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

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