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Proper Soda hops across country; expands sales to Canada, Australia

In little over a year, independent startup Proper Soda has reached far beyond West Michigan. They're making inroads to markets on the west coast, across the Pacific and north of the border.
Stephen Curtis, proprietor

Stephen Curtis, proprietor /Eric Tank

Where to get it

The short list:

For more outlets, contact Proper Soda.

/Eric Tank

/Eric Tank

Proper Soda Company launched little over a year ago with financial backing through Start Garden for their hop-infused sparkling beverage, "Hop Soda." Limited at first to West Michigan, Proper has recently expanded to include Oregon and Washington states in April and north of the border into Montreal, Canada this past June. 

This week the expansion continues across the ocean and south of the equator to Australia. Proper is also going statewide and hitting the Big Apple market this week. Plans are underway for distribution in the southernmost peninsular paradise of Florida. 

Proprietor Stephen Curtis began working in the beverage industry just out of high school in 2001 where he tended Caledonia coffee shop Essential Bean Coffee. There, he began experimenting with Italian and coffee sodas. After five years with the company, he took over the operation. Fast forward to the present and Curtis is part owner of Rowster Coffee, an East Hills hotspot for fresh roasted pour-overs. 

Proper's first small batch production measured around 6,000 cans, or 300 cases. Their facility in New Jersey will be producing four times that amount this week alone at 1,100 cases. Curtis says that's still a small percentage of the entire soda market- but it's nonetheless a significant increase within a year's time. 

Curtis chose a unique flavor profile to inaugurate Proper's production, yet one that would resonate within the Beer City USA community. 

"[Hops is] something that you know, but don't normally associate with a soda. It's this unique and different expression of that ingredient, as opposed to three different ingredients that you might all know but just haven't been combined before," says Curtis. "The idea flavor wise is that it would appeal to most people, not just hops lovers. I describe the taste as a hybrid between a ginger ale and citrus soda." 

"We have a lot a people using it as a cocktail mixer as well which has been really interesting. What we've been coming up with, we call a gin and proper which would be a good gin obviously, and hop soda and either a simple garnish type ingredient," says Curtis. "Any spirit mixes really well with it. Especially on a simple scale. Not trying to over complicate the beverage. Almost like a tonic alternative."

He sources his hops from the Yakima Valley in Washington state. Curtis says they're not yet able to source enough hops locally for their production. 

"Our hops production isn't nearly advanced yet. We're kind of only now starting to ramp up production [in hop growing]," he explains. "It was more out of necessity."

Curtis is currently experimenting with new flavors such as hibiscus, creating a sweet and sour flavor with mild floral notes. Coffee soda may also be right around the corner. Curtis comes up with the ideas and works with a flavor scientist who develops the profile into a beverage that works well in cans. 

He explains that small batch soda producers are hard to find. Beer producers are an easier find but don't typically do sodas because of the cross contamination of the sugars in the lines can affect the fermentation process.

Hop soda is made using four ingredients: cane sugar, natural hops extract, citric acid and carbonated water. Compared to most sodas, it is much lower in sugar. An 8.4 ounce can of Hop Soda contains 60 calories, less than Coca Cola's 90 calories in a 7.5 ounce can. Hop Soda is caffeine free. 

"It's an interesting time in the market as people shift away from oversized, artificially sweetened beverages... I think that [Proper] fits really well with that," says Curtis.  

Proper Soda has gone through an additional round of Start Garden and is currently working on securing private investor funding.

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I'm "liking" this is real life! Love Proper Soda :)