Month: July 2015

Simpson Spring: Coffee Soda

History: Let me tell you about a company whose namesake dates back to 6000 BC. Gives a whole new meaning to the word “retro,’ huh? “We’re the oldest bottling plant in the country,” says Simpson Spring co-owner and marketing head Chris Bertarelli. The spring itself is what’s ancient. The South Easton, Massachusetts company actually started up in 1878. The bottling plant is built around the spring, meaning the spring is literally in the building. After Sam Simpson acquired and farmed the land where the spring is located for 50 years, he was convinced by his grandson, Fred Howard, to sell him five acres around his property. According to Bertarelli, Howard was a bit… uhh, weird. But if it was for his eccentricities, Simpson Spring Soda might not exist. It was Howard who started experimenting with carbonating the spring water and adding flavor to it. The coffee soda we review today is still the original recipe made with real coffee and was one of the first flavors in company history. Bertarelli was uncertain about the exact date of when the company began producing soda, but notes the year on the recipe book is dated 1919. The only difference between the original sodas of now and then is that today’s versions contain pure cane sugar instead of syrup. The first incantation of Simpson Spring Coffee Soda was called “Spar Coffee.’ People would add cream and sugar… and scotch. Because nothing says starting your morning like getting hammered and stumbling through bacon and eggs. Another fun fact about the coffee soda: in 1930 it was sent down to Manhattan and sold in Macy’s department stores. Eventually, Fred Howard left the company to pursue the “dustless duster.” Bertarelli and her husband took the business over in 1988 and continue to run the historic, yet small operation. At the end of the day, it’s all about the spring. Says Bertarelli, “Soda is a 90% water and we’re using a spring water that has no chemicals added to the water and it’s in glass.” We’ve heard this is a love-it or hate-it soda, and it’s our job to tell you which side to believe.

Where to get: You can purchase Simpson Spring Coffee Soda online at Summit City Soda.

Nose: Light Starbucks Frappuccino; cinnamon bread. Not a particularly strong smell for a coffee-related beverage.

Taste: Dark roast; tartness; cane sugar. The coffee taste is immediate followed by an acidic bite. The bite is a little harsh and takes time to adjust to throughout the drink. The coffee flavor tastes a little watered down. You can really taste the water. The cane sugar helps supplant it a little but, but the tartness in this soda really cuts the sugar. The flavors are simple, but not in balance.

Finish: Dark roast with the volume turned down along with some caramel notes and tartness. Pretty similar to the body of the soda.

Rating: Coffee sodas are their own animal because of the wide variety of flavor options available. Do you want mocha java? Maybe Irish Cream? How about some wild Columbian blend infused with spices? This is what makes some of the great coffee sodas some of the best craft sodas, period. But this is still soda we’re talking about, and soda has three main elements: carbonated water, a sweetener, and the ingredients used to impart the soda’s intended flavor. With Simpson Spring’s Coffee Soda, the company has blended these three elements in a way that leaves an imbalanced flavor profile. The flavor of dark roasted coffee is nice, but it’s a ghost of what it could be and is too watered down and not sweet enough. There’s also a tartness to this that seems out of place. Coffee is an acidic drink in general, but especially so in this soda. It’s a sensation that makes your face wrinkle. It’s like every time I remember the guy my sister married. What a dumbass great stepbrother. I’d prefer to have seen the coffee flavor shine more boldy with less water used. Fans of coffee drinks should certainly still give this a try. But if you’re on the fence about it, unless you’re cool with acidic coffee, you’re better served to try another coffee soda. I wanted to like this, and I know it has a fan base, but our team isn’t sold.

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Boots Beverages: Coconut Cream Soda

History: Get your beach towel, your sunglasses and sunscreen, and throw on that swim suit. Now put it all back because we’re just drinking soda here, you freak. But hey, we’re not only sampling one of the most unique flavors on the market today, we’re also going to bring the island vibe to you as we do it. See, we’re nice. Coconut Cream Soda: it’s one of those flavors that makes your ears perk up when you hear it. Kind of like when my wife yells out my name, only this doesn’t give me nightmares. Coconut is a very divisive flavor among foodies, but those who love it are die-hards. Mark Kristen, owner of Boots Beverages realized this and decided to to take a chance. He says, “I guess it’s the same insanity that’s inspired all our flavors.” The company, started by his father Elwood “Boots” Glenn, began with seasonal flavors like strawberry, peach and lemon. Boots Beverages’ first run as a business ended in 1962 in large part due to a decline in popularity of deposit bottles. Kristen, already a third generation businessman and operator of Kristen Distributing in Bryan, Texas, decided to reintroduce the company in September of 2013 with an emphasis on 1950’s flavors infused with modern gourmet appeal.

