Month: November 2015

Gazosa La Fiorenzana: Mirtillo

History: What if I told you there is a little soda bottler out there still making its concoctions in refillable bottles like the old days? What if I told you it’s a family business in its fourth generation? What if I told you they use real ingredients and don’t even have a marketing budget, relying only on word-of-mouth publicity? Are you getting the nostalgia tingles yet? Is your small business radar blinging like a Drake song? Gazosa La Fiorenzana is a small, family-owned Swiss soda bottler located in the Grono village of the Grisons canton that’s been making their products the same way since 1921. Five Star Soda was the first American media outlet to review one of its beverages back in August of 2015. Stephen Keller is an ex-fútbol player formerly of FC Zurich and founder of Plopenzisch, “the official dealer of Gazosa in the Benelux and parts of Germany.” After trying Gazosa for the first time in a Zurich bar in 2002, Keller began importing the Swiss soda to the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. “Our flavors are pure and old fashioned, please don’t expect any mixes or addition of vanilla or anything,” he says. The company was started by Francesco Tonna, who introduced four original flavors: Pompelmo (grapefruit), Limone (lemon), Mandarino (mandarin orange), and Lampone (raspberry). Keller tells us four more flavors were added between the years of 1940 and 1964 by Tonna’s daughter Matilda Tonna and his son Gianni Ponzio. One of those flavors includes today’s review, mirtillo, which is Italian for blueberry. Keller describes it to us as “Alpine blueberry soda,” which sounds fancy and makes us all like it more. The wild alpine blueberry is about a quarter of the size of an average blueberry. According to Keller, mirtillo is a popular regional flavor in Switzerland and is used in gelato, cakes, jams, and syrups. Kind of sounds like the equivalent of grape or strawberry in America. While mirtillo may be popular in Switzerland, most soda flavors outside of America contain some sort of citrus element, as do a majority of Gazosa’s – so this is certainly a unique international treat. It’s always refreshing to see a company that still does things the same way after decades and decades – probably a good sign for the customer. Also, this is perhaps the most beautiful hue of blue we’ve ever seen in a soda. It looks like it could give you magical powers. We’ll let you know if we land a superhero movie deal after sampling.

Where to get: Sorry, Americans – Gazosa sodas are distributed only in Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany where they are available in many cafes and restaurants.

Nose: Fresh blueberry bushes; crisp snow melt. Ever smelled freshly melted snow in the woods and how clean it smells? There’s a crispness on the nose of this. Delightful.

Taste: Fresh blueberries; brisk carbonation; tartness. There’s a very natural, rich floral blueberry taste to this with a carbonation that is very distinct. The bubbles are light, but immense. Definitely an old-fashioned soda trick and a very fun mouth feel. The blueberry here is layered. Sometimes it’s sweet. Sometimes it’s a little sour. Kind of like eating a bowl of blueberries, honestly. This is bold enough to satisfy the taste buds, yet light enough to encourage finishing the entire bottle. I taste a little bite of a wildcard flavor accompanying some sips: mint, almost like a wintergreen. It’s definitely a blueberry mint taste, but it’s there. Maybe we can agree to just calling it an earthy note. Wouldn’t mind seeing that scaled back a little. Gazosa’s Mirtillo tastes natural, refreshing, and tart.

Finish: Tart blueberry with the slightest undertones of sugar. Imagine biting into a more sour blueberry and then following it up with a mildly sweet one.

Rating: Made with blueberries from the Alps, Gazosa’s Mirtillo Soda is the most natural-tasting blueberry soda we’ve come across thus far. Just like the fruit, some sips are refreshingly sweet, while others are earthy and sour. This is a soda with all parts working in tandem. The flavor is as delightful and the packaging. Gazosa has engineered their swing-top bottles in a way that dates back hundreds of years. One crucial design element I found was this: the mouth of the bottle is made with extra thick glass that reduces the amount of liquid per sip. With less soda per drink, I found myself inspecting the flavors more instead of just instinctually slurping down the liquid that filled my mouth. I’m not sure if this is by design, but it really allows the drinker to think about the flavor profile. Outside of the soda’s pleasant blueberry flavor, its biggest achievement is maintaining a tart flavor without being acidic. That’s a hard line to tow for most soda bottlers. Also a hard line to tow for most women… in my experience. Blueberry is a flavor that is finally starting to see the light of day in the craft soda world, and Gazosa out of Switzlerand is already ahead of the game on this one. To that we say, gut gemacht, Gazosa.

