Month: September 2015

Soda Jerk Soda: Lemon Lavender

History: Seattle, Washington is continually churning out some of the most inventive and artisanal craft sodas on the market. But some of these effervescent elixirs are hidden gems that not everyone knows about. We believe they deserve their day in the sun. Enter Soda Jerk Soda, some of the most creative craft soda on the west coast. Owner Cory Clark had been a cosmetic chemist with a couple stores in Texas, but he was looking for his next project. Something different, he thought. Something cool. “I’m kind of a person that has to be creating something to be happy,” he says. He told us initially he wanted to start an ice cream and soda fountain, but after seeing the success of the Soda Stream, Clark changed his mind and started exploring soda syrups. He quickly changed course again after he realized he preferred fresh ingredients to syrup. It’s hard to disagree there. But before we tell you about the liquid, here’s an example of Clark’s creativeness. Dude sells his soda out of what is essentially a cute-ass baby truck on wheels. He bought it online and customized it himself after being inspired by a Cushman Truckster… aka the next thing I’m drunk buying online. Back to the soda. You won’t find anything traditional on the Soda Jerk Soda truck. It features three taps with two rotating flavors. Strawberry Rhubarb. Lime Cilantro Jalapeno. Lemon Lavender. These are some of the flavors you’ll find in place of classics like root beer or cola. “I try to pair an herb or spice with the ingredient,” Clark notes. Soda Jerk Soda also always uses organic cane sugar and fresh ingredients with as many sourced locally from Washington as possible. Clark adds he uses organic ingredients whenever he can. There are also no preservatives in Soda Jerk Soda. Hipsters everywhere should be lining up for this stuff.

Lemon Lavender is one of the first flavors Clark created and to this day it’s the company’s best seller. It’s also the only flavor consistently available on tap. Fresh lavender flowers from Washington are used in the soda instead of lavender extracts in order to make the soda taste as authentic as possible. What’s really interesting about Clark’s process is that he doesn’t cook down his ingredients. He just uses hot water for steeping the herbs and melting down the sugar. He says he does this to ensure “the flavors are very bright and strong.” The Lemon Lavender soda contains 12.5 % juice. Time to ingest the freshness.

Where to get: Soda Jerk Soda is one of those local-only craft sodas, so you’ve gotta be in the Seattle area or going to the city to get a taste. Clark told us he’s looking into shipping methods, but as of fall 2015, it was still quite a ways off due to high costs for both parties. Here’s a list of where to find Soda Jerk Soda in Seattle.

Nose: Strong lavender. Mild lemon-lime tucked behind the lavender. The scent wavers between sweet, floral, and savory. A big nose on this soda.

Taste: Tart; sweet lavender; lemon. Definitely a floral/botanical soda, but uncharacteristically sweet for a soda in that flavor zone. The flavors here are big and bold. This looks like pink lemonade, but is defined by the lavender taste that permeates each sip. There’s a quick rush of light carbonation at the beginning of the drink, quickly followed up by tart lemon and sweet lavender. This is initially more tart than sweet, which makes it very crisp. The lavender does give the soda a bit of an herbal taste, but it’s a sweet one. While lavender really shines in the first half of the drink, lemon takes over the second half of each sip. It’s interesting; the lemon becomes sweeter, while the lavender begins packing a bit of zing and tasting more savory, along the lines of a tart lavender tea. The lemon and lavender taste fresh and don’t make your taste buds over think. Overall, it’s a pretty even mix of sweet to sour, though I’d give the nod to the former. There’s a lot going on for just two main flavors, but luckily, this artisanal soda isn’t overly complicated.

Finish: Herbal lavender, almost like a tea with subtle tart lemon in the background.

Rating: What makes this soda interesting is the Jekyll and Hyde personalities of its two flavors, lavender and lemon. Initially the lavender is sweet and the lemon is tart, but on the back half of each sip, the roles are reversed. I’ve never tasted that before in a soda that relies so heavily on just two ingredients. Really takes your taste buds for a ride. Reminds me of that one night last year in Vegas… never mind. The standout flavor of the two is lavender. It’s very bold and very floral. Again, at times it’s very sweet, almost a little fruity. Near the finish, it becomes more tart and savory, imparting a botanical flavor. What I want to stress is this: the lavender taste in this soda is not a candied flavor. You can really taste the lavender flowers. Super, super authentic and flavorful. Lemon was a great companion flavor to pair with the boldness of the lavender. It helps reign in the soda’s overall flavor profile and adds a nice zing. For some, this won’t work because they simply can’t adjust to lavender in liquid form. For others, this might be a little too tart or herbal. Personally, I enjoy how the tartness lingers throughout each sip. I actually wouldn’t mind seeing the sweet lemon flavor enhanced in addition to that tartness. Soda Jerk Lemon Lavender is also really wonderful with dark rum for a simple, balanced, and flavorful night cap. Lavender is, of course, known for its sleep properties. The bottom line about Soda Jerk Lemon Lavender soda is that it tastes remarkably fresh and crisp. The two flavors work well in tandem and are bold on the palate. You’d be missing out if you didn’t indulge your taste buds in this unique, split personality of an artisan soda.

