Month: June 2015

Northwoods Soda: Espresso Root Beer

History: Nestled away along the Lake Michigan coastline is the small town of Traverse City, Michigan. It’s the home of a small mom and pop soda syrup and bottling company called Northwoods Soda. Opened in 1988 by founder and owner, Bill Fosdick, Northwoods Soda generates most of its business crafting fountain and coffee syrups. “I wanted to be able to do a small family business that I could operate locally,” says Fosdick. This statement is the perfect summation of the business. Indeed, it has stayed in the family. Bill’s wife, daughter, son and stepson all do their part. And if you’ve never heard of Northwoods Soda, that’s because it’s a local brand to northern Michigan. Despite soda syrups accounting for most of the company’s sales, Fosdick knew he needed a bottled line to market to the public. He even named the Wild Bill’s Root Beer after himself. “We wanted to do some things that were more unique,” he adds. Espresso Root Beer, today’s review, certainly fits that category. But the idea wasn’t actually theirs. Northwoods Soda makes all the coffee syrups for a swanky coffee company called Roast and Toast in Petoskey, Michigan. The coffee house sells quite a bit of Wild Bill’s Root Beer there. Well, one day they decided to start putting shots of espresso in it and the beverage quickly became an in-house hit. After trying it, Fosdick said he thought, “Oh my God, this needs to be bottled.” There’s almost a complete shot of espresso in every 11.5 ounce bottle, so buckle up. Northwoods Soda always tries to place an emphasis on sourcing ingredients as locally as possible. They also use pure cane sugar as a sweetener and make their soda in “extremely small batches.” One element that stands out in their root beer? Vanilla. Fosdick wouldn’t go into details, other than to say “it’s special.” So am I, if you ask my wife. But what makes this small bottler truly special is the freshness they ensure to their customers. Fosdick concludes our conversation, saying “We have a very small bottling line that’s operating almost nonstop,” and what is made that morning goes out to be shipped that afternoon.

Where to get: Unless you’re from Michgain, online is your best bet for finding this soda. At the time of this review, you’ll notice the espresso root beer isn’t listed in the online shop. Fear not, it is available. Just call the number listed on the site and Northwoods Soda will hook you up with an order.

Nose: Espresso; chocolate; mild anise and mint. Smells like a coffee shop, a good one.

Taste: Espresso; chocolate; vanilla; mild wintergreen. There’s no disguising this; it’s espresso. The root beer elements are very mild and act in the background, so let’s just discuss the parts you’ll be tasting – the espresso. The carbonation is light and fluffy as to not get in the way of the coffee flavors. And Northwoods Soda managed to really pack some flavor in here. There’s a milky, smooth dark chocolate body that forms the base of the flavor profile. Next comes a cool wave of silky vanilla with a little bit of nuttiness to it. The one-two punch of smooth chocolate and vanilla is incredible. You also get some mild acidity and cinnamon as well. And there’s also juuuuuust a little bit of wintergreen near the end. Very well rounded and drinkable for flavors so deep.

Finish: Velvety chocolate. Richer than the initial sip. Nutty vanilla, mellow mint.

Rating: If you like soda, this is excellent. If you guzzle coffee, this is a bottled miracle. And if you like espresso, you should probably take the day off work for this one. Northwoods Soda and Roast and Toast have combined to create the most exquisite, flavorful and sophisticated coffee soda in the midwest. Milky, dark chocolate notes followed by creamy vanilla, light acidity, mild cinnamon, and mellow wintergreen. It’s dynamite on the palate. A mouth orgasm. It packs a zip, too. 60mg of caffeine per bottle. As someone who doesn’t drink a lot of high-caffeine beverages, I’m amped out of my mind. I just signed up for three marathons and the running of the bulls. If I drank one of these every day, I’m pretty sure I could qualify for the Olympics. Don’t worry, if you drink coffee at all or are not me, you’ll be good with the caffeine. There’s only one dock on this: you wouldn’t know it was an espresso root beer if you didn’t read the label. This would more accurately be called an espresso soda, along the lines of Manhattan Special. But this is better than that. You do get a little bit of anise on the nose and some mild wintergreen notes on the tongue, but there’s not enough root beer flavor in this for me to feel comfortable calling it that. That is the only reason this doesn’t get five stars. The espresso just overpowers the root beer elements, but its flavor is so good, you won’t really care. On flavor alone, this is a home run. I just keep drinking it. Man, does anyone wanna go work out right now??!?? This is a soda that earns the highest of our recommendations. It’s not every day you come across an espresso soda, and it’s even less often that two things that sound like they shouldn’t work, do. You may or may not have heard of Northwoods Soda before today, but if they keep making bottled deliciousness like this, they won’t fly under the radar for long. Be on the look out for new flavors that are always in development with “Saturday Morning Cola” set to roll out in the fall.

