Soda Jerk Soda: Lime Cilantro Jalapeno

History: For those of you out there who need a seriously fresh craft soda fix and would prefer to buy it out of a vehicle that looks like it was created by Willy Wonka, say no more fam. Cory Clark, founder of Soda Jerk Soda, sells homemade craft soda in Seattle, Washington using only fresh ingredients. Oh, and he sells it on draft out of this thing. Completely custom-made, he calls it a “rolling jockey box” and it was inspired by a Cushman Truckster. Clark moved to Seattle from Texas where he was a cosmetic chemist. Because if there’s a next logical step after dabbling in cosmetic chemistry, it’s making homemade soda. “I wanted something really different,” he says. No kidding. Initially Clark wanted to build an ice cream store with an old fashioned soda fountain, but after the success of the Soda Stream, he decided to pursue creating soda syrups instead. Clark quickly changed course again after realizing he was more passionate about sodas made with real, fresh ingredients. “I was just looking for the next thing. I’m kind of a person that has to be creating something to be happy,” he says. As for what’s on the menu; flavors at Soda Jerk Soda are constantly in rotation. The one you’ll find most often is lemon lavender, but lime cilantro jalapeno is another of Clark’s favorites. In fact, at the time of this interview, it’s the favorite of Clark. The flavor was created for the “Taco Libre” Food Truck Festival where you can grab a soda, eat a taco, and watch Luchador wrestling. For those of you foodies who want a little more insight into the process behind the soda, here’s a tidbit: Clark doesn’t cook the ingredients in his soda and instead uses hot water to melt the sugar and seep the herbs. He says this makes the flavors “very bright and strong.” He also tells us he uses as many local ingredients as possible. What you’re dealing with here is farm-fresh fizzy soda. I hope it tastes as good as it sounds.

Buy: You’ll need to be in the Seattle area to get a hold of this one as Soda Jerk Soda is still mostly an on-draft, on-site soda. Your best bet for any potential small order for yourself is to contact the company directly or check their Facebook to see where they’ll be next.

Nose: Smells of sweet citrus and sugar with just a touch of heat. You can tell there’s some sort of pepper in there, but it comes through in a mild sense. Mostly importantly, this smells market fresh.

Taste: Sweet lemon/lime citrus; mild tartness; light spice; pepper. Citrus is the predominant flavor you’ll taste in this soda as the jalapeno plays the fiddle in the background. The citrus flavor also has the most character, greeting you with a tangy sweetness and transitioning into more of a light tartness as you taste more of the jalapeno. The pepper taste comes in near the end of the sip. It meshes nicely with the citrus. The two flavors are an excellent combination for taste. The jalapeno is not particularly spicy; instead it acts as almost a seasoning to the beverage. What I’m not getting here as much is the cilantro. There’s, at times, an earthy, herbal flavor to the soda which likely comes from the cilantro but it’s fleeting. Still though, lots of flavor going on here to be excited about.

Finish: Tangy citrus and pepper with more of an emphasis on the jalapeno flavor. On certain sips the spiciness is more apparent; this will vary slightly with every batch of soda depending on the strength of the peppers used.

Rating: Soda Jerk Soda’s Lime Cilantro Jalapeno is a refreshing combination of heat and sweet where citrus is the shining star. You get a nice variation of sweetness, tanginess, and tartness in this soda with just a tinge of spice. For those wary of spicy foods or beverages, you need not worry. The way this soda develops is really nice with an initial sweetness that transitions into tart citrus and ends with tangy spice. We’re always a little wary when someone uses pepper in soda, but Soda Jerk Soda gets it right. The jalapeno pepper taste is definitely in a supporting role and not too overbearing. Where this loses points with us is the lack of cilantro flavor. Now I don’t mind it personally because I don’t really care for cilantro, but if it’s in the name of the soda, we need to taste it more. To be fair, there are definitely some sips where you can taste an earthy, herbal flavor in addition to the citrus, but not enough for me otherwise know that cilantro is actually used in the recipe. When this soda excels, it really soars. The citrus flavor in this is excellent, near perfect. The way it changes characteristics throughout the sip is what keeps me coming back for more. It’s like a marriage that never gets stale. Honey, if you’re reading this, I love you. Most of the time. If you’re in the Seattle area and looking for an adventure, titillate you taste buds with an original flavor like this one.

