Month: April 2016

Scotty’s Butterscotch Soda

History: Times were simpler at Grandma’s house. You’d play on the swing set, run around the yard, eat whatever you wanted; life was good. Grandma always had the best candy, the sweetest lemonade, and the softest beds. If you skinned your knee, you got a piece of candy. If you didn’t, you got a piece of candy. Rocketfizz co-founder Ryan Morgan wanted to bring that sense of wonder into the lives of kids and adults alike, saying “The sense of exploration and fun you used to have as a kid; those are the things we try to bring into our store.” In 2007 Morgan and his business partner Rob Powells opened their first Rocketfizz store. Rocketfizz sells a variety of craft soda, including many under their own label, as well as “over 15,000 different types of candy.” I can already see one of those click bait Buzzfeed headlines about the company: Dentists LOVE them! 15,000 reasons why Rocketfizz is bad for your child!” Somebody probably read this, made that, and is making money off it now. You’re welcome. But the whole thing almost didn’t happen. Rocketfizz got off to a rocky (looks around for approval, sees none) start. Their first contractor took their money “and bolted,” according to Morgan, and it only became more complicated from there. After an initial uphill battle, Rocketfizz is in peak growth mode, now in 30 different states and just opening its 82nd store as of April 2016. Perhaps most surprising about all the success is that the company doesn’t even have official offices. It’s all done at houses, on road trips, or just hanging out with one another. Having a background in the restaurant business since 2000, Morgan wanted a platform to take soda to the next level. He also had an intense passion for design and admits “We originally just wanted to do fun labels.” Rocketfizz allowed him to do both. If you see an novelty soda flavor on the shelves with an interesting label, chances are it’s made by Rocketfizz. The popular novelty soda line, Lester’s Fixins? Rocketfizz. Bacon soda? Rocketfizz. Hot Wing Soda? Yeah, all that stuff is made by these guys. “I don’t look at it any different than a restaurant with a menu. The more we push the limits on flavors, the more we see where people are willing to go,” Morgan tells us. I’ll be the first to tell you, not all of those novelty flavors are good. Some are wretched, liquid gastrointestinal torture. But others, like Scotty’s Butterscotch are more approachable and fun.

Just like the stores themselves, the inspiration behind Scotty’s Butterscotch Soda harkens back to the more nostalgic times of grandma’s home. Remember those yellow round candies she always had in the jar that you never ate? Those are what this soda is designed to taste like. “We wanted it to taste like a basic butterscotch wheel,” Morgan says. Admittedly, it’s more of an adult soda flavor. Morgan also has no problem admitting it’s not a huge seller. One thing it definitely is? Unique. I can name you several butterscotch cream sodas and root beers, but go find me another strictly butterscotch-flavored soda in America. You can’t. This has the market cornered in that regard. What the duo like most about the soda is the label. A Scotsman wearing a kilt next to a stick of butter. It’s a wee-bit strange, but it does catch the eye. Will it please the tummy?

Where to get: A sure-fire bet for purchasing Scotty’s Butterscotch soda in person is to stop by your local Rocketfizz store. Check out the company’s online locator to find the store nearest you. You can also purchase it online from Soda Emporium in single bottles or 4-packs.

Nose: Man, this is butterscotch alright. If you’ve ever poured warm butterscotch syrup over your ice cream, that’s what this smells like. Strong and sweet.

Taste: Butterscotch; vanilla; toasted toffee. The butterscotch flavor is immediate. It’s initially sweet, but not as sweet as the scent would lead you to believe. The taste of the butterscotch is unmistakable. It’s a very candy butterscotch flavor. Picture those little yellow-wrapped candies your grandma kept in the candy jar, but no one touched. These things (We always write the tasting portion of the review first before the history – so they really hit the mark here). You’ll also definitely taste vanilla on some sips, giving the soda a slightly creamy, but still overwhelmingly butterscotch characteristic. I think the most interesting flavor in Scotty’s Butterscotch Soda is a toasted toffee taste. P.S. that’s some nice unintentional alliteration. Those toasted notes provide a nice variance to the butterscotch’s sweetness. I have say this becomes sweeter as you drink it, though. But if you’re looking for butterscotch soda, look no further. The signature flavor here is unmistakable.

