Day: October 7, 2015

Fireman’s Brew: Black Cherry

History: Despite their well-earned status as heroes, firefighters are average dudes and dudettes just like you and I. They want the same things most of us do at the end of a long day, namely, beer. Firefighters Rob and Ed spent a full day in December of 2000 fighting a raging brushfire in the Glendale Mountains of California. The battle took them into the midnight hours. Exhausted, they just wanted an ice cold beer, something that really said, “you earned me, pal,” something a cut above the rest. I often felt the same way after my ex came back from a trip to the mall with her friends. As you might’ve guessed by now, they eventually decided to make their own under the name Fireman’s Brew in Canoga Park of Los Angeles, California. Company COO, David Johnson, remembers starting out in 2007 selling beer out of the back of his car. Over the phone, Johnson is extremely laid back. He and his fireman buddies enjoy the simple things. They just wanted to make a great beer for firemen. To this day, the company makes only three beers that they call “off duty drinks“: blonde, brunette, and redhead. “You stick to something and you do it really well… people enjoy that,” Johnson philosophizes to us. However, the guys at Fireman’s Brew quickly realized something… it’s hard to market beer to on-duty firefighters.

In 2008 they introduced a line of “on duty drinks,” starting with coffee and quickly followed up by soda. Just like their beer, Fireman’s Brew makes three flavors of soda: root beer, cream, and black cherry. “It’s the same thing we do with our beers. We try to keep the flavor profiles simple and straightforward,” says Johnson. He adds that the company’s sodas are all-natural, using pure cane sugar in every bottle, and devoid of preservatives. Johnson doesn’t care to get too specific about his flavors, not because he’s keeping a secret; he’s just a a chill guy. “We weren’t sticking our nose in it and smelling it” he says about the soda flavors. With the black cherry, he does note the company sought out a retro cherry flavor that had a bit of a deeper taste to it. What’s really nice to see about this company though is their commitment to the cause. Johnson tells us there are “over 100 firefighter shareholders in the company.” But more importantly, Fireman’s Brew donates a portion of the profits from every product sold to the “National Fallen Firefighters Foundation in Emmitsburg, Maryland” to help out families in need. Whether you enjoy their soda or not, that deserves a tip of the hat and squirt of the hose.

Where to get: Fireman’s Brew sodas can be found at most Rocketfizz retailers. Use the company’s online locator to find the store nearest you. Garvey Nut & Candy is also another option (we assure you we looked – they have it). Online, you can buy Fireman’s Brew Black Cherry from Soda Emporium in single bottles or in 4-packs.

Nose: Mmm. A little maraschino cherry, a little traditional black cherry. Even a mild cherry cola smell in the background.

Taste: Maraschino cherry; Bing cherries; classic black cherry soda; vanilla. This is very lush, very smooth. You’re greeted with a deep, deep, sweet cherry flavor that’s more of a candied maraschino cherry than black. Definitely a little bit of a grenadine thing going on too. The flavor is big and permeates the mouth with mild bubbles that glide to the back of the tongue. As the taste settles in and the initial boldness wears off, the black cherry becomes more apparent, but it’s definitely subtle compared to the maraschino notes. You’ll also taste mild vanilla that floats about on each sip. Sometimes it accompanies the front end of the sip, sometimes it attaches itself to the black cherry notes. This is definitely a sweet beverage, more sweet than most black cherry sodas. But the main takeaway is the maraschino cherry taste with subtle black cherry notes. This tastes luxurious and bright on the palate.

Finish: Definitely a little tartness with a mellow black cherry flavor that slowly fades. A little bit of vanilla on the tongue, too. Mild.

Rating: Fireman’s Brew Black Cherry is 12 ounces of power in a bottle. The flavor rocks your taste buds. In my opinion, this is more of a sweet cherry soda with subtleties of black cherry and vanilla. Still, there’s nothing subtle about this soda. It’s got lots of personality and other sodas know when it walks in a room. Just like my ex. Please come back. The maraschino cherry and grenadine flavors are apparent before anything else. On some sips, there’s additional vanilla notes that accompany these flavors. The black cherry taste is more reserved on the back half of each drink. There’s just enough to make you feel ok with calling this a black cherry soda. Fireman’s Brew Black Cherry has a huge flavor that seems customized to work in a cocktail. Alcohol would dial back the sweetness, while the soda would still have ample flavor to transform the liquor into something fun for your mouth and bad for your liver. This has such a big, sweet flavor that a whole bottle may overwhelm some drinkers. It contains 45 grams of sugar per bottle. I’d probably either cut that down to 35-40 or add more tartness for balance. In the end though, what matters is flavor, and Fireman’s Brew Black Cherry soda has enough flavor to put out a forest fire. That doesn’t make any sense, but you get it. If you like maraschino cherries or Cherry Coke made with grenadine, you’ll love this soda. It’s one your taste buds need to try. Just mentally buckle up before you indulge. As their catch phrase says, extinguish your thirst.