The company’s top-seller is its Sarsaparilla, with Coconut Cream not far behind it. The tropical paradise you thought you were in for at the beginning of this review may yet reveal itself in the form of this soda. And according to Kristen, it’s by design. “We envisioned someone going to the trouble of splitting the coconut and getting the juice out.” He also notes they are going for additional tasting notes of coconut cream pie and its crust. You’ll see the tropical inspiration on the bottle. You’ll also notice a picture of a woman. That’s Kristen’s late aunt Katy. “That tugs at my heart strings,” he says after a pause. Never married, Katy worked for Kristen’s father during Boots Beverages’ initial run. Often he couldn’t even afford to pay her, so she ran a small ice cream parlor. Kristen frequented it. “I ate so many of her dreamsicles that there’s no way she could’ve made any money,” he jokes. Her photo on the label is a small tribute. As for the future, Boots Beverages has been in the lab cooking up five new flavors. Two of them could be here as early as September. If early reports are any indication, they may be on to something. Kristen notes his buddy’s six year-old daughter offered up a serious barter. “I’d like to trade you a pony for those new flavors,” she said. We can’t legally offer a pony, but we’ll assemble the team, test the black market and see what offers we at Five Star came come up with. Nothing to see here, government.

Where to get: You can currently buy Boots Beverages Coconut Cream Soda in Texas and St. Louis, Missouri. The company is currently working on expanding distribution, but hasn’t announced future channels yet. In the meantime, the Internet has you covered. Hit up the company’s website for 12-packs, Crown Valley for 6-packs, and Soda Emporium for single bottles.

Nose: You ever had coconut cake? No? You’re weird then, but that’s what this smells like to a tee. It’s got a sweet coconut frosting olfactory thing going on.

Taste: Coconut cream; sugar; mild piña colada. Whoa, coconut. Hey girl. The coconut cream flavor is immediate, bold, and sweet. This is intensely sweet coming in at 43 grams of sugar per bottle. The coconut has a very tropical taste to it, reminiscent of the coconut portion of a piña colada. This does not taste like coconut pie to us, for those wondering. Think more along the lines of clear cream sodas infused with tropical coconut flavor.

Finish: Coconut piña colada. The finish on Boots Coconut Cream Soda is long-lasting and thick. The drink ends with a little bit more of a tropical note than the main body and coats the tongue for 10-20 seconds. While the body of the soda doesn’t taste like pie, there is a little bit of a pie crust taste at the very end.

Rating: Coconut is one of those flavors that gets people excited when it’s in a supporting role, but as the centerpiece of a soda, bottlers shy away. Perhaps they’re worried it’ll come off too much like carbonated suntan lotion. Whatever the case may be, there isn’t a lot with which to compare Boots Beverages Coconut Cream Soda. Its flavor doesn’t hold anything back and knows itself. It’s coconut cream soda, and dammitt it wants you to know that. This is a sugar storm of creamy, candy coconut that is bold and has flavor staying power. There are also some really nice tropical notes that float about in the background of each drink. Cream soda connoisseurs: put this on your list because there’s nothing like it out there. For the rest of you, there are some factors to consider. First, this is sweet. Very sweet. But it does really capture that tropical island coconut flavor and manifest it in soda form. I’d suggest treating this like a first date and taking it slow. Unless you’re my ex, in which case, chug as fast as you can and use a lot of tongue. Sorry, PTSD. As a sipper, this is a wonderfully unique cream soda to be enjoyed. Second, the flavor. Not everyone likes coconut and this is not only strong in sweetness, but also flavor. It might even benefit from some ancillary tasting notes, like key lime. If you don’t like coconut, do not pop the top. In our opinion, this is too original not to try. If you like coconut or tropical sodas, keep your pants on and buy like 24 of these. The flavors are simple, but work well. Paired with a little rum, you’ll be in paradise in no time.

