At one time, seemingly everyone drank it. It came in thick glass bottles, hand-delivered by sturdy men in battered trucks. They called it Jewish Champagne.
While seltzer was consumed across the country, it reached its zenith of popularity in New York City around the turn of the century (the 20th, that is). First using horse-drawn carriages and later motorized trucks, seltzer men delivered a beverage more popular than milk to the multitude of immigrants from Russia and Eastern Europe.
Of the many seltzer producers back then, only one remains. Gomberg Seltzer Works, in Canarsie, is a third-generation enterprise founded in 1953 by Mo Gomberg and now run by his grandson, Kenny. At the factory, city tap water is triple-filtered before going into the carbonator. The bottles are filled in a 1910 Barnett and Foster Siphon machine, which injects carbon dioxide at a pressure of 70 pounds per square inch. No wonder those seltzer bottles were nearly an inch thick. Once filled, the bottles are conveyed to consumers by the handful of seltzer delivery men left in the city.
Real seltzer lacks the chemicals and preservatives that saturate most club sodas, including Schweppes and Canada Dry. It is more forcefully carbonated, since it can’t go flat—the siphon is only open long enough to fill each glass. According to Kenny Gomberg, seltzer should hurt the back of your throat when swallowed. For those who want more background, the seven-minute documentary Seltzer Works recently ran on PBS, and is available on DVD (www.seltzerworks.com).
If you don’t live in Brooklyn and have a seltzer deliveryman in your neighborhood, there’s always SodaStream (www.sodastreamusa.com). The company sells home soda systems ranging from $99 to $249, along with carbonators, accessories, and syrup mixers free of both high-fructose corn syrup or aspartame.
The benefits of having a home seltzer system are endless. For starters, you can control the amount of sugar everyone consumes in soft drinks. Cocktail enthusiasts will immediately note the difference in their Mojitos or Campari and Soda. The real payoff, though, is the ability to replicate a genuine Brooklyn Egg Cream. Containing neither eggs nor cream, the Egg Cream is a mixture of chocolate syrup, cold whole milk and seltzer—one of the world’s great thirst-quenchers, and magic on a hot Florida day.