Four Stars

Editor’s note: A previous version of this review referred to the soda as “Cilantro Jalapeno Lime,” but it has now been changed to its proper name of “Lime Cilantro Jalapeno.” Also, there is no lemon in the soda’s recipe. The only references to lemon are tasting notes inferred by our tasters.

Bec: Cranberry

History: We always appreciate when someone tries something different, so kudos to Bec for making a cranberry soda. I think that needs to be said from the beginning. For those of you unaware with Bec, it’s a soft drink company out of Montreal, Quebec in Canada. They make a pretty dope cola… but cranberry? As a soda… really? Cranberry is the fruit that people only remember exists during November and December. Pretty bold move to make it a permanent flavor. I mean, I keep my Christmas lights up year-round, but I’m not sure all my neighbors appreciate that my front porch looks like it’s on drugs when it’s May. I’m just saying, this needs to be good to be justified twelve months out of the year. Now that said, we did our journalistic soda diligence and asked Bec why they landed on cranberry. Turns out the company had been working on two new, unusual flavors – lime and cranberry – for over a year, according to Bec Associate Gwendal Creurer. She continued explaining the decision by saying “We decided to use cranberry for its amazing taste and its health benefits (diuretic, antioxidant, vitamin). In Quebec, we have the world biggest production of organic cranberries, so it’s a kind of ‘big up’ to our land and it’s great products.” Bec is a brand very focused on organics. Yes, they want their soda to taste good, but they’re also very careful about where their ingredients are sourced. Speaking of ingredients, it wouldn’t be a Canadian soda if there wasn’t maple syrup in this, right? Well, you can sleep easy tonight because Bec Cranberry does indeed contain maple syrup and its inclusion is critical in the recipe. Says Creurer, “It was a long process to deal with the astringency of the fruit and not make it too aggressive; with maple syrup, we found the right balance between acidity and sweetness.” Oh, and for all you health nuts out there, Bec Cranberry contains no chemical ingredients. The sodas’s crimson color is completely natural from the cranberry juice. “It deserves to be known!” is the company’s philosophy behind their new cranberry soda. Five Star Soda is here to answer the call for you, Bec. We’ll see how long we stay on the line.

Buy: Bec sodas are sold throughout a majority of Quebec, Canada and scattered across parts of France. To see if there’s a retailer near you, check out the Bec product locator here. You can also purchase Bec Cranberry from Terroirs in Quebec.

Nose: Like a sweeter version of cranberry Ocean Spray with maybe just a dash of cherry. Fruity and lovely.

Taste: Tart; authentic cranberries; lots of light, but frothy carbonation. This is spot on to what actual cranberries taste like. It’s almost like juicing a real cranberry and then carbonating it. What’s most surprising about this soda and also what makes it taste authentic to the flavor is the tartness. It’s not sour, but it is very tart, something that is a signature of cranberries. There’s also lots of brisk, frothy carbonation that adds to the tartness. This is a rare soda where the tartness and flavor of the fruit stand out more than the taste of the sugar.

Finish: Tangy cranberry sauce that slowly fades. Like having the holidays in your mouth.

Rating: I wasn’t sure what to expect from a cranberry soda and Bec has pleasantly surprised me. It’s about as authentic to the flavor as it can be without being a juice. But make no mistake – this is heavily carbonated and very much a soda. In fact, the carbonation is really my only criticism here. There’s a little too much of it, making an already tart soda at times too tart. Luckily, Bec’s Cranberry soda is so flavorful that this doesn’t present much of an issue. This is really the definition of a craft soda. It nails the flavor. It uses real ingredients like cranberry juice and Canadian maple syrup. And it’s not too sweet, so it should appeal to more of an adult crowd. The biggest takeaway from Bec Cranberry is what it should be: the flavor is excellent. This probably won’t be a soda you drink all the time, but around the holidays it makes for a fantastic beverage. Also a great mixer, if you’re into that sort of thing. And around the holidays, I’m always looking for good mixers to help me tolerate my uncles.