 

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Swamp Pop: Ponchatoula Rouge

History: Ponchatoula, Louisiana is allegedly the “strawberry capital” of the world. And for the Lousiana boys down at Swamp Pop, c’mon, that’s a lob pass. A quick history lesson: Swamp Pop is a double entendre as both the name of the company and a classic Louisiana style of music. It sort of sounds like the blues meets honky-tonk meets 50’s rock. It was a no-brainer for cousins John Petersen and Colin Cormier to introduce America to a little cajun hospitality, and bottle the state fruit in soda form. They call their strawberry soda Ponchatoula Pop Rouge. But the inspiration is a little more sentimental than the obvious. Petersen explains, “Our grandmother would call all ‘red pops’ pop rouge,” so there’s a nostalgia factor involved too. One of Swamp Pop’s two seasonal sodas, it’s designed to be enjoyed in the heat. It isn’t engineered to be your typical strawberry soda, either. This is supposed to be a lighter, more natural tasting take on strawberry. Petersen goes on to explain Pop Rouge was introduced in 2014 and “features a variety of different natural strawberry flavors. Some lend sweetness, some a slight sourness, some help to create just the right aroma, and they all work together to create a very fresh, true-to-the-fruit flavor.” What he’s trying to say is that this is sophisticated strawberry soda. This is the strawberry soda you hide from your friends and the strawberry soda you cheat on the others with. And for those who can’t stay off the other bottle for too long, Petersen has you covered, adding Pop Rogue “makes an awesome mimosa when you add it to Champagne.”

Where to get: Swamp Pop is mostly sold along the gulf coast region and is national to some extent. Cost Plus World Market carries their sodas. You can also buy it directly from their web site. To find the nearest retail location near you, use the company’s online locator. Remember, this one’s seasonal, so get on it!

Nose: Strawberry sour punch straws; strawberries. Fruity. As Peterson puts it, this is an “olfactory experience.” I’ll be honest, I only included that so I could get the word “olfactory” in. Great vernacular. Some of you will need a dictionary.

Taste: Tart carbonation; sweet strawberries. Pop Rouge is anchored by a refreshing, crisp strawberry flavor. There’s just the right amount of sweetness to tartness, I’d say it’s about 80:20. A flood of tiny little bubbles enter the mouth first. The carbonation is intense but brief and accompanied by a little bit of acidity that peaks and then transitions into a sweet strawberry flavor. The strawberry flavor profile is simple, yet rich. It’s not exactly like biting into a fresh strawberry. As you’d expect with soda, it’s a little sweeter, but the most noticeable tasting elements to the strawberry flavor are the mild undertones of sour citrus. Bite into a real strawberry and you’ll taste the same thing. This is a strawberry soda that leans much more toward a real, sweet strawberry than a strawberry candy of some type. Its flavor lingers on the tongue longer than most sodas in a pleasing way.

Finish: Tart strawberries sprinkled with sugar.