Four Stars

Advertisements

Howdy: Lemon Lime

History: Before Spite and 7-Up, there was Howdy. Orca Beverage President and Owner, Mike Bourgeois, calls Howdy the “original creators of the lemon-lime category.” In fact, Howdy Lemon-Lime was the primordial soda recipe from which 7-Up eventually evolved. The company originally began in 1929, and according to Bourgeois, back then Howdy was made with seven ingredients. I don’t think I need to explain the connection further. Here’s the weird part: one of those seven ingredients was lithium. Bourgeois tells us the soda was originally marketed as a “Bib-Lable Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda.” He goes on to tell us that lithium was used at the turn of the century as a mood-altering stimulant, thought to “give you a lift.” He offered up cocaine as a comparison. Good. Because there’s nothing I like with my lunch more than an ice cold lemon-lime soda chocked full of angel dust. Really makes the rest of the day go faster when I do my afternoon accounting work with a heart rate of 200 BPM. As you might imagine, lithium has since been regulated out of the drink. Bourgeois did not specify when Howdy went out of business, but notes the company had been dormant for many years until around 2010 when Orca Beverage reactivated the trademark due to its rich history. Orca has done this several times since the Mukilteo, Washington-based soda distributor began in 1987 because it wants to preserve the nostalgia of retro soda as much as possible. It is now the sole producer of Howdy. Currently, the company boasts around 120 different brands. Bourgeois says in the case of Howdy, “It was a natural niche for us to cultivate.” He adds that the recipe has been reformulated to be more modern and clean and uses pure cane sugar and real lemon and lime oils. Even the logo is the same as the original. “It’s more flavorful. It has a little more of everything in it,” Bourgeois says at the end of our conversation. Time to taste the history.

Where to get: Howdy Lemon Lime soda is distributed nationwide at retro soda retailers. We suggest checking your nearest Rocketfizz retailer. You can also purchase it online at Amazon (via Orca Beverage) and Soda Emporium. And if you’re a retailer looking to sell soda yourself, or you’re just a dude wanting a bunch of soda at one time, Homer Soda is your go-to.

Nose: Classic lemon-lime smell, leaning more towards the lime side of things. Fragrant pine scents as well.

Taste: Lemon-lime with an emphasis on lime. Howdy tastes like 7-Up with bolder flavors. The lime is much more dominant than the lemon. Still refreshing and light, but heavier and sweeter than your day-to-day lemon lime soda. Definitely more acidic as well, but not anything that’s going to overpower you. The lime becomes bolder as you drink it. Fairly straightforward in terms of lemon-lime flavor, again, with more lime than lemon.

Finish: A wave of tart lime followed by a smooth, sweet lemon flavor. That tartness outlasts both flavors and lingers until the next sip.

Rating: Howdy is classic, old-school soda. Not complicated, not sophisticated, but reliable. Howdy Lemon Lime is the Toyota Corolla of craft soda. Always dependable when called on and will get you where you want to go. This in-review ad brought to you by Toyota *cash register noise*. Howdy definitely tipped the scales toward lime in this soda. You still get the lemon, but the lime is bold and continually increases in flavor as the drink goes on. The carbonation is nice and works really well to compliment the soda’s flavors. It’s refreshing. The sugar is probably a gram or two high, but nothing you can’t get past. The only complaint we have is the lime. At times when it reaches its strongest points, it takes on a bit of a pine flavor, something that makes me feel like a lumberjack lost in the woods. I’m just trying to drink a soda, not chop down trees. So maybe juuuust tone down the lime a little. Or perhaps up the lemon. But Howdy Lemon Lime is a classic and it has staying power for a reason. It won’t blow you away, but it’s flavors are crisp and refreshing. I’d recommend it for a hot day out in the sun.

Three Stars

Jelly Belly: Sour Cherry

History: “I don’t know of another soda that marries up with their brand so closely,” says WIT Beverage Company Sales and Marketing Director, James Akers. So to answer your assumption from the get-go, yes, Jelly Belly Soda is designed to taste like a liquid version of its corresponding jelly bean flavor. It’s not a difficult concept to grasp, yet it wasn’t actually the directive given from Jelly Belly to WIT Beverage, the makers of Jelly Belly Soda. Akers recalls being told “Make ’em taste good. We don’t care if they taste like the bean.” This seems astonishing to me, and apparently it did to Akers too. It was his directive to make sure the sodas matched up to their candy companions. As an ex-buyer for Walgreens for 16 years, Akers saw lots of beverages come and go, including the failed Life Savers Soda. He didn’t want Jelly Belly to become another candy-turned-soda disaster. It was 2010 when Jelly Belly Soda hit the market. Today the brand boasts 10 flavors, including its bestseller, blueberry. Interestingly, two of those ten flavors are cherry: one normal, one sour. If you read the giant bold letters in the title above, you know which one we chose. If you didn’t, you might be Floyd Mayweather. “The sour cherry is intended to go after that younger, pucker-y sour candy crowd,” Akers tells us. In addition to the pure cane sugar in all Jelly Belly sodas, there’s a special ingredient in the Sour Cherry that gives it that signature zing: citric acid. And it’s not necessarily the ingredient itself that’s unique, it’s the amount. Akers notes Jelly Belly Sour Cherry contains two-and-a-half times more citric acid than the average soda. If you’ve ever tried pure food grade citric acid, it’s more intense than the sour taste you get in your mouth after waking up next to a bad decision the morning after a night out. It’s clear the company really wants to hammer home that sour bite. Will you be able to handle it, or will it handle you?

