History: I’m about to introduce you to some adult soda. But hey now. Keep your pants on, buddy. Not only is this soda designed for a more mature audience; it’s also soda with a bit of an attitude. In the words of Just Craft Soda founder John McEachern, a lot of sodas today “feel like they were designed for a 13 year-old boy.” Just Craft Soda is the first offering from Peak Drive Beverages. It debuted only months ago, earlier in 2015. Every bottle is made with 60% fruit juice. Oh, and guess what else? It’s from Toronto in Ontario, CANANDA, dontchaknow! We’ve been waiting to use that photo. Thanks, guys. The idea of Just Craft Soda had been brewing in McEachern’s head for two or three years. With past job experience at PepsiCo. and General Mills, McEachern wasn’t satisfied with the state of the soft drink industry. He wanted to provide flavor variety for the adult soda drinker. “Something that could pair with a meal or alcohol,” he adds. All Just Craft Sodas begin with a familiar, real fruit juice that is then paired with a spice designed to enhance it. Apple and Ginger is probably the most common of the five flavors the company produces as opposed to the more exotic Peach and Habanero. The 60% juice is a major sticking point for these sodas. “We wanted an amount of juice in there that didn’t just feel like a marketing pitch, ala ‘look, 5% juice!’” said McEachern. Aside from fresh juice, the only other ingredients in each bottle of Just Craft Soda are carbonated water, natural flavors and pure cane sugar. At the moment the business is small, but if they have their way, it won’t stay little for long. The company hopes to expand into a Canadian national brand and eventually make inroads into some of the U.S. market. They’re hoping originality is what helps the company ascend. McEachern confidently concludes, “‘Wow, I haven’t tried that before,’ is what you’ll say.” We’re about to find out.
Where to get: Just Craft Soda is currently sold in about 50 stores and several restaurants in the Toronto area. There’s a handy link on their website to help you sort it all out. At the moment, Just Craft Soda is not sold online, though that possibility remains open down the line.
Nose: Earthy ginger; apple juice.
Taste: Tart ginger; light spice; apple; pepper. The flavors here are very balanced between mildly spicy ginger and tart apple juice. The tart elements are what stand out most. They accompany not just the apple, but the ginger as well. It helps mellow out the ginger, while allowing the apple to remain relevant in the flavor profile. The apple juice tastes authentic, though slightly acidic. The ginger sends some heat up the nostrils on the initial sip, but you’ll adjust quickly. This isn’t overly spicy like some ginger sodas, but the ginger does have a grittier flavor than what you’re probably used to drinking. Think peppery. But overall, this is easy drinking. Light and crisp.
Finish: Tart apples that quickly fade into a mild, peppered ginger.
Rating: Ginger is often an overpowering element any time it’s used in soda, but Just Craft Soda does a nice job of balancing it out with tart apple in their Apple and Ginger Soda. It really contributes to the soda’s drinkability. The tartness of the apple also often permeates its way into the ginger elements in each sip. That might sound like a bad thing, but it actually adds to the soda’s complexity, giving it a unique flavor profile. I’d argue it’s the best element of the drink. You get more of an earthy zing than a heat with this ginger. It’s refreshing, both literally and figuratively. But there will be a sector that comes into this expecting a spicy apple soda, and that’s not what’s inside this bottle. The sugar is done well, but I think the apple notes might benefit from being just a little bit sweeter and bolder to give that tartness a little more variance across each drink. I wouldn’t change the citrusy bite too much though. Some things you just can’t compromise on, like my first marriage. Canada’s newest player in the world of craft soda has concocted a fresh juice-based soft drink without losing the mouth feel and flavor of soda. That alone is an accomplishment. They also make a really solid Apple and Ginger. If you’re looking for refreshment, this answers the call.