Month: March 2016

Hosmer Mountain: Cream Soda

History: Tucked away in the small city of Willimantic, Connecticut is one of the oldest, most retro soda companies in the nation. Hosmer Mountain Soda began over 100 years ago in 1912 bottling their signature high-quality spring water. It’s hardly a surprise when you find out Willimantic was called “the land of swift moving waters” by the Native Americans that hunted in the rivers there. After the success of their spring water, the company decided years later to capitalize on their greatest local resource by using it to make a cleaner-tasting soda. Today the water comes “from a deep well.” Despite going through four different owners (the current owners purchased the business in 1958), Hosmer Mountain is still going strong, producing over 30 flavors of soda a year. The company says “all of our flavors are ‘retro,'” in the sense that they strive for a sweet, but authentic flavor as opposed to something that tastes artificial. Hosmer Mountain also makes a flavor-of-the-month that rotates out, something that indeed feels like a very vintage thing to do. Reminds me of how local pie companies rotate out a monthly flavor. Mmm, pie. Another retro thing Hosmer Mountain does for its local customers? Delivery. Now if we could just come up with a fiscally manageable way to do this with craft soda nationally, our staff would quickly become very poor. But very happy. However, one very non-vintage aspect of Hosmer Mountain Soda is that they say “High fructose corn sweetener is our primary sweetener.” This will hurt a lot of craft soda fans’ feelings. Luckily, they also produce an “antique line” of four flavors: root beer, cream soda, white birch beer, and sarsaparilla. All four of these flavors are made with pure cane sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. The company believes these are the four flavors most representative of New England. Fun fact: the labels on the antique line flavors are a throw back to the company’s original soft drink logos from 1916. They add “You’re looking at the work of a pre-WWI graphic artist.” Neat, let’s put this “antique” cream soda in my mouth now.

Where to get: Outside of Connecticut, Hosmer Mountain Cream Soda is available to purchase online from Summit City Soda. If you’re a business owner looking to sell Hosmer Mountain’s Cream Soda in your store or just someone looking for a large order, get in touch with Homer Soda Company and they’ll take care of you.

Nose: Pretty standard cream soda with a little bit of toasted marshmallow.

Taste: Sweet brown sugar; caramel; marshmallow. This is definitely sweet, but it’s a different type of sweetness because of the brown sugar. It imparts more of a caramel taste, which is usually more common in root beer or cola than cream soda. Not a creamy texture on the palate, but still has a thick mouth feel because of the brown sugar and carmel flavors. A little bit syrupy. You also get sort of like an earthy bittersweetness, ala roasted campfire marshmallow. But the biggest flavor you’ll take away from this is caramel, for sure.

Finish: Sweet caramel and burned sugar. Gone almost as soon as it appears. No linger.

Rating: Hosmer Mountain Cream Soda is a unique one in that it’s not rich and creamy, nor does it taste like bubblegum. It splits between those two common cream soda flavor profiles. It’s also unusual in that it uses brown sugar. The brown sugar really gives it a different flavor, full of big waves of sweetness and mouthfuls of caramel. On certain sips it’s even a little bittersweet like a campfire marshmallow. The caramel flavor is nice. The problem is that it’s very sweet and when paired with the the brown sugar notes, it becomes overpowering at times. The slightly sweet marshmallow bite helps soften the blow, but not quite enough for us. I’d either up the bittersweet notes in the recipe or lessen the overall sugar content. Fans of caramel will instantly fall in love with this soda. Give it to Hosmer Mountain for doing something unique. I’d definitely recommend it because it is different from other cream sodas out there, but I probably wouldn’t buy a six-pack myself if I’m being honest. But hey, I’m just a dude that writes about soda on the Internet. What do I know? This definitely has good qualities too. The marshmallow undertones are really pleasant and do a great job contrasting against the soda’s powerful sweetness. The caramel flavor is a nice nuance in cream soda, a genre with lots of room for experimentation. Hosmer Mountain Cream Soda is a nice change of pace. The question is who will be able to keep up with it.

