Month: October 2015

Lakefront Brewery: Golden Maple Root Beer

History: We all remember the intense rivalries with had with our siblings. I mean, to this day, my little brother has to call me king at all family gatherings because of the backlog of blackmail I have against him. But those are the memories you’d never trade. Well, the Klisch brothers did decide to trade their sibling rivalry… for a partnership in craft beer making. They call it Lakefront Brewery. The brewery’s tour administrator and manager of environmental programs, Chris Ranson, tells us the the story. It’s a simple one. Jim Klisch decided he wanted to see what home brewing was all about. Humored by his brother’s interest, Russ Klisch bought him a book on the subject. Jim did his homework. Turns out, Jim could brew a mighty fine ale. And Russ was like aw, hell nah. So Russ, too, made his own beer. After going back and forth on tasting trials with friends and family, the two became convinced they had a talent for beer brewing. In 1987, they founded Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. To give you an idea of its success, consider this: in 1988 the brewery turned out 72 barrels of beer; in 2012, that number had grown to 33,368 barrels. After several years in the business, Ranson says the brothers came to the realization that “people need an alternative to alcohol.” Root beer, as is often the case in breweries, was the logical choice to them. But they wanted to make theirs a little different. Ranson tells us how big maple syrup is in Wisconsin. We weren’t aware, but apparently Wisconsin is the fourth-largest producer of maple syrup in the U.S. behind Vermont, New York, and Connecticut. So in 1995 Lakefront Brewery decided to make a maple root beer using locally-sourced maple syrup. The root beer is made with pure cane sugar and does not use artificial coloring. This results in the root beer’s signature “golden” hue. Ranson tells us it’s “very sweet” and “definitely root beer,” but adds the maple flavor gives it a taste “somewhere between a root beer and a cream soda.” We’re not sure what to expect. This is either going to have a flavor identity crisis or it’s going to be something pretty special.

Where to get: In addition to being sold at the brewery, Golden Maple Root Beer is sold sporadically at Wisconsin Whole Foods, and is a big player at Milwaukee state fairs and farmer’s markets. If you aren’t in the area and want to try it, the company does do custom orders. Just know the shipping will be pricey. Contact Lakefront Brewery directly here.

Nose: Sarsaparilla root; mint; vanilla; spice. All in all, it’s a pretty standard root beer smell with maybe a little more emphasis on the spices. You can smell the maple a little bit, but I assume that’ll come through more in the taste.

Taste: Sugar; sweet bite; maple; wintergreen. What you taste immediately is sugar. This is sweet. Despite that, there’s actually a pretty decent bite to this – but again, it’s a sweeter bite than in most root beers. What’s strange about this is the initial flavor you get when sipping. It’s probably just how the maple interacts with the rest of the ingredients, but I swear this tastes kind of like ginger ale when it first hits your lips. The maple flavor comes through more after you drink the root beer. You’ve gotta get through a few sips of sugar-coated spices before you taste what this root beer is all about. Don’t think maple syrup. No, it’s more like a spiced root beer with added maple flavor, yet the spices don’t let the maple completely overtake the flavor profile. What I’m saying is you can taste the maple in this, but it isn’t overpowering. If this didn’t have maple syrup in it, I think this would be a particularly robust-flavored root beer rich in spices, so the maple acts as kind of a mellowing agent. This has decent balance between the maple, spices, and wintergreen mint flavors, but it retains an above average sweetness.

Finish: Slightly creamy vanilla and maple. The best part of the root beer.

Rating: Lakefront Brewery’s Golden Maple Root Beer is an oddball. But being weird isn’t always bad. I’m weird. I’m also still single, but there’s not necessarily a correlation there. Right? Right, guys? This isn’t going to overpower you with traditional root beer spices and extracts. You taste some sarsaparilla. You taste some wintergreen. But this root beer isn’t about being traditional; it’s about showcasing its maple flavor. After wading through a sea of liquid sugar on the first few sips, you’ll taste that maple influence. When mixed with the spices that are in here, it’s noticeable, but not particularly bold. If you go into this wanting a strongly maple syrup-flavored root beer, you’re in for disappointment. This is just a fun soda to try because there really aren’t that many maple root beers out there, and there are even fewer with a pale yellow color like this one. The biggest shortcoming of this root beer is its sugariness. Generally in root beer, sugar isn’t something that is so striking because of all the spices that counter the sweetness. But when the two most noticeable ingredients you taste are sugar and maple syrup, I mean, it’s a lot to handle. This needs more of a traditional root beer bite to balance out all that sugar. I’d suggest more of a mint flavor too. Nothing that would drastically change its identity, just little tweaks to help reign in my impending diabetes. That said, if you like sweet root beers, you might just find a favorite here. Bottom line: Lakefront Brewery’s Golden Maple Root Beer probably isn’t one you’ll drink all the time, but it’s a fun change of pace for the craft soda enthusiast.