Finish: Lightly toasted butterscotch with mild notes of caramel that fades, leaving only butterscotch. Transitions from sophisticated to plain fairly quickly. Not much of a linger.

Rating: Let’s be real here, how many of you expect butterscotch soda with a dude playing bagpipes and a stick of butter on the label to be good? Sometimes the label is all you need to see to know a soda is going to be terrible, but Scotty’s Butterscotch Soda is one on which you should not form assumptions. And I’m not saying the label is bad, but it does lead me to believe I’m about to drink carbonated liquid butter. And for the right price, yeah I’d do it. But I’d drink Scotty’s for free and I think a lot of you would too because it has a sweet, candied butterscotch flavor with a supporting cast of vanilla and toasted toffee notes. The vanilla and toffee flavors are crucial because this is a soda that starts sweet and only gets sweeter as you drink it. And that is the soda’s main problem. The initial sweetness is right where this needs to stay, but instead it becomes overwhelming at times. Kids will probably love this because of its sugariness, but adults and craft soda fans may need to take their time with it. If you’re a big butterscotch fan, Scotty’s should be near the top of your wish list. The butterscotch flavor is on point. The vanilla provides a slight creaminess. And the toasted toffee notes give it some needed flavor contrast and slightly pull back the sweetness of the butterscotch. Scotty’s is a Rocketfizz-produced soda, and if I’m being honest, I haven’t heard a lot positive things about their in-house brands; this bucks the trend. Scotty’s Butterscotch Soda won’t be for everyone because of its intense sweetness and due to the fact that many people are averse to caramel’s less popular cousin. But if you’re up for an adventure and have an open mind, look for the bottle with the stick of butter and lad playing the bagpipes on it. You might just be surprised.

Three Stars

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Faygo: Original Grape

History: Most of the country calls it soda. In the south it’s often referred to simply as “Coke,” and you have to specify your desired flavor. But up north, it’s pop. Or so-duh pahp. Detroit, Michigan’s Faygo is one of the original gangsters of soda pop. It’s been making the stuff since 1907 when Russian immigrants Ben and Perry Feigenson started the company. Over the years its image has morphed from highly nostalgic and retro to bright and quirky. Faygo Marketing Specialist Dawn Burch tells us the company now makes over 60 flavors of soda. All the classics are there, but where Faygo catches your eye is with its flashy flavors like Cotton Candy, Ohana Kiwi Berry, or Rock N’ Rye. Burch says the brand’s popularity is in large part because they “offer flavors that other companies are scared to try.” Oh, and I guess we should acknowledge the elephant in the room. The rebellious, face-painted, socially miscast elephant in the room. Yeah, this is that brand. The one associated with the band Insane Clown Possee and its legion of fans known as Juggalos. To be fair, Faygo has no official partnership or affiliation with the group. Burch goes on to tell us groups of these Juggalos will call the company ahead of time to request gallons of Faygo to be sprayed on each other during events like family outings and weddings. The call them “Faygo baths.” Suddenly that family barbecue I wanted to skip this Sunday doesn’t seem as bad anymore.

Now while Faygo produces over 60 different flavors, only six of them are made in glass bottles with pure cane sugar. The rest are made with high fructose corn syrup. Its retro line includes perhaps its two most famous flavors: Red Pop and Rock N’ Rye, as well as Grape, Root Beer, Cream Soda, and Orange. Burch says Faygo “definitely sees the line growing in the future,” but for now the company is committed to its six core old fashioned flavors. And it doesn’t get more retro than grape pop. That’s what grandpa used to drink, among other things. (A LOT of Irish whiskey). We wanted to see how Faygo’s offering in the category stacked up. “Faygo Grape is one of our original flavors and it’s definitely one of the most popular. The strong flavor and aroma make it a fan favorite,” Burch gloats. Faygo also makes a corn syrup, plastic-bottled version of grape, but to be clear, we are reviewing the pure cane sugar version of their grape soda. Faygo didn’t offer a full description of their intended taste design, but did say they believe their glass-bottled grape soda is “perfect for a hot summer day!” Grape is one of those flavors I believe doesn’t have a lot of leeway in terms of taste, so I’m interested to see what one of craft soda’s big boys does with the flavor profile.

