May 21, 2015

I found an agent!

I have great news to share! I just posted the following on our Facebook group:

I found an agent! Actually, she found me. Here's how it happened. And how I couldn't have done it without you.

I would never say writing is easy. But it's rewarding, pumping me with hits of natural opiates that keep me chugging along. And I'm in control, deciding what I want to write about, and when. So last summer, when I finished the draft manuscript, I was simultaneously excited by the accomplishment and dreading the next step: figuring out how to get it published.

I spent months working on a proposal, which I have since written and rewritten numerous times. I might as well have been pitching my book blind-folded on a stage, plugs in my ear, with little idea about how it was being received. I've never done this before. I had no idea what I was doing. And like sensory deprivation, the vacuum can be oppressive.

But you helped me. Posting about the process here on Facebook gave me the support I needed to keep going. Last December I gave myself six months to find an agent or self-publish (not that the latter would be easier, but at least I'd be in control).

Month after month, as rejections came in, I posted tidbits now and again. Your very interest encouraged me to keep sending out the proposal, to keep clarifying and improving it. It led me to take shots in the dark, like paying to post an ad on Publisher’s Marketplace. I had no idea of it was all just a scam, but I gave it a shot. So on Feb 11, 2015, I posted the following:

Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 8.03.07 PM.png

Then something new happened. An agent contacted me, not the other way around. She read the ad and was curious. I sent her the proposal and, last month, invited me to talk on the phone. You might recall it; it was the last thing I posted about agents here. And after that I stopped, as it looked like it might be working. And it was one of her first pieces of advise: don't build expectations until you know you can deliver.

And now a signed agent/author agreement has been passed back and forth via the US Postal Service. It's official. I now have an agent. And as she emailed recently “Now that you can post!” [note: I actually don’t recall what she said, but it was something like that, but why ruin the flow of a good story. Now, where was I?]

We still have a ways to go. A new proposal will need to be written. And Anne will have to sell it (that's her name - please say Hi to Anne!). And so much more. But I think it's okay for me to start building your expectations once again.

A book is coming.

It's about seltzer.

And my thanks to you will be how much you will love it.

Posted by Barry Joseph, The Effervescent Jew (bjoseph) at 08:58 PM | Comments (0)

May 18, 2015

Seltzer Water on Kibbutzim

I received this wonderful email from Yam, in Israel, last week, who gave me permission to share with all of you:

I live on a kibbutz founded in 1973, moved here in 1981. Visitors still ask, "Where's the soda water?" [in the dining hall]. Apparently, kibbutzim and soda water was a "thing", so much so that the dispenser in the dining hall is the only thing many folks recall from their visit to a kibbutz.

We never had it here at Ketura, as far as I can recall, so it must've been a "thing" only until circa 1970s.

I just started drinking seltzer this year, having never been interested before, and love it. I had digestive issues that it helped and now I'm hooked. My husband and I go through a liter a day.

I found your site after wondering about the connection between New York Jews and seltzer. I grew up in the Midwest, where we bought 24-packs of store brand (Cragmont) soft drinks in various flavors and stored them in the garage. I'd assumed that seltzer's popularity waned when people (Jews?) moved to the suburbs, bought cars, and did their shopping at supermarkets. My dad, who grew up on the Lower East Side, still likes his Dr. Brown's. After searching, we found unflavored club soda at a supermarket (Walmart?) for 63 cents a bottle. Can't beat that price!

Posted by Barry Joseph, The Effervescent Jew (bjoseph) at 12:18 PM | Comments (0)

December 13, 2014

Fatal Temperance Drink Article from 1885

I just received this grisly but interesting article from the July 10, 1885 edition of the Scranton Tribune. Thank you Corey!

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Posted by Barry Joseph, The Effervescent Jew (bjoseph) at 10:19 PM | Comments (0)

November 23, 2014

Trying Phosphates and More at Hamilton's Soda Fountain and Luncheonette

Today my family took my sister for her birthday to Hamilton’s Soda Fountain & Luncheonette, in Greenwich Village. The food is fantastic and cheap - old style luncheonette food at old fashioned prices (a hot dog for $2) - but the star is by far the soda fountain. Alex, the soda jerk, was generous enough to explain his awesome concoctions (based on old recipe guides) that he's been perfecting for more than a year before they opened.

