Month: July 2015

Proper Soda: Hop Soda

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.

Where to get: To put it bluntly, Hop Soda’s distribution across the country is random. Take a look for yourself via the company’s website. However, it is sold online. You can even buy it by the can.

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.

Just Craft Soda: Apple and Ginger

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.

Spindrift: Cranberry Raspberry

History: Remember when you were young and you’d make mom really mad? Remember that motherly rage? The kind of anger you wouldn’t even unleash on prison inmates? Well, Bill Creelman didn’t have a monster mom. But he did have one who did not care for soda. He hardly ever drank it. Bummer, I know. She was more of a farm-to-table gal. Creelman couldn’t enjoy all the little treasures you and I did. That might be why later in life, for six years, he became addicted to Diet Coke. Then with kids of his own, they took notice. Not so healthy, dad. So in 2010, the dude made his own soda… with a twist. It all started in a little studio-sized office in Charlestown, Massachusetts. Creelman felt the market was stagnant. He wanted to make a soda that was healthy enough to impress his mom and delicious enough to satisfy his kids. That’s why Spindrift soda is all about the ingredients, specifically the fresh-pressed juices in every bottle. The company isn’t afraid to spend more as long as what they put inside the bottle is of a higher quality. “That’s what sets Spindrift apart,” says company brand manager, Caitlin Burke. For example, in each bottle of Cranberry Raspberry, there’s 16 raspberries. Even for people who don’t wear plaid or shop exclusively at Whole Foods, that’s eye-raising. According to Burke, Spindrift tries “to remain faithful to the fruit.” They claim to be the first widely distributed soda to use fresh juice as the second main ingredient behind carbonated water. And listen, if you aren’t a soda manufacturer, you’re probably not aware how difficult it is to bottle soda with fresh juice. It’s essentially a chemistry nightmare. In Creelman’s own words, “It turned out to be a disaster…. I ended up spending 5x what I budgeted.” Sounds like every girl I’ve ever dated. Eventually, they got it right. Today the Boston, Massachusetts-based (they moved) company produces seven flavors of soda, if you include their new ginger beer. Even their name was chosen to evoke thoughts of freshness. Creelman used to work down on the docks and sailboats. That fine, refreshing mist you feel when out on the ocean; it’s called Spindrift. That’s a pretty solid pitch, so we decided to put it in our mouths.

Where to get: Spindrift is most popular around the Boston metro and surrounding area. But it’s also distributed nationally. To find the nearest retail location, use the Spindrift store locator. If you’re out of luck there, you can buy it online via Famous Foods.

Nose: Smells exactly like someone put a bowl of blue raspberry jolly ranchers down in front of your nose and then drizzled some raspberry jam on top. Definitely brings back childhood memories. I’ve got the tingles – we’re off to a good start.

Taste: Raspberry; tart carbonation; mellow cranberry; light sugar. Very light and refreshing. As expected with these two fruits, this is more tart than an average fruit soda, but it’s a mild tartness that doesn’t hinder the flavor profile. It actually adds to the taste. The two fruits really do shine through in the soda. Raspberry is upfront, initially sweet and then quickly retracting into a more reserved form. If you’ve ever blended raspberries for a smoothie and tried them before mixing with the other ingredients, that’s what the raspberry flavor in this is like. In short: fresh. As a whole, this is soda with noticeably less sugar. Looking at the label confirms this at only 16 grams a bottle. Normally, most sodas contain somewhere between 30-45 grams. The cranberry lingers on the back of the tongue after the initial raspberry blast. It’s much more subtle, yet noticeable. Raspberry is the flavor you’ll remember from this soda.

Finish: Ground raspberries with no sugar and a lingering tartness that comes from the cranberries.

