Frïsa: Black Currant Rosehip

History: You want some of that fancy soda? That stuff that makes you wanna throw on a robe and a crown and just do the Vince McMahon strut down the street as you drink it? Boy, do we have a beverage for you. Frïsa touts itself as “an ultra-premium European botanical beverage,” according to company general manager and COO Casey Beard. Do you already not feel a little more regal just having read that? Beard continues saying, “all of our ingredients are all natural, gluten free, non-GMO and Kosher certified. We made sure we used the best of the best when crafting FRÏSA… even our water is sourced from the Pyrenes.” Hold on. What? That’s right. Mountain water. European mountain water from the Iberian Peninsula is in every cute, stubby bottle. Ironically, Frïsa is not produced in Europe, but rather the cold tundra of Minneapolis, Minnesota and it was founded in early 2015. Each drink is also under 100 calories per serving. But what separates Frïsa from other sodas is the botanicals it uses. Botanicals usually refer to ingredients like herbs, spices, or floral notes that impart a unique flavor not often found in most soda. And Beard doesn’t hide the fact that his company is trying to be different. “We saw the need and opportunity for an alternative to the Cokes and Pepsis of the world but needed to put a spin on it,” he tells us. Frïsa’s most popular flavor is Elderflower, but its most interesting flavor in our opinion is black currant rosehip. Here’s the thing: we don’t know what black currant is, much less how it tastes. Beard lets us know we aren’t crazy, saying that black currant is a “more common ingredient in Europe where it is widely cultivated and consumed,” before adding that its best American comparison is the blackberry or marionberry. He calls the drink “refined and sophisticated,” yet “light and refreshing.” Listen, I’m already on my high horse so you don’t have to sell me on drinking it or the aesthetics. I just hope my taste buds get treated with a similar royal experience.

Buy: Frïsa Store

Nose: Strong grape juice smells, though a little bit more of a sophisticated grape/berry scent, ala wine.

Taste: Tart; berry; grape; light cherry; tangy; frothy. The standouts in this soda are the frothy carbonation combined with a strong tartness. The two contrast one another nicely. The flavor is something along the lines of a tangy grape and black cherry hybrid floating on a cloud of thick, but soft carbonation. The tartness comes from the use of lemon juice, but you don’t really taste lemon, per se. That tart and tangy flavor manifests itself in the form of a berry taste. There’s also just the faintest hint of floral notes. Like a grown up carbonated grape juice with an infusion of cherry.

Finish: Berry tartness that slowly fades in favor of light floral notes.

Rating: Frïsa continues to cement itself as an artisan soda brand of the future. The company walks a fine line of soda vs. carbonated juice, but that’s only because the flavors they use taste so fresh. Black currant rosehip is no exception. If there was ever such a thing as fresh-squeezed soda, this is it. The flavors are bold and bright. You’ll taste a hybrid grape and dark berry flavor with an accompanying cherry kick. But what stands out most is the tartness. It’s the shining star of the soda. It intensifies all of the flavors in the bottle in a positive way. It’s tangy, but not sour. For some, this may be a little too acidic, but I think for most it’ll be a refreshing new take on berry soda. The one area I’d like to see improved is the floral taste on the soda’s finish. I need to taste that a little bit more in the soda’s body before I can give this five stars. If you didn’t tell people there was rosehip natural extract in this soda, most wouldn’t even notice it. Beyond that, Frïsa’s black currant rosehip is fruity, sophisticated, and bold. It’s like simultaneously visiting the vineyards of California and the beaches of Miami at the same time, yet not coming back with an overpriced bottle you’ll never drink or a tattoo you’ll always regret. The bottom line is that this young company makes good stuff and black currant rosehip continues the trend.

Four Stars

NORKA Beverage: Orange

History: I recently had a conversation with a friend about her haul from a popular midwest craft soda store. “I got one that was blue, one that had a cat on the label, and one with a really cool bottle shape,” she said. Michael Considine would turn over in his grave if he was sitting with us. Considine (who is actually not dead, the previous phrase just seemed fitting) is the owner and founder of Akron, Ohio’s NORKA Beverage, a brand with roots all the way back to the 1920’s. The company’s old tagline was “tasting better” and Considine says his goal is to keep the current version of the company in line with that same mentality. For NORKA, it’s not about fancy labels or gimmick flavors; they care about the flavor of the liquid inside the bottle. “Craft soda is such a unique industry full of passion and pride,” says Considine. He’s not wrong, but you could also throw in a third word: nostalgia. And NORKA epitomizes nostalgia to the fullest. The brand originated back in the 1920’s when local soda bottlers were more common than craft beer brewers. NORKA comes from Akron, Ohio. If you didn’t notice, the brand’s name is A-k-r-o-n spelled backwards. Don’t face palm, most of us didn’t realize it either. The company existed until 1962 when it liquidated and disappeared. Its rebirth happened totally by chance. Considine recalls having lunch with his father and seeing an old bottle in the restaurant. “I had no idea Akron had its own soft drink…. It was a cool opportunity to bring something back in the beverage industry” he says. Considine went as far as to research the company’s original labeling designs and ingredients lists. In 2015, NORKA was born anew.

Orange soda is a classic in the industry, yet it’s probably the flavor most overlooked in the NORKA Beverage line. The company is famous for its cherry-strawberry flavor, but according to Considine, orange is its most “refreshing” soda. He tells us that instead of creating a soda with a candy orange flavor like others, NORKA “wanted to return to natural orange taste that’s crisp, refreshing and light.” He added that it was equally important for the soda to not feel thick or have a heavy aftertaste. NORKA orange soda contains no caffeine, like all of the company’s flavors. The company also uses natural flavors in its recipes along with cane sugar and no gluten. Personally, it feels like orange soda is one of the classics that has kind of fallen by the wayside. It’s not going anywhere, but it’s not really advancing. Brands would rather make flavors that cross flowers and fruits or something savory and something sweet. So it’s nice to see a newer (older?) brand sticking to their guns and honoring a flavor that all of our grandparents grew up drinking.