Where to get: Faygo Original Grape (the one in glass bottles with cane sugar) can be purchased online from the Faygo store or you can find it at Soda Emporium. Just a click away. You can also use the company’s online locator to find your nearest physical retailer. Just remember, the pure cane sugar versions of Faygo soda are a little harder to find than those in plastic bottles made with corn syrup.

Nose: Crushed up grape SweeTARTS. And also kind of like Dimetapp… but I like the smell (and taste) of Dimetapp, so don’t hate.

Taste: Candy grape; sugar; mild tartness; crisp. Sweet, candy grape permeates the mouth and rises up into your teeth. There’s a mild tartness to this as well. I think it’s probably based off the classic Grape NeHi, and the two are definitely very similar. Faygo Grape is a very sweet grape soda at 50 grams of sugar and 200 calories per bottle. This isn’t one for your diet. Also some really nice, mild carbonation in this bottle that provides some needed tartness and crispness to break up that sugary, grape flavor. This is classic, tangy, sweet grape soda

Finish: Tangy, sweet grape that runs along the back of your tongue. Lingers for maybe 4 or 5 seconds before fading away.

Rating: Faygo Grape tastes like an old-time, classic grape pop. Every time I take a sip, I can feel the nostalgia welling up inside me like a waterfall going in reverse. I was going to make a joke there, but it probably would’ve gone to some weird places. Here’s the deal, you’ll probably either really like this or you’ll hate it. This is one of those sodas that I doubt has much if a middle ground with drinkers. You have to understand what you’re first getting into. Faygo Grape is 12 oz. of sweet, candy grape flavor with a decidedly retro taste that tangy and sugary. It is not a farmer’s market artisan soda that tastes like real grape juice and has minimal carbonation. So if you want something that tastes more nostalgic in flavor, like Grape NeHi, yes, give this a shot. Personally, it’s just a little too sweet for my tastes to drink consistently. The mild tartness provides some relief, but I’d dial this down to maybe 40 grams of sugar instead of 50. Great idea though to channel that sugar rush: tomorrow before I max-out on bench press I’m gonna drink one of these and invite all the hot girls I know. Maybe even my wife. This may not something you put in your normal rotation, but it’s still a good soda and an excellent throwback to vintage grape pop. Crisp, clean, and full of big candy grape flavor. Definitely worth giving it a shot to form your own opinion.

Three Stars

True Roots Brewing Company: Ginger Beer

History: Ginger is the Swiss Army knife in a bartender’s back pocket. Drink is too sweet? Add some ginger for a kick. Cocktail is lacking in flavor? Throw in ginger to give it a full-bodied boldness. When he’s not dreaming up cocktails for Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steakhouse like the Mai-Tai-relative “King Hippo Milk Punch” or pickled strawberry and ginger beer combo “Clear Keep Lane Fire,” Ray Fuentes is probably busy working on ways to make his current libations better. Fuentes is a well-known Los Angeles, California bartender, leader of Bourbon Steakhouse’s bar program, and the business partner of True Roots Brewing Company co-founder John Shin. Ginger beer continues to be the hottest beverage in craft soda. It’s downright mandatory these days for any bartender, and with the rapid ascension of choices and quality on the ginger beer market, Fuentes grew tired of the old options he’d been using and decided to try his own hand at ginger beer. “Wow, this is good!” was the first thought Shin had when sampling his buddy’s brew. The two quickly turned it into a product, testing it in a restaurant in San Francisco, perfecting the recipe, and then officially debuting it in July of 2015. Less than seven months later, they were bottling True Roots Ginger Beer is cute-ass stubby, little bottles. The company produces a stand-alone ginger beer for drinking by itself or in cocktails, a ginger beer syrup, as well as the more exotic smoked ginger beer syrup. Looking at the ginger beer’s atypical bottle, you might not even believe it to be a beverage. But there’s a lot of thought and ingenuity the liquid in that little bottle.