Three Stars

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Excel Bottling Company: Gooey Butter Cake

History: Prepare yourself for a taste of the midwest… in soda form. Gooey Butter Cake is a regional treat found throughout the heart of the U.S., but St. Louis, Missouri is the city most often associated with it. Think of it like an extremely moist, extremely rich vanilla brownie with a top layer of gooey batter that has a slight cheesecake flavor. It’s a decadent experience. One will fill you up. Three should put you in a coma. Excel Bottling Company out of Breese, Illinois decided the world needed this extravagant dessert in liquid form, and thus Gooey Butter Cake Soda was born in early 2016, becoming the company’s newest soda. While the soda is one of the newest in existence in the craft soda market, the company behind it is one of the oldest. Excel Bottling Sales and Communications Manager Colton Huelskamp tells the story of how in 1936 “founder, Edward ‘Lefty’ Meier, caught a bank robber a town over and used the reward money to purchase a used bottle washer and filler.” You could say, Meier put him on ice. You could say, the criminal’s efforts fell flat. Sorry. Like many other old time-y bottlers, Excel has always used pure cane sugar, according to Huelskamp. A major function of Excel Bottling upon its founding was providing the local community with fine fizzy beverages during the time of the Great Depression. They’ve since expanded the operation to include beer and are now up to around 20 different flavors of soda. The weirdest, undoubtedly, is Gooey Butter Cake. I mean, dude, come onnnnn. That’s like someone saying, “Yo, you know what would make this cupcake better? If it was soda.” The company is well aware of the stereotype, so they tested the flavor out last year at a local chain of stores. It did well enough to warrant a more permanent spot on the bottling line. “Yes this is an insane flavor to produce,” Huelskamp admits, “but not as insane as some other flavors that are out there.” The taste is described as similar to cream soda, but with “a subtle butter hint.” I’m just… I’m skeptical. Wouldn’t you be? I’m intrigued. I’m attracted. But I’m skeptical. Then again, dessert in a bottle doesn’t sound like the worst idea in the world.

Where to get: Currently, due to its new status, Gooey Butter Cake Soda is hyper local. According to the company’s Facebook page, you can find it around the St. Louis, MO/Breese, IL region at “Tru Buy, CC Food Mart, and Super Valu.” Your best bet is to contact the company directly and place an order with them. They’re really nice people and will quench your thirst.

Nose: Buttery vanilla. Lots of vanilla, honestly. It smells kind of like a rich version of artificial vanilla. I know that sounds kind of like a slam, but if this was a candle, I’d put them all throughout my house. It reminds me a lot of Shasta Cream Soda.

Taste: Vanilla; buttery; heavy; tangy. Gooey Butter Cake closely resembles a cream soda, but feels heavier on the palate. Buttery vanilla is the main takeaway flavor you’ll taste in this bottle. It’s rich. It’s heavy. A soda you should sip and not swig unabashed. There’s a tanginess to this that doesn’t really lend itself to vanilla or butter, which is why I’d attribute it akin to an artificial flavor. Not a bad thing – most sodas are made with artificial ingredients… you can just taste it here. Particularly near the end of the sip. I think what’s most striking about the flavor of Gooey Butter Cake is just how much it tastes like a retro cream soda you’d drink as a child. Buttery vanilla notes anchored by a tanginess not typical of a cream soda is the TL;DR version of this beverage.

Finish: Tangy vanilla. Slightly artificial. Slightly creamy after the tanginess fades. Lingers perhaps a couple seconds too long for me.

Rating: Gooey Butter Cake Soda is a novelty flavor many will drink for giggles or avoid entirely, but it’s surprisingly solid despite it’s oddball roots. I know the majority of you are just in shock that this is a thing. Us too. What a world we live in, right? Now to the important things. The flavor is reminiscent of old school canned cream soda with an added buttery richness. If you’ve ever had Gooey Butter Cake, you know it’s like eating a soft, buttery vanilla brownie. It’s an amazing experience in the moment, but the aftereffect is like filling your stomach with a thousand balloons. Excel Bottling’s Soda doesn’t give you either of these sensations, though it is a fairly heavy soda to ingest. You’d be better off to sip this one or put in on ice to slightly dilute it. You’ll taste tart vanilla softened by heavy butter notes. The outcome is a slightly creamy, rich experience. Gooey Butter Cake is undoubtedly a relative of cream soda. In fact, it’s almost a dead ringer for Shasta’s take on the category. It’s like a cream soda that ran away from home, messed around a bunch, and came back home with this as its child. It’s a cream soda, but it’s not. The butteriness is something you don’t taste in traditional creams. There’s also a distinct tanginess near the end of each sip and on the finish. It’s also heavier than a lot of cream sodas because of that buttery taste. So it’s familiar, but different at the same time. The positives? Despite the uninspired label on the bottle, but this is a legit soda worth trying, so that’s a win. The vanilla is nice. The buttery notes give this relative of cream soda a nice variance that separates it from the field. The cons? The tanginess. I liked it at first, but it really outstays its welcome. It never overpowers the vanilla notes, but it’s prominent enough that you start to think about it too much. It has has too much of an artificial flavor and lingers too long on the finish. I like the soda, but if I didn’t see “pure cane sugar” on the bottle, I’d probably assume it was made with corn syrup. That said, I’m not trying to bash Excel’s Gooey Butter Cake Soda. I like it. It surprised me in an overall positive manner. I enjoy the buttery vanilla and nostalgic flavors. I’d drink it again. It won’t be for everyone, but if you’re looking for an adventure, Gooey Butter Cake Soda is worth the risk.