Four Stars

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Boots Beverages: Caramel Apple

History: Boots Beverages has a Texas-sized appetite for creating unique craft sodas rooted in comfort flavors. The Bryan, Texas-based company has been in the family since 1930 and boasts nontraditional flavors like Coconut Cream, Picture Show Red Hot, and Caramel Cola. The company tries to recreate flavors that were available back in the old picture shows of the 1950’s. In October of 2015 the Boots introduced four new flavors. The one you’re least likely to see replicated on the market is their caramel apple soda. Its biggest fan might just be the company’s Chief Operating Officer, Mark Kristen (who also runs Kristen Distributing). Kristen is the third generation of his family to run Boots Beverages. It’s a labor of love for him. He’s a sweet man with a booming baritone voice that oozes southern drawl, making him seem larger than life. After speaking with him multiple times, I wouldn’t be shocked if he occasionally just wanders off in the woods looking for bears to wrestle. He says the newly-introduced caramel apple soda is his favorite, a flavor inspired by his late grandmother, Laura Kristen. Her photo is featured on the label. In fact, you’ll find a different one of Kristen’s relatives on the label for each flavor of Boots soda. “This whole project seems to be orchestrated by all my relatives who are in heaven. It’s like they’re just handing it to me,” he says, the pride evident in his voice. Kristen was very close to his grandmother, often spending more time at her house than his own. “It’s a memory I recall from my grandma baking the apple strudel on her stove.” He wanted to replicate that flavor of apple strudel, while also getting across slightly savory notes of caramelized apple crust. He says there’s also an apple cider influence on the soda’s taste. He adds the soda is great for pairing with savory meals. Caramel apple seems tailor made for the September through December months where the air is just a little more brisk and the cold air intensifies your favorite fall flavors. One thing Kristen told me to pay attention to was the soda’s smell, something upon which most bottlers don’t focus. Unprompted, he says, “It would be a misgiving not to smell the aroma before it hitting your lips.” When asked what makes their caramel apple soda unique, Kristen was direct: “the flavor.” It’s clear the company has the utmost confidence in their newest typical offering. Time to pull this one out of grandma’s oven… err, fridge.

Where to get: Boots Beverages’ sodas can be purchased directly from the company’s website. Boots is widely available in Texas and around St. Louis, Missouri. The company is currently in the process of creating a triangle of physical distribution from New Mexico, up to New York, down to Miami, Florida, and back.

Nose: Green apples; mild cinnamon; apple pie. Lots of apple sweet treat smells.

Taste: Creamy brown sugar; caramel; mild apple; subtle cinnamon; crust. This is certainly different. The flavors are little hard to place at first. It’s got a one-two punch of brown sugar and caramel flavors. It’s not overly sweet and has brief bursts of carbonation that help accentuate the tartness of the apple flavors. The apple itself is more of a complimentary taste to the creamy brown sugar/caramel combo. It’s there, and it provides a nicely contrasting mild tartness, but it doesn’t stand out like the other flavors. The more you drink this, the more you’ll taste the savory elements. Near the end of each sip, the soda opens up more in the mouth to reveal flavors of pie crust and sweet oats (think cinnamon and brown sugar oatmeal). It takes a while to get all the tasting notes nailed down, but this actually has a pretty sophisticated flavor profile.

Finish: Sweet caramel that transitions into a more savory burned brown sugar and pie crust flavor. Long-lasting linger. Really excellent. Perhaps the best part of the soda.