Where to get: Jelly Belly Soda is distributed all over America and in the United Kingdom. It’s also available for purchase online at Summit City Soda and in single bottles at Soda Emporium. And if you’re a retailer wanting to sell soda in your store or just someone looking to place a large order, give Homer Soda Company a call; they’ll have you covered.

Nose: Cotton candy. Didn’t see that coming.

Taste: Sour; candy strawberry; mild cherry. The tart bite is evident near the end of each sip. It coats your tongue. But the actual flavor is hard to place. It doesn’t jump out. Artificial candy strawberry is in there. The same could be said to a lesser extent with candy cherry. At times there’s even a strange cotton candy flavor. But there’s no bold complimenting flavor to go along with the sour. As the soda progresses, there’s definitely more of a candy cherry that jumps out once the soda hits your lips, but it’s literally gone in a fraction of a second in favor of a sour candy taste that’s more strawberry than cherry. The sour bite is what defines Jelly Belly Sour Cherry soda, but the main flavor is more of a question mark.

Finish: Candy gummy strawberry lingers just a bit longer than the soda’s signature sour flavor.

Rating: I know what a lot of you are thinking. There’s no way a Jelly Bean company can make a good craft soda. This isn’t necessarily true, but in the case of Jelly Belly Sour Cherry, the jury is still out. And I don’t know if they’re coming back. Sour cherry certainly nails the sour taste. It’s like someone melted down the sour bite from Sour Straws candy and infused it in this liquid. It works. It’s not too strong and would be a nice complimentary flavor. Would be. That’s the problem with this soda. It has no flavor identity. Sometimes it tastes like candy strawberry. Sometimes candy cherry. Other sips, you taste cotton candy. This soda is having an identity crisis, and I already get enough of that on a daily basis with my brother. He just can’t let the 80’s go. What I judged this soda on was a simple criterion: does it taste like the sour cherry jelly bean it’s named after? Answer: I don’t think so. But listen, it has one really solid quality in that signature sour taste. But the sour notes need something to play off of and there’s no consistency in the soda’s complimentary sweet side. If you’re a big fan of sour candy like Sour Straws, War Heads, or Sour Patch Kids, you’ll probably like this and I’d say it’s worth a shot. For the rest of us, there are better (slightly less) tart sodas out there, but I won’t fault you for trying it because the sour taste is unique and nice. Someone needs to send this soda to an adoption center. We can only hope it finds a family that will provide stability.

Three Stars

Ozark Mountain Bottleworks: Smuggler’s Run

History: Ahoy, mateys – batten down the hatches because shiver me timbers, it’s our 100th review! There, got all the pirate references out first sentence. Walk the plank with us as we tell the story of Branson, Missouri’s hidden treasure: Ozark Mountain Bottleworks. I’ll stop. Eventually. Maybe. Doubt it. “Craft soda kind of chose us,” says OZMB co-founder, Tina King. She humorously notes she prefers the term “bottle washer” as her title, noting “someone has to do it.” Ironically, the company’s inception isn’t linked to soda at all, but lemonade. King recalls the summer of 2009 in St. Louis when she started making homemade lemonade as a wine spritzer. “My kids wanted that drink,” she added. So King removed the alcohol to create a carbonated lemonade that eventually morphed into Ozark Mountain Lemonade, a pink lemonade-esque soda with a hint of lemon-lime. From that point, King says she and her husband just fell into the craft soda industry based on the success of the lemonade. “It never crossed my mind to go into beverage,” she says. When the couple started introducing other flavors, the first thing on their minds was color. They added a red cream, purple grape and orange cream soda in addition to the pink lemonade. I get the sense they were still strongly influenced by children’s interests at that point. From there, King and her husband decided to delve into root beet. They delved deep. She says it took two-and-a-half years before they found the right recipe for their signature OZMB Root Beer. I too have been searching years for my signature flavor… in my love life. I’m still single. To this day, root beer is still their best seller. Since its first five sodas, OZMB has branched out into seasonal flavors. One caught our attention and caused us to compile a list of pirate lingo: Smuggler’s Run. “It’s our summer brew,” King tells us before adding it was so popular this summer that it was ordered for an extended run. Its mellow blue color is eye-catching and the label’s font conjures up images of 20th century bootleggers and swindlers. The soda’s name is a nod to the Branson High School Pirates.