Rating: As people become more self-aware of what they put in their bodies, the beverage industry continues to shift… or spin. Ahem, sorry. People want fresh ingredients. They want real ingredients. They want less sugar. But they don’t want to compromise flavor. This is a continuous challenge for bottlers to evolve with the times. Spindrift is at the forefront of this new natural movement when it comes to soda. While many new bottlers are popping up with these same aspirations, Spindrift is already doing it on a national level. I don’t often shop at Whole Foods and I’m not sure if they carry Spindrift, but you gotta think these sodas would be like porn to those people. You can taste the fruit in Spindrift’s Cranberry Raspberry soda. Hell, you can see it if you just shake up the bottle. Cranberry Raspberry is highlighted by a fresh, crushed raspberry base with mild tartness and followed up by cranberry with its own variety of tongue tingles. Some may long for more cranberry flavor and others may not love the amount of acidity in this, but we’re talking about two fairly tart fruits. What’d you expect, ya weirdo? I thought this would be more like a spritzer or a fresh fruit-infused sparkling water, but I was wrong. I’ll break it down. It’s tart, but not sour. Light, but has enough sugar to keep you comfortable with calling it a soda. And natural, but not too pompous. This is perfect for the hot summer months out by the pool and crisp enough to compliment a hefty meal. If you’re into good fruit sodas, you’ll enjoy this. If you’re not into fruit, you won’t, and I also wouldn’t recommend vacationing in the tropics. Raspberry is often used as a secondary flavor in soda. It’s nice to see someone pull it off in a staring role.

Apple Beer

History: Throw your knickers on and bang your mugs together, ‘cuz it’s Apple Beer season in America. First of all, Apple Beer is not literally apple-flavored beer and contains no alcohol. In fact, it was designed long ago by northeast German “biermeisters” for those who didn’t fancy themselves a fine ale. So what is it, exactly? According to Apple Beer’s marketing director, Ashley Simmons, “Apple Beer’s flavor comes from an all-natural blend of fruit and herb extracts” with a flavor profile designed to be “light, crisp, and dry.” It has a foamy head, like a beer, and gets its crisp flavor from the peel of the apple. Don’t expect much beyond that. We tried and were greeted with the response “We can’t offer too many details.” That’s cool. I have secrets too. But legally, I’m not allowed to share them with you. With humble beginnings in Germany, today the beverage is exported around the world, from Australia to Curaçao. Apple Beer’s American debut came in 1964 in the “Intermountain West.” In this case, that means Salt Lake City, Utah. Apple Beer still maintains its peak popularity throughout western America. For you nostalgia enthusiasts, Simmons might tickle your warm and fuzzies by letting you know that “We have always been a family-owned business.” The family business is currently in its fourth generation. If you’re on the fence about whether or not to try Apple Beer, consider this: it has won the Best of State beverage award for Utah every year since 2010, including this year. It’s designed to be an all-natural antithesis to syrupy soda and is made with cane sugar and without gluten… so you can keep your fedoras on, hipsters. “With a half-century of experience, we have become a tradition in the lives of our many loyal customers,” says Simmons. Let’s see if they’re about to score some more loyalty.

Where to get: Apple Beer is distributed internationally and, obviously, across the U.S. To find the nearest retail location near you, use Apple Beer’s locator. It’s also sold online. For singles, try Soda Emporium. For 12-packs, hit up Apple Beer’s online store.

Nose: Acidic apple juice.

Taste: Apple; tartness; fig; raisin. First of all, no this doesn’t taste like beer or apple-flavored beer. That said, it does taste like apple, though the flavor isn’t what I’d call robust. Somewhere in the middle. Much closer to a carbonated cider than anything else, but not enough fizz to call it a sparkling cider. The apple flavor comes through in a burst at the beginning of each sip and is quickly followed by a cutting tartness that rides the back of your tongue likes surfer bros catching a wave. This is a dry beverage. The flavor profile is rounded out with notes of fig and raisin. Not totally sure where those come from. The ingredient label doesn’t list any spices, just “natural flavors,” but the fruitiness provides a nice balance to go along with the apple cider taste.

Finish: Tart apple cider that lingers for a few seconds, then fades.

Rating: Apple Beer is solid. It’s that friend you know you can count on at the end of the night to be your DD after you’ve stopped caring about how much your tab is going to be at the bar. Its flavor is unmistakably fall; it’s a crisply carbonated apple cider-esque soda you should be drinking as the leaves change color. So, of course, we reviewed it in July. Just a note: Apple Beer’s biggest season is actually summer, so I obviously know nothing. Apple Beer’s flavor also comes along with an acidic bite. Probably a little bit too much for me. I’d prefer to have seen the apple flavor increased and the tartness decreased. I also got some additional tasting notes of fig and raisin, and though I can’t place why, they were the best parts of the soda. This is definitely worth a try because it has a nice, familiar flavor that takes you straight to autumn. I’d estimate its likability will always be highest in summer and fall. In our opinion, this is cold weather soda. Revisit this in October.