Rating: Ponchatoula Pop Rouge is one of the best strawberry sodas on the craft soda market today. I’m hard-pressed to name a better one. In fact, I’ll go ahead and say Pop Rouge is in the top tier of fruit sodas in general. Why? It’s simple, light, and flavorful. That’s all you can ask of a fruit soda. It’s a strawberry soda with a fancy name and it tastes like a strawberry soda with a fancy flavor. You can taste that real Ponchatoula Strawberry flavor, tartness and all. It has a nice balance of mostly sweet with a little sour and a nice flavor that lingers pleasantly. No syrupy, fake strawberry taste. It just works. It’s true to its roots. This is like your friend’s good-looking dad who has a beard and wears flannel, except he actually plays the part and and cuts down trees down instead of my dad who has a beard and wears flannel who looks like he wants to lure you to his van. According to Swamp Pop’s website, Ponchatoula Strawberries are the official fruit of Louisiana. They even have a festival for them down there. When you drink Swamp Pop’s seasonal strawberry soda, you’ll be celebrating too. Just don’t wait too long. This one’s only around in the Spring and Summer

Norka Beverage: Cherry-Strawberry

History: You’ve probably heard of Akron, Ohio… because that’s the hometown of LeBron James. But it’s also the home of Norka Beverage, a soda brand of which the city was proud. Note the past tense. Norka dates all the way back to 1924 and operated up until 1962 when it was liquidated. So how did we get here? Enter Michael Considine, a proud Akron resident with a history in the beverage industry. One day while at lunch with his father, Considine noticed an old bottle with its original label. He enjoyed his current job, but started thinking… what if. With the popularity of craft soda on the rise, the appeal of bringing an old classic back into the modern age was too much to turn down. “I had no idea Akron had its own soft drink,” he said. “It was a cool opportunity to bring something back in the beverage industry.” Considine started researching. He eventually tracked down the old ingredients lists and updated them for the current consumer market. Norka Beverage made its return to the world of glass-bottled soda in early 2015 with Considine as its new founder and president. The company uses only natural flavors and cane sugar while prohibiting caffeine and gluten from their sodas. Norka brought back four of the company’s original flavors: root beer, orange soda, ginger ale, and cherry-strawberry. And it’s the latter flavor that the company was founded on, the one we review today. According to Considine, Norka worked tirelessly to get it as close to the original as possible. They even conducted focus groups with people 70+ years-old who still remembered the original taste. And beyond all the details, no one really makes a cherry-strawberry soda hybrid. We couldn’t pass that up. Norka’s tagline is “Tastes better.” We’re about to find out how true that is.

Where to get: Norka Beverage sodas are sold throughout the Akron regional area and sporadically on the west coast in addition to high-volume craft soda retailers like Antiqology and Pop’s Soda Ranch. You can get your fix online via the Norka website or Amazon.

Nose: Absolute dead-ringer for Kool-Aid Bursts Tropical Punch. We used to call them “squeeze-its.” 90’s me is freaking out right now. Also a faint strawberry scent at the very end.

Taste: Cherry popsicles; mild tartness; cherry snow cone; Luden’s Wild Cherry Cough Drops (don’t tell me you didn’t love those as a kid. If you didn’t, I’ll fight you). This is more cherry than strawberry, for the better I’d say. The cherry flavor is very old fashioned, reminiscent of sucking out the cherry juice from a popsicle or a snow cone. It’s also a little tart and acidic, just enough to where the bite is enjoyable. This has a distinctive crispness, both in flavor and carbonation. Very drinkable. There is a mild strawberry flavor to this soda that floats about the flavor profile, but it mostly hangs in the background. One flavor that is very distinctive to me is the Luden’s Cherry Cough Drops I previously mentioned. That might seem like a weird reference, but I mean it in the best way. I ate those even when I wasn’t sick. If I had some, I would right now. Actually, is Walgreen’s still open?

Finish: Sweet candy cherry with a note of mild strawberry that’s very delayed. You won’t get it unless you wait about 10-15 seconds until the next sip.

Rating: This is straight-up delicious. One of the driving forces behind craft soda is nostalgia. It’s a term that gets thrown around often, usually referencing the glass bottle the liquid comes in or a retro label. But this is a soda that tastes old fashioned. This tastes like soda you used to drink as a kid, that your parents used to drink as kids. There’s a rich, old school candy cherry soda flavor with a little bit of acidity. That tartness is critical to the soda’s nostalgic flavor and gives it not only a really pleasing taste, but also a fun mouth feel. It also imparts a refreshing crispness to the soda that adds to its drinkability. This is a soda with which you’d have no problem rampaging through. Kind of like when my wife gets a hold of my credit card. The only knock on this, and it’s a minor one, is the strawberry. It doesn’t really come through that much. Personally, I like it that way, but consumers may be expecting a balance of the two flavors, and this is heavily on the cherry side. However, you could argue the strawberry flavor is part of the reason for the soda’s mild tartness. This is one of the more drinkable sodas we’ve come across in some time. Light, refreshing, crisp and full of old school cherry flavor. Norka Beverage is a blast from the past repackaged into the present, and what’s most important: they’ve preserved the authenticity of the brand’s flavors. You can taste it. This is one in which you should invest.