Four Stars

AJ Stephans: Raspberry Lime Rickey

History: Sometimes when researching a soda or a company behind the soda, there’s just not a lot of information to be found. We may have a reviews what we call “in the can,” for months, meaning the tasting and photos are done, but there’s something missing. The reason we don’t publish these reviews is because we’re at a loss on information due to phone calls or emails not being returned and online biographies not being beefy enough for our standards. I’ll tell you what though, there’s really nothing out there on AJ Stephans sodas. What we do know is this: it’s headquartered Fall River, Massachusetts, it’s bottled by the same dude who makes Empire Soda, there’s nine different flavors, and the company was named when the late founder Jeff Rose combined the names of his two daughters. Rose was big on the idea of nostalgia. He said of his sodas, “My product is like going back in time.” Perhaps none of his flavors aside from root beer make that philosophy come to life more than raspberry lime rickey. A lime rickey is the nonalcoholic version of a cocktail called the “Rickey” that dates all the way back to 1903 and is very popular on the east coast. Adding raspberry to it seems like a smart decision to us. It’s like someone said, “Hey Margot Robbie, you look really pretty, but we also want you to wear this push-up bra for your photo shoot.” It’s making a good idea a great one. And I’m all about drinking in good ideas (also very much about Margot Robbie if she’s reading this).

Buy: Specialty Sodas  •  Beverages Direct

Nose: Raspberry jam and raspberry-flavored Tootsie Pops. Mmm.

Taste: Candy raspberry; mild lime; syrupy; melted snow cone; sweet. This is hard to pinpoint on flavor. It definitely has an artificial/candy taste to it. Very sweet. There’s kind of a melted down raspberry snow cone flavor with some faint lime notes. They’re subtle, if not a little dull. The raspberry and lime flavors are about 50% each in the soda, so the balance is there. But in this case, I’m not sure it works. It tastes like the raspberry is really about to sink in to your tastes bud, and then all of sudden the lime completely erases it.

Finish: Sweet raspberry encased in a cocoon of lime. Has a really nice lingering effect that is better than the body of the soda.

Rating: AJ Stephans Raspberry Lime Rickey is one of those flavors that sounds good on paper but fizzles in taste. Its taste is defined by sweet, artificial raspberry, reminiscent of a raspberry snow cone. Only, unlike Jackson Hole’s High Mountain Huckleberry (which has a similar melted snow cone flavor), this soda doesn’t have good supporting flavors. The raspberry flavor is too artificial. Still, despite that, it never even gets a chance to unleash its full potential in the mouth [insert porn joke here]. The lime flavor decapitates the raspberry before it gets a chance to showcase its potential. The lime itself is pretty dull. Also artificial. Almost chemical. This soda tastes like wasted potential. I mean, it has redeeming qualities. Decent initial flavor. Solid finish. But somewhere in that crucial middle part, things get hazy. I wanted to like this because raspberry is one of my favorite flavors in the world, but I just can’t. Too syrupy. Too fake. Too little. If you want a soda that takes you down a similar initial path, with much more rewarding results, try the aforementioned High Mountain Huckleberry.Two Stars

