Boots Beverages: Orange Drömsicle

History: We know. The name. You’re curious about the name, right? Cream pop? Sure. Creamsicle? Yup. Orange Drömsicle? What the F is that?!? Don’t worry, we got you. According to Boots Beverages National Director, Kim Joiner, the name ties into the roots of the Bryan, Texas-based family business. “Mark Kristen’s grandfather, Ambrose (pictured on the Sarsaparilla bottle) came over from Germany in 1862. Ambrose purchased the bottling company in February 1930.” Apparently in Germany they enjoy drömsicles. But don’t panic, everyone. This indeed is an orange cream soda. In fact, it is designed with “ultra creaminess” in mind. Joiner tells us this is the closest Boots Beverages could get to an orange cream flavor without literally putting dairy in the soda. She doesn’t pull punches when we ask what the idea behind the concept was, adding they wanted to “create the best tasting orange soda” on the market. The flavor was launched in October of 2016 as part of the second five flavors the company launched. We’ve reviewed a couple from the first round if you wanna take a peek. If you’re looking for a culinary pairing for orange drömsicle, Joiner suggests a light protein like fish or to just go all in and enjoy it with ice cream. For the more adventurous, try it with champagne poured over the top and drink in the sophistication.

Where to get: Boots Beverages StoreSummit City Soda • Soda EmporiumAntiqology

Nose: Creamy orange, huge vanilla notes, dreamsicle, orange popsicle, those little childhood fake orange drink barrels, orange popsicles. The smell on this is divine. If the taste is anywhere as good as the smell, I may slip into something more comfortable…

Taste: Tangy orange zest, orange popsicles, mild vanilla. The vanilla swirls around the other flavors like a Texas tornado. It becomes more prominent as you continue drinking the soda. The orange is tangy and refreshing right off the bat, with an authentic punch. The flavors in orange drömsicle sway back and forth between zesty orange juice with smooth, mild vanilla and candy orange popsicle with bold, velvety vanilla cream. Superb.

Finish: Mild vanilla tails off, leaving a taste of light, earthy orange zest that lingers.

Rating: This is one of the best orange cream sodas on the craft soda market. It’s orange and vanilla exquisiteness. You won’t want to stop after you start drinking this, and there’s a few reasons. The flavors are familiar, but complex. Comfortable, but challenging. Refreshing, yet bold. We can’t think of anything wrong with this is what we’re saying. The way the flavors develop as you drink it is what takes orange drömsicle to the next level. Boots Beverages carefully crafted this soda in a way that mixes flavors of your childhood and adulthood. On the arrival, the orange half of the equation tastes fresh and ripe floating along a vanilla river. As you continue drinking, the orange transforms into more of a candy popsicle taste and the vanilla becomes creamier and bolder in flavor. I love the way this evolves. It’s tangy, creamy and has just the right amount of zip on it. When a soda can make you smile, it’s done its job. Boots Beverages will likely always be most known for their masterful coconut cream soda, but orange drömsicle proves there’s a new sheriff in town.

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Natrona Bottling Company: Pennsylvania Punch

History: “It really is a one-of-a-kind product.” About halfway through my conversation with Vito Gerasole, the self-proclaimed “Sultan of Soda” and owner of Natrona Bottling Company, he drops this line that raises my eyebrow about one of his sodas. The culprit? Pennsylvania Punch, a unique take on grape soda made with almost zero carbonation. Grape soda is classic – it’s one of the first flavors I think of when I conjure up images in my head of vintage flavors. And Natrona Bottling is one of the most vintage companies out there. They’ve been around since 1904. They still use pinpoint carbonation to put CO2 in their sodas, a time-consuming, expensive process involving dry ice that produces larger quantities of finer bubbles than traditional methods. It’s a company that does things the old-fashioned way. But here’s the thing: Natrona already makes a traditional grape soda pop. So why make another with almost no carbonation? The short answer: tradition. “The recipe dates all the way back to 1924,” Gerasole tells me. Gerasole himself is an agent of tradition. Back in 2010, Natrona Bottling was a company at the brink of bankruptcy with just $4,000 in its bank account. So with the help of an angel investor, Gerasole saved Natrona, Pennsylvania’s local soda bottler. “I’m a very nostalgic person,” he admits. There was no way he was getting rid of one of the company’s original flavors. He’s honest in telling us Pennsylvania Punch “is not my most popular flavor, but certainly one of my most unique.” Essentially what we have here is a a hybrid between grape soda and Concord grape juice with the latter being more of the goal. In fact throughout most of our conversation, Gerasole refers to Pennsylvania Punch as a “grape drink.” If the name sounds familiar to some of you in the northeast, you might be thinking of “Delaware Punch,” a drink similar in concept but made with high fructose corn syrup instead of cane sugar. We’re pretty excited to try this one just to figure out what’s going on here.