Kickapoo Joy Juice

History: “Kickapoo embraces the idea that each day offers a new chance to find joy in the world,” says Kickapoo Joy Juice parent company Monarch Beverage. Only the first line of the review and we’re already getting philosophical. Strap in. Kickapoo Joy Juice is one of the classics in the world of craft soda. It’s a citrus-flavored caffeine soft drink with a zing. They’re even nice enough to tell you the caffeine content on the bottle at 40 milligrams. Sound familiar? Comparatively, 12 ounces of Mountain Dew has 54 milligrams. The nutritional comparisons beyond that are virtually identical, so there’s a reason why Mountain Dew is the mainstream brand most closely associated with Kickapoo Joy Juice. Despite its roots in bottled soda history, Kickapoo Joy Juice is one with which the newer generation of soda connoisseurs might not be familiar. The soda was originally introduced in 1965 by another craft soda company you probably have heard of called “NuGrape.” Monarch Beverage later purchased NuGrape and now runs all things Kickapoo Joy Juice. The soda is actually based on a comic strip called “Li’l Abner” by Al Capp that ran in U.S. newspapers from 1934-1977. The reason you may be unfamiliar with it is due to the fact that its popularity has waned in the past decade or so. It was more popular, believe it or not, in Bangladesh and other East Asian countries. You gotta keep that caffeine running through your veins over there to outrun the tigers. The name, as you might’ve guessed, is about fun. Along the same lines, Monarch Beverage has introduced multiple new fruity flavors in addition to the classic citrus to jazz up the brand’s image and reintroduce it to a new generation. The company goes on to say, “Kickapoo drinkers have a little swagger, dance like no one is watching and take pride in their self-expression.” I’m pretty sure the same thing could be said for my girlfriend after a couple Bud Light Limes. But I assure you, there’s no alcohol in this. I’ll let you know if I end up dancing by the end of the bottle.

Where to get: You can purchase Kickapoo Joy Juice online from Summit City Soda or in single bottles from Soda Emporium. It’s also sold physically at many Kum & Go gas stations.

Nose: Mild grapefruit; general citrus; lime. This smells like a milder version of Surge with some added Grapefruit. Maybe a better way of putting it is a lighter, more natural Mountain Dew. I don’t smell any potent chemicals here with my virgin nose.

Taste: Cane sugar; lemon; lime. This is definitely its own brand of citrus soda. Its flavors are light. There’s no tart bite from the citric acid. General citrus enters the mouth first. I think more than anything the cane sugar makes itself noticeable along with light, frothy carbonation. The sugar is nice and compliments the citrus well. As you drink Kickapoo Joy Juice, you taste grapefruit as well as classic lemon-lime. Lime may be the most prominent of the three flavors in the citrus profile, but not by much. No, this doesn’t taste like Mountain Dew, Mellow Yellow, Surge or anything else. Again, it’s less intense and more refreshing with a little more lime and grapefruit, and less of a bite.

Finish: The sugar and lime interact in a strange way at the end of each sip. It’s sweet, but a little funky. I’m not sure how I feel about this. Definitely not like the beginning of each drink.

