Day: August 14, 2015

El Manantial: ToniCol

History: “I don’t know how to explain this, but it is unique,” says ToniCol Project Manager and third-generation family businessman Tobías Ricardo Lozano Solorza. That’s a direct quote from someone within the company. Even they can’t explain their soda. So we’re off to a fun start. To be fair, Solorza did try, saying “It is something between Coke, Dr. Pepper and IBC Cream soda.” We always like to start every review in a unique way, but what we’re saying here is that El Manatial’s ToniCol is different. That’s actually the company’s catch phrase, “es diferente.” But ToniCol’s history is a rich one, dating all the way back to 1887. On an unrelated note, here’s a video of the soft drink’s history that looks like it was edited in 1887. Let us educate you on some Mexican soft drink history, filled with rivalries, friendships, and our superhero, Ángel Solorza González, also known as Don Angel. The story begins in the town of El Rosario in Sinaloa, Mexico. There were two soft drink companies: La Eureka and La Azteca. La Eurkea was far superior, and according to Solorza, its boss wanted to create a “Vanilla-flavored soft drink, with a touch of other essences.” He called the soda “TonyCo,” after his own nickname, Tony. You see, bossman was a savvy entrepreneur, but he was also a little self-absorbed and cutthroat. Don Angel started working for La Eurkea in 1925 in a different city, but after learning his youngest brother would need a leg amputation, he needed to return to El Rosario. Despite the family emergency, La Eureka’s boss fired Don Angel. With one of the best businessmen in the Mexican soft drink industry now a free agent, guess who came calling? La Azteca.

After beginning work for La Azteca, Don Angel quickly began increasing the company’s value and quality. It didn’t take long for La Eureka to take notice. The bossman’s son, Joaquín Espinosa de los Monteros approached La Azteca and inquired about merging the two companies. Side note: why did everyone in Mexico used to have names longer than my wife’s credit card statement? Moving along. Long story short, the merger happened and La Azteca’s owner, Enrique Casteñeda, Monteros and Don Angel owned the new company three ways. In 1947, a fourth shareholder was added and the company’s name was changed to the current “El Manantial.” It was also the year Don Angel’s son and Solorza’s grandpa, Ángel Solorza, designed the current logo and branding for Tonicol. But remember, back then the name was TonyCo. It stayed that way until the 1960’s when the Mexican Ministry of Health banned the name because, according to Solorza, “it confused the consumers, making them believe that the drink had curative attributes.” It was also in the 60’s when Ángel purchased complete ownership of El Manantial. Today, Solorza’s mother and her siblings own the company. As for what goes into this vanilla soda, Solorza elected not to answer that question. So I guess we’ll have to unravel the mystery ourselves.

Where to get: According to Solorza, ToniCol is available to purchase for Mexico natives at major retailers like Wal-Mart, Seven Eleven, and Soriana. For Americans, your best bet is to order online through Alegro Foods.

Nose: Hard to place. A little bit of orange cream and, oddly enough, carrot cake.

Taste: Carrot cake; sweet orange; light creaminess; vanilla; strong sugar. Whoa, this is different and weird. I definitely taste carrot cake. So much so that we put it in the photos. But there’s also kind of an artificial vanilla-orange cream flavor as well. There’s a creaminess to the orange, but not necessarily a creamy mouth feel. The mouth feel is very much a traditional cola in the sense that there’s some bitter notes and a rush of carbonation that aids the bitterness. Very sugary, borderline syrupy. This is very sweet. Man, I can’t shake that carrot cake flavor. It’s just… that’s what it is. Strange.

Finish: Tart sugar with orange undertones. If there is such a thing as orange-flavored sugar (eh), that’s what the aftertaste is like. It’s a tart sweetness. Odd, just like everything else about this soda.

Rating: ToniCol is hugely popular down in Mexico. I didn’t know that once you crossed the border, the flavors could change so much. I wouldn’t call this a cola, despite what your brain tells you based off the name. It brands itself as “vanilla soda,” but I wouldn’t call it a cream soda either, even though there are some slightly creamy orange notes in this. It’s just very puzzling. Here’s what we can tell you definitely about ToniCol: it’s incredibly sweet; it tastes like carrot cake; and there are some syrupy vanilla-orange cream flavors going on in the background. First, the sweetness. It’s intense, so intense there’s a syrupy taste tinged with orange. It could really stand to lose some of the sugar rush or add quite a few bitter notes. Next, carrot cake. Never in my life did I expect to taste something this vivid and weird outside of a Rocketfizz brand soda. I don’t know if this flavor was intentional, but you can take my wife on a date if that’s not exactly what you taste too. She’s with another guy now, but the offer still stands. Last, the puzzling orange cream flavor. Don’t think traditional orange cream. Think syrupy orange mixed with vanilla frosting. Not necessarily flavors that make you rush to pull your wallet out. If you want to try something really off the beaten path, ToniCol is worth a shot. Look, I commend ToniCol for being different, but I’m not sure it’s the kind of different I’d mess around with beyond a one-night-stand.