Doggone Good Soda: Rose Dew Soda

History: Bill King has been in the soda business since the 1960’s. He remembers some of soda’s most vintage years when nearly every decently-sized town had their own local bottling company. He decided he wanted to do his part to bring that era of nostalgia back and infuse it with the quality of modern artisan taste. In 2008, King and his son opened The Olde Town Grinder and Ice Cream Parlor where they sold sandwiches and glass-bottled soda. After such good feedback on the soda, they started producing their own in 2012 under the name Doggone Good Soda. You won’t find soda made anywhere else the way Doggone Good Soda makes it because King literally built the bottling machine himself. The machine goes through the entire scientific process of making and then packaging the soda. I assure you that’s impressive. Recently, King and his son sold the restaurant to focus solely on carbonated goodness. They will be moving their soda business into a much larger facility in Orange, California to meet demand. The plan is to open in late summer or early fall 2015. He hopes to start selling the concept for his unique soda machine to other bottlers. “It’s going to be a model for a franchise. We’re really going into the soda big time,” King tells me over the phone. They’ll be doing some pretty interesting things at the new place. For starters, they’re going to have a large upscale tasting room, akin to something you’d find in a fine wine shop. They’ll also be aging their root beer syrup in different types of oak barrels for multiple flavor varieties and serving it in frosted mason jars. Ginger beer, soda’s current hottest flavor, is also becoming a priority.

At the moment, the company boasts around 30 flavors. Some tend to come and go as new flavors are often rotated in and out. One of the company’s most unique flavors was inspired by its customers. “We’re out in Southern California and there are quite a few weddings,” King says, and he adds that requests for a floral soda kept piling up until the company created its Rose Dew Soda. “People either love it or they hate it,” King quips. With its vibrant, phosphorescent red hue and swing top bottle, Rose Dew Soda stands out in an increasingly crowded craft soda marketplace. Speaking of the bottle, packaging is an element of the business of which King is particularly proud. The company just recently rolled out a 22 oz. burlap-wrapped bottle that keeps the soda cold even longer. “We don’t know of another company that’s doing it the way we do it,” King says. Whether you like the soda or not, you can’t disagree with him.

Where to get: Until the opening of the new store in the late summer or early fall of 2015, Doggone Good Soda can be purchased by calling the company and placing an order. The number is listed on their website. King happily adds, “We will send it to anybody that wants it.”

Nose: Rose hips. This smells exactly like a freshly picked rose flower with some candied sugar added.

Taste: Sweet rose oil; mild strawberries; sweet rain; nectar. Wow. Imagine the smell of rose with some sweet, fruity notes in liquid form. That’s exactly how this tastes. This may be the shortest blurb in the review because I can’t describe it any more perfectly. It’s really different, of course. Not a lot of rose sodas out there. This tastes like a rose, but there’s also some mild strawberry notes. It’s nice and floral. Refreshing and crisp on the palate.

Finish: Fruity, sweet rose. Very clean.

Rating: This is an experience. Rose sodas are few and far between, and honestly, do you expect flower soda to taste good? Don’t lie and say you do. I see through your thorny deceit (get it?). Doggone Good Soda has really hit a home run here. Let’s call it an inside the park home run just because a rare treat deserves a rare analogy. Sweet rose hips dance on the tongue with floral notes that refresh and delight. This is light and crisp and begs for the next sip. That said, I’d say this is is a sipping soda because its flavor is so different. My advice is to take it down slowly and enjoy all of its subtleties. Rose Dew Soda is like the opposite of my stepmom; it’s a welcome addition to my family. You can almost taste the quality of the water in this, like a refreshing filtered rain water. There’s also a light strawberry flavor. But this is rose soda through and through and it’s a marvel to taste. I can’t recommend this enough for all fans of craft soda. This will be the most interesting beverage you drink all month.