Where to get: Natrona Bottling ShopAntiqology StoreGalco’s 

Nose: Grape Sprees, artificial grape candy, liquid Dimetapp (don’t hate… I love that smell).

Taste: Sweet candy grape, smooth, sugary, very light carbonation. I see now why Gerasole referred to this as a “grape drink” because there’s hardly any carbonation in this soda. Just a touch of it on the finish. That said, the grape flavor is strong – more purple than green grape and more artificial and candy-like than actual grape juice. This is very grape-y and very sweet, but at the same time it’s also smooth and even kind of refreshing. The flavor is very much an old fashioned one. Fans of grape soda will enjoy.

Finish: Tangy purple grape flavor that lingers. This is actually where I taste the carbonation most. It kind of fizzes on your tongue at the very end of each sip.

Rating: What fun little grape soda… er, drink? Pennsylvania Punch tries to tow the line between grape soda and grape juice, but at the end of the day it’s sort of both. It has the sweetness and artificial grape flavor of a classic grape soda without most of the traditional carbonation. Despite the very sweet taste and the lack of bubbles, this is not syrupy. In fact, it’s pretty clean and easy to drink. I love the tanginess on the finish too as a nice little nuance. On a hot day by the pool, I could guzzle this like my uncles does a sixer of Michelob Light, except I won’t call my ex and then black out while my grill’s still on. Hope you aren’t reading this, uncle Dave. My one qualm with this soda is that it’s very, very sugary. I think kids will love it, but adults may be more apt to drink Natrona’s regular grape soda because carbonation typically pulls back that sugar factor a little bit. Pennsylvania Punch is a treat to be enjoyed on a warm day, but I probably couldn’t go past a bottle or two before needing insulin. That said, I’d definitely recommend it if you’re looking for a refreshing fruit soda or something to drink outside at a barbecue or pool session. Pennsylvania Punch: it’s familiar, but different. Only the best companies can successfully put new twists on something old, and in this case, Natrona’s been doing it since 1924. Go see what they’re all about.

Oogave: Horchata

History: Oogave’s Horchata is a interesting bottle of flavor to welcome us back to the craft soda game after nearly a year-long sabbatical. To our knowledge, they’re the only company in the world besides Rocketfizz (and let’s be real, Rocketfizz… actually never mind, we don’t want to get in trouble) that has converted this milky, cinnamon and vanilla-forward drink into an effervescent carbonated form. For those not in the know, horchata is a beverage that originated in Spain made using cinnamon, vanilla, and tiger nuts, which look like what you’d expect if peanuts and cranberries got together and had an ugly kid. In America, where tiger nuts aren’t as popular, rice is often used as a substitute. Oogave is a brand owned by Rocky Mountain Soda Co. out of Denver, Colorado and as one might guess, they use agave syrup instead of cane sugar to sweeten their sodas. Fun fact: according to co-founder and flavor creator Drew Fulton, the company specifically uses organic Blue Weber light premium agave, the same type of agave used in high-end tequila, to create their syrup. It takes seven years(!!!) to age the agave until its ready to to use in Oogave soda. Dawg, the age of the agave used in this soda is older than most small children. Agave syrup is also actually sweeter than cane sugar, so it takes less of it to make Oogave sodas, meaning they’re lower in calories than most craft sodas. All Oogave sodas are also organic and vegan-friendly.