Three Stars

Brood: Sour

History: If you want to change the law of the land in craft soda, a previous career as a lawyer probably isn’t a bad start. Jon Lehman grew tired of being an attorney, so he took the logical next step and launched a craft soda company. Right, guys? But he didn’t want just any soda company. No, he was very specific in his vision. “The goal is to make something very far out there,” he says. Lehman wanted to steer away from the vintage feel many soda companies capitalize on, certainly an interesting strategy considering the affability of nostalgia and the role it plays among craft soda’s audience. Lehman founded Brood in 2012 in Durham, North Carolina. He probably could’ve called is Bold. The company’s tagline is “carbonated greatness.” And it’s definitely unlike any other brand on the market. For starters, each flavor is based on emotion, and as Lehman puts it,”is influenced to a degree by an urban feel.” You won’t find ginger ale or lemon-lime. Instead you’ll be greeted by names like “Devil” or “Sour.” Next, the branding. It’s dark. And that’s how they like it. Look at the soda’s hype man, “Rood Boy.” He looks like something Tim Burton created to be the hipper, edgier cousin of of Jack Skellington from The Nightmare Before Christmas. They also try to stay as local as possible when sourcing their soda’s ingredients. A lot of what you taste in the bottle comes right from Durham. Brood lists its ingredients on every bottle, but Lehman admits you might not always taste them. Often what occurs is people will “taste the flavor, and they go in a completely different direction of what it actually is,” he says. Having previously tried to tackle the mysterious flavor Smoky, this time we opted for something slightly more traditional. Sour, Lehman tells us, is the company’s take on a citrus lemon-lime soda. But of course there’s a twist. Two other ingredients you’ll taste are honey and myrciaria dubia, which is actually not a spell from the Harry Potter books, but rather a fruit found in the Amazon rainforest. It’s high in Vitamin C too, so it’s like an added bonus. We’re looking forward to something simpler this time, though it sounds like Sour still might house some secrets of its own.

Where to get: Brood Soda is sold in many locations throughout North Carolina and a couple in Florida. Take a look to see if it’s close to you by checking here. You can allegedly buy Brood Soda online, but at the time of this review it appears you need a login name and password. Your best bet is contacting the company directly.

Nose: Honestly smells like a cola with notes of lemon. The more and more you sniff, the more you smell honey, too.

Taste: Lemon-lime; honey; tartness; mild cherry; intense carbonation. It takes a few swigs to get the flavors of this soda down as it’s very mild. I’d liken this most closely to a lemon-lime soda with the volume turned up. It’s bolder than 7-Up or Spite. But what really separates Brood Sour from its mass-produced cousins is that it’s much more tart. You taste the zing as soon as the liquid hits your lips, something that’s likely attributable to the myrciaria dubia because it’s a highly acidic fruit. So this soda is a little more acidic, but the sour notes fade quickly in favor of lush honey. Honey is the most recognizable flavor here. It really encapsulates all the other flavors. And one of those flavors that is very subtle, fleeting even, is cherry. It’s just barely there. You won’t taste it on many sips, so it’s almost like a hidden easter egg. I honestly can’t explain why we taste it… but we taste it. You’ll notice heavy carbonation in this soda too. Most of it is up front, so it doesn’t compromise the flavors. A zesty, fresher lemon-lime soda with dollops of honey that define the flavor profile.

Finish: Honey (more prominent) and lemon that slowly fade.

Rating: Brood Sour is perhaps the most “normal” flavor the company offers. Its tasting notes don’t reveal themselves immediately, but when they do, you realize they are ones with which you’re quite familiar. Brood Sour in layman’s terms is a slightly different take on lemon-lime soda. The citrus is bold. The carbonation is intense. The acidity is definitely makes this a little sour. And the starring flavor in this soda is… honey? Yup. This is essentially a bolder take on conventional lemon-lime soda with big notes of honey. I stress bolder because those lemon and lime notes are a lot stronger than what you’d taste in Spite. This is like when the cute, nerdy girl in math class runs out of band t-shirts and shows up in a crop top and tight jeans, so you do a double-take. It’s familiar, but it’s better than what you’re used to drinking in this category. It’s a win for all of us. The one issue I have with Brood Sour is the honey. It’s very, very prominent and when combined with the tart lemon and lime flavors, it occasionally overpowers them. If the honey was lower in the flavor profile, this could be one of the best lemon-lime sodas on the market. It needs to be taken down a couple levels. Still, Brood Sour is a solid alternative to Sprite or 7-Up and a nice change of pace. Brood is one the quirkiest craft soda companies out there and their offerings are always sure to spark conversation – Sour is no different.

