Day: February 28, 2015

Old City Soda: Lemon Soda

History: Old City Soda is one of the new kids on the block in craft soda. Hailing from Cleveland, Ohio, Old City Soda’s owner, Mike Gulley, sought to harken back to the way soda used to be made in the old days with craft and care. He wanted to blend the old methods with new ideas, flavors and fresh ingredients. Gulley started making ginger beer back in 2011 at a Cleveland restaurant called Paragon. That led to a soda-making series at The Cleveland Flea. If that site doesn’t tickle your inner-hipster, then you aren’t drinking enough green smoothies or wearing enough accessories. In 2013, he launched his own soda line. Like several newer faces in the craft soda industry, Gulley targeted his beverages to pair with alcohol. What really stands out are the flavors. Lemon soda? Cinnamon soda? Hibiscus? Who does that? And most Old City Sodas clock in at under 100 calories. The company name even has a cool little backstory. “Altstadt” was a common name in Gulley’s family ancestry. It stands for “the old city.” In fact, his grandparents still maintain a newsletter called the “Old City Beacon.” The bear you see on the company’s soda bottles even comes from the family crest. It’s all cyclical… revolutions, my friend. Here’s a note for all you health-conscious folk; to ensure freshness, the company does not pasteurize or use preservatives in its products. You actually have to keep the bottles refrigerated or the ingredients go bad much faster. The time from bottling to your mouth is only a matter of days. Flavor potency and authenticity are what this new kid on the block prides itself upon.

Where to get: Gulley and his business partners are still a small operation. They’re working on distribution at the moment. Until then, they’re open to larger orders directly through their website. You can also subscribe there to get the latest updates.

Nose: Lemon meringue pie; lemon juice; light key lime.

Taste: Lemon juice, light sugar. This is lemon soda, not lemon-lime soda. It’s simple and light. That said, the lemon flavor is strong on the first couple sips. Could overwhelm some people. The flavor is very natural. This tastes like someone squeezed a bunch of real lemons in here, which is nice and refreshing. (The soda does contain 20% juice. You’d swear it was more). The more you drink this, the more the sugar comes through. A majority of Old City Sodas contain under 100 calories, so the sugar is never going to be a critical part of the flavor, but it does a nice job mellowing out the strong lemon you get in the beginning. This soda was geared toward being a mixer and when mixed with alcohol, the lemon is nearly perfect, light and full of citrus-infused flavor.

Finish: Pure lemon juice that tails off into a faint key lime flavor. If you drink this quickly, the carbonation brings out more of a bold sugar flavor in the finish.

Rating: This is a soda that lives two lives. On its own, it’s the ultimate sipping soda. A beverage that amplifies in flavor and drinkability on every sip. However, this is also its potential downfall with consumers. The lemon zip is abrupt and up front on the first couple drinks. It’s a little, “Hey, I just met you and you can’t put your hands there yet.” But give it time, baby. It’ll woo you as you get to know it better. The lemon really mellows over time. It’s highly suggested you take your time with this beverage as opposed to downing it in 10 minutes. The lemon has a nice, natural flavor and a palatable amount of zing. It probably isn’t something you’d consistently drink on its own unless you’re a citrus buff, but it’s nice for a hot summer day. This soda has another side though, the one for which it was intended. On its own, its a summertime sipper, but pair it with vodka or gin and this becomes a liquid party. In fact, Gulley noted this is basically an instant Tom Collins in a bottle, minus alcohol. He was right. For those who think the natural lemon flavor might be too strong to drink as a soda, it really lightens out in a cocktail. Its lemon punch cuts the alcohol, yet provides considerable refreshing citrus flavor. Careful, drinking too many happened to us happens. For those who enjoy citrus or those who enjoy sipping beverages, give this a try on its own. For those who’re looking to have a good time and like their nights in a highball glass, try this with booze. And if you don’t like either of those, then we probably shouldn’t hang out.