Four Stars

 

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Old Dominion Brewing: Root Beer

History: In 2007 a love story began when Fordham Brewing out of Anapolis, Maryland and Old Dominion Brewing from Ashburn, Virgina merged to make beautiful beer together in Dover, Delaware. The brands Fordham and Dominion still maintain separate identities, so you’ll find the more adventurous offerings coming from the Old Dominion side, while the traditional ales and IPAs are made by Fordham. There was no prenup in this marriage, so Old Dominion decided to bring its sodas into the relationship too. Chief among them was the root beer, created during Old Dominion’s first year of existence in 1989. “We love doing it,” Fordham and Dominion CEO, Jim Lutz, says about the brewery’s sodas. There’s an affable charm to Lutz. He tells us he prefers to be called “Head Forklift Driver.” I bet he’s got dad jokes for days. What his brewery also has is soda… and lots of it. In fact, Lutz mentions that about 25% of the brewery’s business comes from its soda. In addition to the root beer, Old Dominion also makes a ginger ale, black cherry, and orange cream soda. But the root beer is the only one that maintains its original recipe, still the same as it was in 1989. Some of the premier ingredients include pure cane sugar, honey, vanilla, and yucca root. The latter is what should stand out to you even though you probably don’t know what it is or how it tastes. Yucca kind of looks like a piece of ginger and a carrot had a baby and it turned out uglier than you expected. The flavor really varies depending on the piece you get, but people often describe it as bitter or tasting like a potato. It’s also occasionally sweet, though. As for the flavor of the root beer, Lutz tells us they wanted it to taste like a sweet treat. “It tastes like the old fashioned root beer when I used to ride my bike up to this old fashioned root beer stand,” he says. Nothing wrong with spoiling yourself with a little nostalgia-inducing root beer.

Where to get: Old Dominion sodas are sold mainly throughout the Mid-Atlantic region. Soda drinkers in Delaware, Virginia, Maryland and Washington D.C. will have the easiest time finding them. They are also sporadically available in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Surprisingly, Old Dominion also sells lots of its soda in London, England for all you UK folk. The rest of us can purchase it online from Harris Teeter Grocer and Pharmacy or by contacting the brewery directly via email and setting up an order.

Nose: Vanilla; wintergreen. Pretty standard root beer nose with an emphasis on creamy vanilla and mint.

Taste: Honey; herbal; malt; mint; creamy vanilla. This is a sophisticated flavor profile, even for a root beer. A lot going on in the mouth. The flavors are in layers. Up front is a big note of honey on the back of the tongue. This is followed up by equal parts of creamy mint and vanilla. You’re about half way through the sip, and at this point, the root beer is a little sweet. Next come the herbal elements that provide balance. This is also where the carbonation reaches its peak to help provide the root beer’s bite. The wintergreen sticks around longer than the vanilla and is supplemented by yucca. The yucca gives the root beer a botanical element and imparts a little maltiness as well when combined with the mint and honey. It’s a lot for the mouth to process when analyzing, but the flavors work.

Finish: Slightly bitter, herbal mint with undertones of classic root beer.

Rating: Root beers are a dime-a-dozen in the craft soda landscape. The kingpin of the crop; you’ve gotta really make your version stand out to get noticed. Old Dominion Brewing has done a good job putting a different twist on their root beer. It isn’t like anything else. There’s multiple layers of flavor to this beverage, which is what makes it rise above others. Among the highlights include its use of honey, vanilla, mint, and yucca. It’s just a little more herbal than other root beers, while still retaining a crisp sweetness. Usually we take the term “herbal” with root beers to mean mint, but Old Dominion’s Root Beer has a distinct note of sweet malt. It’s likely the way all the ingredients work together, chiefly the yucca and honey. Both the mint and vanilla elements have a creaminess to them and these play well with the root beer’s bite and herbal notes. This root beer is like the opposite of all your break-ups: delicious, fun to process, and you won’t be crying when the pizza guy shows up. I wouldn’t mind seeing the vanilla a little more prominent. I think that would add another enjoyable element to play off the honey and yucca. Old Dominion Brewing has brewed up a really enjoyable root beer that should be savored over time. Sip slowly without ice and up your root beer game.

Four Stars