Oogave: Citrus Paradisi

History: Agave is an edible plant native to mexico. In the food industry, it’s used as an organic sweetening agent. You may know it as an alternative to sugar or honey. The plant’s sap is actually called “honey water.” Most of you probably only know about it because of its association with tequila. Bunch of drunks. Just kidding. Not really. There’s even a soda brand dedicated to it. Here’s the big thing about Oogave Soda: according to the company’s website, it uses certified organic Weber blue agave juice to sweeten its sodas instead of cane sugar. Hence the name. Subtle, I know. What’s not subtle is the process. Agave takes seven years to harvest! That’s like three marriages for some people. Just remember that plant worked hard to end up in your mouth, so you better enjoy it, pal. Oogave is a brand that was purchased by Rocky Mountain Soda Company in Denver, Colorado. The two companies formed a relationship in 2009 when the people at Oogave allowed Rocky Mountain Soda to use their bottling line as the Colorado soda jerks were in the process of rebuilding a 1968 bottling line of their own. At that time, Oogave was one of the only all-natural sodas on the market. Says Rocky Mountain Soda operating partner Moose Koons, “I think they were probably pioneers a little bit too early in the marketplace.” With people still pinching pennies from the recession, Oogave sold off the company and its equipment to Rocky Mountain Soda, allowing that company to quadruple its output. The mission of the Oogave brand remains the same: to be a low-calorie, high-flavor soda using all-natural ingredients. “There’s a great relationship between the natural flavors that we use and the agave flavor,” adds Koons. The Oogave Soda flavors changed variations in the hands of the old owners but have since been amended back to the original recipes and infused with bolder flavors, while the packaging has been rebranded. A perfect example is the soda we review here, Citrus Paradisi. The latter of the two words means “grapefruit” in Latin. Koons notes that with Citrus Paradisi, the company was looking to emulate a flavor profile similar to a bolder, more tart version of Fresca, a citrus soda that hit the height of its popularity in the 90’s. While almost no soda would be considered “healthy” for you, Oogave is about as close as it gets using organic ingredients with low-calorie, low-carbohydrate, and low-glycemic index counts.

Where to get: Oogave Sodas are available at known health food grocery stores like Whole Foods and Natural Grocers. Oogave is not as widely distributed as it once was, but Rocky Mountain Soda is working to get numbers back up. If you can’t find it in a store near you, it’s available to buy online via Rocky Mountain Soda’s website or Soda Emporium (make sure they carry Citrus Paradisi and not Grapefruit as the latter flavor is not the most current.)

Nose: Tart grapefruit; Fresca.

Taste: Tartness; grapefruit; agave syrup. Right off the bat, this is very crisp with a little dry grapefruit. There’s a citrus element to this akin to Fresca that permeates the palate for a few seconds before giving way to a mildly sweet flavor. This is the agave. If you’ve never had agave, it’s similar to honey, but more neutral in flavor. It’s not quite as sweet as honey. Crisp is a good buzzword to use for this. Refreshing and full of dry citrus.

Finish: Mild, tart grapefruit that quickly fades.

Rating: Oogave Citrus Paradisi is a quintessential warm weather soda. It’s light, crisp grapefruit flavors are mildly tart and refreshing. Easy-drinking for a day out at the pool. The grapefruit flavor isn’t overbearing, something that should be welcome news to soda connoisseurs. Grapefruit is a flavor that often gets overdone in soda as if to show off who can produce a more macho citrus flavor. Oogave reigns theirs in with the help of agave syrup that provides a neutral, yet sweet companion flavor. Some may be concerned about using agave as a sweetener in a soda instead of sugar. Don’t be. There’s still enough sweetness in this to be recognizable as a soda instead of some weird sparkling citrus thing. Still, I wouldn’t mind seeing the grapefruit turned up. It’s probably a little too mild. Oogave’s previous incantation of this soda was wildly tart, but Citrus Paradisi has been reformulated for a more neutral, dry citrus flavor that presents grapefruit in a palatable fashion. Citrus soda fanatics will drink this up as will lovers of dry sodas. I’d suggest maybe pairing it with vodka, but then again, can’t we say that about everything in life?