Three Stars

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

 

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

Natrona Bottling Company: Red Ribbon Cherry

History: Vito Gerasole’s accent is thick, unmistakable. He’s an Italian with a love for the family business, big opinions, and lots to say. He’s the self-proclaimed “Sultan of Soda.” But in talking to him on the phone, you realize he’s not just another loud Italian dude. There’s a thoughtfulness there, a sincere caring for his craft. Perhaps then it’s no surprise when he mentions, “I’m a very nostalgic person.” In 2010 when an angel investor offered Gerasole a chance to breath life into a dying soda company, it was his love of nostalgia that made the opportunity too much to pass up. The business in question was Natrona Bottling Company, a small hand-made soda bottler in Natrona, Pennsylvania just outside of Pittsburgh. The company began back in 1904, but the fizz had almost left the bottle, so to speak, for Natrona. Gerasole recalls the company having just $4,000 in its bank account at the time of his arrival. He remembers a customer telling him, “I heard about you guys, but you never have anything.” Despite not having much money, the company luckily had little outside debt. Natrona just needed a new game plan and Gerasole was their ace in the hole.

After a successful marketing push, Natrona Bottling was back on its feet and able to get back to making soda the way it had been made there for over 100 years. Gerasole also added several new flavors to the company’s portfolio: vanilla cream, almond cream, birch beer, and minted ginger ale. But the company’s flagship product, the one it was founded on, is its Red Ribbon Cherry. When asked about its flavor, Gerasole peps up, “It smells like cherries. It tastes like maraschino cherries!” Like many mom and pop craft soda companies, Natrona uses only pure cane sugar in their sodas and bottles each one of them by hand. They also use vintage machinery. But what sets Natrona Bottling Company apart from other soda bottlers is its method of carbonation.”I believe we are the last soda producer that uses a style of carbonation called ‘pinpoint carbonation.’” To achieve this particular fizz, dry ice pellets are dropped into pressurized tanks that create, smaller and smoother bubbles. Gerasole says the pinpoint carbonation gives Natrona sodas an “effervescence.” In the coming years, he hopes to introduce another original idea: chocolate soda made with milk. We’ll let him figure out the science behind getting that one right. Just give us the cherry soda.

Where to get: Natrona Bottling Company soda is sold in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia. You can also purchase Natrona soda online from several different outlets, including the Natrona Bottling store, Pennsylvania Macaroni Co., and Galco’s Soda Pop Stop.

Nose: Strong candy cherry that evokes memories of childhood. So much nostalgia. Anyone who’s over 18 undoubtedly knows that cherry smell. Another good comparison would be a bowl full of Luden’s Cherry Cough Drops, which also had a bold candy cherry scent.

Taste: Maraschino cherry; cherry popsicle; Luden’s Cherry Cough Drops; soft carbonation. A couple things jump out from the beginning. First, there’s big cherry flavor in Red Ribbon Cherry. A candied maraschino cherry/cherry popsicle juice hybrid with just the slightest, slightest touch of acidity for variation. Second, the carbonation. You can taste that it’s different than other sodas. Very soft in the mouth, almost fluffy. The bubbles feel small. They provide a unique texture that carbonation in sodas do not. Back to the cherry taste. It’s strong and sweet but not overpowering or sugary. Very much a candy cherry taste rather than black or Bing cherries. Initially, it’s like drinking carbonated cherry popsicle juice. It quickly morphs into a slightly tart candy cherry flavor, much like having a mouthful of Luden’s Cherry Cough Drops (which are delicious). Notes of maraschino cherry linger around the end of each sip.

Finish: Maraschino cherry juice that fades back into mild cherry popsicle with lighter carbonation than in the soda’s body.