Appalachian Brewing Co.: Root Beer

History: You know you’re doing something right when everyone knows you as a beer place, but you secretly make more money off of your craft soda sales. That’s what happened with Appalachian Brewing Company in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Appalachian Brewing Company’s Brewmaster Artie Tafoya says “It was due to the demand. People wanted to buy it. It just ended up turning into a bigger deal.” On paper that’s a pretty impressive feat considering the brewery produces around 15 beers at a time depending on the season and just four bottled craft sodas. Like most in the craft soda business, their signature soda is their homemade root beer, something Tafoya experimented with initially as a family-friendly alternative to the hard stuff. When asked what sets Appalachian Brewing’s root beer apart from a plethora of others, Tafoya said he believes several ingredients stick out including: pure Appalachian spring water, cane sugar, mexican vanilla bean extract, and clover honey. The clover honey is a signature ingredient in several of the company’s craft sodas. It’s a recipe designed to taste like “old fashioned root beer,” Tafoya says. The brewery has been around nearly two decades and will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2017. And while it’s not much of a secret anymore that Appalachian Brewing Company is as much of a player in craft soda as it is in beer, the company’s dedication is what will keep it at the forefront of both industries in the years to come. “I’ll spend any amount of money to make it,” Tafoya says of his products. That’s a formula for good liquid.

Buy: Due to freezing temperatures in the northeast over the winter, your best bet for placing an order is by contacting the company directly.

Nose: Classic root beer with a vanilla-forward scent and a touch of spearmint. When you’ve tried as many sodas as we have, you can tell that this also smells like it’s going to taste creamy.

Taste: Mint; birch bark; sarsaparilla root; vanilla; mild creaminess. When you think of old time root beers that relied heavily on botanical flavors and mint vs. modern root beers that are all vanilla and very creamy, this definitely leans towards those of yesteryear. Right away you taste a big minty influence, more wintergreen than spearmint. Not spicy, but really permeates the nose. Next there’s a 1-2 combo of sarsaparilla root and birch bark that give the root beer a signature throwback flavor, the kind you used to taste at medieval fairs as a kid. What? You didn’t go to any medieval fairs as a kid? That was just me? Man, you missed out. But there’s also a subtle creaminess to this. It’s not as hard-hitting on the vanilla as most modern root beer recipes, but there’s enough of it for you to taste. As far as the honey, that really comes in on the finish. This is a nuanced, full-bodied root beer with a nice old school flavor.

Finish: Tangy sarsaparilla and mild vanilla flavors that fade into noticeable honey. The more you drink this, the more pronounced the honey becomes.

Rating: It’s refreshing to see a modern company creating a root beer that tastes like it was imported from the past. Appalachian Brewing Company’s Root Beer is bold and layered with big notes of wintergreen mint, sarsaparilla root, and birch. It feels like something you should should drink out of a silver chalice in the woods while wearing flannel and blue jeans. Maybe something to quench your thirst with after chopping down a tree. I also appreciate the mild use of vanilla and honey that make this root beer a lot more approachable for soda hounds who aren’t fans of the more earthy flavors. This drinks easily and is very crisp on the tongue, giving it a pleasant mouth feel. I personally like a little bit more vanilla in my root beers, but I think Appalachian Brewing is really catering to a part of the root beer crowd that feels like their favorite recipes have fallen by the wayside. This is a callback to simpler times and bolder soda. I wouldn’t hesitate to try this if you get the chance.

Four Stars

Buckeye State Soda: Scarlet Soda

History: Ready for the most pro-Ohio soda you’ve ever come across? Scarlet Soda by Buckeye State Soda glorifies the state. We’re not kidding. They take it very seriously, saying “It celebrates the great state of Ohio which has given so much to the world and changed the course of history.” I haven’t had that much pride in something since I built my dog an igloo out of Legos when I was eight. He ate a lot of them. It was an expensive vet bill and that was the last time I played with Legos. Scarlet Soda is truly a bottle of red mystery. There’s no flavor listed. So we reached out to the company to try to figure out what we were getting ourselves into. Buckeye State Soda CEO David Wolfenberger tells us “Everyone has a different idea of what it tastes like. We think it ‘Tastes Like Victory’.” So… we didn’t find out anything about how it tastes. He did divulge to us that “it is not a red cream soda,” so there’s that. Basically, this is a “decide-what-you-think-it-is” soda. In somewhat concrete terms, Wolfenberger calls it “an old style red fruit soda flavor.”

