Day: May 1, 2015

Hooker Mountain Farm: Maple Birch Beer

History: Hooker Mountain Farm sounds like my weird next door neighbor’s fantasy come to life. But it’s much more innocent than it sounds. Hooker Mountain Farm is actually a real farm on 65 acres of land in Cabot, Vermont. Opened in 2010, the farm specializes in a variety of agricultural-based products from chicken and cattle to smoked bacon and barbecue beef sticks, to, you guessed it, soda. And it wouldn’t be Vermont if there weren’t maple syrup involved. Vermont is basically the Canada of America. It was 2013 when farm founder David Thayer decided to start brewing maple sodas based on his own home beer brewing knowledge. The farm currently produces three flavors as well as seasonal offerings year-round. They fire brew all the maple syrup that goes into their sodas. Maple is the main sweetening agent. About 70% of the maple syrup in each soda comes from Hooker Mountain Farm, while the other 30% comes from other local sources. Think of it kind of like a small batch bourbon blend, only not bourbon and all maple syrup. Cane sugar is also used, but Thayer notes the farm intentionally strives for a soda with less sugar and more of a bite. Each bottle contains only about 23 grams of sugar as opposed to other sodas that sometimes reach 60 grams of sugar. In Thayer’s own words, “We wanted to resuscitate a more natural-tasting soda” using ingredients right from the farm’s land. In the maple birch we’re sampling today, the birch ingredients and mint all came right off the farm’s 65 acres. They also wanted something that tasted fresh. In fact, no sodium benzoate (a preservative) is used inside the bottle, meaning there’s a limited shelf life for ideal flavor. You’ll want to drink this within three months of getting it. But why would you wait that long, ya dummy? Thayer actually likens their maple birch beer to a maple-flavored ginger ale. How ’bout that? We’re already dealing with a soda confused about its identity and it’s only three months-old. Call the counselor.

Where to get: Hooker Mountain Farm soda is currently only sold in Vermont. This will be one of the harder sodas to get your hands on outside of the state. Your best bet to is contact the company directly via phone or email. Just know shipping may be pricey. In the near future, this should be much easier when the farm launches their line of soda syrups that will be more cost-effective to ship.

Nose: Maple root beer; light mint.

Taste: Light maple; dates; mild wintergreen; sugar. The maple in this isn’t overpowering. Hooker Mountain Farm intentionally strives for a soft drink that’s less sweet than a normal craft soda. I get the maple first. It’s very light. It blends with the birch bark and mint to form what tastes like a date flavor. Definitely some fruity notes to go along with the maple. This definitely doesn’t taste like traditional birch beer. The mint in this is much less intense than what you’re accustomed to in a birch beer. It’s there, but if someone made you drink this without telling you what it is, you probably wouldn’t guess birch beer. Unlike other sodas that rely heavily on maple as their sweetening agent, this one also uses some cane sugar as a supplement. It really helps. Certainly maple is more prevalent on the palate, but the cane sugar fuses nicely with it for a pleasing finish on the tongue. I’d like to see a little more strength from the traditional birch flavorings in this soda. The birch beer taste quickly evaporates as the carbonation fades. The maple, however, is nicely done.

Finish: Lingering maple that’s light and fluffy; cane sugar that acts as a nice bed for the maple to float along. The maple finish in this is arguably the soda’s best trait because it holds its flavor so well.

Rating: For a natural maple soda, this really nails the main ingredient. Using maple as your main sweetening agent can be a difficult task to make taste good. Trust us, we found out the hard way. The maple in this introduces itself to your palate right away and is accompanied by some fruity notes. We taste dates or even dried prunes. The maple’s flavor lasts throughout the body of the soda and into the finish, increasing in sweetness as it goes along. But… this is maple birch beer. Our biggest complaint is that it doesn’t really taste like a birch beer with maple added. We’re not sure if the maple syrup dilutes the birch flavors too much or if there isn’t enough traditional earthy, mint notes in here with which to begin. Regardless, I think this would benefit from some bolder birch flavorings. This has been described by the folks at Hooker Mountain Farm as tasting like a maple ginger ale. At times, I definitely thought to myself that it tasted like a version of maple 7-Up. In a good way. If this just generally called itself maple soda, I’d give it four stars. Even in the craft soda world where ingredients are typically of a much higher quality, we’re used to something sexy – sweet, sugary beverages. We always desire the cover models. This is more like your friend’s hot mom. It’s natural, not quite as sweet, but still worth a try if you can attain it. Very non-traditional. Its flavors may be too foreign or too much of an acquired taste for some. If you’re looking for a bold birch beer with sweet maple, you’ll come out of this experience potentially dissatisfied. Instead, expect a more maple-rich soda with a tinge of bark and mint flavors. Getting your hands on this may be tough, but if you can, it’s worth the experience.