Smuggler’s Run is a seasonal tropical soda. “We love to vacation in the keys,” King tells us, something that inspired both the taste and color of the soda. It was a pet project of King’s, intended to mimic a non-alcoholic version of a rum runner. Certainly an intriguing idea and one that further displays the link between craft soda and craft cocktails. Smuggler’s Run contains a bounty of fruit flavors with King noting that coconut is intended to be highest in the flavor profile. In addition to coconut, notes of pineapple, banana, mango, cherry, and orange were also designed to be tasted. King tells us what she believes sets OZMB soda apart is the “amazing richness… There’s nothing like it,” she says cheerfully. All OZMB sodas are made with pure cane sugar and materials that are as eco-friendly as possible, including Missouri-made bottles. The company works closely with recycling efforts in Branson. We here at Five Star are all about charity too: case in point, I’m about to recycle this into my mouth.

Where to get: Ozark Mountain Bottleworks soda is sold nationwide. Traditionally, OZMB Smuggler’s Run ends in late summer, though King notes it will have a slightly extended run in 2015 due to its increased popularity. You may have to do a little work to find this one as it is not sold online due to its seasonal nature. You can find Smuggler’s Run in Rocketfizz retailers. Use the company’s online locator to find the store nearest you. Or you can contact OZMB directly. Once Smuggler’s Run ends, OZMB’s next seasonal flavor is Butter Beer. As of this review in mid-September 2015, Butter Beer is already being sold.

Nose: Very, very tropical. Reminds me of being back on the beach in the Bahamas sipping on rum punch, only without alcohol. Kool-Aid Bursts Tropical Punch wouldn’t be an unfair comparison, but this really smells like a fruity cocktail minus the booze.

Taste: Slightly creamy coconut; mango; pineapple; cherry; orange. You’ll taste coconut first. It’s probably the boldest of the bunch, but only slightly. The flavors in this are lush and varied. The taste is undoubtedly tropical fruit punch with several fruits the tongue recognizes. First, the coconut comes in all by itself. It’s slightly creamy, but mostly tropical, like in an island cocktail. It’s not quiiiiiite pina colada. The coconut flavor is more fruity than creamy and is quickly met on the palate by a combination of pineapple, orange and most notably, mango. The three flavors in tandem with the coconut interact to give the soda its signature flavor in each sip. The citrus taste is, again, fruity. You can really taste the flesh of the citrus fruit in your mouth, which was a flavorful surprise. It’s crisp and provides just the slightest amount of bitterness. There might even be a tinge of lime in here. Vivid tastes. Smuggler’s Run also has a little bit of a maraschino cherry flavor that floats about in the background, sometimes coming to the forefront depending on the sip. The same could be said with very mild banana, but you really have to search for it. A lot of flavors going on. Rich, sweet tropical citrus finds a great companion flavor in coconut with the rest being more subtle.

Finish: Pineapple-orange with faint creamy coconut lingering in the background.

Rating: Smuggler’s Run is fun, fruity and full of flavor. The fruit flavors taste ripe. They taste sweet, but they taste real. Yet it goes deeper. This is a soda about feeling. It places you on the beach, the waves crashing in at sunset. You sit there in your sun chair, hat tipped over your head, a cold tropical drink in hand. It really does dig up memories and blast you with nostalgia. Some might taste the fruity cocktail sans alcohol we’ve been preaching about. Others might be reminded of fruit punch from their childhood. This is a glass-bottled soda that hits home. It also doesn’t hurt that the flavors are bountiful, yet don’t overpower each other. They intermingle so well that it’s really hard to isolate them in detail, but I’d describe the taste as tropical citrus punch spun in a cocoon of coconut, and infused with droplets of cherry syrup; maybe a couple banana slices in the glass too. The coconut flavor probably plays the leading role with excellent support from the notes of mango, orange, and pineapple. If you’ve ever had mango, you’ll recognize this flavor immediately since it’s such a rare find in soda. The meandering cherry syrup taste is, no pun intended, the cherry on top. Smuggler’s Run is a whale of a fruit soda. Paired with rum, it’s a tropical cocktail in itself. This is a soda that maximizes its potential and delights the taste buds. Drink it chilled without ice from the bottle. We wouldn’t change a thing. The only drawback we can find is that it’s limited edition. Get it before the season ends, throw on a pineapple shirt, and start jammin ‘mon.

Five Stars

 

Rogue: Citrus Cucumber

History: This is a story that ends with soda, but one that took clam chowder, nudity, and charity to get there. Now I’ve aroused your interest. Rogue is a company with gusto. “Our soda is a revolution,” they proclaim to us via email (For clerical purposes, all quotes in this article were relayed by marketing manager, Anna Abatzoglou, who made it clear these are not direct quotes from herself, but rather the company. The specific employee(s) were not specified.). Rogue began in October of 1988 in Ashland, Orgeon, but soon needed to expand. A few months later, founder Jack Joyce became stranded at a bar in Newport, Oregon due to a raging snowstorm. There he met the creator of Mo’s Clam Chowder, Mo Niemi, who told Joyce it was always her dream to live above a bar. Needing a bigger space, Joyce listened to Niemi’s conditions. There were two: 1. Give back to the community and 2. Make sure this picture of a naked Niemi in a bathtub hang inside the bar. How lucky. Dude meets a girl and instantly gets a nude photo. I can’t even get one from girls on Tinder. The company tells us to this day that photo hangs in all 10 of their pubs. Rogue also doesn’t have a marketing budget, instead putting that money toward local charities and infrastructure. Rogue has resided in Newport, Oregon since 1992.