Scarlet Soda was created in the fall of 2015, but the history behind the company dates back a lot farther. The real name of the business behind Scarlet Soda is Root Naturals located in Cincinnati, Ohio. The company produces root beer, cream soda, and black cherry under that name using “all natural botanical extracts,” according to Wolfenberger. They operate under the name Buckeye State Soda only when selling one product: Scarlet Soda. Confused yet? Back to the history lesson. It was 1937 when Deno Spaccarelli opened his first apothecary in Cincinnati. For those that don’t know, an apothecary was basically an old time medicine shop. They also often sold fountain sodas as a way to mask the awful flavor of the medicine. So while Scarlet Soda is still relatively new, the inspiration behind Root Naturals as a company dates back much further than 2015. Be prepared for an experience. Wolfenberger sums up Scarlet Soda saying, “People either love it and evangelize it or they they think WTF.”

Buy: • Summit City Soda  • Homer Soda Company (for larger orders)  • Other retailers

Nose: This is strawberry. No doubt. It’s like an artificial candy strawberry scent, reminiscent of strawberry Sour Punch Straws without the sour.

Taste: Sweet; artificial strawberry; mild watermelon. Whoa, this is sugary. It leans heavily on the artificial strawberry flavor side, but there’s also a faint watermelon taste that sneaks its way in and confuses you. This is like melted down strawberry hard candies that have been carbonated and bottled. You know those strawberry candies your grandma has in her jar that no one ever eats? Well, if you actually eat them, they’re full of fake strawberry flavor. That’s kind of how Scarlet Soda tastes.

Finish: Tangy fake strawberry flavor that fades quickly and leaves a bit of a film in your mouth.

Rating: We’ve solved the mystery of Scarlet Soda. Maybe. Probably. I think? This soda is chocked full of artificial strawberry flavor. Oh, and sugar. Lots of sugar. Drink a whole bottle of this and you might be able to lift a car. Kids, do not try this. But if you do and succeed, please post a video and give us credit for the idea. Ok, here’s the thing: I know reading that a soda tastes fake and full of sugar sounds bad, but Scarlet Soda is solid. You just have to be in the mood for it. Scarlet Soda has that old fashioned candy strawberry taste one might find at a state fair. This is a soda tailor-made for children. It likely drinks best on a hot day outside. No, I don’t think a ton of adults are going to be into this and I think its audience is limited. Yes, it’s really sugary, probably too much so. Still, there are going to be people who appreciate this. It’s worth a shot. Try one while you’re barbecuing or use it as a mixer with vodka and maybe some bitters. Because the more I try this, the more I enjoy it even the though soda snob in me is telling me no. Seems like an appropriate response for a soda designed to make the drinker think.

Three Stars

P.S. We only had one bottle of this, so we had to take photos before tasting. We guessed on the cherries… we were wrong. At least they look nice though!

Fitz’s: Black Cherry

History: Fitz’s is an institution in St. Louis, Missouri. It’s as Midwest as gooey butter cake and deep dish pizza. Luckily, Fitz’s soda won’t make you feel like dying after ingesting it, like those other stomach busters. Like many craft soda brands, Fitz’s started with root beer. Today it’s still the most popular flavor. According to the company, the root beer first popped up at “Fitz,” a local St. Louis “drive-in restaurant back in 1947.” After years of success, Fitz’s business slowly began to fade as the art of drive-in everything lost its appeal. People lost patience with waiting for food and a result, St. Louis lost one of its original glass-bottled root beer brands. Fitz’s Root Beer didn’t see the light of day again until 1993 when the restaurant re-opened under new ownership in the “Delmar Loop area of University City, a suburb of St. Louis.” It’s no longer a drive-in, but the restaurant offers a full menu with craft sodas and craft beers both on tap (so instead of paying two bucks per bottle like the rest of us schmucks, you can get endless refills of craft soda there… just a tip if you’re in the area). Fitz’s also serves up a variety of other craft soda flavors from key lime to Cardinal (red) Cream. But we settled on black cherry because if you can make black cherry soda well, it’s a good barometer for the rest of your stuff. It’s kind of like when you go over to a girl’s house for the first time before a date and you have to wait. If she takes an hour, your antennas should go up. If it’s 15 minutes or less, it’s looking good. That’s how black cherry is in a line of craft soda. Just trust us on this, we’re experts. We’ve also gone on a lot of bad dates

