BRIDGEPORT — Bridgeport Coffee Co. founder Mike Pilkington started explaining the recipe for his brand new coffee-soda hybrid but quickly stopped himself.
"Wait, maybe this is like the formula for Coca-Cola and I shouldn't be giving it out," he said.
Called Bubbly Creek Soda, the new carbonated drink is a mix of extracted, cold-brewed Hardscrabble Blend coffee and cane sugar that's bottled at the Filbert's Root Beer plant and wrapped in labels created by Chicago designer Ben Lenz.
"It's absolutely about as local as we could get it," he said.
Pilkington said the new drink is a lot of things — "an effervescent, uplifting and invigorating bottle of awesome," according to promo materials — but one thing it's not is just another trendy bottle of iced coffee.
"What I wanted was a different experience, and this is definitely different than iced coffee. I think it's surprisingly unique," he said.
Naming the beverage after Bubbly Creek, one of Chicago's most infamously polluted waterways, hasn't come without a little bit of controversy — the Chicago River's south branch offshoot takes its nickname from the gases once emitted by the discarded livestock, grease and chemicals dumped there by nearby, long-gone meatpacking companies.
"The neighborhood people from Bridgeport are like 'Eww, I can't believe you'd name it that.' But the whole idea of what we do is about telling our neighborhood story," Pilkington said, noting that many of the roastery's products are packaged with mini-history lessons about Bridgeport.
Pilkington has long been an advocate of "relationship coffee," where companies buy coffee beans directly from a farmer — instead of large distributors — which is supposed to guarantee better quality for consumers and fair pricing for farmers despite volatile commodity markets.
Proceeds from sales of his Bubbly Creek Blend coffee roast are sent to The Wetlands Initiative, a Chicago-based organization dedicated to improving the area's water quality. The Bridgeport-based business sends about $600 annually to the group, which unsuccessfully tried to transform Bubbly Creek into a wetlands preserve.
The coffee drink's label, which shows what Pilkington described as a radioactive rooster, hearkens an old black-and-white Chicago Daily News photo of a chicken standing in Bubbly Creek's sludge.
"Even though that was 100 years ago, Bubbly Creek stills need attention. Our whole idea here is to not only make a unique product, but to draw attention to local environmental issues," he said.
Bubbly Creek Soda costs $2 and is available exclusively at Bridgeport Coffee Company's three coffee houses: 3101 S. Morgan St. in Bridgeport, 5030 S. Cornell Ave. in the Hyde Park Arts Center and 1021 S. Delano Court West at the Roosevelt Collection in the South Loop.
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