If you’ve heard of Rogue before, you’re probably aware of their wide array of beers, from normal to straight funky. The company tells us they not only also make beer and soda, but farm a bunch of different fruits, vegetables, and grains. Today’s review, Rogue Citrus Cucumber, contains both Rogue Honey and Rogue Cucumbers from Rogue Farms in Independence, Oregon; this ad brought to you by Rogue. Says Abatzoglou of the soda’s signature fruit, “When they’re ripe, we pick them off the vine, slice them up, and add them fresh into every hand-crafted batch of Citrus Cucumber Soda. We grow cukes for our small batch spruce gin so why not go cuke to cocktail with a refreshing cucumber citrus soda?” Any excuse to get the term “cuke” into this review will do. It sounds like a combo of cute and puke. Some company specializing in cat products reading this just got a great idea, I’m sure. All Rogue sodas are brewed in small batches, using pure cane sugar and Rogue Farms Honey. “We get honey from 7,140,289 Rogue Farms honeybees that is used to sweeten all of our sodas,” the company tells us. I love that they maintain a current count on their over seven million bees. Most days I can’t even keep track of where I put my keys last. They also note the bees are “carefully kept and fed.” I conjured up an image of what I hoped this meant, and the Internet did not disappoint. But seriously, it’s apparent Rogue is a company about fun and one that takes pride and puts serious effort into its products. They’re basically internally going farm-to-table with their soda, a very interesting concept in the craft soda world. Rogue’s motto is “Dare, Risk, Dream.” I’m about to add a fourth: drink.

Where to get: Rogue sodas are available in about 30 states, according to the company. You can always purchase it online via the Rogue store.

Nose: Definitely smells like candy melon with a hint of cucumber. That sweet fruit is evident on the nose, almost like a candy kiwi. Starburst tropical fruit chews are the closest comparison I can come up with. It’s definitely a familiar childhood smell. An intriguing beginning.

Taste: Fruity melon; cucumber; mild lemon and lime; cane sugar. The flavors here hit you quickly and are unchained from harsh carbonation like most lemon-lime sodas. This is very fruity for a lemon-lime soda, but I wouldn’t call it tropical. You’ll taste these fruity flavors before the lemon-lime. Cucumber is definitely in here, but not as bold as I expected it to be for a soda that bears its name. I also taste some kiwi in here, but I think that’s more of a result of how the honey contrasts with the cucumber. There’s a variety of melon tastes here too, though subtle. Most prominent among those tastes is honeydew. There’s two types of honey in this (wildflower and Rogue Farms), so that’s probably a big reason for the melon flavor. All those melon flavors in addition to the kiwi and cucumber swirl around in your mouth and coat the back of your tongue before mild traditional lemon-lime finishes out the body of the sip. The sugar is crisp, and with the citrus elements, makes the soda even more refreshing than expected. The way the honey and cucumbers work together makes for some really interesting tasting notes.

Finish: Cucumber and lemon-lime that alternate back and forth. Lime is the most prominent of the three flavors.

Review: Rogue is perhaps best known for its unconventional beers. It’s a company with attitude and feistiness, and one not afraid to take risks. Rogue’s Citrus Cucumber is probably the wackiest offering they have on their soda side, and it’s one that displays a surprisingly wide range of flavors. Cucumber certainly has a leading role in the flavor profile, but I wouldn’t say it hogs the spotlight. There are very nice candy melon flavors that accompany the cucumber, like bold honeydew and even undertones of watermelon. Both the wildflower and Rogue Farms Honeys play a big role in the taste as well. They interact with the cucumber to form a kiwi taste that’s up front along with the honeydew. It’s so fruity for a cucumber-flavored drink. There’s a joke in there somewhere, but I just won’t. Traditional lemon-lime comes in near the end, but it’s subtle. I wouldn’t mind seeing the lemon-lime higher in the flavor profile, personally. The fruitiness is unexpected, but it takes the edge off the cucumber and that’s a nice little deal for you. Trust me, you don’t want cucumber to be exceedingly strong in a soda. I gotta admit, this is a little weird, but it’s definitely something your taste buds need to experience to fully understand. Rogue seems to be one of the best beverage companies at understanding this concept. Their creativeness is much-needed. Just remember… the quirky, creative kids from high school are the ones writing your checks now. Don’t be afraid to get a little weird.