Rating: Kickapoo Joy Juice is one of the classics in the world of craft soda. There’s no doubt its staying power is linked to its drinkability. This is a citrus soda that took a different path than the mainstream brands with their emphasis on acidity. I applaud the choice. Case in point: look at those dudes who a drink two-liter of Mountain Dew a day. Not only do a lot of them still live in their mom’s basement, but they’re also missing the enamel on their teeth. Kickapoo Joy Juice’s citrus profile is more of a lighter, refreshing citrus than a harsh one. This isn’t tart. It’s light, but the citrus flavor is still there. You could drink multiple bottles of this in one setting. My only complaint is that I wish the individual flavors were a little more distinguishable. I taste mild grapefruit, lemon, and lime. The lime is strongest and I believe best, but I’d like to see a little more action on that front. Still, Kickapoo Joy Juice succeeds in its simplicity and originality. This is a quality citrus soda. With origins dating all the way back to 1934, this is a brand that continues to build on its legacy. If you like to get down with the classics, drink in the history and taste the joy.

Saranac: Shirley Temple

History: Saranac Brewery has been around a long, long time. And it’s stayed in the family, now in its fourth generation of brewers. Dating all the way back to 1888, F.X. Matt started the brewery with 4,000 barrels of beer a year under the name West End Brewing Co. How about that name? Seriously. F.X. Matt? How ominous does that sound? Brb while I go pitch ideas for super villains to Marvel and DC. Maybe we should start going by F.S. Soda. God, this review is already spiraling out of control. As with many long-lived breweries, prohibition hit this one hard. According to Saranac Assistant Brand Manager, Martha O’Leary, West End had just begun brewing root beer before prohibition hit and it’s essentially what kept them alive throughout those years. In 1985, the company produced its first craft beer called “Saranac.” The brewery later took this on as its name to honor of the anniversary of the Saranac Railroad’s inaugural trip from to Saranac to Utica, New York. Saranac began making craft sodas in the 1990’s. Currently they boast six different flavors, including today’s review, Shirley Temple. “It’s been with us for such a long time, and we continue to build on that,” says O’Leary. One thing we need to give you soda connoisseurs a heads up on is the fact that Saranac uses high fructose corn syrup in their sodas as a sweetener. When asked why, O’Leary was honest, “I think it’s because we maintain the same recipe” from the 90’s. She also added that there have been discussions to make the switch to cane sugar. But Saranac does have a strong reputation in the world of gourmet soda. Their root beer won gold in the 2014 U.S. Beer Open competition. But Shirley Temple was too fun to resist.

Where to get: Saranac is sold throughout the greater New York region as well as online at Amazon and ShopRite.

Nose: Grenadine syrup. Smells very sweet.

Taste: Cherry syrup; shirley temple; light bubblegum. So there’s two things that go into making a Shirley Temple. Grenadine/cherry syrup and lemon-lime soda. And I gotta hand it to Saranac… this tastes exactly like a Shirley Temple. Well, almost exactly. There’s a definitive hit of sweet cherry-flavored soda with a light bite. The carbonation in this is much lighter than if you mixed your own cherry syrup with something like Sprite. But the biggest difference is that this tastes much sweeter than a normal Shirley Temple. Much sweeter. And the classic citrus notes have been replaced with sweeter ones, reminiscent of bubble gum candy. The closest thing I can think of is those bubblegum cigars you got as a kid. This has a sweet cherry syrup taste with an added bubblegum flavor and a hint of citrus.

Finish: Just the tiniest bit of citrus. Maybe lime. Followed by a more mellow grenadine flavor.

Rating: If you like sweeter sodas, you’ve hit the jackpot here. If I drank of six-pack of these, I’d be Wilford Brimley before it was all over. That said, if you’re looking for a bottled Shirley Temple soda, you can’t go wrong with Saranac. I’d like to have seen some more citrus or some kind of bite to this to cut back the sweetness a little bit, but this stuff is good. You can really taste that classic Grenadine flavor present in all Shirley Temples and there’s a little bit of a mild bubblegum flavor as well. Kids will love this for its fun color, packaging and candy-like flavor. Adults will enjoy its nostalgia-inducing taste that jettisons you back in time to when all you wanted was mom to put the cherry syrup in your soda to make it taste better. I’d recommend putting this on some ice cubes and sipping it. And if you want to have some real fun, try a spiked Saranac Shirley Temple by adding vodka and a couple squeezes of fresh lime. This accomplishes what it set out to do and, despite the sugar rush, will please a lot of soda enthusiasts. Approved.