The video below shows his egg cream. I've never seen it made this way before - U-bet's chocolate syrup last! - but I've had worse.

I was SO excited to have my first phosphate. I've read all about them but had no way to really understand what they were all about. The base here was cherry and root beer (their cherry syrup is incredible - now my favorite Lime Rickey). The phosphate cuts the sweetness and makes the taste more crisp. It was interesting but not sure it's my new thing. Check out how it's made:

My sister ordered this Strawberry Puff (flavored soda with whipped cream). Their seltzer, I have to say, is fantastic!

This Kight's Egg Phosphate is not just a regular phosphate (which smooths the sweet and heightens the crisp) but also includes a raw egg. I have been equally excited, since writing my book, to try both a phosphate and a raw egg at the same time - and now I got to try both at the same time. I can say now I've done it - I can see why people who were low on cash and lower on protein might have favored this - but next time I am at Hamilton's (and I plan to go back in a few weeks) I will definitely turned to my new favorite - the Lime Rickey.

It is fascinating to visit here after a trip to the Brooklyn Farmacy and Soda Foudnation. While everything at Farmacy is phenomenal - and serves my favorite egg creams - I think they seek to evolve the recipes while Hamilton's aims to bring back or preserve the old recipes. That's interesting. And even more interesting is to see over time if the city's new-found interest in soda foundations is big enough to support both directions.

Posted by Barry Joseph, The Effervescent Jew (bjoseph) at 12:20 AM | Comments (0)

September 20, 2014

It's Done

After a decade of researching and writing the book, it's done. With tremendous help this past year from many people, particularly my wife, Noemi, and friend, Julie, I finished writing (what I am now calling and hoping to stick with) Seltzertopia: The Effervescent Age.

I haven't written much on the blog in recent years - my time has been split between the book itself and the Facebook group. But if I hope to return here one day, then I figured I had to mark this remarkable moment.

I have written this book three times. The first was just to figure out the chronological history of seltzer (boring). The second was an attempt to shape this history into a narrative (forced). The third attempt - inspired by the Pittsburgh Seltzer Work - took me to the end (I love it!).

And now that writing is over (I don't pretend I am done - I am sure edits are down the road) it's time to start sending it out to agents and publishers.

We're in a new phase. And after being in and out of writing for so long, now I am facing something new. And it's exciting.

And that begins renaming this blog. It is now Seltzertopia: The Effervescent Age. Give Me Seltzer has served me well, but it's time to move on as the book has found its voice.

Posted by Barry Joseph, The Effervescent Jew (bjoseph) at 10:50 PM | Comments (0)

July 21, 2014

The word Seltzer across time and space

As I've focused more on writing the book and less on this blog, my comments about the project tend to appear more often on the Facebook page dedicated to the project.

But I am playing now with Google's Ngram viewer, that lets you search for occurrence of words to unearth hidden meanings. Let's look at how often seltzer is seen in different countries over different times.

I use "seltzer" plus "seltzer water" plus "Seltzer Water." I don't use the seltzer as a proper noun, "Seltzer," which it certainly was in the beginning, because it is not possible to distinguish from the current surname.

In English:

This now focuses just on American English, starting from its lowest year, 1854, to 2007:

Posted by Barry Joseph, The Effervescent Jew (bjoseph) at 03:30 PM | Comments (0)

July 18, 2013

1st Draft of the Book Complete

Last week for the first time I put the book together, end to end, to learn it is 250 pages. I like that. Feels just right - not to long and not to short. And now I have a draft of a manuscript I can shop around, currently title: Spritz - the Effervescent Story of Seltzer. More to follow...

Posted by Barry Joseph, The Effervescent Jew (bjoseph) at 10:16 AM | Comments (0)

July 17, 2013

Forward Article: The Next Generation of 'the Seltzer Man'

Below is a copy of a wonderful new article by Leah Koenig in the Forward about the seltzer revival at the center of my book (the book, btw, is now in a draft manuscript form and being shopped around).