Four Stars

Sprecher: Cream Soda

History: Sprecher sodas are known for their bold, deep flavors. Turns out you can thank Germany for this. I’ll explain in a minute. In talking to Randy Sprecher on the phone, I get the sense he’s a gentle, intelligent soul with an almost intimidating knowledge on the intricacies of beer and soda-making. Originally from California, he reminisces how he spent 18 months in Augsburg, Germany in the late 60’s. Deustchland is arguably the beer capital of the world, so naturally, Sprecher says he lost his taste for American beer there. This became a problem when he moved back to California because he couldn’t afford to import his favorite beers. Solution? He started making his own in 1971. Despite having a degree in oceanography, Sprecher wanted to pursue beer, and so he packed up his van and drove up to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he began working for Pabst. He made about $40,000 before he said the company started deteriorating. Wanting to start his own business for the modest amount he made at Pabst, Sprecher began buying various pieces of brewery equipment via auction. Through his craftiness, he successfully started up Sprecher Brewery in Glendale, Wisconsin and began selling beer in 1985. Really puts bargain shopping into perspective. Hope my girlfriend is reading this. He’d also researched soda recipes to a great degree on the side, and thought, “What does it take to make a soda that is of much higher quality?” Three years later, he figured it out, creating and selling his own root beer and cream soda.

To a craft soda connoisseur, Sprecher soda might raise an eyebrow or two. What you’ll likely notice is that the brewery uses high fructose corn syrup in its soda as opposed to pure cane sugar. To many, cane sugar is to craft soda what great actors are to movies; you can make it without them, but it’s not the same. Sprecher believes his recipes shouldn’t cause drinkers any hesitation. Let me at least try to explain to you why. Be forewarned, Randy Sprecher is a scientist and I am not. Sprecher Brewery brews their sodas in gas-fired kettles. Everyone knows that water boils at 212 degrees. Well, Sprecher tells us that the skin of the kettles the brewery uses reach up to 1,100 degrees. This causes a chemical reaction in the high fructose corn syrup (which is also bonded to glucose) by splitting the sucrose and forming inverted sugar. As Sprecher explained this process to me, jumping from chemical reaction anecdotes to overviews of molecules, all I could think in my head was, “I know some of these words!” He adds, “Whether you’re talking about cane sugar or fructose, you’re talking about the exact same molecule,” and “I can show you letters from Harvard Medical School” that don’t support the idea that cane sugar is better than corn syrup. I understand this won’t satisfy some people, but just know that Sprecher sodas are also brewed in small batches using Wisconsin-sourced ingredients, including the crown jewel of the cream soda – clover honey from Indian Summer Honey Farms. “We use more honey than they can produce,” says Sprecher. He’s not joking. Indian Summer Honey’s beekeeper literally has to pack up his bees from Wisconsin in the winter and take them down to Florida just to fulfill the massive orders Sprecher Brewery places. When it comes to the cream soda, Sprecher adds that vanilla plays a critical role in addition to the honey, and that he believes the flavor is akin to a toasted marshmallow. “We just strive for big, pure flavor so it really comes at you,” he says. Then come at me, Sprecher. Come at me.

Where to get: Sprecher soda is distributed nation-wide, though it may be sporadic in some areas. If you live in Midwest America, you should be golden… just check one of your local grocery stores. You can also use the company’s online locator (ignore the fact it only lists 10 states. Just enter your zip code) to find the retailer nearest you. For the rest of us, there’s always the Internet. You can buy anywhere from a single bottle up to 36 of them directly from Sprecher’s online store. Amazon can also hook you up.

Nose: Rich, dark vanilla; honey; mild french vanilla ice cream.

Taste: Vanilla cream, brown sugar; semisweet honey; creaminess. This is such a deeply rich, vanilla cream soda. The vanilla comes through more than any flavor and it’s bold, yet not overly sweet like some vanilla cream sodas. The sugar keeps the flavor nice and crisp. Undertones of honey carry the soda throughout each sip and contrast nicely with the vanilla, keeping the sugar levels in check and providing a slightly bittersweet bite on some sips. This is very, very creamy with big honey-vanilla flavor. There are even some brown sugar and caramel notes that float about throughout each sip. On some sips, there’s even a sweet earthiness to it, kind of like a toasted marshmallow. Very satisfying on the palate. When paired with ice, the cream soda becomes even creamier.

Finish: Creamy vanilla caramel with a semisweet bite at the tail end of each sip. Fantastic.

Rating: Sprecher’s Cream Soda is a standard-bearer in its category. It’s incredibly flavorful without being overly complex. Creamy vanilla and bittersweet honey highlight this delectable liquid treat from Wisconsin. Notes of brown sugar and burned caramel dance about in the background of each sip. The vanilla is velvety in the mouth and is sweet with a subtle tartness. It definitely communicates the essence of real vanilla. If I had to use one word to describe this cream soda it would be this: scrumptious. If I had another, it would be rich. When you’re tasting the flavors in this bottle, you know you’re drinking a craft soda. Even the look is mesmerizing. Sprecher’s Cream Soda mirrors a cream ale sitting in a glass with its thick, foamy head that takes considerable time to subside. It’s a nice visual touch. The last time I had something that tasted this good and looked this sexy, I was in Mexico on my post-divorce celebration. The details are kind of hazy. You’ll feel hazy in all the right ways after this cream soda too. It’s heavenly. You’d never taste the corn syrup in it. We can’t even tell and we taste hundreds of sodas a year. I wouldn’t change anything about this. Cream soda is a flavor that evokes stars in the eyes of soda connoisseurs, yet often leaves them in tears because of diabetes-inducing sugar overload. There’s nothing to cry about here. Celebrate the magnificence of this creamy, rich mouth magic and order a four-pack. This is one that just needs to be experienced.

