San Diego's Original Craft-Brewed Soda

Bubbling Up

Founder Brett Burner and his colorful Swell Soda bottles.

Founder Brett Burner and his colorful Swell Soda bottles.

There’s something brewing in East County – and it’s not craft beer. Enter Swell Soda, a San Diego-centric brand of craftbrewed sodas specially curated for locals who want to taste the sweet life. The beverage line just popped up in April, but it’s the culmination of a 10-year dream for fifth generation San Diegan Brett Burner, who runs the company as a family business out of an industrial park in Spring Valley. Find the retro bottles at shops and restaurants across San Diego. Here, Burner takes us behind the scenes of his budding soda empire. –David Moye

Was the craft beer movement an inspiration for Swell Soda?
Quality soda was my true inspiration. I’m a fan of good regional, specialty sodas, and I’ve always gravitated to the brands that are out of the mainstream. But the receptiveness of the craft beer movement, and the accessibility of equipment for producing smaller batches, has made this idea much more attainable.

How has being a longtime San Diegan influenced your choice of flavors?
My great-greatgrandfather moved here in 1899. My roots here run deep, and I want to honor that. So some flavors, like Tangerine and Pomegranate, really hearken to the region—and my own San Diego childhood experiences— and flavors like Coffee Vanilla Cream are more of a salute to the craft industry by creating the unexpected.

What is the long-term goal for Swell Soda?
Well, our first goal is to reach throughout San Diego County, building a recognizable brand that people will relate to the city. After that, we want to expand to Southern California in the same fashion. But I’ve always seen Swell Soda as a regional brand. I don’t have plans for nationwide expansion.

At this point, soda sales overall are down. How do you position yourself in that situation? As an affordable, but occasional, luxury?
People are drinking less soda in general, but a craft specialty soda is designed as a treat, or to accompany a special meal or occasion. Not that we have a problem with you treating yourself to it every day, but we don’t see Swell Soda as a product to be supersized and overindulged upon. I still see drinking soda as a luxury… and I have it at my fingertips!

What flavors do you have on the horizon?
We are just about to release our Wild Blueberry. It’s a great, vintage-style throwback flavor! And potentially more before the end of the year.