Rating: Boots Beverages Caramel Apple Soda is quite the mouthful. It’s a mixture of brown sugar, cinnamon, creamy caramel, and slightly tart apple up front with savory pie crust/cinnamon oatmeal notes near the end. It’s almost like an apple cinnamon cream soda. Some will welcome the challenge, but this won’t be for everyone. This is a soda that takes about half the bottle to adjust to because its flavors are so foreign in liquid form. Not only that, but the more you drink this, the more the soda’s subtle flavors reveal themselves – and this is where Boots Beverages Caramel Apple shines. The creamy brown sugar and caramel tastes are evident from the beginning, but it isn’t until you start to get the more savory pie crust and cinnamon oatmeal flavors that you really get a clear picture of the soda’s flavor profile. They provide a nice contrast to the sweetness of the brown sugar and caramel, and impart a more sophisticated taste. The initial burst of sweet brown sugar can be overwhelming, but don’t give up too early. Caramel apple is a sipper out of the bottle. This is one soda that I feel really benefits from ice, which dials back the sweetness just a touch and gives it an even creamier, smoother flavor profile. In addition to the excellent savory flavors going on here, the brown sugar element is also very nice and compliments the mild tartness of the apple. I think if the pie crust flavor came in earlier on each sip, the audience for this flavor would be wider. I fear some may quit on this soda too early. It’s definitely a grower. [insert joke here]. But let me tell you perhaps the greatest value of this soda: as a mixer, preferably with bourbon and a splash of fresh-squeezed orange juice. It’s a perfect recipe for your upcoming holiday family get together and is sure to either put your annoying aunt to sleep or make her even more intolerable, so choose your proportions wisely. Boots Beverages Caramel Apple is a soda that seems perfect for the holiday months. Its nuanced flavor profile makes it a great sipper or a fun partner for your favorite booze. This isn’t one you’ll drink every day, but it is a beverage that successfully takes what many would consider a novelty flavor idea and turns it into a legitimate craft soda.

Four Stars

Derr’s: Orange Pineapple

History: Tucked away in the small city of Boonville, Indiana sits Derr’s Soda. This business is old. It’s old enough by comparison to make Mick Jagger seem like he isn’t disintegrating just a little bit every time he performs on stage. It’s so old that when Derr’s started making “pop,” they had to pump the water they used from a well. It’s so old, their original means of transportation were horses and wagons. Get it? Derr’s Soda was founded by John Derr under the name “John Derr & Sons” in 1889 in Boonville, Indiana and has remained in the family ever since. It’s currently in its fourth generation of ownership. Over the phone, John Derr Sr.’s great grandson, Joe Derr, Jr., begins to recount some of the company history. He pauses for a long time before revealing that Derr’s started out making flavorings, colorings, and syrups to be used on treats like snow cones. He said this naturally transitioned into soda. The company was famous for its Derr’s Dry (lemon-lime) and strawberry sodas, with orange pineapple, orange, and grape also being very popular. As with most family businesses, there’s lots of consistency at Derr’s. One thing that hasn’t remained steadfast since 1889: the business itself. Derr’s closed its doors for a number of years in 1992. Essentially what happened was that no one in the Derr family had time for the business anymore. The final owner upon closure was Charles Derr. Within the family, the question was always, “when, not if” Derr’s would re-open. Charles Derr’s nephew, Joe Derr, Jr. and Charles’s son, John Derr finally restarted Derr’s in early 2010. They are also assisted by John’s sister, Barb Byers. Finally, someone with a name that isn’t Derr.

“It’s made the old fashioned way,” says Derr Jr. He’s not kidding. Before re-opening, the Derr boys went on a multi-year search to find the original suppliers of certain oils and flavors that went to the soda’s recipes. They were also “gifted the formulas” by Charles’s widow, Pauline Hull Derr. Currently, the company only sells three of its original flavors in bottles: strawberry, cream soda, and orange pineapple. The latter is certainly the most unique in the world of craft soda. “It’s a little more pineapple than it is orange,” says Derr Jr. He adds that the company produces its own secret extract that it uses in the recipe for orange pineapple soda. Derr Jr. notes orange pineapple is designed to taste smooth, and for that reason is also a good mixer. The company is proud of the flavor in its bottles, so much so that it scaled back on one signature soda trait. Derr Jr. tells us, “It’s got less carbonation in it than some of the newer drinks because of the full flavor that you get.” In addition to the three flavors Derr’s bottles, they also produce fountain sodas, and those do include older sodas like Derr’s Dry, orange, and grape. You can tell they really care about their liquid. Also, I’m pretty sure this a record for the number of times I’ve typed one last name in a review. Don’t Derr me wrong, guys.