Five Stars

Dry Sparkling: Lavender

History: “I believe we’re creating a new category of soda,” says Dry Sparkling CEO and founder Sharelle Klaus. The Seattle, Washington-based Dry Sparkling is and has been at the forefront of the artisan, lower calorie, natural soda movement. The company began in 2005 and is about to celebrate its tenth anniversary. The bottles are sleek, modern in packaging design. Each flavor is translucent in color. There are only four ingredients in every soda: carbonated water, cane sugar, natural flavors, and phosphoric acid. No flavor contains over 100 calories. And unlike a majority of glass-bottled sodas that are created with the intention of being a nostalgia-inducing sweet treat, Dry Sparkling’s flavors were engineered with more of a culinary mindset. “I know that you can pair food with a nonalcoholic,” Klaus tells us she recalled thinking, adding she sometimes had thoughts like, “I really want a basil soda with this plate of spaghetti.” For the record, I too really want a basil soda, and also a girl who’s a 10, but will settle for a six. Dry Soda has been more successful in manifesting their vision… so far. In fact, according to Klaus, they’re the fastest growing soda company in the nation. Dry Sparkling designed each of its eight flavors so that they pair well with food. You won’t find craft soda classics like root beer or cream soda here. Instead you’ll experience flavors like Lavender, Vanilla Bean, and Juniper Berry. “It’s all about the flavor for us, honoring the flavor or ingredient,” Klaus adds. These are the New-Age warriors of soda.

Despite Dry Sparkling’s many differences from your typical sugary liquid offering, its creation was closely related to a common denominator almost all sodas shares: children. Klaus laughs as she recounts how she couldn’t drink alcohol for almost ten years of her life when she was either having children or nursing them. Like many women with finer tastes than mine, Klaus loves wine, particularly pairing wine with food. Having four kids threw a wrench in the wine part of that equation, so Klaus sought to create Dry Sparkling, a high-end nonalcoholic beverage that could be paired with a variety of cuisines. I find it ironic the brand has a close relation to kids, but wasn’t created for them. That said, it wouldn’t be the worst idea to get your young ones hooked on this instead of root beer floats unless you want them looking like my stepmom in a few years. Sorry. But not really. The company has completely embraced the crossover between the nonalcoholic crowd and the world of artisan spirits. Klaus tells us, “I was watching craft beer and I thought, ‘this is absolutely what has to happen in soda.’” They encourage drinkers to try their sodas in cocktails. There’s even a whole section on their website devoted to drink recipes. “That’s where the innovation comes from…. Soda should be opened up,” says Klaus.

While the company’s name is technically still Dry Soda, and despite Klaus referring to her products as “soda” in our interview, the business seems to be moving away from the term. “Dry Soda” recently rebranded. Their bottles are now labeled “Dry Sparkling,” as is their website (see update at bottom of page). Klaus acknowledges that she realizes soda is a negative word, but also adds she feels “sparkling” better defines the brand because of the bubbles and low sugar content. Today’s review, lavender, was one of Dry’s original four flavors and also the closest to Klaus’s heart. She tells us she worked on it herself, taking a staggering 1,300 (!!!) flavor tests to perfect the recipe in order to achieve a balance of floral and herbal tasting notes. “It’s the one I’m most proud of,” she says. She recommends pairing the soda with chocolate, so we took her recommendation up in our photos. Klaus says this can be a soda even for the less adventurous, noting she wanted to capture the comfort of vanilla in a lavender soft drink. She laughs, adding, “I have four small children under the age of seven, I needed something soothing.”

Where to get: Dry Sparkling is distributed nationwide. You can find it in stores like Whole Foods and Target, among others, but the best way to find the retailer nearest you is to use the company’s online soda locator. You can buy Dry Soda online from Soda Emporium in single bottles and Amazon in 12-packs.

Nose: I understand this is lavender, but I’m smelling ginger beer and some fruity floral notes. That ginger note is distinct. Unexpected.

Taste: Light; mild citrus; floral. This is light and refreshing. No ginger flavor like on the nose. Lavender is an unfamiliar flavor in soda, so your taste buds’ tendencies will be to look for something it knows first, and what we tasted first was a familiar friend: citrus. Particularly lemon-lime citrus. This flavor becomes less and less prominent as you get accustomed to the sweet floral notes in this soda. There’s only 70 calories in a 12 oz. bottle, but the sugar is prominent enough to satisfy the prototypical soda drinker. It’s likely supplemented by the sweet lavender floral notes on the backend of each sip. The carbonation serves as a buffer between the light citrus and lavender flavors. The bubbles are tiny, and come and go in a flash about half way through each sip. You’ll taste a familiar mild citrus up front that gives way more and more each sip to floral flavors with balanced sweetness.

Finish: Light floral notes of lavender. The lavender tastes like a sweet flower at the finish of every sip, and becomes bolder as the drink goes on.