Three Stars

Vignette Wine Country Soda: Pinot Noir

History: After nine grueling months of carrying a baby inside their stomach and then shoving something the size watermelon through an area the size of a lime, the first thing most women want after birth, understandably, is alcohol. But what about during pregnancy? Booze is out of the question, so that doesn’t leave many drinking options with the same regality. Pat Galvin noticed this and set out to do something truly unique in the soda industry: put it on the same platform as wine. “The idea came from seeing my wife go through pregnancy with our first child and seeing how few sophisticated non-alcoholic options were available,” Galvin tells us. He founded Vignette Wine Country Soda in Berkeley, California in 2007. The company believes their soda is “an elevated experience” for the drinker, allowing folks who don’t drink alcohol a new high-end option as well as those who do drink booze the chance to take a night off and still have something interesting in their hand. Vignette Wine Country Soda produces three flavors: pinot noir and chardonnay (the two original flavors), as well as rosé (launched in 2009). Now the question you’re all asking is: does this actually taste like wine? Maybe a little bit, but that’s not the goal. Galvin explains that with the pinot noir soda, they’re “really not trying to match the flavor of wine,” adding “that wouldn’t be possible.” Instead, the company prioritizes capturing “a nice, clean fruit flavor.” Think of this beverage as an artisan grape soda with a mild wine flavor influence.

At Vignette Wine Country Soda, it’s all about the grapes. The company uses varietal wine grapes from California. What are varietal grapes and why are they different? We didn’t know, so we asked. Galvin tells us wine grapes “have more complex flavors than a traditional table grape that you might be used to.” For example, some might be sweet, some sour, and some might even have a berry characteristic to them. Variety. Hence the term “varietal.” Did we mention the grapes are important? They want you to know the grapes are important. “Our juices could easily be made into wine instead…. These are premium grapes,” Galvin explains. Basically, you’re drinking the best of the best. And because of that, the company doesn’t add any sugar to their wine sodas. All the sweetness you’ll taste in each bottle comes from the natural sugar in the juices. I have to admit, I’m pretty excited about this, but also hesitant. We always ask bottlers what makes their soda unique, and Vignette Wine Country Soda has perhaps the most distinct claim to fame. But is being different being better? I’m about to elevate my experience and find out.

Where to get: Outside of California, you’ll have a hard time finding Vignette Wine Country Soda in stores, so your best bet is to buy it online directly from the company at their online store.

Nose: This smells kind of like what I expected – a cross between sparkling grape juice and chilled red wine. There’s a tartness to the grape smell that you sometimes smell in wine, but also a sweetness that you often find in sparkling grape juice. Probably leans a little more on the sweet-smelling side.

Taste: Grape; raspberry; tartness. This tastes exactly like the smell would lead you to believe, like a cross between sparkling grape juice and a slightly sweet glass of pinot noir. The grape flavor in this bottle tastes very natural and not like what you’d drink in something like a NeHi or NuGrape. What’s immediately noticeable besides the grape flavor is tart raspberry. Depending on the variety of pinot noir you’re drinking, raspberry can be a somewhat common tasting note. So that’s a nice ode to the wine. The carbonation isn’t too striking, but the tartness from the raspberry leaves a little bit of a natural sourness that’s compounded by the bubbles. The sugar levels in this are perfect and interact with the tartness well. The more and more you drink Vignette’s Pinot Noir soda, the more you’ll taste the raspberry. It becomes a little more sweet throughout the drink, replacing the grape notes.

Finish: Definitely more of a wine flavor near the end of the sip than the beginning or middle. Grape and a mild dose of that raspberry flavor. Pleasant and doesn’t linger too long, leaving a clean finish on the palate.