Virgil’s: Special Edition Bavarian Nutmeg Root Beer

History: The Berlin Wall had to come down to make this root beer happen. Well, sort of. Virgil’s is one of the most popular soda brands in the world and Virgil’s Special Edition Bavarian Nutmeg Root Beer has quickly become revered in the craft soda community, both for its unique look and flavor. But this new cult classic has origins all the way back in East Germany, home of some of the world’s greatest beer. According to Reeds, Inc. (the company that owns Virgil’s) CEO Chris Reed, after the Berlin Wall came down, the former owner of Virgil’s, Ed Crowley, was able to work with a man in Germany who had very special water. According to Reed, this water “had some kind of strange properties and secret health abilities; it was extraordinary if not weird, like some kind of reverse magnetism.” Sounds familiar. Crowley decided to use this water to create a micro-brewed Bavarian style root beer complete with a swing-top cap. What really differentiates this root beer from others is the all-natural ingredients sourced from around the world, most notably nutmeg from Indonesia. “It’s subtle but, makes a big difference in flavor,” says Reed. Other ingredients include bourbon vanilla from Madagascar, licorice from France, anise from Spain and cinnamon from Ceylon. Like its parent company Reed’s Inc., famous for their ginger brews, Virgil’s sodas are known for their all-natural ingredients and also for not using preservatives, caffeine, gluten, or GMO’s. The company strives to create sodas the way they used to be made 200 years ago with the freshest herbs, spices, fruits, and sometimes even mystical German water. Reed muses, “this root beer came out almost magical.” Let’s taste the magic.

Where to get: Virgil’s is commonly found in health or natural food stores. You can use the company’s store locator to find the closest retailer near you. That said, this particular special edition root beer is a little bit harder to find. Rocketfizz often carries it. Online is another good resource – check out the company’s website, as well as Soda Emporium.

Nose: Strong nutmeg; cinnamon; vanilla.

Taste: Spices; cloves; nutmeg; vanilla; cinnamon. This is extremely smooth and filled with flavors. Spices permeate the mouth every sip. Virgil’s Special Edition Bavarian Nutmeg Root Beer contains a pantheon of various spices. I first get mild cloves and nutmeg, spun in a cocoon of cane sugar. Definitely herbal, but still sweet enough to enjoy even for those who aren’t fans of earthier sodas. It takes a couple sips, but there are rich notes of vanilla throughout the drink, as well as cinnamon, anise and mint. It’s creamy, but not too much to prevent it from being smooth. All the cogs work together to make this machine work. Immaculate.

Finish: Sweet birch that gives this its root beer flavor, followed by light molasses and vanilla. Smooth and doesn’t linger long.

Rating: Virgil’s Special Edition Bavarian Nutmeg Root Beer is quickly building a reputation as one of the most coveted root beers on the market. And for good reason. This is flavor town, USA. The flavors are unique, blend well together and would get a smirk even from the most culinary-inclined audiences. I had some hesitation because of the long list of spices in this, but they really work well together and offer a change of pace in root beer with a full-bodied flavor and just the right amount of smoothness. The vanilla is sweet and creamy. The nutmeg provides a mild earthiness. The cinnamon and cloves pack additional dosages of deliciousness. Everything works here. Kind of like the opposite of the married couple in the apartment next door. Sometimes I tell myself they’re screaming they love each other. But I doubt it. I’ll tell you what I love though; I love this soda. This is root beer of the highest quality and an achievement in craft soda brewing. This is root beer with the flavor profile of a fine-dining experience and the drinkability of a soft cola. Do yourself a favor and shell out the money to try this. Root beer is the king pin of craft soda and Virgil’s Bavarian Nutmeg Root Beer wears a crown.