Where to get: You can purchase Fitz’s sodas online directly from the company or from our friends at Summit City Soda (we don’t get paid to shill for them; they usually just have good prices and we know shipping soda is expensive.). If you’re a little less adventurous, Soda Emporium has you covered with four-packs.

Nose: Smells medicinal, like cherry cough syrup. Kind of like watered down Robitussin. Not exactly the warmest of welcomes.

Taste: Bold and intense cherry; more red than black; artificial; heavy; tangy. There’s a bold cherry flavor that hits you. It’s somewhere in the middle between and black and red cherry flavor, but it’s not the classic black cherry taste you’re used to drinking. It’s solid. What separates it is the hint of red cherry and a definitive tanginess. But there’s also an accompanying aritifical, syrupy flavor that sits heavy in the mouth. Certain sips feel more processed than others. The cherry flavor is powerful throughout the soda, sometimes tasting very palatable and other sips mimicking fruity cough syrup.

Finish: Smooth and balanced with a tangy and tart red cherry flavor and just a hint of black cherry at the end. Very nice and easily the best part of the soda.

Rating: Fitz’s Black Cherry is a soda I’d recommend if you want black cherry, but are looking for very specific characteristics in your soda. It’s not what I’d consider “classic black cherry,” though occasionally you’ll taste that flavor. It’s kind of like its craft soda relatives, but slightly different. So if that’s what you want, Fitz’s may be the brand you should seek out. Where this soda shines is its tangy hybrid red and black cherry flavor. It’s bold. It’s tasty. And it’s different. The tanginess gives it a unique trait other black cherry sodas often don’t have. On the flip side, this soda can taste fake on certain sips. The artificial cherry flavor overwhelms you at certain points of the drink, which is enough to downgrade this to what I’d consider to be an average soda. It’s almost really good. Almost. I wouldn’t turn it down, but I probably wouldn’t seek it out.

Three Stars

Nichol Kola

History: We have been waiting a long time to write this review. Not because we’re lazy, but because finding the history behind this soda was a maddeningly slow process. In the 2010 edition of Soda Spectrum, contributor Blair Matthews writes “there’s hardly a trace of what was once such a successful and lucrative cola brand.” But searching is our thing… so we searched. We consulted Eric Wideman, “the nation’s expert on Nichol Kola,” according to his boss, Orca Beverage President Mike Bourgeois. And based on the information we’ve gathered from Wideman, I believe it. I mean what an absurdly specific thing to be obsessed with: a soda that started in 1936. Personally I am obsessed with Natalie and Tonya… but they’re not talking to me anymore. Anyway, here’s what Wideman relayed to us about Nichol Cola: first there was Sun-Boc, then there was Ver-Vac, Pow! World War I – sugar problems – yadda, yadda, yadda. And now here we are years later with Orca Beverage resurrecting a forgotten brand. Got it? Good. Peace out. Jk. God, for how long it took us to write this, we are doing it in the most annoying way possible. Here’s a synopsis of the soda’s history as written in the book The House of Quality: The History of the H.R. Nicholson Company by Harry R. Nicholson. Wideman sent us excerpts from this extremely rare publication. We do know it’s a real thing though because we found it online in Australia’s National Library. Go figure. Harry R. Nicholson was a business man. Dude was savvy back in the early 1900’s. With prohibition on the rise, he created Sun-Boc an amber not-quite-beer that became a hit with people looking for something to replace their former definitely-real-beer. After Sun-Boc’s success, Nicholson invested that money into a cola he called Ver-Vac designed to compete with Coca Cola. Well Ver-Vac, despite maybe being the worst-named soda I’ve ever heard of, was a hit. Nicholson raked in $110,000 from investors to go all-in on it. And then he hit a road block called World War I, which led to sugar rationing and a spike in sugar’s price. Here’s the big problem with that; sugar is a huge part of soda and the amount of sugar businesses “were allotted was based on their usage before the rationing” and since Ver-Vac was a relatively new venture, Nicholson didn’t get anywhere close to enough of it to run a soda business. After a bad business deal on sugar and then the sudden stoppage of the war, Ver-Vac’s fizz as a company went flat. In 1926, Nicholson gave cola a shot again, this time branding it as “Nichol Kola” to compete with brands like Pepsi. He would sell the concentrate to independent bottlers who would then mix it up and sell it. Guess how much each bottle sold for?