“It’s very hard to get a good, robust ginger beer,” tells us over the phone. True Roots brews their ginger beer with cocktails in mind first, and instead of making the bartender add a bunch of bitters and syrups to your drink, Shin and Fuentes wanted their ginger beer to be a one-stop-shop of flavor. It’s for this reason True Roots Ginger Beer is made with a handful of complimentary spices that you won’t find in others. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say this stuff is maxed-out to the limits of what we know as artisan. Fans of gourmet culinary experiences: keep your pants on as we go through this list. First this is a ginger beer made without preservatives of any kind, meaning to ensure freshness it needs to be refrigerated. It’s also literally brewed in beer tanks. Next, it’s “very ginger and lime forward,” according to Shin. Typically ginger beers are made with more lemon than lime. True Roots Ginger Beer has no lemon because they felt lime provided a bolder tasting experience. Shin goes on to say, “We’re probably the only ones that cold-press our ginger.” I don’t know what that means and neither do you, but now we’re both intrigued. As for the sweetener? They use both pure cane and brown sugar, something Shin says gives the ginger beer “a bit of a molasses flavor.” Despite multiple sugar types, the total amount is less than a majority of craft soda on the market. This is done to ensure the real flavors in their soda are not masked. Then, of course, there’s those spices we previously mentioned. We tried to pry, but the duo keeps that list close to the vest, though they did divulge the use of cinnamon. The one spice we forgot to put in our photos? Cinnamon. In terms of whether or not this packs a punch, Shin admits they “absolutely meant for it to be a spicy ginger beer,” but also adds that due to a longer carbonation process, it has a bit of “a creamy complexion.” It seems like with True Roots Ginger Beer, for every Yin, there’s a Yang. After our interview with Shin, I’m convinced this will be one of, if not the most interesting ginger beer I’ve ever reviewed. But that’s not the point, he says. ““We weren’t trying to do something different. We were trying to do something better.”

Where to get: True Roots Brewing Ginger Beer is currently sold only in California. To find out where you can purchase some, check out the company’s Facebook page or contact them directly via their website.

Nose: Ah, a complicated smell. A little bit of ginger and several spices. Those are what you’ll smell most. The spices are robust. Cinnamon and clove smells stand out the most. Also some lime too. Very nice.

Taste: Lime; mild ginger; citrus; general spice. This is an especially citrusy ginger beer, and it’s mostly lime you’ll taste. Bold, strong lime. What’s most important to get across here is that this tastes real. You can taste the fresh juices in this ginger beer. Pretty mild carbonation, as well as mild ginger flavor. You actually taste the ginger more near the end of the sip than the beginning. In my opinion, this isn’t particularly spicy in terms of heat. The spice is more in the flavor. I’d call it a 5/10 on the heat index. The spiciness doesn’t hit you hard. It’s more of a lingering effect that builds in the back of the throat. The more you drink this, the more the spice flavor reveals itself. It’s more of a combined effect, meaning you’re probably not going to be able to isolate just cinnamon or clove notes. They work as a whole to impact the ginger beer’s flavor profile. What you’ll likely take away from True Roots Ginger Beer the most is a strong lime influence with subtle ginger near the finish.

Finish: Ginger root, mild spice that lingers, and citrusy lime. Definitely a little more cinnamon on the finish than the body. You also get a little bit of the brown sugar here, even if it’s fleeting.

Rating: If you’re looking to make a stellar dark and stormy or moscow mule, pull out your copper cup and an endearing stubby bottle of True Roots Ginger Beer and go to town. Its intense lime and subtle ginger flavors really work well when paired with a high percentage alcohol. However, on its own, this is likely to be a divisive soda amongst drinkers. For some, the lime flavor, while very authentic, is going to be overbearing. It’s loud and proud like a fat woman in a two-piece on the beach. The ginger flavor isn’t as strong as other ginger beers and mostly hangs in the background while the lime takes center stage. What works best about True Roots Ginger Beer as a stand-alone beverage is the lingering heat that continually builds as you drink the soda. It’s very pleasant and adds a nice kick that should be tolerable for almost everyone and brings an extra layer to the ginger beer’s flavor. On the other hand, the biggest downfall for us was not tasting all the spices in the recipe. You can smell both cinnamon and cloves on the nose, but I don’t get much of that in the ginger beer’s body. What we do taste in terms of spices is very mild. I think if you could taste the spices in this, it would really add something extra for drinkers who want to enjoy it without alcohol. I’d dial up the cinnamon a little more. Cinnamon and citrus actually pair really nicely next to the bitey flavor of ginger. Bottom line, if you enjoy lime and ginger, you should really enjoy this – but you need to like lime or citrus. I also want to add this: don’t give up on this ginger beer if you don’t enjoy it solo after one bottle. I wasn’t sold after one go ’round without booze. A couple days later I came back and the flavors seemed more pronounced. Sometimes complicated soda complicates things for your mouth and brain. They need time to warm up to it. It’s a grower for sure. True Roots Ginger Beer won’t be for everyone on its own, but I’d certainly recommend it over almost any competitor a cocktail. And trust me, we did the market research. We woke up at noon the next day. Cheers.