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Vermont Sweet Water: Maple Soda

History: When you think of Vermont, let’s be honest, one of the only things that comes to mind is maple syrup. And maybe cold weather. People love maple-flavored things. Donuts, bacon, ham, candy… why not soda? Vermont Sweetwater in Poultney, Vermont (we checked, it’s real) is here to answer your maple needs. These people LOVE maple syrup. Case in point, the company’s signature product, maple seltzer, was born out of an idea brothers Bob and Rich Münch had after literally just drinking sap. But honestly… what else do you do in a town of less than 2,000 people? Eventually, customers wanted a sweeter, bolder version of the maple seltzer. So in 1996, the family created maple soda. Each 12 oz. bottle contains one ounce of pure Vermont maple syrup. Not maple cream or maple root beer, just maple. This baby really relies on the maple syrup to power its flavor because the only other ingredient in it is carbonated water. Out of the nine flavors Vermont Sweetwater produces today, their maple seltzer and soda still power the business.

Where to get: You can oder any of the company’s sodas on its website in either 6-packs or cases of 24. Or if you have some weird aversion to buying outside of bigger retailers, Amazon also has the hook up.

Nose: Odd odor; funk; watered-covered pancakes.

Taste: Bitter; funk; watery syrup. Their are only two ingredients in this soda: carbonated water and maple syrup. The maple flavor comes through at the end, but it’s mostly absorbed by the carbonated water. The result is a watered-down, funky maple taste that is hard to take in. Unpleasant and abrupt. This does not taste like maple syrup. It doesn’t taste like maple cream soda. It doesn’t even taste like artificial maple flavoring. It does, however, taste like maple syrup and water. The flavor permeates the sinuses immediately and rushes to the back of the throat with a carbonated punch. This soda will KO you in the early rounds.

Finish: Harsh, watery maple; shocking.

Rating: We were tremendously excited for this, and it’s with deep regret I must say it was a steep letdown. This is that feeling you had in high school after you worked up all the guts to ask the amazing girl from calculus to prom, only to find out some douche asked her that morning. It was supposed to lead to great things. It could’ve maybe even been the best night of your life. And now you have to ask Betsy, the weird girl who sits behind you and is into anime. That’s how this feels. I don’t know if Vermont Sweetwater is into anime, but this soda is the weird cousin of cream soda that you settled for instead. Its scent is straight funky and its taste doesn’t really improve on the scent. The biggest problem is that the two ingredients put together are a disaster void of decent taste with no sophisticated flavors for the palate. There are no “notes” of flavor. The smell, taste and finish are all almost identically strange and shock the senses. This was borderline undrinkable for us, and it could REALLY use some added sugar. For a company named “Vermont Sweetwater,” the most critical aspect missing from this is sweetness. If you just truly love maple syrup or have a passion for Vermont, then try this. The concept is really noble. The company is commended for sticking to its roots, for being “natural,” but damn, this needs a little sugar to enhance the maple syrup inside. What you get instead is fizzy water-flavored maple syrup. If that sounds up your alley, then maybe you’re the reason BevMo rated this five stars. Clearly, its users didn’t feel the same. If you want to be adventurous, go for it. If you just love guzzling maple syrup… then that’s weird, but go for it. We didn’t finish the bottle. It’s debatable if it was possible.

