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.