Where to get: Derr’s is sold in physical locations regionally in southern Indiana, parts of southern Illinois, and western Kentucky. It’s also sold online throughout the U.S. You can purchase Derr’s Soda from Summit City Soda or from the company directly via its online store.

Nose: If you’ve ever had orange-pineapple juice, this smells almost exactly like that. Pretty spot on. The pineapple scent smells a little more candied than it does in pure juice form, but that’s to be expected with soda.

Taste: Pineapple; mild coconut; sugar; citrus. There’s a very, very sweet, candied pineapple flavor to this. It’s also got juuuuuuust a touch of coconut that accompanies that pineapple flavor. It’s almost an afterthought, but it’s there. The orange is also there, but it’s pretty subtle because the pineapple is so loud and sugary. The orange notes do provide a little bit of a zing, but again, very subtle. The flavor you’ll taste most besides pineapple is general citrus, and that’s something you’ll taste near the beginning and ending of each sip. The carbonation is actually what provides greatest contrast to the sweetness of the pineapple. The bubbles are little, but bountiful and make you think this tastes zestier than it really is. But bold, sweet pineapple is the dominant flavor and the unquestioned identity of this one.

Finish: Sweet, citrusy pineapple that quickly fades.

Rating: If you’d rather skip the hassle of carving up a pineapple and wasting a majority of the fruit, Derr’s Orange Pineapple has you covered. The flavor is really bright and does a very admirable job impersonating the fruit. The pineapple taste is bold, strong, and sweet. Very sweet. It’s actually surprisingly sweet when you look at the label because the bottle contains 34 grams of sugar. It tastes more like 50. For some, that’s a welcome sugar rush. For others, it’s a diabetic episode waiting to happen. In fact, the pineapple in this is so strong that it makes you love the citrus element. It provides a nice buffer near the beginning and ending to reign in the pineapple sugar storm you get for the majority of each sip. The subtle coconut flavor seems to fade as you drink it, but when it’s there, it adds a nice variance to the soda’s overall flavor profile. The finish on Derr’s Orange Pineapple is unremarkable. It really just dies near the end of the sip. I’d love to taste that tropical pineapple flavor slowly fade into the sunset, so that would be my biggest qualm with this soda. I think a slow fade out as opposed to a stark drop would help drinkers ease back in to the blast of sweet pineapple at the beginning of each drink. Now we’ve mentioned how sweet this is probably five times, and it is – but don’t get us wrong, the pineapple flavor here is really nice. This is a wonderful pineapple soda, though I do think I’d cut back on the sugar. I also wish I tasted the orange more. It would add some needed tartness. Still, this is fun. Pineapple is a fruit that is rarely attempted in soda. Kudos to Derr’s for being original. This would be a wonderful summer drink. Adding some vodka or rum to cut the sugar might not be a bad idea either. You could do a lot of things with Derr’s Orange Pineapple. And if you end up drinking a whole six-pack of it at once, let us know. We’d be happy to come visit you in the hospital.

Three Stars

Earp’s Original Sarsaparilla

History: It seems appropriate to name a sarsaparilla after a wild west saloon keeper, gambler, and gunslinger. Wyatt Earp was famous for his involvement in the 1891 shootout at the O.K. Corral. But did you know he has a living, breathing relative in Mukilteo, Washington? Mike Earp is the owner of Earp’s Western Foods, known for its steak sauce. He’s also a descendant of the legendary Wyatt Earp himself. Here’s an even bigger coincidence – Mukilteo, Washington is also the home to Orca Beverage, one of the biggest craft soda producers and distributors in the nation. Orca Beverage owner, Mike Bourgeois, and his team were actually developing a new sarsaparilla and they wanted a western name for it. He kept thinking of the imagery on the label of Earp’s Western Steak Sauce, which is a photo of Mike Earp resembling his famous relative. Because what goes better together than craft soda and steak sauce? Not literally. Although, that probably is some terrible variation of a Lester’s Fixins soda. “What better name for a great Western sarsaparilla than Earp’s Sarsaparilla?” asks Bourgeois. Earp agreed, humorously conceding, “Well, jeez, why didn’t I think of that?” The two companies formed a partnership and released the first batch of Earp’s Original Sarsaparilla in May of 2011. Aside from using pure cane sugar, Bourgeois notes that there’s a “slight smoky component” to the sarsaparilla flavor. We’ve got our boots on and ready to sample.

