History: Mark Kristen has been around the block. He’s a veteran of the liquid business. Talking with him over the phone, his southern Texas drawl is grizzled, yet soothing. I get the sense that before talking to me, he just got done changing the tires on his tractor. Probably for fun. But Mark Kristen also runs a third generation family business called Kristen Distributing down in Bryan, Texas. His grandpa started the company in 1930 and ran it up until after World War II, at which point his father, “Boots” Kristin, took the reigns. It was “Boots” who started Boots Beverages, making seasonal sodas like strawberry, lemon and peach in glass bottles. Back then, the soda business depended on refillable bottles. But customers weren’t returning bottles for deposits. Instead, they littered the streets with them. In 1962, Boots Beverages closed down. Mark Kristen had no plans to revisit it… until a client made a suggestion.
You see, Kristen Distributing already delivered sodas, but they didn’t have the rights to distribute in the area of this specific client. “You’ve got the background,” they told Kristen. In 2013, Boots Beverages made its return with five flavors including atypical offerings like coconut cream, dewberry and caramel cola. They wanted flavors that were available back in the old picture shows of the 1950’s. According to Kristen, his company moves roughly 2 million cases of beer/alcohol and 1 million cases of non-alcoholic beverages a year. The revenue from that business creates an advantage for Boots Beverages. They can take risks. Kristen says, “I see the movement in craft as opportunity and not competition.” They make soda for fun. For the people. But they’re serious about taste. Every single flavor the company produces is signed off on by an expert sommelier. Today, we review caramel cola. Giddy up, partner.
Where to get: You can buy soda from Boots Beverages directly online from the company’s website. Their sodas are distributed in Texas and St. Louis, Missouri. Random, but true. The company is currently looking for distributors and has aspirations of eventually becoming distributed nation-wide.
Nose: Cane sugar juice with the aroma of sweet maple syrup. Unmistakable.
Taste: Maple syrup; sweet, mild caramel; smooth milk chocolate. The flavor profiles in Caramel Cola by Boots Beverages are distinct. Perhaps the biggest surprise is on the initial sip, something that doesn’t taste like the rest of the soda. Once your lips meet the liquid, you’re greeted with a sweet, fruity note. It’s somewhere between fig and sweet prune. It makes you think, but before the thought is complete, the rest of the soda’s flavors come through after a buffer of crisp carbonation. The body of the soda is sweet, yet defined. Like a mixture of mellow maple syrup infused with hand-pulled caramel. Purists may expect a more defined caramel flavor, but the maple notes work as a nice compliment, whether or not it’s intended. The more you drink the soda, the richer the flavors become and the more the caramel takes over. You’ll also notice undertones of milk chocolate as your mouth gets down with this thing.
Finish: Creamy maple syrup that lingers for a few seconds and transitions into a sweeter caramel than in the body of the soda. Cocoa nibs enter the picture and become more prominent than the maple as the bottle draws to a close.
Rating: Mark Kristen made it clear that Boots Beverages produces their sodas for fun. So why not swing for the fences with their flavors? Caramel cola is a rare breed in the craft soda game. I’m hard-pressed to name another. Boots has cornered the market for now, and they’ve set a high standard. This is a soda with almost two totally different flavor components for me: the initial candied fruitiness and the richer caramel/maple flavors that form the soda’s overall body. I have to say the soda’s biggest success is the unexpected deliciousness you get at the beginning of every sip with notes of fig and prune. There’s even a brief tart, carbonated bite right before the caramel and maple take over. And then it hit me: that’s the cola aspect of this craft soda. You get a fresh, fruity cola taste up front and then a milkier, richer flavor profile of caramel, maple and cocoa nibs at the back. Mystery solved. Case closed. I feel like I just completed a 24,000 piece puzzle and then immediately beat the Cracker Barrel game on the first try. Yeah, I’m single. Some may be turned off by the sweetness of this soda, but its rich flavors help distract from the sugar. Notify me if you find another caramel soda on the market. When you don’t, that should be reason enough to buy a ticket and get on this flavor train. Keep your eye out for Boots Beverages as a company on the rise in the coming years. The Texas craft soda jerks will even be introducing four new flavors in early 2016. We can’t tell you the details, but in the words of Kristen, “they’ll blow your mind.”