Rating: If you like grape soda with just a hint of exoticness to it, Vignette Wine Country Soda’s Pinot Noir is going to be a national treasure for you. Truth by told, I could drink these all day. It’s a wonderful twist on grape soda with natural grape flavor and tart raspberry notes. It’s like a cross between sparkling grape juice and an actual glass of pinot noir. A couple points that I think are the big takeaways: first, the grape flavor is excellent. Each bottle of Vignette Wine Country Pinot Noir Soda contains 50% juice and you can taste it. Second, the accompanying raspberry flavor is also excellent. It provides a nice tartness to the grape’s natural sweetness, something you often taste in wine. The sugar levels in this are very nice and aren’t overdone. To my satisfaction, this also isn’t a soda that tastes bitter. Basically, it’s the correct blend of wine and grape soda flavors, though it’s definitely more grape soda than wine. My only complaint is that the more you drink the soda, the less the grape flavor comes though. The raspberry becomes more prominent. If this maintained the same flavor throughout the bottle, it’d be five stars. Maybe that change is the intention of the bottler, but I’d prefer a little more consistency. Still, this is supremely unique and full of lovely flavor. I really enjoy it and I’d recommend this to anyone and everyone. Works chilled or on ice and in both the hot and cold months. Pour this in a wine glass at a get together with your wife’s annoying friends and no one will know the difference.

Four Stars

 

Just Craft Soda: Pear & Vanilla

History: “You do it to yourself you do/And that’s what really hurts is/You do it to yourself just you/You and no-one else.” These are lyrics from the Radiohead song, Just. I always think of this song when I think of Just Craft Soda, not only because of the name, but because the message connects itself to the reasoning behind the company. As craft soda’s little bottlers become more popular, people often ask us why. The answer is because they’re tired of the same mass-produced, over-sweetened, high fructose-saturated soda. Just Craft Soda founder John McEachern knows this, saying “There’s very little flavor variety in the market these days.” For bigger bottlers, “that’s what really hurts is/You do it to yourself.” It’s taken the big companies years to realize this, and despite the fact that they’re starting to make inroads into craft soda, they’re well behind the smaller companies. David got a major head start on Goliath. McEachern had first-hand insight into the market place, having previously worked for PepsiCo. and General Mills, and he wanted to produce a “flavor variety” adults would enjoy. He jokes that most soda these days feels like it’s “been designed for a 13 year-old boy.” McEachern launched Just Craft Soda in early 2015. The Toronto-based company’s soda always begins with a fruit that is then paired with a spice. That’s the general formula. Each bottle of Just Craft Soda contains 60% (!!!) juice, carbonated water, natural flavors, and cane sugar. That’s it. Authenticity is important to the company. McEachern told us he didn’t want the juice content to just be a marketing pitch, jokingly mocking other companies as he exclaimed, “look, 5% juice!” He also feels a more natural-tasting fruit soda will pair well with food or alcohol. This is a soda you drink while adulting. Drink it doing your taxes. Drink it with a steak. Don’t drink it as you giggle to yourself tickling your buddy. Or do. Just don’t tell anyone. The company produces five different flavors from the more common pairing of Apple & Ginger to the slightly more exotic Lemon & Lemongrass. But Pear & Vanilla is the one that seduces your ear the most when you verbalize it, so we had to indulge. We’re told the soda’s formula is “very simple” and that “there’s nothing in the recipe that your grandma wouldn’t understand.” The company describes the pear flavor as “sweet, almost buttery” and liken it to a cream soda. What’s not to like? But we’re always cautious here at Five Star. We’ve gone on way too many bad soda dates. A soda date is basically just when we drink soda by ourselves and then tell strangers about it on the Internet. Yeah, I’m single.

Where to get: Currently, Just Craft Soda is only available in Canada. To find the retail location nearest you, look here. Americans or other nearby neighbors who are desperate to try these sodas can contact the company directly by going here. Online sales are currently being looked into, so that’s also a possibility down the road.

Nose: Light notes of fresh-cut pair and maybe just a tinge of bubblegum. Sometimes vanilla does that.

Taste: Tart; pear; apple juice; lemon juice. This is more that than you’ll probably expect it to be, but the flavors definitely stand out in the profile. There’s a bite right up front that’s briefly pear and then rapidly transitions to lemon juice. Just’s Pear and Vanilla Soda is tart, but not acidic. Pear and lemon are the main flavors you’ll usurp from this. There’s also undertones of apple juice. It’s almost as if the pear and lemon juices are the waves crashing against your palate in an ocean of apple juice. The apple is there, but the other two flavors are bolder and splash against your taste buds much more often. The vanilla in this is very, very light. It doesn’t act as a flavor enhancer as much as it helps mitigate some of the bite from the juices. Without the vanilla this would be too acidic.

Finish: Lingering lemon and apple juice tartness that takes about 10 seconds to fade. You do get a mellow note of vanilla at the very end of the tartness.

