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.