Harvey and Vern’s: Ginger Beer

History: It’s refreshing when a company understands itself and its purpose. “It’s authentic. We know what we want. It’s about the good old days,” says Paul Meeks, owner of Kichesippi Beer Company. Paul and I have a 15-minute conversation about his soda business, Harvey and Vern’s. Paul’s voice is soft, friendly, and always understanding. I too understand myself and my purpose, and I’d now like to get a few words out of my system: Moose. Maple Syrup. Poutine. Hockey. Friendly. Eh. Tim Horton’s. Paul will appreciate this show of authenticity, even if it does reveal I’m secretly nine years-old. Because if you haven’t guessed, Paul and his company are from Canada… Ottawa, to be exact. After the success of their brewery, it was was Meeks’ wife, Kelly, who decided they were versed enough in beer to branch out and try soda. Harvey and Vern’s is all about harkening back to simpler times. Harvey was Meeks’ grandfather, a farmer; Vern is Kelly’s father; a doctor – both traditional, hard-working jobs that suited the nature of what Meeks and his wife wanted in their small business soda brand. As a child Meeks would go from his family farm to the river and back to the farm, but not before stopping in to buy some vintage glass bottle sodas on the way home. The company tries to capture that childhood nostalgia and bottle it in the form of three flavors: root beer, cream soda, and ginger beer. Everything is all-natural: no sodium benzoate, no added colors and only cane sugar as a sweetener. Today, we try our first Canadian soda – Harvey and Vern’s Ginger Beer. Fun fact: Paul was born in Jamaica and chose the ginger beer’s flavor. While he wasn’t trying to enter the cocktail market, he says “The number of Dark and Stormy’s poured in Ottawa has definitely increased.” The company will be introducing a fourth flavor to its soda line in April of 2015.

Where to get: Harvey and Vern’s is distributed throughout Quebec and Ontario, reaching somewhere between 250 grocery stores, cafes, and food trucks. But what about the Americans, eh? The company is currently talking to distributers in the states and hope to have an online store set up by sometime in May of 2015. If you need to get your little paws on it before then, contact the company directly and they’ll work with you on an order. Just be prepared to pay shipping… the only downside of glass bottles.

Nose: Pure, ground ginger. Buckle up.

Taste: Strong ginger; heat in the nostrils; light sugar. Pops bottle cap, tilts bottle at 45 degree angle, down the throat…

Gear up  for this Canadian concoction because ginger and ginseng root are upfront on the palate and they are handsy. We coughed on the first couple sips. The fire shoots up your nose for a sinister initial sizzle. But honestly, after a few sips, you adjust. And then you realize: this is tasty. You get a hot, earthy ginger flavor right up front that mellows into more of a candied ginger. This doesn’t taste like anything artificial has been added. It tastes like pure, unadulterated, natural ginger. There’s definitely heat to this. The cane sugar is noticeable, flavorful and does a nice job cutting the spice on the backend. But make no mistake, this is spicy. On a 1-10 spicy meter, I’d give this a solid 7.5. It’s an upfront heat. There’s no lingering. In fact, it’s a little sweet near the end. The previously mentioned ginseng in this gives Harvey and Vern’s’ Ginger Beer an extra bite.

Finish: Candied ginger with notes of soft spice that fade into crisp sugar accompanied by a final note of sweet ginger. Best part of the soda.

Rating: Our neighbors from the north weren’t messing around when they made their ginger beer. Canadians are often regarded as overtly friendly, but this ginger elixir is your naughty neighbor you crave. There’s something about it. It’s spicy up front, yet sweet and flavorful on the backend to keep you coming back. So it’s like the opposite of my ex-wife. I’ll make this simple. This is ginger beer. It tastes like ginger. Seems like a no-brainer, but so often this category of soda is dressed up to be something it’s not. There’s no games here. This is 12 ounces (355 ml, eh) of sinus-clearing, ginger-infused, taste bud-rocking soda. Novices might not be ready for its initial spiciness. There’s no denying it’s potent. The more you drink it, the easier it gets and the more delectable it becomes. And honestly, ginger beer as a whole isn’t for everyone. It’s more of an acquired taste. But if you like ginger beer, then I assure you that you’ll enjoy this. Paired with rum, the ginger beer becomes much sweeter, more of a candied ginger with airier citrus flavors. Careful, I’ve already had one just writing this review. For most, it’ll be a sipper on its own and when paired with alcohol, it’ll be a nightmare the next morning. That’s a compliment, Harvey and Vern’s. We approve, go get your ginger juice on.

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