History: Craft beer’s influence on craft soda is undeniable. It may not be the reason craft soda exists, but it’s certainly a major factor in craft soda’s rise within the beverage industry. Stephen Curtis, founder of Proper Soda in Grand Rapids, Michigan, saw the parallels and boundaries between the two categories. He notes, “It’s similar to the beer industry. They’re looking for things that are unique and tasty.” He wanted to lessen the gap. Soooo… beer soda? Soda beer? In 2013, Curtis came up with the company’s signature product: hop soda. “It may not always be appropriate to drink a beer in the middle of the day,” Curtis says, politely. Tell that to my neighbor, pal. It’s 3:00 p.m. and he’s running around naked in his backyard as I write this. The funny thing is, this beer-soda hybrid that he cooked up originated within the coffee industry. Curtis used to own a small coffee shop and started selling italian sodas there. Eventually he parlayed his knowledge of beverages and beans into espresso soda. Five years later, he sold the business, but his interest in soda never waned. It wasn’t until his buddy decided to enter a hop-coffee soda hybrid into a barista competition that Curtis took notice of hops. He didn’t mince words about his friend’s concoction; “It wasn’t very good.” With coffee-flavored everything rising on the national scene, he turned his attention to hops. “There wasn’t really a market for it,” he added. Hop Soda was introduced to the world in 2013. Curtis notes that hops tea was the basis for the soda’s flavor and that cascade hops are utilized for their citrus and pine tasting notes. He tried to engineer hop soda in a way that gelled with the changing state of the beverage industry. Basically, he wanted an emphasis on flavor and a reduction in sugar. Since Hop Soda’s inception, Proper Soda has introduced a new flavor every year with hibiscus in 2014 and coffee soda in 2015. Curtis says he anticipates those three flavors carrying the company until the spring of 2016. Until then, new flavors are being kept under wraps.
Nose: Hoppy IPA; floral notes. Smells like a citrusy IPA. Very aromatic.
Taste: Sweet Earl Grey tea; mild hops; floral notes; mild sugar. This is not what you’ll be expecting. Does not taste like a beer. The flavors are a whirlwind in that they all come and go very quickly, each with a crispness to them. The first thing you get is very light hops with a hint of sweetness. Next comes a nice floral body that transitions into a tea-like flavor. Earl Grey comes to mind. Surely this is the hops transforming throughout the flavor profile. There’s also a mild citrus taste that carries throughout the body. If I had to get specific, maybe even some undertones of lemon verbena in here. Very light, very crisp, very refreshing.
Finish: Light, aromatic hops that coat the tongue and leave some citrus tingles. Again, this is very brief.
Rating: Proper Soda decided to go big or go home on their idea. This is soda the non-alcoholic drinker can enjoy around their friends and come off looking cooler than them for it. And don’t worry, this isn’t beer soda and it isn’t too manly. Hop Soda comes in a cute-as-hell 8.4 ounce can and has a light, delicate flavor profile. This won’t be for everybody. In fact, a lot of people will be scared off by the concept alone. We have a word we call those people: boring. For the rest of you, fear not; Hop Soda isn’t overly hoppy. It doesn’t taste like beer. There’s no alcohol. You could even call it a little sweet. There’s only 14 grams of sugar in this, but remember, the can is only normal-sized for hobbits. Hop Soda’s most defining quality is that it’s easy drinking. The flavors are there, but never linger too long. Crisp, sweet hoppy notes transition into a floral Early Grey-like body and finish back off with citrusy hops. If you’re worried about this overwhelming you because you think it’s a watered-down version of beer, your concerns are misplaced. If anything, I wouldn’t mind seeing those flavors a little bolder, particularly the citrus elements. Admittedly, we didn’t have high expectations coming in, but Proper Soda has really put a unique twist on a beer-influenced soda that has an identity of its own. This is one of the more positive surprises we’ve come across in the world of craft soda. Innovators are to be commended and their creations are to be ingested. Cheers to Proper Soda for creating something original.