Four Stars

 

Hooker Mountain Farm: Maple Spruce and Lime

History: In the little town of Cabot, Vermont rests Hooker Mountain Farm, a local spot that will sell you anything from live cows to maple syrup to dead post-Heaven barbecue-flavored cows (beef sticks). But they’re arguably most famous for the their maple syrup. How Vermont of them. David Thayer founded the farm in 2010 where they harvest their own maple syrup. But maple isn’t the only recognizable type of tree on the land. You’ll notice a canopy of spruces and firs staring down at you too. Thayer decided these trees also had culinary value. But what to use them on? Keeping his background in home brewing in mind, Thayer thought up a novel idea: farm-to-bottle craft soda using Hooker Mountain’s signature maple syrup as the primary sweetener. And those spruce trees? He took their needles, blended them with maple syrup, pure cane sugar, and lime and created Maple Spruce and Lime Soda. Hooker Mountain Farm has produced craft soda since 2013. Besides Maple Spruce and Lime, their two other flavors of soda are Maple Birch Beer and Maple Orange Cream. About 70% of the sodas’ maple syrup content is gathered right off the farm. Thayer’s says, “We wanted to resuscitate a more natural-tasting soda,” a reason why each bottle’s sugar content clocks in at 23 grams, about half of what a normal craft soda contains. Thayer likens this particular soda to a lemon-lime with a spruce influence. I’m an avid hiker myself who enjoys living off the land during my excursions, though I rarely trek through forests because let’s be real, the bears are waiting for you to stumble into their land like a drunk girl after bar close. But even if I did peruse through the woods, I’ve never imagined what they’d taste like in liquid form. Until now.

Where to get: Hooker Mountain Farm soda is currently only sold in Vermont. If you’re outside the area, contact the company directly via phone or email. Just know shipping may be pricey. In the near future, this should be much easier when the farm launches their line of soda syrups that will be more cost-effective to ship.

Nose: Pine tree; bold lime; eucalyptus.

Taste: Pine needles; eucalyptus; lime. Whoa, prepare your taste buds for a ride through the forest. This is tree soda with some notes of botanicals. Right away you get a wave of pine tree flavor. It won’t be for everyone. The spruce flavor is strong. There’s also some undertones of eucalyptus. Both flavors become more palatable as you continue drinking. The lime comes in late. It’s a very citrus-y lime. Also strong. It’s an acquired taste for sure. This soda is a grower. The one flavor I’m not tasting right away is the maple. You have to diligently search for it. The maple is tucked behind the lime. As opposed to other sodas from Hooker Mountain Farm, the maple in this one is very, very faint. This is not a sweet soda, but also not a bitter one. Part of that is obvious at 90 calories a bottle. It’s much closer to a botanical beverage. The spruce and lime work well to form a crisp, earthy drink. Whose taste buds it will please is another story.

Finish: Lime; faint maple; eucalyptus. Dull lime flows into the back of the throat followed at a distance by a thin layer of maple syrup. Eucalyptus is the final flavor you taste, rising off the taste buds like fog on a morning lake.

Rating: If you’ve ever wondered what a liquid Christmas tree tastes like, this is the closest I’ve come to it. Those who enjoy herbal beverages will probably be delighted by this soda. Those who desire something sweeter should probably pass on it. The spruce flavor is up front and abrupt on the first couple sips. It’s hard to prepare for its intensity. The lime you get on the back end of the soda is very refreshing and helps elevate this to a spring and summer drink. We’ve also been told it pairs well with gin. All that aside, this would probably benefit from just a little more sweetness. Perhaps some more maple syrup. I’m just not tasting enough maple for a drink that has the word on its label. It’s probably not going to taste like what you’re expecting. Remember that morning in high school you ran those two miles to kill your hangover, then you got in your car and downed a fourth of your water bottle in an instant? Only you picked the wrong one, and it was leftover vodka from the night before? This isn’t that jarring, but you won’t be prepared for this drink either unless you’re reading this review. Even then, it still may not help. The spruce and lime are solid, but the maple is nearly MIA. We’ll leave this one up to you. If you’re up for an adventure, there’s a bottle of liquid tree from Vermont ready to rock your mouth.