Rating: Pear and vanilla is a flavor combination that sounds like an adventure most soda drinkers would be willing to take. It seems like they could be good together, but you also know there could be issues. This is basically how I approach every relationship now. In a related story, I’m still single. Just Craft Soda is a company that swings for the fences with their sodas, pairing interesting flavors together while using at least 60% juice in every bottle. You can certainly taste the juice in this one. Pear and lemon stand out most. The pear is upfront, but the lemon punch comes quick and is tart. As a whole, there’s more of a bite than you’d probably expect before reading this review. Apple flavors linger in the background, but pear and lemon do most of the work in the flavor profile. I enjoy the apple flavors that weave in and out of every sip, but I’d like to see the pear flavor last longer in place of the lemon. Pear is, after all, the name on the label and I think it needs to be more prominent. The tartness isn’t too much, but it won’t work for some people. It doesn’t sting, but it does surprise. The sweetness in this is less than most craft sodas, but for one with this much fresh juice, it’s understandable and plays its part well. This is a natural soda that should be appealing to most. Certainly worth a try for its unique pairing of juices that surprise and satisfy the taste buds. It also apparently makes a pretty tasty maple pear bread pudding.

Three Stars

Red Hare Brewing: Root Beer

History: You don’t see a ton of craft soda coming out of Georgia, aside from the Red Rock brand, so we dug deeper and discovered Red Hare Brewing. Fun fact: it’s Georgia’s first craft brewery to make its beers available in cans. According to Elyse Moore, Red Hare’s Graphic Designer and Marketing Coordinator, the brewery was the idea of buddies Roger Davis and Bobby Thomas. Every Saturday these two “would home brew in Roger’s basement,” according to Moore. Eventually the two got enough positive feedback from friends and family that they decided to open Red Hare Brewing in Marietta, Georgia in 2011. If you like beer and are in the area, they recommend you stop in for a Gangway IPA or Long-Day Lager. But most of you aren’t reading this review for beer… in the traditional sense. You’re here the crown prince of craft soda, the spiciest of soda ales: root beer. What an opulent introduction. Moore tells us that Red Hare Brewing first introduced its root beer on draft in the brewery in 2013. It wasn’t until two years later that they started canning it. And that’s something that admittedly might turn craft soda purists off; you won’t find Red Hare Root Beer in bottles. Just cans. Evercans, actually. Oh yeah… according to Moore, Red Hare was “the world’s first beer in an Evercan.” An Evercan is a can made of 90% recycled aluminum. It just so happened that Novelis, a rolled aluminum company that sells its products for beverage receptacles and automotive usage, was located nearby in Atlanta. So the two teamed up and created the Evercan for Red Hare’s beer and root beer to be sold in. But you want to know how it tastes. Moore admits “it’s a pretty standard root beer recipe.” I applaud your honesty. Bold move. That’s like telling a potential lover, “yeah, I have a pretty basic situation going on. Still interested?” It’s supposed to taste nostalgic, the root beer… that is. She goes a little more in depth, adding that “a bit spicy and herbal is what they were going for” in terms of a flavor profile. Currently root beer is the only soda Red Hare Brewing produces, but the brewery does have plans to unveil a grapefruit soda that will also be available in cans by this summer.

Where to get: Red Hare Brewing’s Root Beer is available throughout Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, Alabama, and in the panhandle of Florida. The company is currently looking into selling it online. If you’re outside of those states, you’ll have to make a trip to the ol’ brewery and have a glass on draft. Or you could just contact the company directly by going here.

Nose: Big vanilla and sarsaparilla scents. Very reminiscent of the smell of A&W Root Beer, though not as sweet.

Taste: Creamy; birch; sarsaparilla; vanilla; crisp carbonation. Much more of a creamy vanilla-based root beer than one with deep spice notes. It makes Red Hare’s Root Beer very drinkable. There’s also definitely a crispness to the flavor, but I wouldn’t go as far as saying this root beer has a bite. That sharpness comes from the birch and sarsaparilla flavor. So it has a little bit of the modern creamy vanilla thing going on with the classic sarsaparilla and birch oil flavors to supplement. The carbonation is big and really pops in the mouth, enhancing the the more herbal flavors in the soda. It has a very creamy mouth feel. Goes down smooth with big notes of velvety vanilla. Really nice.

Finish: Mild mint and birch with lingering vanilla and crisp carbonation.

