High fructose corn syrup, caramel color, sodium benzoate, phosphoric acid, caffeine, phenylalanine . . . throw in some natural and artificial flavorings and you’ve got a typical can of soda in your hand. With a list of ingredients like that, no wonder many people try to limit soda consumption for themselves and especially for their children.

Chris Kinkade, founder of Green Bee Soda in Brunswick, had those thoughts when it came to his three young children.

“My kids were always bugging me for soda, always negotiating for some form of sugar, and I always found myself telling them no.”

Back in 2010, Kinkade, an amateur beekeeper with a passion to save bees from colony collapse, had an idea. “Why don’t I mix something up out of the hive?”

He brewed up a few batches of soda in his kitchen. His children couldn’t believe he was letting them have soda, and they loved it. Best of all, Kinkade said, “We could make this evil thing called soda into something that’s good and make it from something nutritious like honey. And at the end of the day, as we make more and more soda, we can support more and more bees and more and more hives. It’s a whole kind of virtuous circle.”

Green Bee Soda was born. The company’s first flavor, Lemon Sting, was a brew of wildflower honey, lemon juice and rosemary. Nothing more, nothing less.

Green Bee Soda quickly outgrew Kinkade’s kitchen kegs. He first moved the operation to the garage and then finally to a light manufacturing space in Brunswick’s Fort Andross Mill complex. Kinkade, his wife, Lori, and a small colony of employees now produce Green Bee soda. Inside the spotless, high-ceilinged space filled with gleaming brewery tanks, soda awaits tapping and bottling.

Honey, locally sourced, is the base note flavor of each brew. “Ginger Buzz,” the company’s second flavor, is made similarly to Lemon Sting, with fresh ginger and coriander seed. At 60 calories per bottle, it’s a refreshing and forgiving brew.

Kinkade and everyone who works for Green Bee are excited about making soda. Visitors to the “hive” (as he likes to refer to the operation) often comment on the authenticity of the mission. Kinkade says his company is “one of the few companies that actually make our own soda. Many of the sodas you see on the shelf are just outsourced to big manufacturers, they’re just contracted out. We do everything here.”

Much of the equipment is similar to that used in beer brewing, with a few retrofits for the soda business. But the brewing, the bottling, the labeling and the packaging all get done right in the Brunswick hive.

Another differentiator for Green Bee is that it uses whole, real ingredients. Kinkade says many of the sodas on the shelf are made with additives and flavorings. He said even sodas that might be considered natural can be composed of flavoring powders and solutions. “They go to make a ginger soda, they call up the flavor house and ask what they have in a bucket they can send for a ginger flavor. When we make a ginger soda, we call up a ginger dealer and tell them to send us all they can, we chop up fresh ginger and we add it into our soda. We start everything we do with real ingredients. Zero extracts. All the weird things you see on labels? You’re not going to see them on our labels.”

Kinkade is pleased to say that “everything you see on our labels are things you can pronounce and understand.”

“We’re taking soda and making it more pure. Using nature’s purest type of sweetener, which is honey, and pure ingredients and putting that into the soda.”

Lemon Sting was inspired by Kinkade’s thirsty children. Love Potion was inspired by the whimsical, purported love-inducing flavors such as strawberry juice, wildflower honey, roasted cocoa nibs and vanilla beans. The Art Nouveau label was enhanced with a hand-dipped-in-wax bottle top. “It flew off the shelves,” Kinkade admitted.

And Half & Half? Kinkade laughed and said Half & Half was created after a long, hot summer morning of bottling brews. Kinkade and employee Heath Down needed an afternoon pick-me-up. Down says “it was very hot, we needed something refreshing. We were drinking Lemon Sting and we wondered what would happen if we mixed organic green tea in with the Lemon Sting to get a little boost.”

Kinkade says “we drank it all summer and it got us through. We decided it was time we share it with other people.”

The Green Bee family of sodas is distributed through regional beverage companies throughout New England to stores large and small, including Whole Foods. This creates more time for everyone at the Green Bee hive to promote and market the product. Kinkade and Down spend time on the road at stores, sampling and talking about the product and about why drinking soda made from honey is more than just a delicious way to quench thirst. Last year, in addition to giving out soda samples, they also gave customers “Seeds for Bees,” which was a colorful packet of flower seeds that, once grown, would provide nectar and pollen.

Kinkade says that for now, he’s focused on “growing a strong business in New England, changing the way people think about bees and changing the way people think about soda.”

Everyone at Green Bee likes to think good things are simple. When you pick up a bottle of the soda, look at the label. You’ll see ingredients like wildflower honey, lemon juice, rosemary, fresh ginger and wild blueberries.

Sounds good and simple, doesn’t it?

Julie-Ann Baumer lives, cooks, gardens and blogs from her home in Lisbon Falls. You can read about her adventures at www.julieannbaumer.com and follow her on twitter @aunttomato.

Where to find it

Green Bee Soda is available at a number of Lewiston-Auburn locations including Baxter Brewing, Forage Market and Axis Natural Foods.

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