Nichol Kola continued into the 1970’s, but as independent bottlers fell by the wayside, there were fewer and fewer businesses to which the company could sell their soda’s concentrate. The trend continued until Nichol Kola met the same fate as Ver-Vac. But in 2006 Orca Beverage revamped the brand. If you haven’t read past reviews, Orca Beverage is a large soda manufacturer and distributer based out of Mukilteo, Washington. Their “thing,” if you will, is buying up vintage brands no longer in production and putting them back on shelves. Bourgeois tells us about his company, “We do that because our specialty is vintage soda. We just want to consolidate as many in-house as we can.” The current incantation of Nichol Kola is not the original formula. When asked to describe today’s recipe, Bourgeois played it pretty close to the vest, but pointed out cinnamon and coriander as ingredients used. He also says there are ingredients in it “that typically aren’t found in colas anymore.” Alright, history lesson over. We finally got that part out of the way. Now let’s drink this damn thing.

Where to get: Nichol Kola is commonly available at Rocketfizz retailers. You can also order it online from Summit City Soda or Orca Beverage. Single bottles are available for purchase from Soda Emporium.

Nose: Rich cola scent. Prominent cinnamon and mild citrus smells.

Taste: Cinnamon; vanilla; mild spice; sugar. Nichol Kola’s defining flavor is spice. To give you an idea, imagine a soft cola with prominent cooking spice notes, most notably cinnamon. There’s also some vanilla and mild citrus flavors. Drinks very easy. If you take some time in between sips, the soda’s spices slowly reveal themselves. Coriander jumps out as well as a stronger, spicier cinnamon. It has a really nice lingering effect. It’s very smooth and not as bitter as certain colas like Pepsi. The sugar isn’t too strong either. The real flavor bang comes near the end of the sip, so take your time on this soda.

Finish: Lingering spices. Reminds me of a spice cake with added vanilla. As with the body, cinnamon is probably the most recognizable flavor on the finish.

Rating: Nichol Kola is an exceptionally smooth cola that drinks easy and maintains a nice balance of sweetness and bitterness. Any bottler that uses cinnamon in its cola is already ahead of the game and it’s the starring ingredient in Nichol Kola. This has a warming sensation to it when you drink it. It’s comfort soda. What surprises me is that the majority of the flavor comes on the soda’s finish. You really get the full-bodied flavor after you’ve already swigged the liquid down your gullet. You’ll taste bold cinnamon, similar to spice cake. Also vanilla and mild orange citrus. It also mixes really well with a vanilla-heavy rum if you’re into the spirits. Try Captain Morgan Black + Nichol Kola. We call it the Five Star Fadeout. One of our writers is passed out on the couch as I write this after having several of them. He’s the reason for the name. This is definitely a cola to try. But it’s not without faults. I wish there were more prominent flavors in the first half of each sip. I wanted to be greeted by something lovely rather than having to wait for it. But I use that same philosophy in my marriages and I’m on my third one, so I could be wrong there. If the first half of each sip was as nice the finish, this would be a five star soda. It’s still one that we believe all craft soda connoisseurs should sample and it’ ability to function well as a standalone drink and a mixer make it even more appealing. Definitely try it both ways. Just don’t be like our writer.