Rating: Red Hare Brewing makes a damn good root beer. It’s not too complicated, has enough flavor to be still be nuanced, and drinks incredibly smooth. It has a great balance of creamy and crispness on the palate. Probably safe to say it tastes a little more creamy than crisp because vanilla is the primary flavor in the root beer. Tastes like it’d go great with some french vanilla ice cream in a root beer float. I’d say our standards for root beer at five star are a little higher than other categories because it’s the most pervasive flavor in craft soda, and this is still absolutely tops. This root beer is the cute, hip girl who graduated with a 4.0: down-to-earth and attainable. There’s honestly nothing wrong with this root beer. It’s creamy. It has a good blend of vanilla and traditional root beer flavors. And it drinks light and easy with just the most subtle of bites. The only change I wish the company would make is to bottle this in addition to putting it in cans. There’s no metallic taste from the can; that’s just the craft soda purist in me – I like a cold bottle. If you enjoy particularly spicy or minty root beers, Red Hare’s may not be for you. It’s definitely on the sweeter, more vanilla-forward side. It plays to its niche impeccably well. Just put this in glass and I’d order a case.

Five Stars

Goody: Red Pop

History: You know what wasn’t “goody”? Researching this damn soda. But by God if we can’t provide the best damn soda journalism in the world, we just won’t publish the review until it’s ready. So what do we have here? A soda called Goody Red Pop. It dates back all the way to the 1920’s, when it was created by Willow Springs Distillery in Omaha, Nebraska as an alternative to alcohol during prohibition. Soda Emporium states its exact year of birth was 1923. At one point, the brewery was making up to 24 flavors of it. And at another, the Willow Springs Distillery went bottoms up. Goody Pop was dead; it just wasn’t buried yet. Orca Beverage in Mukilteo, Washington is a distributor and producer of vintage sodas known for breathing life back into half-extinct brands. “Brands like Spiffy, Lemmy, Mr. Cola, Goody and Jic Jac were no longer being produced at all when Orca Beverage took an interest in them, acquired the trademarks and started researching recipes to come up with the authentic flavors,” says Harold Business Journal writer Jennifer Sasseen. In the early 2010’s, Goody made its return to the bottling line and on shelves. Orca Beverage produces four variations of Goody, and they’re all named after colors instead of flavors: red, blue, green, and yellow. You might’ve heard of another famous red pop by Faygo, but what’s this one all about? It’s made with pure cane sugar and according to the company, “it brings together all your favorite red fruits (and a few other candy notes) to make a big flavor classic red pop.” Not exactly the most descriptive explanation. But I guess the mystery is half the fun. I hope.

Where to get: Goody Red Pop is widely available throughout the U.S. You can probably find it at a Rocketfizz retailer near you, and if not, there’s a plethora of online options. Soda Emporium has single bottles and six-packs, while Orca Beverage and Amazon offer 12-packs.

Nose: Whoa, *coughs*. This smells s w e e t. Like, I have Type 1 Diabetes and I haven’t even tried it yet. Smells like a combination of a pack of old fashioned bubble gum and cherry syrup. Maybe a little candy strawberry too. Very candy-esque. But good Lord, this smells intensely sugary.

Taste: Sugar; candy strawberry; mild cherry cough syrup; mild bubblegum. This is a mish-mash of as many red flavors as Goody could fit into a 12 oz. glass bottle. Red Pop is very sweet. That’s the first thing we noticed. Its strongest flavor is probably a candy strawberry. Think sugary strawberry bubblegum. There’s also some mild cherry going on. It reminds me of a cherry flavor you taste in cough drops. Kind of a sweet, tangy cherry. This tastes like someone melted down strawberry bubble gum and candy cherry chews into a syrup and added some carbonated water. Very sweet.

Finish: Tangy cherry and sweet strawberry bubblegum swirl about before dropping off suddenly. Strawberry lingers the longest. Still very sugary.

Rating: Let’s get right to it: I’m not gonna say this is good, but I’m not gonna say it’s terrible. It’s tolerable. Kids will probably like it. Adults will likely fall into a coma if they have more than a bottle. First off, the sugar hits you like the earth’s tectonic plates smashing together to break apart Pangea. If you don’t get that reference, you probably didn’t make it past second grade. I mean, this is very, very sweet. Sugar. Sugar. Sugar. Get it? Alright, now the flavor. Red Pop is like a cross between candy strawberry bubblegum and candy cherry. It’s mostly a rush of those two flavors encapsulated by a shield of sugar. You’ll also taste some tanginess along with the cherry flavor, the soda’s most redeeming quality. Kids might like this for its sweetness, but I’d have a hard time recommending it to any audience over 14 years-old. The sugar is just too intense. The strawberry and cherry flavors blend in an odd way that don’t compliment one another. And did I mention this is too sweet yet? All in all, it’s just too overbearing with a flavor that probably won’t move the needle for most fans of craft soda. If you need to fuel your heart for the final half mile of a marathon, have someone throw a Goody Red Pop your way. Just be prepared to have paramedics near by once the effect fully kicks in.

