For most people, there’s always a bar to go to nearby and enjoy yourself, but what if there was a bar that came to you? Road Soda is a traveling bar that’s doing just that. Serving patrons everywhere from large music festivals to private parties across the country, it is changing how and where you get our booze fix. I got in touch with Ben Scorah, the man behind Road Soda, to explain how it’s done.
What brought you and Mark, both originally from Manchester, U.K., to New York, and how did that lead to the beginning of Road Soda?
Yes, Mark and I are both from Manchester. We have known each other and been close friends since we were babies! Since I graduated university, I’ve been a bartender, at first in London and from 2005 in New York.
Mark moved to the USA a few years later, to California where he worked in festival production and on building large art pieces for Burning Man before coming to New York to found the Road Soda project.
While attending a large festival a few years ago, drinking a bourbon and Coke with no ice and flat Coke, I realized there was a lot of work to do in bringing quality cocktails to large events. With my experience in bartending and restaurants and Mark’s extensive logistics, festival production and engineering background, we would be the perfect team for this journey into uncharted territory.
Why did you choose the vintage Airstream you use to travel over a more traditional food-truck-type vehicle?
We knew from the beginning that we wanted to use a vintage Airstream from the 1960s—they are iconic, beautiful and have Americana written all over them—perfect for a couple of boys from England. We were adamant on using an old Airstream but were not totally prepared for how difficult converting a vintage Airstream into a high-volume cocktail bar is.
We started with the idea that a trailer would be better than a powered vehicle due to the fact that it can’t break down and America has crazy laws about open alcohol containers in vehicles. Vintage Airstreams are the coolest-looking trailers around, so we decided to start with one of them.
How did you pimp out your Airstream to accommodate all your cocktail-slinging needs?
Airstreams are built more like an aeroplane than a car, so the conversion process was far from straightforward. We had to take the shell off the chassis and build a whole new stronger chassis to start and then refit the shell and custom-build the inside from the ground up to be our dream cocktail bar—perfectly designed ergonomically for speed and ease of service and potential as a brand platform.
Our bar has foot pedal taps, shaker rinsers, commercial back-bar refrigeration, a glass chiller, refrigerated drawers, up-and-down-lit shelving, an LCD screen to display menus, a built-in sound system and even a VIP booth to give those really special people a more intimate experience inside the bar.
Give us a day at Road Soda. Do you make your fresh juices in-house, or, er, in-car? What about your infusions and syrups?
A few days in the life is a little more realistic for a big event with between 2,500 and 5,000 cocktails per day.
Monday, we get organized:
We check into an Airbnb and choose houses based on these criteria in order of importance: 1. large kitchen 2. driveway to park our 50-foot rig 3. enough bedrooms for everyone 4. swimming pool! We then create the event menu and sample the drinks with as many people as possible to ensure they are all crowd pleasers. We look at the ingredients list and make sure we can get all of the ingredients in the city where the event is and that the ingredients can all flow through or cocktail draft lines. We then enter all of the drinks and recipes into our very complicated but effective Excel spreadsheet, as well as the recipe, and we enter how many kegs of each cocktail we intend to make. The sheet then gives us a detailed shopping list of everything we need to purchase for the event from bottles of liquor to cases of citrus to bags of sugar to cases of water for dilution. It also gives us a timeline of the time needed to prepare everything.
Tuesday: go shopping
We buy everything we need. Sounds easy, but this gets tricky sometimes. Places like Restaurant Depot are great for the basics, but getting the more specialized stuff gets hard sometimes. Luckily we travel with a whole pantry of spices, bitters, sugars, essences, etc.
Wednesday: syrup and cordial production
We use a sous vide style of cooking to make a lot of our syrups. This is centered around using an immersion circulator and a water bath to make simple syrups and cordials at low temperatures for a long time. This style of making syrups gives a great hit of flavor. It allows us to infuse a lot of delicate flavors that would traditionally be muddled into the cocktail into our large-batch recipes that would not be possible on the stovetop.
All of our citrus juice is now juiced in-house using an amazing Zummo juicer. We literally throw a case of limes in the hopper, and 10 minutes later, we have more than a gallon of beautiful fresh lime juice. For juicing roots such as ginger or beets, we use an Omega masticating juicer. Depending on the volume of the event, we’ll usually be juicing all day or for multiple days. All of the juice will go into our refrigerated van to get cold and rest.
Friday: batching and event day
We fill the kegs with the cocktails for the event. We start with the smallest ingredients and work our way up to the liquor. The kegs are then sealed and refrigerated. When everything is nice and cold, we carbonate the cocktails that’ll be fizzy. We then plug the kegs into the system and test them for the event. Bitters are added just before we plug the kegs in, as they expand quite a lot over time.
Road Soda crew
How often are you on the road? Do you see your loved ones often?
We are on the road a lot, weeks and months at a time, but we make the most out of breaks and weeks at home. Like with any new business, you have to work all of the hours in the day and all of the days of the week.
You’ve traveled all over the country and served at some of the biggest events around. How do you intend on pushing yourself even further? What are some of your future plans?
We have just completed our second Airstream, which should keep us busy this summer. This means we can hit more events in different parts of the country. In the future, we would like to have an Airstream traveling around Europe, hitting festivals and events closer to home.