Reading Draft: Creamy Red Birch Beer

History: Reading Draft is a classic, 100% American-made, old-school soda company that’s had roots in the soda industry since 1921. Located in Reading, Pennsylvania (pronounced Red-ing), the business has been through several different phases of ownership. In 2004, it was purchased by  Martin Radvani, but his wife was the driving force. After cashing out of his own previous business, Radvani’s wife got tired of seeing him sitting around the house. When the two met with a banker about the possibility of purchasing Reading Draft, Radvani’s wife said “Give him a check” before they’d even had time to discuss. He pulled out his pen because “happy wife, happy life.” Despite the exchanging of hands multiple times, the company is still known for its handcrafted “Pennsylvania Dutch” flavor. Ah yes, now you’re intrigued. So what does that mean? Well, even the Radvani’s have a hard time putting it into words. It’s a combination of things. On its founding in 1921, Reading was a city heavily influenced by German immigrants who had settled throughout the northeast. The Germans liked their beverages made simple with a bold taste. Ever had German beer? It’s delicious and jammed with flavor. It’s that German, err, “Pennsylvania Dutch” influence that led to Reading Draft’s signature soda: beer… well, birch beer. The company actually makes four variations. Reading Draft birch beer comes in regular, white, red cream, and blueberry. The company is proud of its soda’s emphasis on flavor. “It’s an adjunct to local beers,” says Radvani. Another component unique to Reading Draft’s methods is its style of carbonation. We’ll spare you the science, but the bottom line is that their sodas are infused with lots of pinhead-sized bubbles instead of the traditional carbonated bubbles that are about the size of an eraser head. This is done to ensure a smoother mouth feel. As with most craft soda, Reading Draft uses also pure cane sugar in their recipes.

Where to get: Reading Draft soda is available through the nation. Radvani encourages the public to contact their nearest distributor to ensure the safest method of shipping. That said, the company is open to placing custom orders directly.

Nose: Cream soda; light wintergreen breath mints; yellow cake.

Taste: Creamy wintergreen; minty vanilla; sugar; soft mouth feel. This is interesting for birch beer. You’re greeted right away with that classic wintergreen flavor found in almost all birch beers, but it’s so much lighter in Reading Draft’s Creamy Red. The wintergreen only lingers for a few seconds before giving way to a light classic cream soda taste. Interesting, considering this soda is as burgundy as cheap furniture from the 70’s. You’d expect maybe a red cream bubble gum taste, but it’s definitely just vanilla tinged with mint. When we say wintergreen, don’t think mint or spearmint, despite the photo above. WINTERGREEN LEAF IS HARD TO FIND, OK?! Sorry. Basically, wintergreen is that flavor of candy grandma always has in her glass bowl that’s been there for like seven years. Hence, it’s an acquired taste. Yet, this is surprisingly easy-drinking for birch beer. The more you drink this, the bolder the flavors become. The cane sugar really helps to accentuate the mint up front and the creaminess at the end. Reading Draft does use more sugar in this recipe as opposed to their original. When paired with ice, the wintergreen really mellows out, while the creaminess becomes more noticeable.

Finish: Creaminess that rises on the back of the tongue and evaporates into wintergreen that lingers until the next sip. By the end of the bottle, the creamy aftertaste becomes more mint and less vanilla. Unique and smooth.

Rating: Typically, birch beers are an acquired taste due to their strong mint flavors found in birch oil. I liken birch beer to being the scotch of the soda world because you’re usually older by the time you start enjoying it. But this is something even kids would probably like because of its blend of traditional vanilla flavor with the classic wintergreen taste. Reading Draft’s use of extra sugar in this particular birch flavor is really nicely done and acts as a flavor enhancer as opposed to shocking the drinker’s taste buds. Kudos for pulling that off. However, the increasingly strong mint finish leaves the drinker’s taste buds a little disoriented and longing for more creaminess. While we still can’t really give you a tangible answer of what “Pennsylvania Dutch” flavor is, we can definitely recommend this deep, dark red concoction. Surprisingly easy-drinking for a soda that’s known to be a sipper. Only lumberjacks from the Northeast drink birch beer fast. But don’t worry, you don’t need to be a lumberjack to like this. A must-try for connoisseurs of birch beer for its unique take on an old original. If you’re not big into mint, this may not be for you. This is still birch beer; it’s still minty. If you’re looking for something different, but aren’t in the mood to get really experimental and try a soda with something like white balsamic in it, this is your bottle. Just don’t spill it on your clothes. It will look like you killed something.