Where to get: Earp’s Original Sarsaparilla is a nationally distributed soda. You can purchase it online from Summit City Soda.

Nose: Kind of a funky smell. A little bit of mint and a lot of licorice.

Taste: Sarsaparilla; mint; mild bite. You’ll taste the mint first. The mint flavor seems to be different in Earp’s Original Sarsaparilla than it tastes in say, birch beer or root beer. It’s kind of has a mint tea flavor to it. Odd. The sarsaparilla taste here is pretty mild actually. It’s right up front with the mint as well. You’ll taste a noticeably sweet wintergreen bite near the end of the sip. These are your mint flavors. Herbal mint, traditional, yet mild sarsaparilla root, and sweet wintergreen with a bit of zip.

Finish: Wintergreen breath mints that linger along the sides of the tongue.

Rating: Earp’s Original Sarsaparilla is something someone could hand you if you requested a sarsaparilla and you wouldn’t blink an eye. It’s not bad, but it’s not elite. It has enough flavor to satisfy most casual soda drinkers, but the craft soda audience may long for a deeper gustation experience. The mint steals the show in this sarsaparilla, while the sarsaparilla root flavor itself is pretty light. There’s a little bit of a bite to this, like a root beer, but not quite to the level of most sarsaparillas. If you’re a big root beer or sarsaparilla fan, then this is probably one you’ll want to try if for no other reason than to check it off your list. Personally, this is probably my last endeavor with this particular brand. I think the signature sarsaparilla taste needs to be much bolder. The sweet wintergreen bite on the finish is nice, but it’s the second mint flavor you taste in the course of a few seconds. I’d just like to see more flavor variance. Earp’s Original Sarsaparilla is the nice, nerdy girl in the back of physics class without a homecoming date. You’ll ask her if you can’t find anyone else, but you’re probably trying to play in a different league before you go there.

Three Stars

Six Barrel Soda Co.: Raspberry & Lemon

History: Six Barrel Soda Co. is the coolest modern American soda not found in America. You’ll actually have to travel quite far if you’re American… all the way to the town of Wellington on the island nation of New Zealand. Founded in 2012, Six Barrel Soda specializes in modern takes on old soda flavors and old takes on new ones. It’s got kind of retro-new age thing going on. “Soda has such a great history and there is so much to work with flavour wise,” says Six Barrel Soda Co-founder Joseph Slater. The company also serves up take-home soda syrups as well for those who have separation anxiety. Like many American soda businesses, Six Barrel’s owners started in the bar industry. Slater and his business partner, Mike Stewart, found their knack for serving soda and homemade teas at their bar in Wellington. The two doubled down and quickly went in to soda full time. Last time I doubled down, I was in Vegas and woke up in a stranger’s room. And it was a dude. Six Barrel Soda Co. is at the forefront of cutting edge craft soda in New Zealand, which allows them to take some risks when it comes to flavor. Slater says they “try to do flavours that people might not have tried before or are unique to us.” One of those flavors is raspberry and lemon. “At our bar, I was making a raspberry syrup for a Florodora cocktail and a lemon syrup for lemonades, so I started doing a mixed pink lemonade too. There aren’t really any other pink lemonades in New Zealand and we thought that needed to be remedied,” Slater tells us. In America, when you think pink lemonade, you don’t necessarily think of raspberry in the flavor profile. The gentlemen at Six Barrel are trying to put a different spin on the flavor without over doing it. Slater adds, “It’s meant to be pretty subtle, we didn’t want that intense, fake raspberry taste so the idea is it just has a hint of raspberry to balance the citrus. It should be quite soft and crisp.” Initially, raspberry and lemon was the company’s most popular flavor, though they admit the others have caught up to it. The recipe uses only real raspberries and fresh-squeezed lemons in addition to fair-trade organic pure cane sugar. There are no concentrates or preservatives in the soda. Currently, Six Barrel is working on a couple new flavors they hope to have out in 2016. We’d love to tell you what they are, buuuuut we gotta drink this instead.