Oogave Horchata was introduced in 2017 and its inspiration is directly linked to food, according to Fulton. He goes on, saying “Denver has a really great Mexican and hispanic food scene” and that the first thing he does after getting back in town from a road trip is hit up his favorite taco stand where he noshes on green chiles and tacos al pastor. We won’t divulge his secret spot, but he gushes that they make “dank” horchata and that’s he had the idea to turn it into a soda for “three of four years.” Fulton says he wanted to balance the crisp and refreshing elements of a lighter craft soda with the “darker cinnamon, spice flavor and some caramel notes” that are present in horchata. We’ll give him credit. He’s swinging for the fences here. Usually these types of offbeat flavors are love-it or hate-it with no in between. I’m skeptical. But I can’t help myself.

Where to get: Rocky Mountain Soda StoreAmazon • Or find your local retailer here.

Nose: Earthy – not as much sweetness as I’d expect from a drink based on cinnamon and vanilla. Mild vanilla and caramel. Oaerall kind of like a very mild cream soda scent.

Taste: Creamy cinnamon, tangy vanilla that lingers, mild red hots, caramel, soft carbonation. The taste is so much different from the smell and it’s delicious. The first flavor of Oogave Horchata you notice is this creamy cinnamon that evolves as you drink it from almost like a cinnamon cream soda into an earthier, but mild red hot flavor. The backbone of the soda though, is a light, tangy vanilla flavor. It’s hard to describe another soda I’ve tasted it in; it’s a different vanilla flavor than one you find in cream sodas or root beers. More pulled back in terms of boldness, but there’s a zip to it that makes it stand out. A signature tangy taste that when combined with the cinnamon and mild caramel notes, really plays well. This is light and refreshing i.e. lemon lime, but with flavors foreign to that style of soda. It combines elements from different genres of craft soda into a whole new drinking experience.

Finish: The finish is light and crisp with subdued cinnamon and vanilla flavors. The carbonation really stands out here. It’s light and frothy and doesn’t overpower the flavors like some sodas. It’s such a hard experience to wrap my head around because the main flavors – vanilla and cinnamon – are typically associated with sodas that sit heavy in the mouth and the stomach. That’s not the case here. This is refreshing and inviting.

Rating: I gotta be honest – I was pretty hesitant about this at first. Not even based on the flavor, but because of the agave. To me, the backbone of craft soda is pure cane sugar, so to go in a totally different direction raised flags. But Oogave Horchata is proof that great craft soda is not bound by traditional ingredients or flavors. “Organic has the connotation of being good for you, but not good-tasting. We want to dispel that,” says Fulton. This is master craft at its finest, a rare feat of taking an unknown flavor from one sector of the culinary world and infusing it into another seamlessly. It’s crisp, refreshing, yet also sweet and comforting. Even if you’re not a horchata drinker or haven’t even heard of it, these flavors are familiar. Warm vanilla and lush cinnamon dance along the tongue and are pulled back from the shore by a final wave of crisp carbonation. It’s nicely carbonated and the flavors aren’t overbearing. Nothing gets in the way or overpowers anything else in this soda. The agave, dare I say, makes this even smoother? This is best served ice cold out of the bottle or with finely chopped ice in a glass. If you’re into the cocktail scene, try it with a dark rum floater, per the soda’s creator. I’m telling you, take a risk on this thing. It won’t let you down. It’s one of the best sodas we’ve had in the last year. Easily.