Rating: Natrona Bottling’s Red Ribbon Cherry has all the components of a home-run soda. Great flavor. Perfect mouth feel. And not overly complicated. This is a soda that gets even better as you drink it. The carbonation-flavor combo is exquisite. I may not understand the science behind the pinpoint carbonation method that Natrona Bottling uses, but I’ll be damned if you can’t taste it. The bubbles are light and frothy. One of the best uses of carbonation I’ve ever tasted in any beverage. The candy cherry taste is flawlessly executed. There’s layers to the flavor, each one just slightly different than the other. You taste cherry popsicle off the bat, a great childhood memory. Before it gets too sweet, the cherry becomes slightly more sour and acidic. It finishes off sweet again, but slightly less so than the initial taste. What I like most about this soda is that I don’t have to over think when tasting it. I just like drinking it. It’s enjoyable, and you can’t ask for more than that in a soda no matter what arbitrary ranking it receives on the Internet. This is one I’d probably put in your regular rotation. At times it’s a little sweet, perhaps a touch rich for some people’s taste. But I think that’s just Red Ribbon Cherry showing its gourmet side. It’s like when the hot girl in school dresses up for classes. The other girls might hate it and think it’s overkill, but sometimes even the finer things in life enjoy showing off their finer things. And if you ladies are reading this, I would settle for any of you texting me back. After tasting it, there’s clearly a reason Red Ribbon Cherry is Natrona Bottling Company’s flagship product. The taste, the carbonation, the subtleties; it all works. This isn’t one you should try just to check it off a list. This is a beverage that should stay stocked in your craft soda arsenal.

Five Stars

Capt’n Eli’s: Orange Pop

History: If you find yourself perusing the pages of The Undersea Adventures of Captain Eli, just know the super hero comic you’re reading was ultimately created with the end goal of quenching your thirst and not satisfying your insatiable appetite for deep sea justice. Despite my pompous language, I didn’t make that up. Capt’n Eli’s Soda really does have a comic named after it, introduced in the early 2000’s for marketing purposes. But the soda’s history dates much farther back than the comic. 80 years earlier in the early 1920’s, little Eli Forsley would wander down in his father’s basement and steal some of his dad’s homemade root beer. In turn, he’d sell it to his friends for a profit. When Eli grew up, he started making root beer in his basement too. Sure enough, one of his five sons, Fred, grew up with an affinity for the root beer. Fun fact: Fred’s son (coincidentally named Eli) is the model for the comic’s lead character. Fred was an entrepreneur like his father. In 1992, he founded Federal Jack’s restaurant in Kennebunk, Maine and two years later, he and a partner started up Shipyard Brewing in Portland, Maine. You might know Shipyard for its highly popular “Pumpkinhead” pumpkin beer. In 1996, Forsley started serving the root beer on draft at Federal Jack’s. Current Capt’n Eli’s President Ed Crockett recalls how “the local folks raved about it.” The next logical step was bottling. This happened in 2002. And yadda, yadda, yadda, 15 years later the company now has eight flavors after just recently introducing a cola in June of 2015 to replace the now discontinued Parrot Punch. It’s so new, it’s not even on the website yet. But we’re not here to talk about root beer or cola or even my love life because that’s what my therapist is for. No, we are here to talk about Capt’n Eli’s Orange Pop. “When we drafted that recipe, we wanted to be different,” Crockett says. The company wanted an orange soda that felt refreshing instead of sugary and quenching instead of syrupy. Crockett tells us Capt’n Eli’s Orange Pop was directly inspired by Orangina. Like Orangina, you can see bits of pulp floating about in the soda. It also contains no caffeine, gluten or food coloring, and is made with pure cane sugar. What we’re trying to say is that Orange Pop is a classic flavor designed with a slightly different spin. Time to wade the deep orange waters Capt’n Eli patrols.

Where to get: Capt’n Eli’s Soda is distributed nationally, but is most widely available in retailers along the eastern seaboard. You can also purchase the soda online from Summit City Soda, as well as the Capt’n Eli’s online store. For large orders, and especially if you’re a retailer hoping to sell soda in your store, contact Homer Soda Company.

Nose: Fresh orange rind zest.

Taste: Orange; slight tart bite; mild tangerine. There’s a definite authentic orange flavor to this. Tastes fresher than most orange sodas. You get zesty, carbonated orange up front with a semisweet tart finish. In the background, there’s definitely a little bit of a tangerine taste – slightly sweeter than regular orange with more of an exotic flavor. The more you drink this, the more acidic it becomes. That classic orange soda zing becomes louder and louder on the palate. Overall, not quite as sweet as most orange sodas, but closely related to a classic orange with more of an authentic taste and a bit of zip.

Finish: Full-bodied orange zest flavor with a tartness that sinks into the back of the tongue.