Where to get: According to Slater, Six Barrel Soda supplies “bars, restaurants, cafes, grocery and gift store across NZ, Australia, Singapore” and soon, Korea. Americans, your best bet is to email the company and see if something can be worked out. Six Barrel Soda sells their soda online and ships throughout New Zealand.

Nose: Raspberry; honey; tea with lemon. Definitely prominent raspberry with some floral, tea-like elements.

Taste: Mild raspberry; lemon with honey; cane sugar juice. We always list out the initial taste elements without looking at the bottle. You can taste the raspberry in this, but there’s a distinctive fruity, lemon-honey flavor present. Imagine squeezing fresh lemon juice and honey into a raspberry tea. That’s what this is like. Yet, there is no honey in Six Barrel Soda Co.’s Raspberry and Lemon Soda. So what you’re tasting here is likely how the sugar interacts with the lemon. You get a mild raspberry note to begin the sip before that floral, sweet lemon takes over. It’s really nice and unlike how soda companies in America use lemon. Lemon flavor in American soda is typically tart and acidic, while this is mellow and fruity. It really does taste like honey. I stand by that. You do get some bitterness that lingers on the back of the tongue from the lemon, so the acidity is still there in some form. The two flavors are fairly balanced overall, but that sweet lemon stands out a little bit more.

Finish: Honey; lemon, cane sugar. The raspberry is definitely more prominent near the beginning of each sip than the end.

Rating: This is a truly unique soda in the sense that it won’t be exactly what you’re expecting. Sure, there’s a raspberry flavor. Sure there’s some traditional acidic lemon. But it isn’t like your typical American fruit soda or even the newer, more natural incantations that are popping up from smaller bottlers. This has a subdued, tea-like taste to it, which isn’t that surprising considering the previous history of Six Barrel’s owners. It’s more floral than fruity, almost like there’s a flowery taste in addition to the raspberry and lemon. And the honey-lemon flavor – I can’t get over it. It’s the starring flavor in this soda. Let me say, it’s nice, but there’s no honey in the ingredients. So that flavor has to come from some sort of interaction. My best guess is between the sugar and lemon elements. I personally would like to see the raspberry flavor come through more. It’s there at the beginning, but quickly exits and doesn’t influence any other portion of the sip. As previously mentioned, the raspberry is supposed to be light. I just think it’s such a wonderful flavor and could be elevated more in this soda. As a whole, this is light and smooth, but not what I’d call crisp and refreshing. And for some people, that’ll be a detractor. This, of course, is coming from an American perspective. You have to remember that the U.S. typically prefers things bolder and sweeter than their international counterparts. It’s why your hot prom date is probably fat now. Based on the name, you’d think this would be ideal for outdoor weather, but due to its floral flavors, I think this is prime fall soda-drinking material. Six Barrel Soda Co.is one of the trendiest players in the international craft soda community. There flavors may be different, but their name is here to stay.

Three Stars

Top Hat Provisions: Ginger Beer

History: Ginger beer – so hot right now. Ginger beer syrup is even hotter because it’s easier for bartenders to make cocktails with and allows consumers to pour drinks to their own liking. San Francisco native Shane McKnight recognized this popularity and accessibility as an opportunity. McKnight is a veteran in the cocktail scene and at his day job, he “activates cocktail programs for bars at the national level.” He’s the founder of Top Hat Provisions. The name isn’t by accident. Since 2011, McKnight has worked an event in San Francisco called “The Edwardian Ball.” For those wondering, the Edwardian Period generally refers to most of the first decade of the 1900’s. Well there’s a shop at the event where you can buy clothing from that period from long coats to canes. And top hats. There’s top hats all over the place. McKnight notes “I made it a tradition to buy a top hat every year…. I have a lamp that has five top hats on it.” The whole thing is basically a drunk theme party. I guess when you wake up surrounded by top hats, you name your business after it. Based on that logic, my uncle should start a business recycling old Playboy magazines. Top Hat also provides ginger beer to major music festivals, like Coachella. There’s a lot of drunk moms at those things – someone’s gotta quench their thirst. He recalls ordering 1,500 pounds(!!!) of ginger beer for Coachella 2015. As demand continued to rise, McKnight realized making a ginger beer concentrate needed to be done “out of absolute necessity.”