Boots Beverages: Dewberry

History: Soda is one of those beverage categories that is so whimsical in nature, sometimes the flavors are ideas that could only be concocted in one’s imagination. When we sifted through the line of sodas Boots Beverages offers, we assumed their “dewberry” soda was one of those flavors. Because honestly, doesn’t a dewberry sound like something only a weird, little Pokemon would feed on? Like “oh look kids, it’s a wild Squitle gorging himself full of luscious dewberries!” So to clear up the confusion we went straight to the source and asked Boots Beverages what was up with the soda’s name. National director and PR wizard Kim Rank explains “‘dewberry’ is literally the name of the berry. It’s not a blackberry, nor is it a raspberry. It grows wild in certain zones of the Northern Hemisphere and certainly flourishes in Texas.” Turns out, she’s right. And it makes sense that the Bryan, Texas-based company would craft a soda based on a popular Texas berry. So we can check that box off. It’s an unusual flavor to say the least, but it’s nothing out of the ordinary for Boots Beverages. They take that same out-of-the-box approach every single day according to third generation owner, Mark Kristen. “I guess it’s the same insanity that’s inspired all our flavors,” he says of the idea to restart the business. That’s right. This isn’t the first incarnation of Boots Beverages. The company dates all the way back to Mark Kristen’s grandfather in 1930 who was eventually succeeded by Kristen’s father and the company’s namesake “Boots” Kristen. Due to dry spell, Boots packed up their spurs and headed back to the ranch in 1962 until Kristen decided it was time for Texas to get an infusion of flavor again in 2013. The company’s line of eclectic sodas ranges from the award-winning coconut cream to lemon meringue to caramel apple. And, of course, the mysterious dewberry.

Despite the sarcastic ignorance we’re portraying, dewberry is one of Boots Beverages’ most sought-after sodas. Rank tells us it’s typically the company’s second or third bestseller right behind their sarsaparilla root beer. It was designed to mimic the flavors of real dewberry, which Rank describes as “a cross between blackberries and raspberries, with a slight grape-like note.” She adds that the flavor didn’t take long to perfect. “When you’ve been around Dewberry Cobbler all your life, it becomes second nature to you. It’s Texas and it’s home.” There’s something so homely about that statement. It takes me back to childhood when my grandma would cook cobbler with ice cream for my grandpa and I. Grandpa was usually more occupied with Irish Whiskey and Wheel of Fortune, but I loved it. Dewberry was one of the five original flavors introduced when Boots reopened in 2013. Rank admits not a lot of people know what a dewberry is outside of Texas, but apparently that hasn’t stopped them from trying it. Don’t worry, it won’t stop us either. Last year the company introduced five more flavors, bringing their line to 10 and are currently focused on distributing their sodas as fountain drinks in addition to selling them in the traditional glass bottles.

Where to get: Boots Beverages online store • HEB • Summit City Soda

Nose: It took me a minute to figure out the scent, but I got it. Mixed Berry Fruit Snacks. I used to eat these in unhealthy quantities in middle school. There’s a very berry scent to these. Kind of like Berry Fruit Roll-Ups too. Like a mixture of blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries.

Taste: Mixed berry; blueberry; blackberry; mild tartness; raspberry sno cone. Dewberry Soda tastes a lot like it smells; there’s lots and lots of berry flavors. I think the combination of blackberry and blueberry stand out the most. The two flavors coalesce to form a swirling dark berry base flavor. I also taste some candied raspberry notes – it’s kind of like a melted black raspberry sno cone flavor. It’s a very fruity soda. It’s also very carbonated, which is something you don’t see often in fruit sodas. When you pour it, a thick head forms. Looks good, tastes great.

Finish: Slightly tart, but still sweet blueberries that linger and then fade.

Rating: Dewberry soda is one of Boots Beverages’ most impressive offerings. It has a crisp, refreshing, and fruity berry taste that goes down smooth. It’s sweet like a traditional glass-bottled soda while balancing the flavors of blueberry, blackberry, and raspberry excellently. It also uses Quillaja extract, a foaming agent, in the recipe so it has a high-rising frothy purple head when poured in a glass. Blackberry and blueberry are the two main take away flavors from the soda, while candy raspberry hangs in the background. The blueberry tastes most authentic, while the raspberry tastes more like how it’s typically used in sno cones. Imagine someone gave you a bottle of Berry Juicy Juice, carbonated it, and slapped a picture of a slightly evil-looking young boy with a 1950’s haircut on the bottle; this is essentially what you have in dewberry soda from Boots Beverages. It also has a really beautiful purple hue that will turn your tongue a different color, which is the most action my tongue has gotten in the past couple months. I write about soda on the Internet… the ladies don’t exactly line up at my door. If I could make one suggestion for this soda, it’d be to make it a little more tart. Perhaps up the citric acid. But all in all, this is superbly delicious and should be tried by all. This is one of the best berry sodas on the market with a perfect blend of authentic and candy fruit flavors. You may not know exactly what a dewberry is, but that shouldn’t stop you from drinking in all its glory.

