History: After introducing myself and informing him of my intentions, Lou Petix greets me on the other end of the line with a guttural New Yorker’s, “Hey, how you doin’?” His disposition is friendly and talkative, yet his accent is deep and gritty, making him sound two stories tall. He and his brother Joe are third generation owners of College Club Beverages in Rochester, New York. “We started as kids here at 8 years-old…. It was just a natural progression” he explains. His grandpa, Luigi Petix, was an Italian immigrant who came over and started Family Bottling Works in 1922 before the business was renamed College Club Beverages after World War II. The company became famous for their refillable bottles and to this day still employs that method for their 18 flavors of College Club sodas. They’re old school. They don’t even have an official working website. Just a Facebook page. They still buy the raw materials and make their soda syrups in house, something that’s becoming more and more rare these days with the advent of flavor houses and culinary chemists. Now here’s the slightly confusing part, so follow closely. College Club has multiple brands under its company umbrella. You can only buy actual College Club soda in Rochester. The sodas you’ll see on the shelves around the greater New York area and available online are labeled “Fiz” and “Primo.” Fiz covers the 13 flavors of craft soda the company sells, while Primo is a line of two Italian sodas. You’re probably thinking… why? Why not just consolidate all of them? The answer is because while there is some overlap in flavors between College Club and Fiz (both brands have classics like cream soda and root beer, etc.), the recipes aren’t exactly the same. This is because up until the 1950’s Fiz was a totally different soda company that ran on its own. After calling it quits, the Petix brother liked their flavors, labels, and bottles so much, that they bought out the entirety of the company’s resources. Today, they use Fiz as their craft soda line. That’s the story. We promise there’s no more twists. This isn’t a review directed by M. Night Shyamalan.
When trying to decide which flavor of Fiz to review, we consulted Lou. He suggested the root beer or ginger beer (Fiz’s most popular flavor) before mentioning in passing an interesting tidbit about the cream soda. There’s a secret ingredient in it atypical to cream soda. “There’s a little trick to it that my father taught me,” he teased, noting it’s mild, but there. My reaction anytime someone tells me there’s a secret ingredient is to immediately crack the case. What could it be? Something New York-y? Petix did say “we try to access our raw materials as locally as possible,” while also adding they prefer natural flavors. Intrigued, I prodded him further about the cream soda. “This is what we call our classic cream soda,” saying it was very heavy on vanilla flavor. So in the end, he didn’t budge. But that makes it more fun for us, and for you.
Where to get: These aren’t the easiest sodas to get a hold of if you’re outside of the New York area. You can, however, order Fiz soda online from New York Style Deli. I know the website looks a little amateur, but we called and checked it out; it’s legit. Your best option might just be to call the company at (585) 328-6665. They take orders over the phone and will ship anywhere in the continental U.S.
Nose: Almond; cherry; pound cake. There’s a faint cream soda smell here, but it’s infused with chocolate, cherry and almond scents. Interesting and intriguing.
Taste: Fizzy; chocolate-covered cherry; vanilla; mild nuttiness; sugar. There’s elements of traditional cream soda here, and then there’s the part that gives the soda its flavor identity. You notice an initial burst of carbonation immediately, more so than an average soda, and then the unique flavors come out that separate Fiz Cream Soda from the crowd. You get all of the soda’s flavors up front spun together in a cocoon of sugary uncertainty. There’s definitely a fruity element to this that tastes like it’s paired with chocolate. After repeated tasting, I’m thinking it’s cherry. Almost like a Cherry Mash candy flavor. This is paired with vanilla and a corresponding mild almond nuttiness, but not like biting into the nut itself; more like how almond syrup tastes in pound cake. This isn’t a creamy soda, but that almond flavor gives the soda’s body a richness, something that’s pretty unusual for cream sodas that don’t have a particularly creamy mouth feel, and/or aren’t made with honey. I’m also getting some undertones of brown sugar and maybe a little bit of caramel. But the soda comes down to three flavors: vanilla, cherry-chocolate, and almond.
Finish: Vanilla sugar with notes of creamy cherry that linger for a few seconds and slowly fade. Excellent.
Rating: Fiz Classic Cream Soda by College Club Beverages ascends beyond the category’s normal realm into a distant plane of flavor even we can’t fully comprehend. But it’s good. It’s damn good. No… no, this is great. I am fanboy-ing out over how exquisite this is and I don’t even care. And it’s all about the taste. There’s a mystery flavor to this cream soda – sure you taste the vanilla and maybe a little caramel, but WHAT IS IT? It’s like a combination of chocolate and cherries with mild almond extract and maybe a little creamy brown sugar. Whatever it is exactly, it makes the soda. You won’t taste another cream soda like this one. Guessing the secret ingredient in Fiz Cream Soda is like being an 18 year-old boy and trying to hit on a 27 year-old woman: it’s fun to try, but you’ll never figure it out. Our best guess at the signature flavor is similar to what a Cherry Mash candy tastes like – a creamy cherry-chocolate flavor with notes of vanilla and nuttiness. To be clear, this is definitely more vanilla than cherry, chocolate, or almond – but the accompanying tasting notes are so unprecedented in cream soda that they stand out with noticeable contrast. We always try to find a few points to critique in sodas, but I’ve gotta admit I would change nothing about this. It’s so unique, flavorful, and delicious that it rises to the top of the cream soda category. It’s a little on the sweeter side at 46 grams of sugar per bottle, but those aforementioned flavors will keep your mind preoccupied until the last sip. Try the first half chilled straight out of the bottle for a crisper cream soda and the other half on ice for a creamier transformation. You’ll want more of this. I know we do. Fiz Cream Soda’s greatest trait isn’t even how good the soda tastes; it’s that it keeps you guessing long after you’ve finished it. There’s something special about this one. Go out of your way to taste the mystery.