Pure Sodaworks: Apple Pie

History: You hear the crickets chirping as you gaze through the forest out into the sunset, the clouds looking like fluffy biscuits charred with intense purples and reds. The evening dew is beginning to collect on each blade of grass. You hear the buzzer on the oven and know warm apple pie is minutes away. Life is simple in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The soda jerks at Pure Sodaworks want to maintain that simplicity in each soda they produce. And that warm apple pie? They wanted you to be able to drink it. But if it weren’t for a series of events, Tennessee’s most notable craft soda brewers might never have come into existence. First, there was Everyday Eclectic, Matt and Tiffany Rogers’ artisan soap and candle shop that opened in 2007. It’s still going strong today. They sell all kinds of southern goodies there, like maple bacon candles. I know what you’re thinking, but my girlfriend is already clearing our closet out to buy all of them, so don’t even bother. Well, in 2011 Everyday Eclectic moved into Chattanooga’s small business incubator. Also in the same building? Lots of food companies. “Food always win,” Matt Rogers quips. Next, there was the day at the coffee shop. Dating back even before Everyday Eclectic, Rogers stopped into a local coffee shop and ordered a standard cup. While preparing his coffee, he overheard a customer order a lavender Italian soda. “That sounds amazing,” he recalled thinking. The idea stayed with Matt and Tiffany, and with the influence of all the food-centered small businesses around them, they started brainstorming ideas within that industry. “We wanted to figure out something new that was already in line with what we were doing” in terms of using all-natural ingredients, says Rogers. To put it simply, they really just stumbled into soda. Matt started researching how it was made back in the days when soda was served at pharmacies in order to make the medicine palatable using natural herbs and spices. The couple wanted to pull from that era, but modernize it for today’s audience.

Next, Matt and Tiffany started to experiment with flavors. After positive feedback from friends, they decided to make the leap into the soda business, and in 2011 Pure Sodaworks was born. Tiffany picked the name, Matt designed the branding. They started with serving fountain soda at their local market and due to high demand, realized bottles needed to happen next. That led to a successful Kickstarter that raised over $23,000 and from that point there was no going back. Today, Pure Sodaworks is a three-person operation still trying to meet that demand. Initially, over 40 different flavors were brewed and tested, and then narrowed to six. Without a doubt, the most American of the bunch is apple pie, the soda we review today. “We wanted to come up with a more clever name, but it tastes like apple pie,” Rogers adds. The ingredients are simple and real: carbonated water, cinnamon, vanilla and apple cider sourced from a local orchard in Cleveland, Tennessee. The soda took home second place in the people’s choice category at the 2015 Homer Soda Fest. It’s a nonconventional flavor with actual ingredients you can buy at the grocery store. And that’s what Pure Sodaworks prides itself on, making unique flavors that are rooted in trying to be delicious instead of relying on novelty or gimmicks.

Where to get: Pure Sodaworks sodas are sold primarily in Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Nashville, Tennessee. You can buy Apple Pie Soda online at Summit City Soda.

Nose: Apple juice; soft vanilla; light cinnamon. Smells like the best apple juice you could ask for with maybe a hint of creaminess to it.

Taste: Cinnamon; sugar; apple pie. Oh man, this is pretty spot on in terms of tasting like apple pie. The apple flavor is distinctive. There’s a creaminess to it that tastes identical to that traditional apple gooeyness found inside a pie. The first thing you’ll notice is the carbonation. It’s rapid and full of fine bubbles that taste like they’ve been individually coated in cinnamon sugar, yet there’s also a tartness to them. The bubbles quickly peel back to reveal a layer of apple pie flavoring with notes of mild apple juice, sweet cinnamon and slightly creamy vanilla. The sugar in Pure Sodaworks’ Apple Pie Soda is sweet, but the carbonation and cinnamon work in tandem to not let it get out of hand. Bottomline: if someone asks what this tastes like, you won’t have a problem saying apple pie.

Finish: Like eating a piece of apple pie. You get that flakey vanilla crust and cinnamon sugar-apple combination. Spot on.