Rating: Capt’n Eli’s Orange Pop is a close relative of your classic orange soda, but it clearly got all the better genes in the family. The orange flavor tastes real and bold. It’s not overly sweet or carbonated. The bite is zesty and slightly acidic in a way that is fitting of high-end orange soda. This really tastes like a craft soda. You can tell you’re drinking something of higher quality. The notes of tangerine add even more sophistication. All of these qualities elevate Capt’n Eli’s Orange Pop in the orange soda category. Crocket told us Orange Pop is actually the company’s lowest-selling flavor. I think that’s crazy. This is a diamond in the rough. This is an orange soda from which other orange sodas should watch and learn. Just don’t do it every day. That’s stalking. The bottom line is that this tastes like an orange soda you’re familiar with, but better. It’s comfortable, yet intriguing. It is a little more tart than a lot of orange sodas out there. I think that could either be dialed back a bit or the sugar levels could be slightly increased. That knocks it down from five stars, but overall, this is tops. Flavorful and zesty. This is a must-try orange soda.

Four Stars

WBC: Concord Grape

History: Chicago’s famous Goose Island Brewery is arguably the most popular place to get local beer in the city. I know I remember the beginning of many fond nights there. Not so much the end. The Windy City brewers started making their own Goose Island Root Beer in 1988, according to WIT Beverage Sales and Marketing Director, James Akers. The brewery eventually added diet root beer, Orange Cream, and Concord Grape, but they also realized the success of their beer was taking away time from focusing on their soda. This is where WIT Beverage in Redding, California comes into play. Akers tells us Goose Island was “chasing money for soda and getting it easily for beer.” Goose Island needed an outside bottler to produce it and in 2010 WIT Beverage stepped in to do the job. In order to meet the quality of the original Goose Island Root Beer WIT reformulated the recipes of Orange Cream and Concord Grape with “all-natural ingredients,” and introduced two other flavors in Spicy Ginger and Vanilla Cream. The other main difference is the name change from “Goose Island” craft soda to “WBC” craft soda. Akers says Concord Grape was originally introduced in 2006. After its recipe was altered, he says WIT spent considerable time trying to ensure it tasted cleaner and crisper than other grape sodas. “We spent a lot of time making sure it tastes like concord grape, like if you were to have concord grape juice,” says Akers. He adds to consider it a treat, which supports the mentality that craft soda is more of a luxury than mass-produced soda and not an addiction. I suppose you could be addicted to craft soda, but damn, it’d get expensive. “Once you have it, you’ll wanna come back,” Akers boasts. Let’s see if he’s right.

Where to get: WBC Craft Sodas are sold mostly throughout the midwest from Minnesota down to Kentucky. If you want to save time searching, Summit City Soda is a sure-fire way to find it online. You can also buy single bottles online from Soda Emporium. And if you’re a retailer looking to sell soda in your shop or you just feel an overwhelming need to order mass amounts of WBC Concord Grape, Homer Soda Company is the place to call.

Nose: Grape popsicle. Also kind of reminds me of those chewable grape Tylenol tablets you’d take as a kid. Hmm.

Taste: Grape popsicle; grape Kool-Aid. The grape flavor in this is immediate and pops on the tongue. Bang! It’s accompanied by a wave of sweetness and tiny, frothy carbonation that intensifies the grape flavor to its highest point. Then the flavor dramatically drops off. What most interesting is how the flavor comes and goes so rapidly without much a lingering effect. The carbonation also brings out the citric acid in the soda, which gives it a slight tartness. The sugar is crisp, but it’s definitely sweet. Grape push pops and grape Kool-Aid are the two best comparisons to the grape flavor in this. It’s big and bold, despite how brief it is on every sip.

Finish: Leaves a little bit of a strange, sweet medicine aftertaste akin to those grape Tylenol chewables I mentioned on the nose.

Rating: Where WBC Concord Grape succeeds is its combination of bold grape flavor up front, followed by a wave of carbonation and slight tartness. Grape is a such a complimentary flavor for sour or tart notes and WBC does this well here. On the flip side, while the grape flavor in this is nice; it doesn’t stick around long enough. Instead, you’re left with lingering sweetness, stripped of grape flavor, and a strange medicinal aftertaste. That candy grape flavor is so robust that it needs to be spread out more over the course of each sip instead of blasting your taste buds and then divorcing them prematurely. I already have trust issues. Don’t do this to me, Concord Grape! The aftertaste needs a little work too. I’d settle for fixing just one of these issues. If that were to happen, I think this ranking would get bumped up a notch. Concord Grape executes its flavor well, but leaves the drinker wanting just a little more.

Three Stars