FARGO—Their brewery dreams fizzled out, but a Fargo couple is moving in a new direction with a business that's quenching some of the bottled up local demand for craft beverages.
Jeremiah and Rachel Utecht debuted Flannel Fizz Tonic & Soda on July 8, selling 23.5 gallons to thirsty patrons at the first Red River Market of the season in downtown Fargo. At the end of that first day, they only had a half gallon of soda left, but no growlers to serve it in.
"I think the market so far has proven that people are willing to pay a little extra for something that tastes very fresh and unique compared to everything else," Jeremiah Utecht said.
It's not their first time in the craft industry—the Utechts also sell their Off the Deck Hot Sauce at the downtown market.
But this new line of drinks aims to attract new customers and become a thriving beverage company right here in Fargo.
Jeremiah Utecht said Flannel Fizz started during some daydreaming with friends on New Year's Eve. They were thinking about opening a brewery, but soon realized they couldn't afford to actually start one.
Instead, he ran with the cheaper idea of making craft soda.
Jeremiah Utecht said they opted to take a "very fresh, whole food approach" to soda, using whole ingredients and organic cane sugar for a naturally refreshing drink. They also wanted to match Red River Market's goal of being a zero-waste market, so Flannel Fizz is only sold in refillable 8-ounce and 32-ounce growlers for $4 and $12. Refills are $2 and $6, respectively.
Getting all the ingredients to gel—or not, in some cases—required him to borrow techniques from brewing and take a scientific approach to the process. The first three iterations of their tonic, for example, looked and tasted just right, but the syrup turned to jelly when it was chilled.
"You could spread it on bread," Rachel Utecht said.
Jeremiah Utecht taught himself the basics of how pectin and acid interact. He adjusted the heat while making syrup, so the tonic is now a beverage, not jelly.
Rachel Utecht, a native of Moorhead and Pelican Rapids, Minn., said her upbringing on a hobby farm has helped her appreciate the intricacies of the business.
"When you taste a lot of tomatoes in your standard grocery store, it's going to taste drastically different than the tomato you pull off the vine in the garden," she said. "It's having that knowledge and then combining his science foodie end with what I know of farm-fresh ingredients and making those two work together."
The Utechts are keeping busy this summer as they approach their 10th anniversary in August. They're still making their hot sauce brand, and he works for CoSchedule while she manages Goin' Postal.
They're each putting in 20 or more hours of work per week into soda, making syrups at Fargo's commercial kitchen facility Square One, 1407 1st Ave. N., while also working full-time jobs.
But they're willing to put in the time to grow Flannel Fizz, and Jeremiah Utecht said their main goal is to show locals just how good soda can be.
"There's no real big secret in the ingredients," he said.
Their version of ginger ale uses 10 pounds of ginger to make enough syrup for 20 gallons of soda. It's cheaper to use ginger essential oil, he said, but it wouldn't taste as good.
Jeremiah Utecht said the flavors they can serve up now are much different than the "stale soda" customers are used to getting from major brands.
"When I first started experimenting with making soda, we were just blown away by the difference that fresh soda made with actual food made," he said.
What: Flannel Fizz Tonic & Soda
Where: Available to buy in 8-ounce or 32-ounce growlers each Saturday at Red River Market in downtown Fargo (only during the farmers market season)