Rating: Believe it or not, there are a lot of sodas out there that try to replicate the flavor of pies. Few do it with the sophisticated flavor profile Pure Sodaworks has brewed up in their Apple Pie Soda. This is a soda that accomplishes exactly what it sets out to be, does it with only a handful of real ingredients, and doesn’t hide what’s in the bottle. That’s admirable no matter what the quality of the liquid is inside. Luckily, for all soda drinkers, this is a jackpot. It’s tart, sweet, authentic, flavorful, and slightly creamy on every sip. It’s a whirlwind of flavor. The mild creaminess of the vanilla works perfectly with the apple juice to give off that classic gooey apple pie filling flavor. The cinnamon and sugar compliment each other and interact with the tartness of the apple and the soda’s carbonation to give a balanced mouth feel. It’s hard to critique this. If I had to amend anything, maybe cut back on the initial wave of tart bubbles and dial up the vanilla profile ever so slightly. You’d be hard-pressed to find a soda that imitates a pie flavor as well as this one. This is the soda you ask out on a second date and the one you bring home to the family. Soda connoisseurs of all ages should put it on their list. Welcome to the five-star club.

Berghoff: Root Beer

History: Berghoff Root Beer has been around, in one form or another, since 1933 during the era of prohibition. According to Berghoff Director of Sales, Ben Minkoff, back then the company produced a root beer-esque soft drink called “Bergo” to keep the company afloat along with a tonic. The beer dates back even further. It was created in 1887 by Herman Berghoff and his three brothers in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The brewery moved three years later to Chicago and was introduced to The Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. It remains a Chicago craft beer staple, though it does not have its own brewery under the Berghoff name. Berghoff beer and soda are made to order. Now the history behind who makes Berghoff is complicated, so keep sharp.

We’ll spare you with some of the initial details and start in 1960 with the Joseph Huber Brewing Company, where Berghoff soda and beer were then produced. In 2006, Berghoff beer and soda switched their production location again, this time to Minhas Brewing. According to Minkoff, to this day, Minhas produces Berghoff barreled root beer, but not regular beer. K? You still following? You might know Minhas Brewing because they too make their own soda called Blumers. In 2013, Berghoff beer, but not soda, changed locations again, this time to Stevens Point Brewery in Wisconsin. Stevens Point makes their own soda as well. Alright, to the four of you who read this far, you probably no longer want soda. You need alcohol. I get it. Let’s do shots after this. But first, a few facts about Berghoff Root Beer. Minkoff says it’s “all-natural, gluten-free, and made with pure cane sugar.” It was made to be a compliment to the company’s beer right down to the way you drink it. Minkoff adds, “We wanted it to taste as much as draft soda as possible” and describes its flavor as very “vanilla-like.” Berghoff also produces black cherry and orange sodas in addition to root beer. Lately they’ve been trying to appeal to both the craft beer and soda crowds by introducing their alcoholic “Rowdy Root Beer.” Minkoff ended our conversation making a bold claim about the company’s signature soda. “It’s the best one out there,” he says with a chuckle. We’re about to find out, Mr. Minkoff. We’re about to find out.

Where to get: To find the nearest physical location near you where Berghoff Root Beer is sold, use the company’s online locator. You can also buy it online from Beverages Direct  in 6-packs or Soda Emporium in singles.

Nose: Licorice; anise; sassafras root. Honestly, the smells on this are pretty mild. It’s got a pretty traditional root beer nose.

Taste: Wintergreen; licorice; anise; sassafras; birch oil; mild creaminess. All the flavors just mentioned are traditional root beer tastes. If you’re looking for a comparison, this is kind of a hybrid between Barq’s and A&W, leaning more towards the Barq’s flavor spectrum. The most noticeable element in this root beer is the mint, which is the first thing you taste and the strongest. Traditional wintergreen with maybe a little bit of spearmint too. The birch flavoring in this is strong as well. This was described to us as a vanilla-heavy root beer, but what we’re tasting is more of a bolder, dryer brew than a creamy one. There is a little bit of lingering vanilla near the tail end, but this is more brassy than velvety in mouth feel.

Finish: Mild vanilla with birch oil that rises off the tongue like fog.

Rating: Root beers can be very generally divided into either creamy or not creamy. Berghoff has created one that focuses more on bold flavors than lighter, creamier ones. A root beer like Berghoff would pair well with a velvety texture, aka vanilla ice cream. This is a great liquid pairing for your favorite ice cream in a root beer float. On its own, the flavors are pretty standard for a root beer. You’ll certainly notice the mint and birch elements. If you enjoy birch beer or root beers more mild in vanilla, I’d look into this one. If you prefer a root beer rich in vanilla with a thick creaminess to it, you may be let down. Personally, I think the mint would work better here if Berghoff played up one of the ingredients in the root beer that might compliment it more, like vanilla or perhaps nutmeg (not sure if nutmeg is in this). This root beer doesn’t list cinnamon as an ingredient, but I think it could really benefit from the sweetness of that particular spice too. With so many root beers out there, I’d put this near the upper middle tier. It’s solid and reliable. If you ask me, its best use is in a root beer float. Do it. I wouldn’t let you down.