In talking to McKnight, you can tell he knows his stuff and cares about his product. He resisted making a syrup until he found a company that was able to organically extract the vegetal and the heat. I know you don’t know what that really means, but basically it allowed McKnight to create and launch the ginger beer concentrate he envisioned in June of 2015. “The thing that was holding me back was that most ginger beers are spicy in the throat,” he says, adding that he feels many ginger beers on the market are just “ginger ales on steroids.” “Our spice stays in the mouth and a little bit close to the lips,” McKnight says. Top Hat Ginger Beer has three important elements to it that McKnight believes provide balance. The first is the heat of the ginger that we just mentioned. The second is the sweetening agent; Top Hat uses organic cane juice as opposed to pure cane sugar or something like honey because McKnight believes it provides the best taste. The third important element of the ginger beer is it’s acid balance. Like most ginger beers, Top Hat contains citric acid and lemon juice, but it mixes in a little bit of apple cider vinegar to keep the lemon flavors subtle. Based on the balance of sweetness, acidity, and spiciness, McKnight tells us he believes you’d have a hard time ruining a drink regardless of the amount of the ginger beer concentrate you use. In that regard he calls it “very, very forgiving,” which is also what I can already tell one of our staff members will hope we will be tomorrow as he continues to drink moscow mules while we write this review.

Where to get: Top Hat Ginger Beer is growing quickly on the west coast from California to Oregon, but the most reliable way to get your hands on it is ordering a bottle via Amazon (small – 375ml or large – 1L). (At the this this review was written, Top Hat Ginger Beer was just being introduced by Amazon, so if it isn’t available yet, check back in a few days.)

Nose: Ginger; acidic. Smells like it has a bit of zip on it. Maybe the word I’m thinking of is sour. The smell indicates you might need to wear the seat belt for this one.

Taste: Lemonade; ginger spice; pepper; grape. You taste the normal ginger beer elements, and I’ll get to those, but there’s one flavor that really stands out as unique – grape. The label doesn’t list grape as an ingredient, so the flavor is likely a result of how the other ingredients pair together with the apple cider vinegar, but it’s definitely there. It is actually kind of a grape-apple flavor. Very different. The signature flavor in Top Hat Ginger Beer is lemon. It’s a sweet, lighter lemon, like a shrubbed lemonade. The grape and lemon flavors work in tandem together to impart a very different flavor to this particular ginger beer. In fact, the ginger itself isn’t that strong in the flavor profile. You get a little bit of the ginger’s spiciness in the nostrils on the initial few sips. The spice mostly stays on the tongue. The flavors that stick here are aside from ginger are tart, sweet lemon and mild grape that’s reminiscent of sparkling grape juice.

Finish: Tart lemon; lime; spice. You’ll taste the lemonade flavor fade into a more tart lime flavor. The end of each sip is where the ginger beer’s spicy notes seem to take up residence.

Rating: Top Hat Ginger Beer isn’t your average take on the category. This is ginger beer for non-ginger beer drinkers… if that makes sense. What I mean is that this doesn’t taste like a traditional ginger beer, despite containing all of the typical ingredients. It isn’t particularly hot and spicy. The ginger isn’t overly powerful. If you’re looking for a ginger beer full of citrus tasting notes, Top Hat Ginger Beer should be right up your alley. This is light and tart. It’s bright and sweet with a lemon flavor tinged with apple and grape notes, as well as a little bit of spice on the finish. It can be enjoyed on its own, but in small doses at a time. This seems to be tailored more for cocktails. The grape flavor most likely comes from the apple cider vinegar. It’s unexpected, but it works well with the lemon. This will probably be a little tart for some craft soda drinkers. I’d also prefer to taste a bolder ginger flavor, since it is of course, a ginger beer. But all and all, this is too different not to give a try. The use of apple cider vinegar in this is really a home run. Top Hat Ginger Beer is one of the strangest ginger beer I’ve ever tried, but also one of the most fun. If you’re a craft soda fan that also dabbles in the spirits, try Top Hat Ginger Beer in a Kentucky Buck.

Four Stars

P.S. By the time this review was completed, our staff member we mentioned in the beginning is, indeed, drunk.