Death Valley Soda: Sour Green Apple

History: “We’ve been brewing beers for 20 years, but I’ve been brewing soda for 25 years,” says Rick Lovett, beer and soda brewmaster of Indian Wells Brewing Company. Lovett probably makes more soda than any independent bottler in the world. He’s currently trying to get up to 200 flavors spread out over various brands. He even wants to make the Guinness Book of World Records for it. But among all the concoctions, his signature line is the six-flavor deep, Death Valley Soda. Indian Wells Brewery is located in Inyokern, California, a small city tucked away in the hot, dessert climate of rural California, thus the name Death Valley Soda and the cowboy-influenced label. “It wasn’t any master plan. It just made sense,” Lovett jokes. The most unique flavor in the Death Valley Soda line? Sour Green Apple. Over the phone, Lovett recalls a story of his young grandson playing outside and sucking on a Green Apple Jolly Rancher. He reached his little hand up to his mouth, pulled out the candy, looked at his grandpa and said, “Popa, can you make this into soda?” Turns out he could. Death Valley Sour Green Apple is made with pure cane sugar and real Granny Smith Apples, as well as McIntoch and Pink Lady. As with all Indian Wells products, the soda’s most unique element is the water used in making it. The Indian Wells Spring is actually owned by the brewery. Its water is filtered through million of feet of granite; according to Lovett, thousands of gallons spill out to the surface every day. But the soda’s most noticeable feature is undoubtedly its bright green color that is remarkably 100% natural with no food dye used. If you think that’s hard to believe, you aren’t the only one. In order for Whole Foods to carry the soda, the natural goods supermarket made Indian Wells Brewing hire professionals to provide an independent chemical analysis on the product to prove the color was authentic. Wild stuff. “All of America is waking up,” Lovett says of the rise in popularity of soda made with quality ingredients. “I wouldn’t have produced a soda pumped up with additives and then given it to my grandson.” I understand, Rick. Now I’m about to pump this soda into me.

Where to get: Death Valley Soda is available for purchase at Rocketfizz retailers. You can get your fix online at Amazon for 12-packs. There are also online retailers selling individual bottles, but at the time of this review all were sold out. Give it a Google.

Nose: Green apple Jolly Ranchers; fresh-sliced Granny Smith Apples.

Taste: Green Apple Airheads; cane sugar. This is light. It certainly tastes like candy green apple. But the sour flavor that the label advocates is not present. A little bit of bitterness near the end that may come from the spices Death Valley uses, but no sour notes. The carbonation is soft. You can taste the cane sugar, but you can also taste some of the water’s influence in this drink. This is definitely very light, both in flavor and mouth feel.

Finish: Slightly bitter green apple. Definitely more of a bitter than sour sensation on the tongue.

Rating: Your nose and eyes always set the expectation for any soda. It shouldn’t just taste delicious; it should smell good. Whatever’s written on that label will also inevitably sway you. This smelled like Jolly Ranchers, and the word “sour” on the label would indicate there’s going to be some tartness. I anticipated this tasting like liquid sour green apple candy, hopefully with some fresh apple notes. That’s not what you get. The sour, tartness, bite – whatever you want to call it; it’s not there. You get some bitter notes on the finish, but there’s no punch to this. It’s light. A little too light. You definitely get a nice candy green apple taste in the flavor profile, but I was promised sour and did not get it. This is a beautiful green color. One of the prettier sodas in hue I’ve come across. But I feel like I got lied to here. If this was labeled “green apple” as opposed to “sour green apple,” I’d maybe rate this higher. If you enjoy apple-flavored things or are just a big proponent of fruit sodas, this is worth a shot. If you’re looking for something that makes the sour detectors on the back of your tongue flash red, you won’t find it here. Death Valley has made a fine apple soda, but the name on the label needs a little work.

Bandit Beverages: IronPort

History: The Coelacanth is one of the most unique animals you’ll ever come across. Thought to have been extinct for 66 million years, it reappeared in 1938 to the surprise of the world. To this day, most people still don’t even know it exists, yet it’s an important example of the many mysteries within our world. What if I told you in the world of craft soda, there’s something out there that’s basically the equivalent of the Coelacanth? What if I told you there’s a soda out there that barely clung to life throughout the late 20th century, but is being reintroduced? What if I told you its creators knew literally nothing about soda in 2013 when they had the idea to bring it back? All of this is true. It’s called IronPort, and it’s the entire reason the Northern Utah-based Bandit Beverages exists. The company’s manager, Cameron Green, explains, “We wanted to find a way for those who haven’t tried this ‘cult’ soda a chance to, and give a chance to those people from the 50’s 60’s etc. a chance to have a soda they probably haven’t seen since they were kids or teens.” IronPort is rumored to still be a favorite in the Mountain West region of America, especially Utah and Idaho, according to Green. Unless you’re from around there, you’ve likely never heard of it.