Three Stars

Sparky’s Root Beer

History: This is a root beer 10 years in the making. This is a root beer as much about approach as it is ingredients. This is a root beer named after a cat. Yup, this is Sparky’s Root Beer. If you just clicked on that link, I know what you’re thinking. Yes, that website was bitch slapped with comic sans and yes, it looks like it was made in the year 2000. Considering the root beer found its final form in 1999, that’s probably a pretty good bet. But it was 10 years earlier when Kevin Knox started his root beer journey in Pacific Grove, California. Initially, it wasn’t even the goal. Knox was a veteran of the restaurant business and wanted to start his own, but admits he was hesitant because “it’s so risky.” This was right around the time when home brewing started to take off. Knox followed the trend and began brewing his own beer, hoping to eventually open a brewpub. The problem? It’s a $1 million venture and California ain’t a cheap place to run a business. Money wasn’t the only issue. Knox says beer was too limiting. “It didn’t take long to figure out I needed to make something for the kids and my non-alcohol drinking friends.” He experimented with fruit sodas to begin with, including a cranberry-apple soda he affectionately called “Crapple.” It didn’t work out. Root beer was the most logical choice for Knox, he says, because “it was always one of my childhood favorites.” After 10 years and “well over 100 batches” he found his desired recipe. But first, he had to name it. And this perhaps the strangest part. “Sparky is the name of my cat and he used to hang around me and watch me make it,” Knox tells us. I think we can almost all agree cats are at best a B- on the pet grading scale. And this one just paddywagoned its way around the kitchen enough to get root beer named after it? I can’t even get one of the local bars to name a cocktail after me, and Lord knows I spend enough time there. As for the flavor, he says it’s designed to be “kind of spicy, but still kind of sweet and creamy.” There’s over a dozen ingredients, with the most prominent ones being birch, local California honey, and pure cane sugar. Knox calls the rest of the herbs and spices in the soda “threshold flavors,” meaning he wants the drinker to be able to taste them, but not necessarily be strong enough to cross a threshold where they’re easily identifiable. Oh, and there is still one connection between Knox’s past homebrewing days and his root beer: Sparky’s is kettle-brewed in the same style of many craft beers. He claims this is what truly makes Sparky’s Root Beer unique. This is a soda as much about process as it is flavor.

Where to get: Sparky’s is available for purchase online in both 12 oz. and 22 oz. bottles. It’s also available from BevMO. You’re more likely to physically find it in the western half of the U.S. with California easily being your best bet.

Nose: Sarsaparilla root; vanilla; birch; spearmint. The sarsaparilla root is most noticeable with a little bit of mint. Really gets up in the nostrils.

Taste: Wintergreen; birch oil; vanilla; spices. This is definitely a root beer with a bite, and it’s up front. There’s a strong mint influence too. We taste wintergreen most, but wouldn’t be shocked if there’s some spearmint too. The birch bark flavor in this is also bold and right up front with the mint. What makes the flavor of Sparky’s Root Beer different from the rest of the pack are the spices. Tastes like there’s a few of them, perhaps some clove and anise. The initial flavors are the most potent part of the root beer and contain a spicy bite. After the mint and spices, you’ll taste a brief creaminess that gives the body of the root beer some variety. Vanilla and honey highlight this section. The creamy wave is gone as soon as it appears though and you’re left with a mildly spicy end of the sip.

Finish: Spicy mint that lingers before fading and leaving mild notes of vanilla.