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Roots Soda Co.: Kaleidoscope

History: “The landscape of soda is one of ruin.” Bleak words from the founder of Roots Soda Co., Mark Pool. Even today in the midst of a resurgence where craft and gourmet soda are putting more and more pressure on the big boys, there is still a monopoly. But before the two mass manufactured brands put a strangle hold on the soda market, your favorite ice cold bottled beverage was made at local soda fountains and bottlers were bountiful from town to town. Ingredients were real. Flavors were unique. Competition was fun and not cutthroat. Roots Soda asks, “what if that never went away?” That’s the mentality they have when making soda. Tired of the current state of the industry, Mark Pool founded Roots Soda Co. in April 2012 in Edinburgh, Scotland. It’s an art to them. You get the sense that there’s this intense drive behind the company. This mission to bring soda back to its roots. They note on their website that they want “to make the best soda possible using and honouring only the best ingredients, and sending it off into a future yet unimagined.” I like to read that quote set to triumphant piano music. Are these guys soda jerks or power ballad writers? One thing’s for sure: they’re motivated to create. Pool notes “At Roots it’s not so much about one ingredient standing out, it’s about the ingredients coming together to make something new.” Pool initially sought to create a carbonated lemonade, a popular flavor outside of America, but felt more inspired by cola and how all of its flavors coalesce to form a signature taste. That really appealed to Roots and led to its two flavors. As you might expect, they’re well thought out, a little strange, and a lot inventive.

Hoodoo and Kaleidoscope. No, those are not the names of strippers at the dodgy club downtown. They’re the two flavors Roots Soda Co. produces. “The names for soda seemed a bit tired,” Pool adds. Hoodoo came first. Pool likens it to Jekyll and Hyde. It’s a soda that both burns and refreshes. Perhaps its no surprise then that Hoodoo took months to perfect. Kaleidoscope is the golden child of the bunch… at least it was initially. The first test batch came out perfect. According to Pool, the flavor was designed to evoke memories of childhood summers or going to a music festival for the first time. But Pool can’t take credit for the idea behind it. It was his buddy Jon Seller who “suggested a soda with strawberry, orange, basil and balsamic vinegar.” It tested off the charts at the farmers market. The problems came later and on a bigger scale. Strawberries proved to be a real bitch for Roots Soda. Basically they had to either double the amount of strawberries to maintain the soda’s optimal flavor and struggle with money or stick with the original recipe, lose a little bit of quality and hit their margins. Ultimately, Roots went with option one and had to re-arrange “everything” to make the money work. “We felt that there is too much stuff that gets made just to turn a profit. We wanted to make something we genuinely cared about,” said Pool. One thing’s for sure: these dudes have guts and they’re not afraid to screw up. They’ll have more flavors out in the future. Knowing their precision and high standards, it’ll likely take some time. Until then, we present to you: Kaleidoscope.

Where to get: In keeping with their old school vibe, currently Roots Soda is only sold at physical locations. And unfortunately, only a lucky few in the United Kingdom have access. If you’re in the area, here’s a list of where to find the goods. The company hinted online sales may be coming, so always be on the lookout.

Nose: Very tropical. Like a fruit punch. There’s a vey distinct smell of mango in this bottle. That’s interesting because there’s no mango in Kaleidoscope. It’s really pleasant though. Definitely smells like something fruity you used to drink as a kid.

Taste: Tropical juices; orange; balsamic; mild tartness. This starts out with those same tropical notes you smell when you hold Kaleidoscope under your nose. Like a fruit punch in the beginning that smoothly transitions into more natural flavors of juice. That fruit punch flavor really reminds me of Fruitopia Fruit Integration, a tropical soft drink from the 90’s. You can really taste the authentic orange juice at the end of each sip too. Orange is the most prominent of the ingredients in this you’ll taste. The natural juices render the carbonation very light, almost frothy with tiny bubbles. The tartness of the balsamic and orange provide a nice balance with the strawberry. For a soda with balsamic vinegar, this doesn’t taste like balsamic vinegar. That should make most drinkers happy. You’ll primarily taste tropical fruit punch that gets balanced out with tart, slightly acidic tasting notes.

Finish: Slightly bitter orange. This is where you can taste the basil, ever so slightly. There’s a little bit of an herbal flavor with the orange too.

Rating: For a soda with only a handful of natural ingredients, Roots Soda Co.’s Kaleidoscope tastes surprisingly like a more mature version of fruit punch. The orange juice is the most prominent element in the soda, interacting with the strawberry to impart a sweetness and the balsamic to provide some bitterness. This is sweet, then tart. The amount of sugar isn’t overpowering. In fact, it works really nicely. The flavors here are really dynamite. Balsamic is an ingredient that might scare some people because of its strong bittersweet flavor, but it’s not strong enough in the flavor profile here to make you notice it. This doesn’t have any sort of vinegar taste. What the balsamic does is help provide some tartness with the orange to balance out the sugar levels. The balsamic here is like the last kid in a big family. It’s there. It has an effect. You’ll probably even like it. But most of you will forget about it. And one day it’ll end up writing soda reviews on the Internet *cries*. This is a modern-day gourmet fruit punch-esque artisanal soda that touches all the right fruity notes with an impressively small list of ingredients. I wouldn’t mind tasting the strawberry profile a little bit more, but the use of orange is exquisite. This is truly one of the most inventive and flavorful fruit sodas out there. We can’t recommend it enough. Roots Soda Co. is currently a two-soda business in Edinburgh, Scotland. If they keep making flavors as good as Kaleidoscope, new creations will be inevitable. We hope they’re just getting started.