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Friday, January 30, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 18.0° F  Fair
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Alt beverage boom: Make way for Madison-made soda, drinking vinegar and kombucha

Over the past few years Madison has enjoyed a surge in artisanal beer breweries and liquor distilleries. There's been big growth in artisanal nonalcoholic beverages as well.

Mad Maiden Shrub is the newest beverage to hit the Madison market. Janet Chen started making a "shrub," or drinking vinegar, focusing on its health aspects. Chen sources apples for her base vinegar from Turkey Ridge Organic Orchard in Gays Mills and buys honey from Gentle Breeze in Mount Horeb.

Shrubs have been linked to the national cocktail boom. A syrupy mixture of macerated fruit and vinegar, shrubs were a kind of precursor to modern-day sodas and were popular in colonial times. Just add spirits and carbonated water, and you had a fine cocktail.

Today such drinking vinegars are still employed for their valuable digestive properties. It's thought that they help with losing weight and remedying fatigue, and they are consumed daily by many across Asia.

The most famous drinking vinegar in the U.S. is Som, produced by chef Andy Ricker of Portland's Pok Pok restaurant, who was inspired by these Asian digestives.

Chen recommends combining one part shrub to four parts sparkling or still water; serve on ice. To make it sweeter, add honey, maple syrup or other favored sweetener to taste.

Chen currently makes a potent honey ginger version and hired Cricket Design Works to help launch a catchy label. Over the holidays, she began selling the shrub at Orange Tree Imports ($8.95/12 ounces) and plans to be at Madison's Westside Community Market in spring. Mad Maiden Shrub can also be ordered by emailing Chen directly at

Other local alt beverage makers are advancing their businesses.

NessAlla Kombucha, launched in 2008, moved into a larger facility last year. Its products can be found at retail locations like the Willy Street Co-op, as well as on tap at local spots Heritage Tavern and Mermaid Cafe. Offices for its homebrewed kombucha website,, now share its 1418 S. Park St. location.

NessAlla's business has been expanding steadily, and the company has been shipping its product to the Chicago market for the past four years. They've recently landed a tap account at the Winchester, a hot new Ukrainian Village gastropub helmed by former Tavernita chef Greg Bastien.

Wisco Pop's Austin Ashley began selling at the Eastside Farmers' Market in 2012 with ginger- and cherry-flavored offerings. The no-additive soda with locally sourced ingredients quickly gained steam and can be found on tap at nearly 20 establishments around Madison, including Brasserie V, L'Etoile, A Pig in a Fur Coat and Salvatore's Tomato Pies.

Wisco Pop recently launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to begin bottling. The company, based in Viroqua, plans to expand to area retailers in 2014.

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