Buy: NORKA StoreSummit City SodaAmazon • Soda Emporium

Nose: A dead-ringer for Sunny D. Uncanny. Have to say this definitely smells artificial, despite the company’s rep for using natural flavors. Hopefully it’s just the smell.

Taste: Big orange flavor, bold, mild zest, Sunny D. The orange flavor here is unrelenting. It’s closer to the Sunny D (only carbonated) taste you were used to as a kid as opposed to a retro orange soda like Slice. It has a light mouth feel, but is bursting with orange flavor. Maybe even a little bit of a San Pellegrino influence here too, but this really reminds us of a carbonated Sunny D with bolder orange notes, and as such the taste definitely has an artificial twang to it.

Finish: Smooth, almost buttery orange. Exquisite. The best part of the soda, unquestionably.

Rating: When you think orange soda, you probably conjure up images of Sunkist, Fanta, or maybe something like Crush – NORKA orange soda is like none of those. Instead, think of this flavor as a smarter, distant cousin of Sunny D. It boasts a strange combination of bold, authentic orange oils and childhood, artificial orange drink flavors. It’s light. It’s easy to drink. And it has one of the most sensational finishes in an orange soda we’ve ever tasted. But the development of the soda definitely doesn’t have what I’d consider to be a “craft” soda flavor. There’s something off here. It’s too close to Sunny D. Remember that friend in high school that hung out in your group, and no one really had a problem with them in the halls… but you definitely weren’t inviting them to the party? Yeah… that’s what NORKA orange soda is like. It’s friendly, it’s drinkable, but I probably wouldn’t put it in my top three orange sodas or stock it in my fridge. Still, it’s worth a shot just for the creamy, buttery orange notes that come through at the end of each sip. It’s a safe bet, but likely won’t blow you away.

Empire Bottling: Olde Rhode Island Molasses Root Beer

History: In a saturated landscape where root beer is king, craft soda is constantly looking for the next eye-popping thing within the category. Olde Rhode Island Molasses Root Beer might just be the one. Ignore the ugly label that looks like it was designed by a seven year-old; the reason to be infatuated by this root beer is in the flavor. Founder and President of Gardena, California’s Real Soda in Real Bottles, Danny Ginsburg, tells us “it’s got a molasses – brown sugar aura about it which makes it stand out from the other brands.” Ginsburg is the self-titled “Soda Sommelier.” If there’s someone who knows more or is more obsessive about soda in the world than him… I don’t want to meet that person. Real Soda in Real Bottles is one of the largest craft soda distributors in the world. They actually produce a lot of flavors as well, but Olde Rhode Island Molasses Root Beer is produced specifically for their company by Empire Bottling, an old school Northeastern U.S.-based craft soda company. To be fair, Real Soda came up with the soda’s name and concept, and yes, it is actually made in Rhode Island. Ginsburg gives us his own critique of the root beer, saying it “reminds me of being in an old sweet shop in the Northeast way back when. Not just another foamy sweet brown drink.” If you’re not intrigued by this, you probably don’t enjoy soda. Admittedly, I don’t really put molasses on a lot of things and given a choice I’d opt for honey but as a sweetening agent in soda, sign me up. We’re always down to get weird and you should be too. Between the label and the idea of molasses in my soda, it really hits me right in the nostalgia tinglies.

Buy: Specialty SodasSoda EmporiumSoda4U

Nose: Smells exactly like those old fashioned root beer hard candies.

Taste: Wintergreen; tangy and thick; sugar; mild spices; mild creaminess. This definitely does have an older taste to it. What I mean by that is older root beer recipes often are more savory and less sweet. Olde Rhode Island Molasses Root Beer is full of mostly mint and tangy flavors. You get a lot of wintergreen in the body. I think it’s fair to call that the dominant flavor in this soda. But there’s also a semisweet tanginess, which I assume comes from the molasses. If you haven’t tried or don’t remember, molasses is very thick and has a bittersweet tanginess to it. In a more subdued form, that definitely comes through in the root beer’s body. There’s also some decent creaminess, but I think a lot of that comes from the root beer’s frothy carbonation rather than any flavor. Good mouthfeel. Wintergreen and tangy sweetness define the flavor profile of Olde Rhode Island Molasses Root Beer.

Finish: Creamy, yet tangy mint with a more noticeable influence from the molasses. Kind of an awkward flavor.

Rating: Olde Rhode Island Molasses Root Beer is one for fans of mint. This is clearly an older root beer recipe because there isn’t a lot of flavor variation, minimal use of spices, and more savoriness than sweetness. That’s not to say this doesn’t taste like soda. It does. But the strong wintergreen and tangy molasses flavors are much more prominent than sugar and vanilla. The latter two ingredients are popular in more modern root beers. You won’t taste those here. Props to Empire Bottling for getting the molasses flavor to come through. They do a good job of infusing that bittersweet tangy taste that molasses contains. At the same time, I’m left wanting a little more from this. Beyond strong wintergreen, tangy sugar, and frothy carbonation there isn’t much to the flavor profile. Again, if you like minty root beers, I think there’s a good reason for you to seek this out. If you prefer creamier vanilla-heavy root beers or ones rich in spices, this may not be for you. In our opinion, it’s not bad, just not special. The molasses flavor is certainly unique and something you won’t find in more than a handful of root beers, so it does have a major selling point. I’m just not sure everyone will be buying.

Three Stars

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!