With so much attention being paid to the ingredients in craft cocktails today, it's only natural that the most basic ingredient — water — has been getting new attention. Some Pittsburgh bartenders — including those at Meat & Potatoes, Spoon, Isabella's, BRGR and Bar Marco — have dropped the soda gun and are moving back to old-school seltzer.
"They did it right, back in the day," says John Seekings, co-owner of Pittsburgh Seltzer Works. Seekings says that the business, founded in 1898, is one of just four traditional seltzer works left in North America.
The "back in the day" seltzer-making process is, as Seekings puts it, "a labor of love," especially when compared to the quick mix of gas and water made possible with modern machinery.
Municipal water is first triple-filtered, then chilled to near-freezing. Carbon dioxide is then infused with the water in a machine (which dates back to 1908) called a carbonator. The infused water is then hand-bottled in heavy, glass bottles.
"It's a standalone great product," says Mike Mills, Meat & Potatoes' barman. Mills says the flavor and mouth-feel of Pittsburgh Seltzer is far superior to conventionally produced soda water, noting that the difference in quality is apparent "even in a vodka soda."
It doesn't hurt that seltzer also provides an element of drama, as the high-pressure water shoots from vintage glass bottles. "It really fits a vibe, the elegance of it," says Mills.
"The bottles are super-nostalgic. They're like little art pieces," says Seekings. Pittsburgh Seltzer's bottles were all produced before 1941; that's when a WWII bombing run destroyed the Czechoslovakian factory that manufactured them. (Customers pay a $35 deposit on bottles, which Pittsburgh Seltzer collects and reuses.)
Seekings prefers to drink seltzer mixed with a simple squeeze of lime, but for a refreshing summertime spritzer, he recommends mixing chilled seltzer with wine. At $1.50 for a 26.5-ounce bottle, the seltzer is a terrific deal for both bartenders and home consumers. Just make sure not to drop the bottle.