Rating: Soda drinkers are not often the most adventurous when it comes to flavor, even when enjoying craft or artisan soft drinks. We like some sort of familiarity even when dipping our toes in the deep end. Orange and fennel? Why not, because I know at least one of those flavors. Lavender soda? You might get the insane eyes from your friends. But guess what? Dry Sparkling’s Lavender is actually a safe first step for those wanting to venture out into the unknown. There’s a familiarity to it on first sip in the form of a lemon-lime taste. It’s a nice segue into the soda’s main tasting notes that are floral and slightly sweet in nature. This is a crisp and refreshing soda. It’s light and very drinkable. You could down this in ten minutes and be fine. With a flavor this rare though, I’d suggest savoring it a little more to enlighten your taste buds. I suggest the same thing to all women I date and I’m still strongly single, so maybe just trust your instincts. For a soda with only four ingredients, this is actually quite flavorful. For anyone afraid of trying herbal or botanical sodas, I’d suggest getting your feet wet with this one first. It’s not overly bold in flavor and definitely isn’t something you’ll encounter often. It’s fun. It’s refreshing. It’s different. And it’s definitely worth trying a bottle to gauge for yourself.

Four Stars

Update: This review was edited to reflect the name of the company as “DRY Sparkling” instead of “DRY Soda” at the request of the company.

Pig Iron Cola

History: Pig Iron Bar-B-Q is a little piece of the south stashed in the upper northwest. Michael Lucas opened Pig Iron Bar-B-Q in 2004 in Seattle, Washington after studying barbecue while living down in Texas. So you’re probably wondering how a barbecue joint ended up with its own soda. Take a seat. Your lesson is now beginning. When it came to selling soda in his restaurant, Lucas was very specific from the beginning. “When I opened, the one thing I specifically wanted was RC Cola,” he said. So by gawd, he got RC Cola. But there was a problem. Suddenly in 2006, the RC Cola was no longer available. Lucas tells us over the phone with a chuckle that Pig Iron’s RC Cola supplier wasn’t actually licensed to distribute RC Cola. Dude was a soda bootlegger. So I guess I can cross that one off the business idea list. Naturally, Lucas sought out other distributors, but none of them could grant his wish for RC Cola. Eventually one of those distributors, Orca Beverage, called Lucas back and asked what he thought about making his own soda. He was game, and for three months in 2006, Lucas and Orca Beverage experimented with flavors that mimicked RC Cola. He said he wanted something that was “undoubtedly straightforward, but different,” something that had a little bit of mystery to the flavor. He added that caramel and slightly fruity notes were both in mind when concocting the recipe. There was one element of the soda that Lucas was very specific about: carbonation. Unlike traditional colas that blast your mouth with bubbles, Lucas wanted something much less intense that felt softer in the mouth. Another thing Lucas had in mind? Pairing his cola with food. “The thing I thought about most was having the soda with the brisket,” he adds. Savory, salty meats paired with sweet, slightly fruity craft cola. It makes me shed a red, white, and blue-tinged single tear.

Where to get: Pig Iron Cola is nationally distributed. In addition to the BBQ joint in Seattle, you can purchase it online from vendors like Summit City Soda (better deal) and Amazon. If you’re a business looking to sell soda or just someone wanting to place a larger order, Homer Soda Company is your best option.

Nose: Soft cola notes reminiscent of RC Cola; faint cherry; kola nut (cola bitterness).

Taste: Cola; cherry syrup; cane sugar; mild bitterness. This is a sweeter cola with noticeable fruity notes. Cherry is what stands out, but it’s subtle. This is definitely more cola than cherry cola, but the fruity influence is there. I’ve heard the taste of Pig Iron Cola described as “brash” several times, but I disagree. It’s sweet, but not brash. Not harsh. It’s a sweeter, bolder version of RC Cola with more of a cherry note. As is standard with most cola, the carbonation is flush up front before any taste comes in and tinges the entire drink with a traditional mild bitterness. Pig Iron Cola displays a familiar cola taste with a distinct sweetness and slightly fruity influence that help it stand out.

Finish: Slightly more bitter than the body of the soda, but still sweet with faint cherry notes and soft mouth feel.

Rating: We say it all the time because it’s true: cola is the hardest flavor to make taste unique without flying off the hinges. Pig Iron Cola does a nice job of staying traditional, while adding subtle tasting notes like cherry, and turning the volume up on others, like the cane sugar. Those who have tried RC Cola will find an instant comfort with Pig Iron Cola. The two are similar, but Pig Iron is bolder and not quite as soft on the mouth. It’s a bold cola without becoming harsh. It’s like the opposite of my ex-wife. Where this really shines in my opinion is the cane sugar. It’s crisp and bold, but still has enough of a balanced mouth feel to invite copious repeat sipping. The sugar really weaves together the classic cola flavors with those cherry notes we keep mentioning. Because this is on the sweeter side, I’d recommend pairing it with savory or salty foods. This makes sense considering it’s a barbecue joint that makes the stuff. Pig Iron Cola is comfort soda. In a craft soda market that is continually trending away from cola, Pig Iron is a nice reminder that the category is still alive and well.