Listen, the soda might as well be called ???. There’s a lot of mystery behind it. I’ve heard it called root beer combined with cream soda. I’ve heard it called root beer with Caribbean spices. You won’t find much information online. Is it still popular anywhere? Is it mixture of two sodas? Is it a flavor? Is it a style? Will it cure that thing I caught in a South American club last month? We asked some of these questions to Bandit Beverages, the only producer of bottled IronPort we can find. And even they won’t budge. “Can’t answer that without saying too much,” Green says with a coy smile. (I only assume this because he attached a 🙂 at the end, the kind of smiley face that girls text dudes to let them know something good is happening that night. You know what I’m talking about.) The most we could get out of them is that they’re trying to keep it “as close to the original” as possible and that “IronPort is the flavor, just the same as grape is a flavor, etc.” The one snag that may raise eyebrows to craft soda lovers is that Bandit Beverages makes their IronPort with high fructose corn syrup as opposed to cane sugar. “Since we were a young company we were trying to keep costs down, we were basically being cheap, which was a big mistake,” Green adds. Bandit Beverages acknowledged to us that they are currently in the process of switching all four of their sodas to pure cane sugar. We couldn’t resist the mystery. This should be an experience.

Where to get: Bandit Beverages sells IronPort directly via the company’s website. As of now, you won’t find it anywhere else, so you might as well snatch it up.

Nose: Bubblegum; spices; something akin to the smell of an orange freeze.

Taste: Bubblegum; orange; nutmeg; vanilla; creaminess. On first taste, this is a bit puzzling. IronPort certainly tastes like its own category. It’s sweeter and creamier than most sodas. If you drink a lot of higher-end soda, you’ll notice it’s a bit syrupy. This is because of the high fructose corn syrup used instead of cane sugar. The most prominent flavors that come through after a few sips include bubblegum and orange. This tastes more like a bubblegum cream soda infused with orange than a spiced root beer. That said, this doesn’t taste like an orange cream soda. It tastes like creamy bubblegum infused with floral orange and vanilla. Not the traditional orange soda flavor profile, but much softer. There’s definitely a nice creaminess to this and there are some additional flavorings in here that impart an orange flavor, perhaps spices. Some of those could include allspice, nutmeg, and/or cloves. As you can tell, this is hard to place. One of our team members said they even tasted some rose hips in there. There’s also definitely vanilla. That likely explains the creaminess. Bottom line: Smooth, sweet bubblegum cream with notes of soft orange, vanilla, and maybe some spices.

Finish: Creamy, yet slightly bitter orange.

Rating: Even after an entire bottle, IronPort remains mostly a mystery to us. Closer to a cream soda than root beer; this is in its own category. It’s not a variation. It’s a flavor in itself. There’s a creamy bubblegum body with notes of aromatic orange, yet I wouldn’t label this as being even close to an orange cream soda. There’s some sort of spice influence. Perhaps some nutmeg. Definitely vanilla. Maybe even some cinnamon. These are impossible to place in absolute terms, but something is causing that orange flavor. IronPort is very smooth with a nice creaminess. One area it lacks in is mouth feel. Bandit Beverages elected to use high fructose corn syrup and it leaves a syrupy taste at times. The company has said themselves they plan on switching to cane sugar in the near future. Once that move is made, I think IronPort’s flavor will greatly improve. Cane sugar provides a crisp sweetness as opposed to the thickness you taste with corn syrup. Like a majority of women, I may never understand IronPort. But its elusiveness, its mysterious standing in the world of craft soda, is something that should appeal to any soda connoisseur. Bandit Beverages, while a young company, has made a veteran move to resurrect an old favorite of which many haven’t heard. It’s nostalgic, yet abstract; classic, yet foreign; familiar, yet so peculiar. This is one you’ll want to put a check mark next to on your soda resume.