Route 66: Orange Soda

History: Route 66 is arguably the most iconic stretch of road in the history of America. Officially replaced in totality by the current interstate system in 1985, its legacy lives on in many forms, from song to soda. “I know nothing about running a soda business, but I’m running it,” Alan Bruggeman says comically over the phone. Bruggeman, a lawyer, is the current owner of Route 66 Soda, based out of Wilmington, Illinois. Bruggeman purchased the business with a group of investors in 2006 from his friend Larry. The brand originated in 1996 after Larry consulted with Bruggeman’s mutual friend Scott Cameron. Cameron was an agent for several older blues musicians who remembered the nostalgia of glass-bottled soda working on the road along Route 66. Long story short, the two sought to recapture both the old-time feel of soda from the 20’s and 30’s while honoring the historic landmark highway. Cameron passed away in February of 2015, so Bruggeman took over the operation.

You’ll notice several famous Route 66 landmarks scattered across the bottles, including Dead Man’s Curve, Chain of Rocks Bridge, and the Wigwam Village Motel. The soda’s popularity is certainly on the rise. According to Bruggeman, Route 66 Soda is looking to double its production this year in addition to expanding its market reach. The company is currently in negotiations with a large national chain whose name was kept secret from us of over 300 stores. There’s even international interest. Bruggeman notes Route 66 soda is distributed in both Canada and Cyprus, with South Korea interested. The power of American culture, ladies and gentlemen. For the real sugar purists, fear not, Route 66 switched their recipes to pure cane sugar in 2011. Their etched glass bottles stand out amongst the crowded craft soda market place. Route 66 actually won the 2010 Clear Choice Award by the Glass Bottle Institute. Yes, that’s a real thing. The company produces five flavors: Route 66 Route Beer, Cream Soda, Black Cherry, Lime and Orange in order of popularity. I always got picked last in kickball in elementary school, so we went with their orange soda. Bruggeman adds, “The flavors are old fashioned like they used to be. I haven’t had anyone taste our sodas and say they didn’t like it.” Take that for what it’s worth7. We valued the opinion enough to give it a shot.

Where to get: Route 66 Sodas are distributed sporadically throughout the country with a majority of availability in the midwest. I know that does nothing for you, so order it online in your underwear at Summit City Soda or Soda Emporium.

Nose: Orange Lifesavers; bold candy orange.

Taste: Orange Lifesavers; tangerine; mild orange. This has a very distinctive flavor, but that flavor is more tangerine than orange. This is a bold soda. It has a distinctive rich, sweet tangerine flavors with subtle notes of orange hard candies. Not tart at all. The carbonation is very light and small. The sugar is distinct and coats the edges of the tongue as the tangerine citrus flows down the middle. Definitely not what you’ll probably be expecting. Not a traditional orange soda.

Finish: Mild acidic tangerine notes. Not much a difference from the soda’s body.

Rating: For a line of soda’s named after a highway in the middle of good ole America, Route 66’s Orange Soda tastes slightly exotic. In our opinion, it’s flavor is distinctively tangerine rather than orange. There are some subtle candy orange flavors that float about, but the richness and sweetness of the tangerine really come through in the flavor profile. Tangerines are generally bolder and sweeter in flavor than orange, which are sweet, yet tart. This soda possesses no tartness. To some, that will be an immediate draw. Others like an orange soda that bites back. You won’t find that here. This is surprisingly nontraditional. There’s certainly some familiar orange soda flavor in here, but if you’re familiar with the taste of a tangerine, you’ll understand this review much better. If this was called tangerine soda, it’d be four stars. If you’re up for an orange soda that’s off the beaten path, this is worth a try. We’re certainly intrigued by this offering from Route 66. It’s a brand that seems to be worth investigating. We’ll report back when we know more.