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Triple AAA Soda Company: Kola

History: When you think of Oklahoma, lots of things come to mind. OU Football, hating the Longhorns, massive tornadoes, emptiness. Soda probably doesn’t set off any light bulbs unless you know of Pop’s Soda Ranch, one of the largest craft soda retailers in America. And this story coincidentally has a connection to Pop’s. But we start in a candy store, of all places. According to Triple AAA Soda President, Justin Thomas, Bricktown Candy Company opened its doors in Oklahoma City about seven years ago. He recounts a reporter coming into the store for a story on its opening. The reporter asked, “What else are you guys going to do besides sell candy?” seemingly hinting that wouldn’t be enough for the start-up business to survive on. Thomas, an avid old soda fan, opened a large notebook revealing dozens and dozens of old soda logos. But it was the one hanging off in the distance behind him that the reporter noticed. It was Triple AAA, an old Oklahoma City soda company that started way back in 1937, but disappeared in 1974. After contacting a relative of the old company, they gave the ok and Triple AAA began its comeback via Bricktown Candy Company. Knowing that Pop’s Soda Ranch produced its own Roundbar Root Beer, Thomas knew that needed to be Triple AAA’s flagship flavor. So he purchased the original root beer recipe, but added a few tweaks. As for the other 24 flavors Triple AAA used to produce, he decided to bring back five in total. All other Triple AAA flavors are new recipes because as Thomas said, “No one really remembered the other flavors.” The goal for Triple AAA is to become a large regionally distributed soda. But at its core, Thomas says “We try to make a local product and we’re trying to bring back some of Oklahoma City’s history.” Now, after really pumping up their root beer, we’re trying the kola.

Where to get: Bricktown Candy Company sells their Triple AAA soda in their online store, though currently it looks like only root beer, cream soda and cherry are available. You can call them directly via their site and they’ll be happy to set you up. It’s also available in specialty stores and candy shops in Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, Louisiana, and Arkansas.

Nose: Kola nut; vanilla.

Taste: Kola nut; vanilla; cane sugar. This is pretty straight forward and simple. But it’s solid. Soft kola nut washes over the palate as the taste buds get introduced to this take on cola. The cane sugar in this is the most noticeable element. A very nice use of it, reminiscent of Mexican Coke. Definitely on the sweeter side. There’s some vanilla undertones in this, but not as prominent as they are when sniffing. It’s a soft cola with traditional tiny bubbles you typically find in this variety, though in this case the carbonation isn’t as flush in the mouth. The bubbles quickly fade. This has a classic old fashion, glass bottled soda taste.

Finish: Cane sugar and kola with some very light notes of cinnamon.

Rating: This is simple, but well done. It’s a company that began in 1937, and though its recipe has since changed, this soda definitely harkens back to the old days when glass bottle sodas were purchased after school at the ice cream store on the way home. I’d say it’s something like a cross between RC Cola and Mexican Coke. It’s a soft cola. Very drinkable, though it’s a little sweet. I think it’s probably missing something small that could take it over the top. Maybe cinnamon or some fruit notes. But this is something you should drink. Little bottlers like Triple AAA are what make the craft soda game fun. What a name too. Who actually calls themselves triple letter… and then promptly spells out the letter three times as if you needed guidance? I’ll tell you who else. This guy. I bet this probably goes great with booze too. I’m going on a blind date after this, so I’m definitely about to find out. Get a bottle, crack it open, and in the immortal words of Triple HHH (who should really sponsor this)… time to play the game.