Theo Foscolo is worried about his basil. “I planted these yesterday and look, already they’re brown.” We’re at the East End Community Organic Farm (EECO) in East Hampton, standing next to Theo’s 20’-x-20’ patch, which is currently mostly dirt with a smattering of plantings. “We just started a month ago,” he tells me.
Foscolo is a Long Island native who’s lived in the Hamptons for more than two decades. At 28 years old, he owns and operates an artisanal soda company called Miss Lady Root Beer (named after his Shar Pei, Miss Lady, whom he adopted six years ago from a friend).
He has a background in home brewing, so when Rowdy Hall, the East Hampton eatery famous for its “Rowdy Burgers,” needed a dessert for its annual beer dinner, Foscolo offered to make root beer for floats.
“It really took off from there,” he says. That was three years ago. “The brewing process lasts a few hours and I find it cathartic, meditative almost. Plus, it’s delicious.”
Now, he and his brothers, Hansen and Paolo, brew and bottle Miss Lady Root Beer for sale at farmers markets and select stores. They just moved their production to a kitchen on the Stony Brook Southampton campus that is run by the Amagansett Food Institute (AFI). The AFI is a local nonprofit that works towards developing methods of food production and distribution that are environmentally friendly and health conscious, as well as supportive of the efforts of local farmers, bakers, chefs and other food artisans.
The new location is in the old Student Center and, according to Foscolo, is a “3,000 square foot kitchen space. I just started producing there. Paolo does a lot of the cooking and Hansen does the bottling.” Theo’s also excited about their automatic bottling machine, which has streamlined the process. Each bottle of Miss Lady Root Beer is 22 ounces and is sealed with red wax.
“It’s definitely a labor of love,” Foscolo says.
By far the lengthiest part is waiting for the root beer to carbonate, a procedure that takes three to four days. After the all-natural sarsaparilla, anise and licorice root have brewed, raw sugar is added. Then the batch is force carbonated. When that step is complete, the root beer is bottled or put into a keg-box Foscolo made by hand, and dispensed at farmers markets for root beer floats.
Rowdy Hall, where Foscolo has been a manager since 2010, still carries Miss Lady Root Beer in the form of a custom cocktail called “Who’s That Lady?” in which it’s mixed with Diplomático rum and garnished with a slice of orange.
“You have to have a good rum,” Foscolo says, “not the cheap stuff. It also pairs nicely with vanilla vodka.”
He says he’s doing a private party over the weekend. “I bring my keg-box and set up to make root beer floats for the kids and drinks for the adults. Either I mix the root beer with rum or give the adults root beer and ice cream topped with a rum floater.” Foscolo loves seeing his root beer make kids smile.
Last winter he began experimenting with making cream soda, using his own recipe. “I wanted something extra to sell at the Riverhead Farmers Market,” he says. “It worked out really well.”
Since Memorial Day weekend, Theo, Hansen and Paolo Foscolo have been selling Miss Lady Root Beer and Cream Soda at the Riverhead Farmers Market and Springs Farmers Market every Saturday, the Shelter Island Farmers Market every other Saturday, and the Montauk Farmers Market every Thursday. The beverages are also stocked year-round at the Old Stone Market in Springs, SagTown Coffee and Sag Harbor Beverage in Sag Harbor, Peconic Beverage in Southampton, Eli’s in Manhattan and online at mouth.com.
More information about Miss Lady Root Beer can be found at missladyrootbeer.com.