Boylan’s: Creamy Red Birch Beer

History: You know Boylan Bottling’s soda. It’s widely available. It’s recognizable with its raised letter glass bottles. It’s one of the powerhouses in the world of craft soda. And it’s been around for a long time. “Our heritage is very rich,” says Senior Vice President, Chris Taylor. It all started back in 1891 when William Boylan began selling cups of birch beer out of the back of a horse-drawn carriage in Petterson, New Jersey. “He had a horse, so he had distribution,” Taylor quips. At the turn of the century, Boylan teamed up with local politician John W. Sturr to bottle his now-famous birch beer. The partnership didn’t last long. In the words of Taylor, Sturr had some “ethical challenges.” Wait, a corrupt politician? No way! Not even soda is safe. Post-prohibition in 1933, Boylan decided alcohol would be more profitable and sold his business to the company’s lead truck driver, who began selling kegged root beer and birch beer. In the 1980’s the truck driver’s two grandsons moved the company toward glass bottles and began introducing new flavors. Today the company is headed by CEO Michael Milstein.

Boylan is one of the most easily accessible craft sodas on the market with distribution in all 50 states. Boylan has had multiple breakthroughs that have opened the public’s eye to craft soda. In 2008, they were one of the first non-Pepsi or Coca Cola companies to have a fountain soda offering. They’ve also made significant inroads merging into the food industry. Boylan Black Cherry, Creme Soda, and Ginger Ale are available at Arby’s locations throughout the nation. They have the meats. And they have Boylan. In fact, according to Taylor, 55% of the company’s total sales comes from food service. So don’t be surprised if your favorite upscale burger joint carries Boylan products too. Their most recent project, Boylan Heritage, is a venture with W&P Design into upscale mixers. They also run a seasonal program that includes the flavor we’re reviewing today: creamy red birch beer. Since Boylan is such a big company, we wanted to review something that remained true to the original flavor, but was still unique. Taylor notes “It’s a northeast flavor with hints of peppermint and birch,” as well as a mixture of vanillas that were kept secret from us. He uses the term Pennsylvania Dutch as we’ve mentioned before when birch beer is in play. Again, no one knows what this means. Just pretend it’s a real thing. One thing we do know that’s real is the liquid. Let us refresh now.

Where to get: Boylan Bottling sodas are widely available across the nation. I’d be pretty shocked if you can’t find it in a grocery store near you. But maybe you live in the woods or something. As long as your treehouse has wifi, you can buy it online from Summit City Soda, Amazon, or Soda Emporium.

Nose: Wintergreen mint; vanilla; red cream soda.

Taste: Peppermint; foamy bubbles; birch oil; light vanilla. The birch and peppermint flavors in this are immediate and bold. This is unmistakably birch beer. The “creamy” label on this, in my opinion, is more derived from the carbonation than the flavor. The bubbles are light and frothy, foamy even. They bite the lips, yet float across the tongue. It’s a wonderful form of carbonation that feels perfect in the mouth. There’s some vanilla in this, but it’s fleeting between the birch and peppermint flavors. I think the soda would be better served bringing the vanilla profile more to the forefront. The sugar level in this works really nicely. It’s up there at 42 grams, but the mint cuts it for a balanced symmetry of flavors.

Finish: Cane sugar; wintergreen; creamy foam.

Rating: If you’re a fan of birch beer, you’ll drink this one up. Boylan has crafted a soda rich in both birch and peppermint flavors with a hint of vanilla. But where Creamy Red Birch Beer really excels its carbonation. Often an overlooked element in sodas, the fizz or bubbles or whatever you want to call them, are critical in creating a pleasant mouth feel. This one is light and airy, similar to foam. It’s really fantastic. Birch beer is often a love it or hate it soda with little in between. It’s an acquired taste. It’s like the step-mom of soda, except if you hate it you don’t have to live with it until your late teens. Hope you’re not reading this, Michele. This could use a little more creaminess in its flavor profile as opposed to just mouth feel. I think a bolder vanilla taste would be a nice solution. But all things considered, this is a nice twist on classic birch beer that executes its most important flavors in a pleasing fashion. Lovers of earthier, botanical sodas will enjoy immensely.