Four Stars

Fentimans: Rose Lemonade

History: You can thank Indian food for this review… but we’ll come back to that. Fentimans does things the old fashioned way, in part because their company is, well, old. The British-based beverage producer actually brews their sodas like you would a beer, using fermented ginger root. They’re famous for the use of herbs and spices in their drinks, hence the term “botanically brewed” on every label. It was 1905 when an iron puddler in Clarkheaton, England by the name of Thomas Fentiman inherited a recipe for a botanically brewed ginger beer as collateral for a loan. That loan was never repaid, so Fentiman became the owner. To this day ginger beer is still the company’s leading seller, according to Fentimans North American Sales and Marketing Coordinator, Karyssa Veltri. Right behind it? Rose Lemonade, a carbonated take on the category with a color so pretty we almost considered not drinking it. Almost. Now, back to the Indian food thing. Veltri tells us rose lemonade “was inspired by our owner enjoying a dish at his favorite Indian restaurant which used rose petals” and that “the idea started with the aroma and moved on from there.” It’s the details behind the recipe that really make this soda (we’ve calling it soda because it’s carbonated just like all their other sodas). “We use only the finest Bulgarian rose oil from the world famous Rose Valley in Kazanlak. This source has been chosen specifically for the multi-layered aroma and natural taste of the oil,” says Veltri. For those of you unfamiliar with the Bulgarian Rose Valley, it looks like the place where all the Victoria’s Secret models are probably born. But it’s not just rose oil that gives Fentimans Rose Lemonade its signature flavor. You’ll also taste fermented ginger (as with all of the brand’s sodas) as well as “real lemon juice to deliver sharpness.” And it all comes in the Fentimans’ signature 9.3 oz bottle, known for the short, stubby body and long, skinny neck. Rose lemonade contains real sugar, is vegan-friendly, and uses no preservatives. Veltri notes that all Fentimans’ sodas “are pasteurized to give them a long shelf life” as opposed to using chemicals or preservatives. She also mentions that it’s a popular mixer with vodka and gin. Between the eye-catching pink hue and the extravagant use of Bulgarian rose oil in the recipe, I’m more than sold on wanting to find out just how beautiful rose lemonade tastes. My only hope is that this rose doesn’t have its thorns.

Buy: MyBrands Online Store • JetWalmart • Amazon • World Market (single bottles). You can also find your local retailer by checking here.

Nose: Floral, rose water, rose oils, mild citrus. Pleasant.

Taste: Tart, floral, lemon, rose petals, rose oils. One of the first elements you’ll notice is the tartness and how upfront it is in the soda. This is very tart, almost bitter. Those flavors are wrapped inside a blanket of floral notes. Light and fruity, you’ll taste mostly sweet rose water and rose oils that mix with the citrus to form a more balanced drink near the back end of its development in the mouth. This packs a tart citrus bang on the arrival that gets toned down once the rose oil notes blend with the lemon. Fentimans Rose Lemonade is tart, bright, and memorable. Slightly sweet and fairly acidic.

Finish: Mild rose petals with frothy, but tact carbonation punctuated by fleeting notes of lemon citrus that linger briefly before fading.

Rating: Fentimans knows how to make soda and their rose lemonade is no exception. While we don’t normally think of lemonade as soda, this is a carbonated lemonade made in small batches with real sugar and authentic ingredients. If it’s not craft soda, then the experts have been fooled. What surprised us most about Fentimans Rose Lemonade is just how astringent and acidic it is in the mouth. You’re greeted by a tartness that quickly becomes the soda’s signature. You’ll also taste sweet floral notes and rose oils throughout the body of the drink, but tart lemon citrus anchors the overall flavor. It’s a little jarring at first, but your palate should adjust. Perhaps this was done to counter the foreign flavor of rose oil. We mostly think of roses as flowers instead of tasting notes, unless you’re my dogs, in which case, you are very familiar with the taste of roses and all flowers for that matter. Anyway, when most of us encounter a flavor we aren’t used to, our brains process it as overpowering. The bold tartness in rose lemonade takes your mind off the floral notes for just long enough so that your taste buds can adjust as the two flavors eventually meld together. I’m not a flavor scientist and I don’t work for Fentimans, but I’m guessing my reasoning is almost spot-on. Or maybe not. Regardless, the sweet notes of rose oil and bold citrus flavors dance together in a way that leaves a lasting impression. This is a soda you won’t soon forget. It may not be an everyday beverage, but its presence should raise eyebrows at any get-together.