The Next Generation of 'the Seltzer Man'
Something Big Is Bubbling From Coast to Coast

If you believe what you read in the news, the seltzer man is on the brink of extinction. Every few years, some publication will run a wistful feature on the remaining stock of old-timers, dedicated men who still ride around New York making door-to-door deliveries of carbonated water, their crates of glass siphon bottles clanging in the back of their trucks. But like the milkman and the roving knife sharpener, the glory days of seltzer delivery are all but over.

“When I started in the early 1980s, there were 22 seltzer men left in New York,” said Kenny Gomberg, co-owner, along with his brother-in-law Irv Resnick, of Gomberg Seltzer Works — the city’s last remaining seltzer filling station. “That was just a fraction of the hundreds there used to be,” he said. Today, there are just seven left.

But one of these seltzer deliverers, 25-year-old Alex Gomberg (Kenny Gomberg’s son), represents something new in the world of seltzer. Alex Gomberg is the fourth generation of Gombergs to peddle the drink once affectionately called “Jewish champagne.”

When his great-grandfather Mo Gomberg, a Russian immigrant, founded Gomberg Seltzer Works in 1953, the industry was thriving. And for decades it was buoyed by a generation of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe who brought their love of seltzer with them to America, and who relied on the seltzer man to bring the bubbly water to their doorsteps.

“The only advertising you used to need was a billboard with a picture of a seltzer bottle and a phone number,” Kenny Gomberg said. “For those who know what real seltzer is, the product sells itself.” But younger consumers who know only the version sold in plastic bottles at the supermarket need more convincing.

That is why Alex Gomberg, who recently earned a master’s degree in higher education administration, decided to leave academia to usher his family’s business into a new era. Last year he pioneered Brooklyn Seltzer Boys with his father and uncle, a seltzer delivery venture they call “the newest old business around.” Instead of seeking out individual home delivery customers (“I am not looking to step on anyone’s toes by taking over the remaining market,” he said), he focuses his energies on the artisanal restaurants and bars that appreciate the difference in quality between the plastic bottles that quickly go flat once opened and the bold, bracing bite of ultra-fresh seltzer spritzed from a pressurized siphon.

Already he has secured a number of clients, including the farm-to-table restaurant Brooklyn Sandwich Society and a speakeasy-style bar called Dutch Kills in Queens. “The business was stagnating and would have continued to dwindle,” Kenny Gomberg said. “The work Alex is doing to network and bring seltzer to a new market is amazing.”

And Gomberg is not alone in his efforts to put the fizz back in seltzer delivery.

Pittsburgh is home to Pittsburgh Seltzer Works, a fading 115-year old business that was brought back to life by two men, John Seekings and Jim Rogal. Kathryn Renz, meanwhile, runs Seltzer Sisters in the San Francisco Bay Area, a company she bought in 1992 from the former owners, who had decided to fold several months earlier. Further south, an Argentine named Gustavo Leiva has delivered siphoned seltzer bottles to residents and businesses in Southern California since 2007 through his company, Soda Buenos Aires. And last year in Florida, Ryan Pinnell founded Treasure Coast Seltzer Works, which delivers to businesses and to customers’ doors. “My wife is from Eastern Europe, where seltzer is a staple,” he said. “We saw that the delivery business had died off, and decided to see if we could take it to market.”

Unlike Gomberg, none of these modern day seltzer men and women has seltzer in his or her bloodline. But they share a desire to bring the drink into the 21st century. “These are people who have had seltzer conversion experiences,” said Barry Joseph, who runs the blog and podcast Give Me Seltzer and is writing a book about the drink’s history. “Now, they are redefining what traditional seltzer production looks like.”

Joseph points to a “confluence of emerging trends and subcultures” to explain old-school seltzer’s contemporary popularity — everything from the do-it-yourself culture and the artisanal foods movement to the Internet. “Take Pittsburgh Seltzer Works,” he said. “Just like food trucks, they are using Facebook to communicate directly with customers about what is new and where to find their product. It brings that level of direct connection you would find with older mom-and-pop businesses into the modern age.”