Rating: Sparky’s Root Beer is a brew with lots of character. It’s highly varied in flavor. You could simultaneously classify it as botanical and spicy, yet creamy and sweet. Wintergreen and birch play a starring role in the flavor profile. They’re upfront and loud. Bold on the palate. And they’re enhanced by all of the spices in this root beer. We aren’t quite sure which ones are used, but whatever they are, they give the root beer a serious punch to the tongue. This is definitely a spicier root beer than what’s typically available; in my opinion those spices are the most critical ingredients in this soda. They provide contrast to the later tasting notes of vanilla and honey, enhance the mouth feel, and help Sparky’s separate itself from a crowded craft root beer field. In short, they’re a tremendous addition. Sparky’s Root Beer is like the foxy next door neighbor whose mature ways you long to experience from afar. Fortunately for you, this is just root beer, so you can. We mentioned above that on the second half of each sip you get a creamier vanilla flavor with big notes of honey. It’s an excellent flavor, but it’s a little too brief for me. The vanilla and honey fade quickly in favor of the strong influence of spices and wintergreen. If the two “halves” of the root beer had a more even stage presence in the mouth, this root beer would get a standing o’. I’d make the vanilla a little bit stronger for balance. But overall, I enjoy the contrast of sweet and savory here. Sparky’s might not have the most inspired label, but it’s flavor is sure to motivate repeat samplings.

Four Stars

Stevens Point Brewery: Point Premium Black Cherry Cream

History: Some of the best craft soda in the world comes from the state of Wisconsin, so there was no hesitation when we learned about Stevens Point Brewery. Branded after the Wisconsin city of the same name and founded in 1857 by German immigrants, Frank Wahle and George Ruder, this brewery pumps out six different flavors of craft soda from its signature Point Premium Root Beer to the more mysterious Kitty Cocktail. If you’re a little iffy on your dates, this is a brewery that lasted through the Civil War, prohibition, The Great Depression, WWI, and WWII. We haven’t tried it, but we’re guessing the beer isn’t too bad. They’ve got some hardware to back it up too. Stevens Point Brewery’s Point Special Lager won the Great American Beer Festival gold medal in 2004. But according to Stevens Point Brewery’s Director of Marketing, Julie Birrenkott, it was two years earlier in 2002 when the brewery introduced root beer. Like their beer, it too, was a hit. Says Birrenkott, “Our wholesalers and customers continued to ask us to make Root Beer. The rest of the soft drinks were a natural progression.” In 2005, three more flavors were introduced: diet root beer, vanilla cream, and black cherry cream. The latter of which is too intriguing not to review. It’s made with “all-natural vanilla and savory black cherry sweetness” in addition to pure cane sugar. Several flavors of Stevens Point Brewery Soda also use real Wisconsin honey. Alas, Black Cherry Cream does not. Beyond those facts, Stevens Point didn’t provide us with much more information about the flavor. Time to do a little first-hand research.

Where to get: Stevens Point Brewery Soda is not sold online. It’s mostly distributed throughout Wisconsin and is available in select areas in the states of: Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, and New Jersey. If you can’t find their soda near you, the company suggests calling them at 1-800-369-4911 or shooting them an email to place an order.

Nose: Rich black cherry. Kind of reminds me of old-timey black cherry rock candy.

Taste: Black cherry; soft vanilla. Rich black cherry flavor without tasting medicinal. Trust me, that’s an accomplishment. The vanilla notes come in near the end of each sip and as you continue to drink the soda, open up more and more. The carbonation is soft and works well not to amplify the black cherry flavor too much. This is a softer soda in terms of mouth feel with deep black cherry flavor and smooth notes of vanilla. Not necessarily creamy, but the vanilla is present enough to make a lasting impact.

Finish: Candy Bing Cherries with long-lasting notes of vanilla. A very long finish. Completely pleasant.

Rating: This is comfort soda. The tastes are familiar. The black cherry flavor is kind of a hybrid between a fresh Bing cherries and classic black cherry hard candies. The vanilla is soft and soothing, entering during the second half of the sip and lasting throughout the finish. The flavors work well together. It’s just a really nice take on traditional black cherry soda with an infusion of vanilla. I wouldn’t consider the flavor particularly creamy, but the vanilla is soothing on the palate and makes the soda that much easier to take down. It’s a great partner flavor considering how rich the black cherry body tastes. Point Premium Black Cherry Cream’s best feature is undoubtedly its finish with long, drawn out notes of vanilla. I just wish those vanilla notes came in a little bit earlier to leave no doubt this was a black cherry cream soda as opposed to a black cherry soda with some added vanilla. That’s my only criticism. I’d go out with this soda. And I’d call it back. I suggest you do the same and track down a bottle of Point Premium Black Cherry Cream.

Four Stars