Virgil’s: Cream Soda

History: If you’ve ever taken a stroll through your local health food store or maybe Whole Foods, you’ve probably seen a bunch of sodas with names you’ve never heard of. Except one: Virgil’s. The company is owned by ginger beer giant Reeds, Inc. It’s about as close to an all-natural soda as you can buy. All Virgil’s sodas are made with real sugar, natural extracts, and herbs and spices. The brand spans from the eccentric Flying Cauldron Butterbeer to the revered Bavarian Nutmeg Root Beer. Founder and CEO Chris Reed says the company is “about fun and creating an endearing product to both the company and the customers.” Outside of ginger beer, root beer is king at Virgil’s, but they also feature all of the standard craft soda flavors, including the cream soda we’re reviewing here. The company goes as far as saying “We decided to make a cream soda that would rival the super premium quality of our root beer.” The cream soda has been around since 2004 and according to Reeds, Inc. Sales Operations and Marketing Manager Todd Engstrum, it was designed “to taste like a true craft soda.” The company’s website also says the soda’s recipe contains “the finest vanilla beans and unrefined cane sugar.” We know it took a year to fine tune the recipe and beyond that, Virgil’s is keeping the rest of the soda’s secrets tight-lipped. Good thing we aren’t. Let’s investigate.

Buy: Virgil’s StoreAmazon

Nose: Classic cream soda nose: deep vanilla and soft, creamy caramel. Reminiscent of an older cream soda like Shasta.

Taste: Vanilla, tangy, creamy, sugar. The first striking feature of Virgil’s Cream Soda is the sweetness. It’s upfront and bold. The cane sugar hits you first before the main flavors come in. This is a sugary-tasting soda. Once you get past that, you’ll taste big notes of vanilla extract. It’s a creamy, old fashioned vanilla taste that takes us millennials back to childhood. I think what stands out most about the flavor of this soda, more than the vanilla or the sugar, is the tanginess. I can’t quite place why it’s present. It’s a combination of tangy vanilla and sugar. When the two intersect, they seem to collide dramatically in a way you aren’t used to in cream soda. It leaves an odd taste in the mouth. This is rich, sugary, and tangy. And perhaps more than anything… puzzling.

Finish: Deep, sugary caramel notes that linger and then fade. This is the only part of the soda where the caramel from the nose reveals itself.

Rating: When your nostrils are blessed by the smells of Virgil’s Cream Soda, you’re certain that you’re in for a masterpiece, but the execution isn’t quite flawless. To be fair, this is a perfectly good cream soda. It has nice vanilla flavors and a sweet, cream caramel finish. But the development of this soda is hindered by a funky, sugary tang that’s hard to get past. This is already an excessively sweet cream soda, but when you combine the sugar levels with the strange vanilla tanginess, it raises a questionable eyebrow. Not like a Dwayne Johnson I’m-about-to-make-a-$240 million-sequel-eyebrow, but a hey-I-think-the-weird-neighbor-is-taking-a-bath-in-our-pool-again sort of eyebrow. The bottom line is that the flavor here is at first familiar, then jarring. Creamy vanilla shouldn’t be tangy. It should just be velvety smooth. Again, the vanilla flavor is great before the tang comes in, and the finish is very solid. I just wish those two elements were more present in the soda’s body. Look, there’s potential here and a lot of people are going to like this, especially young kids. It’s worth a try, I’m just not sure I’d put it in the upper echelon of cream sodas.

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.