Four Stars

Cariboo Brewing: Root Beer

History: We’ve been gone awhile and we know we’ve left many of you parched for craft soda reviews. Well after accumulating many frequent flyer miles, we’re back baby. One of the places we zoomed through? Canada, eh. And though we didn’t see any moose, we did come across a root beer we felt fit for review from Cariboo Brewing out of Prince George, British Columbia. For perspective for our U.S. readers, Prince George is about a four and a half hour flight north from Seattle. Several things stood out to us about Cariboo’s take on root beer. Most noticeably is the 0.5% alcohol/volume label on the front of the can… yes, it comes in a can and not a glass bottle. But don’t fret, this isn’t a hard root beer. It’s nonalcoholic. Fun fact: even nonalcoholic beers are typically 0.5% alcohol/volume. Some of your favorite root beers from other breweries likely contain trace amounts of alcohol as well. Cariboo Brewing is also known for their environmental efforts, so if you’re a vegan, keep your pants on here for the next sentence. According to the company, “For every case of Cariboo, we will plant a tree to aid in the effort to save B.C. forests from pine beetle devastation and restore areas struck by forest fires.” The brewery “has partnered with the BC Ministry of Forests and Range to Refresh & Reforest BC with over 1 million trees by 2020.” Cariboo Brewing Root Beer is made with pure spring water and cane sugar and the company describes its taste as “smooth and creamy” with “sassafras on the palate.” The brewery’s creation was made with American taste buds in mind, where the drink is most popular. So while our elections are a disaster at the moment, at least our beverages are keeping our neighbors to the north happy. And guys, save some more for us and we’ll let you know in November if we’re moving there.

Where to get: For this one, your best bet is to live near Prince George, British Columbia, Canada or contact the brewery to place an order for a 6-pack.

Nose: Standard root beer smell, similar to A&W. Some nostril hits of birch oil and mint.

Taste: Mild vanilla; subtle wintergreen; birch bark; sugar; light creaminess. There’s a really pleasant synergy of all the flavors in Cariboo’s Root Beer. No ingredient overpowers its companions. In terms of mouth feel, it’s crisp up front, but the back half is creamy. You’ll taste traditional root beer flavors like vanilla, wintergreen mint, and birch bark, along with crisp sugar. Everything is balanced. No weird aftertaste either. If I had to pick a couple elements that stand out most, I’d go with the birch oil and the vanilla – but you’ll probably have your own opinions here. Pairs well with ice too, making this root beer slightly more creamy.

Finish: The finish is short, but slightly more earthy. After the creaminess of the body fades, you’re left with the birch and wintergreen flavors that briefly linger for a couple seconds.

Rating: With a cornucopia of craft root beers on the market, so often we just need one that doesn’t let us down or try to shove as many weird flavors in a bottle as it can. Cariboo Root Beer is here to satisfy your need for a traditional, tasty mug of soda brew. It’s one of the few craft root beers out there that comes in a can instead of a bottle. Purists may scoff at this, but we can attest there’s no metallic or weird aftertaste. The British Columbia, Canada brewing company achieves great balance in its root beer with vanilla, sugar, wintergreen, and birch oil all evident in the flavor profile. It’s crisp, but also creamy – a trait that scores big points with us. It’s consistent, has strong flavor, and doesn’t try to be something it’s not. This is the dad of root beers (no offense to Dad’s Root Beer): you can depend on it to do the right things when others let you down. One element I’d like to see brought out more is the vanilla. You get bits and pieces of it and can taste how Cariboo has done a great job with that flavor, but I think it needs to shine more. Overall, this is delicious. I’d have a hard time seeing any root beer purist or novice not enjoying this. If you’re all aboot (Canada pun? √) root beer, do yourself a favor and get in touch with your Canadian brethren for a tasty north of the border treat.

Four Stars