In Mixed Company

Mary Ann’s Soda is handcrafted to go well with — or without — a bit of booze


Published:

Photographs by Paul Hitz

“Goes great with booze” is not the typical slogan for a soft drink.

But then, Mary Ann’s Soda is atypical in many ways. It’s local, artisanal, and seasonal — for instance, you can’t get strawberry soda this time of the year, but you can get cranberry. The soda also has a brief shelf life because the natural ingredients are not sullied with preservatives.

The fledgling company, just barely a half-year-old, is a collaboration between four friends, who at this point do all of the work themselves, including the retro design of the labels, mixing the syrups, and delivering the finished product.

It was Derek Dorey’s obsessive taste for ginger beer that started the whole thing.

Dorey, of Ferndale’s Storefront Gallery, simply loves the stuff, but couldn’t find a brand that he thought completely captured its true essence. So he decided to experiment and started devising recipes. He tried and failed but kept on trying, consulting with friends who are chefs (the gallery also sponsors pop-up dinners so he knows a lot of restaurant people), until, at last, he came up with what he considered a winning taste.

And so after a four-year quest for the ideal recipe, Mary Ann’s Soda was born. 

Dorey teamed up with friends Adam O’Connor, Matt Lannoo, and Jamin Ruark. Each brought different strengths to the project. The products quickly expanded from ginger beer to other flavors, including strawberry and blueberry, using natural local ingredients: fresh fruit, water, and cane sugar; glass bottles from Porter Bottling Co. on Fort Street; and labels churned out by Rocket Printing Co. in Royal Oak. 

And now there’s a second spicy ginger beer — one that gets its kick from fresh jalapenos grown in O’Connor’s garden.

Using the El Guapo food truck’s kitchen facility, the partners make and process ingredients in micro batches — an all-day process every Sunday — and deliver the finished product to such customers as the Parker Street Market in Detroit’s West Village, and restaurants including Rock City Eatery in Hamtramck and Republica in Berkley. There, they turn up in mixed drinks, including, of course, the classic Moscow Mule. 

Mary Ann’s crew anticipates adding more outlets, all in Michigan.

Meanwhile, Mary Ann’s team has come up with a number of drink suggestions, including The Business Lunch (Jack Daniel’s Honey, cranberry soda, and sparkling water) and The Lulu (cranberry soda with white rum, named after Lannoo’s dog). In addition, they suggest adding whiskey to their ginger beer, tequila to strawberry soda, and vodka with any of their flavors.

Despite the slogan and their drink suggestions, they say there’s nothing wrong with quaffing a bottle of Mary Ann’s on its own.

Oh, and the name? Originally they considered calling their product Mary Ann and Ginger’s Beer (for the Gilligan’s Island characters) but decided to leave it at just Mary Ann’s.


Mary Ann’s Sodas are available at the Parker Street Market, 1814 Parker St., Detroit; and The Storefront Gallery, 477 W. Marshall St., Ferndale; with more retailers being added soon. They’re also available at maryannssoda.com.

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