Hansberger/For The AJC

Credit: Angela Hansberger

Combined ShapeCaption
Onda soda has woodsy sage desert aromas, light citrus from fresh lemon, juniper berry flavor with bitter chinotto and dank salinity. Angela Hansberger/For The AJC

Credit: Angela Hansberger

Credit: Angela Hansberger

LaValla tinkered with a collection of botanical extracts at home, combining bitters blends, lemon juice and syrup to make his sought-after sipper.

“Once I realized there was really no one else out there bottling something that scratched the same itch for me,” he said, “I had to believe there were others who might want it, too.”

LaValla’s favorite cocktail is a negroni, and it’s evident in Casamara’s flagship soda, Alta (also his favorite of the four varieties).

“It’s the most bitter of the bunch, so it will always have a special place in my heart,” he said.

Like a spritzy negroni, it is bitter, tangy and super dry, with layers of flavor from chinotto, juniper berries, mandarin peel, allspice, clove buds, anise seed and Mediterranean sea salt. It’s less assertive than an amaro, a wee bit fruity, and pairs amazingly well with raw oysters.

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Amaros are herb-infused liqueurs that use a mix of citrus peels, roots, aromatic barks, herbs, spices and flowers. Casamara’s sodas are made similarly, and have the complexity of an amaro or a fine wine, with lingering flavors that morph and change while sipping. LaValla sources chinotto and a few other ingredients from Italy, but the rest come from local farms in his area, including Fisheye Farms, a small Detroit farm beloved by chefs and bartenders.

Perhaps this is where the peppermint leaves of Casamara’s Capo soda originated. That is the first aroma when opening a bottle of this alpine soda. It’s a high, foresty combo of wildflowers, bright citrus and mint, with a bitter finish, like a reimagining of an amaro such as Braulio.

LaValla leaves the names of his sodas open to interpretation. “Capo” could refer to a mafia boss, the tuner on a guitar, an outer garment, or a headland extending into the sea. The name of the company also is wonderfully ambiguous.

“I wanted it to sound like a hideaway,” he said, “the kind of place you can only find on vacation, when you’re wandering the streets of a city you’ve never been to and suddenly feel at home.”

His Sera soda has those vacation vibes. Casamara’s bottle graphics hark back to those iconic National Park posters of long ago, and the Sera label features a sailboat skimming the sea. The soda tastes like both a cinnamon-infused paloma riff and a spicy Aperol spritz. It’s refreshing, yet autumnal, with a fresh, tart acidity and baking spices with the snap of rhubarb.

However, it was a bottle of Onda that first caught my eye, with a retro mountain landscape design in desert colors on the bottle. It’s as weird and wonderful as my favorite backcountry hike in the Southwest. It has woodsy sage desert aromas, a light citrus from fresh lemon, juniper berry flavor with bitter chinotto, and a dank salinity akin to the sweat after a good hike.

Casamara Club sodas come in 12-ounce bottles at $36 per case, and can be ordered at casamaraclub.com.

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