Two Stars

Hank’s: Orange Cream

History: Innnnnn West Philadelphia, born and raised, Hank’s Gourmet Soda is callin’ your name. Hank’s is one of those interesting sodas that came well after the old-school vintage stuff, but well before the craft soda renaissance of the mid-2010’s. The company was founded in (do we really have to tell you?) Philadelphia in 1995 by Bill Dunman and his business partners. The group came from a background in beer distribution, handling popular east coast brands like Yuengling and Sam Adams. But it wasn’t always smooth sailing in the beer industry. Dunman calls Pennsylvania’s beer distribution laws as “archaic,” and after years of fighting the system, the friends decided to try their hands at something a little less regulated: soda. “We all kind of knew the potential of brown-bottled root beer,” Dunman says. It was also a little bit about local pride. He notes that “We really felt like we needed a gourmet soda, specifically root beer, for Philadelphia.” As you can imagine, Hank’s started with root beer in ’95 before adding diet root beer, vanilla cream and Wishniak black cherry a year later. And can we just talk about how damn beautiful the bottle is? Look at that thing. It’s more attractive than my sister’s kid. Cheryl, if you’re reading this… he still has time to grow out of it. Dunman says whether it comes to flavors, packaging, or marketing, “we always try to make the highest quality product we can.” Today’s review, orange cream, was released around 1998. Predictably, the company designed it to taste like an old fashioned orange creamsicle. Just a side note: basically every bottler names that as the goal, but not everyone achieves it. The struggle is real in the craft soda game too, dawg. Dunman wouldn’t reveal many secrets about the ingredients, but did say they strive for big vanilla and orange flavors, before adding that Hank’s doesn’t carbonate its soda as much as other bottlers in order to achieve a more “full-bodied flavor.” And when you buy the soda via the Hank’s website, a portion of the proceeds go toward Spark Philadelphia, an organization that lists as part of its mission statement, “Helping underserved youth become motivated learners and connected community members, and by encouraging adults to nurture the next generation through mentoring and volunteerism.” Tip of the cap, Hank’s. Now for a pop of the cap.

Where to get: You can buy Hank’s Orange Cream Soda directly from the company’s website in 12-packs. It’s also available to purchase online in single bottles from Soda Emporium. Amazon has the hook up for 6-packs.

Nose: Vanilla; orange; creamy. Smells exactly how an orange cream soda should.

Taste: Bold orange; mild zest; frothy carbonation; vanilla cream. This is full of flavor. You’re initially hit with a wave of crisp carbonation that abruptly transforms into small, frothy bubbles. The body of Hank’s Orange Cream is an even mixture of slightly zesty orange and creamy candy vanilla. The two go hand-in-hand. It retains strong orange flavor while having enough vanilla cream flavor to make an impression on the taste buds. It’s not overly complicated in terms of a flavor profile – just two main tastes – but the two have great balance to make for an extremely smooth soda with great flavor.

Finish: Swirling orange and vanilla cream flavors. The zesty notes from the orange aren’t as prevalent in the finish, but the vanilla is slightly creamier.

Rating: The most important thing about Hank’s Orange Cream Soda is that it doesn’t make any mistakes when it comes to taste and gets better as you drink it. It’s hard to ask more from a soda. I think the same thing could be said about me, but that doesn’t stop my soon-to-be ex girlfriend from critiquing every single thing I do. You also have to commend this soda for what it’s not. It’s not funky-tasting. It’s not too creamy or heavy. It’s not too orange-y. Hank’s Orange Cream Soda is a perfect example of the Goldilocks Principle: it’s just right. Simply put, if I had to give a recommendation for an orange cream soda, Hank’s would be the one. It has great classic orange soda flavor with added zesty notes that provide some nice acidity in contrast with the creamy vanilla flavors. There’s great balance between the orange and vanilla, perhaps the soda’s greatest quality. This creates an enjoyable mouth feel along with the soda’s frothy carbonation. I wouldn’t mind if the orange was even more zesty to create more contrast, but that’s being pretty nitpicky at this point. The only way I could see someone not liking this is if they just don’t like orange. Here at Five Star Soda, we try so many sodas that we rarely finish the bottle when doing tastings. Hank’s sent us two bottles of this flavor and they were both gone within 20 minutes after taking the photos. If we haven’t convinced you this is in an elite tier yet, then I don’t know if we’re friends anymore.

Five Stars