They are also widening their customer bases beyond the Jewish community that has been, and continues to be, a seltzer stronghold. “We market seltzer as a healthy alternative to soft drinks, and our fastest-growing demographic right now is moms,” Pinnell said. Like the Brooklyn Seltzer Boys, many of these companies are also increasingly partnering with businesses. Renz said that Seltzer Sisters currently serves close to 200 California bars and restaurants between Oakland and San Francisco. “They are great and consistent clients, and we love seeing the old glass bottles used and appreciated in a setting that shows them off,” she said.

The feeling seems to be mutual. In Brooklyn, the upscale bar Tooker Alley recently started using Brooklyn Seltzer Boys seltzer in their handcrafted cocktails. “Alex brought us a case to sample, and we were hooked,” said co-owner Del Pedro, whose former roommate used to have seltzer delivered to their Harlem apartment in the 1980s. “The bubbles are so powerful, they dance on your tongue. It is far more refreshing than anything you can get out of a bottle or soda gun.”

Joseph also thinks that the rise in popularity of home carbonation systems like Soda Stream have ultimately helped the modern seltzer man more than it has hindered him. “It is all part of the same movement and helps open up people’s awareness,” he said. “One of the seltzer men I interviewed said every time Soda Stream advertises locally, he gets more calls.”

It is probably premature to claim the emergence of a full-blown “seltzer man” revolution, and yet it is clear that something exciting is bubbling. “When I started researching seltzer’s history seven years ago, most of these companies did not exist in their current form,” Joseph said. “Now, fascinating people around the country have come out of left field and put themselves front and center into the story of seltzer’s revival.”

Leah Koenig is the Forward’s food columnist, and is working on a cookbook, “Modern Jewish Cooking” (Chronicle, 2015). Email her at ingredients@forward.com


Posted by Barry Joseph, The Effervescent Jew (bjoseph) at 09:37 PM | Comments (0)

March 28, 2013

Latest New York Post article on Seltzer, quoting me

Last January I published a piece on Alex Gomberg. Now, larger news outlets are beginning to take notice:

Prince of Pop
A 25-year-old is bringing the fizz back to the seltzer business

By DOREE LEWAK
Posted: 11:01 PM, March 23, 2013


From the shtetl-icious beverage staple of the old country, to ’60s dime-store pharmacy mainstay, seltzer has been part of the American carbonated beverage landscape for centuries. And it mounted a mean comeback 30 years ago, when Perrier conferred cool status on buying overpriced bottled water.

Even Bruce Willis and James Gandolfini caught the last seltzer wave in the early ’80s. The actors-in-the-making delivered the fizzy stuff while trying to make it big in New York.

After running out of fizz over the past decade or so, seltzer is being given new life by a new company, the Brooklyn Seltzer Boys.

Launched by Alex Gomberg, 25, in September, the BSB is a delivery service that’s equal parts throwback and painfully hipster, making Gomberg the hot new whippersnapper on the seltzer delivery circuit. Make that the only whippersnapper on the circuit and, easily, the youngest seltzer man in the country — there are only a handful left.

Continue reading "Latest New York Post article on Seltzer, quoting me"

Posted by Barry Joseph, The Effervescent Jew (bjoseph) at 12:06 PM | Comments (0)

January 12, 2013

Two New Articles by me this week on Seltzer Men

Oops! I have been so busy with the book and the Facebook group, I have neglected the blog. Sorry!

Last week I had a top of the fold, front page article in the Jewish Week. That was very nice. It is an interview with Walter Backerman, seltzerman extraordinaire. As if that were not enough, there is a second piece from me interviewing Alex Gomberg, the newest and youngest seltzerman in the country. Finally, as a blast from the past, I will include a fantastic NPR seltzer piece I came across from the 70s.

Time in a Bottle: Meet Walter Backerman, the third generation in a dynasty of ‘seltzer men,’ and one of the last of a breed. [link]

21s-Century Seltzer Man: A young Brooklynite with a vintage business.[link]

Marty – the Seltzer Man - NPR, 1979

Posted by Barry Joseph, The Effervescent Jew (bjoseph) at 11:22 PM | Comments (0)