Month: May 2017

Boots Beverages: Dewberry

History: Soda is one of those beverage categories that is so whimsical in nature, sometimes the flavors are ideas that could only be concocted in one’s imagination. When we sifted through the line of sodas Boots Beverages offers, we assumed their “dewberry” soda was one of those flavors. Because honestly, doesn’t a dewberry sound like something only a weird, little Pokemon would feed on? Like “oh look kids, it’s a wild Squitle gorging himself full of luscious dewberries!” So to clear up the confusion we went straight to the source and asked Boots Beverages what was up with the soda’s name. National director and PR wizard Kim Rank explains “‘dewberry’ is literally the name of the berry. It’s not a blackberry, nor is it a raspberry. It grows wild in certain zones of the Northern Hemisphere and certainly flourishes in Texas.” Turns out, she’s right. And it makes sense that the Bryan, Texas-based company would craft a soda based on a popular Texas berry. So we can check that box off. It’s an unusual flavor to say the least, but it’s nothing out of the ordinary for Boots Beverages. They take that same out-of-the-box approach every single day according to third generation owner, Mark Kristen. “I guess it’s the same insanity that’s inspired all our flavors,” he says of the idea to restart the business. That’s right. This isn’t the first incarnation of Boots Beverages. The company dates all the way back to Mark Kristen’s grandfather in 1930 who was eventually succeeded by Kristen’s father and the company’s namesake “Boots” Kristen. Due to dry spell, Boots packed up their spurs and headed back to the ranch in 1962 until Kristen decided it was time for Texas to get an infusion of flavor again in 2013. The company’s line of eclectic sodas ranges from the award-winning coconut cream to lemon meringue to caramel apple. And, of course, the mysterious dewberry.

Despite the sarcastic ignorance we’re portraying, dewberry is one of Boots Beverages’ most sought-after sodas. Rank tells us it’s typically the company’s second or third bestseller right behind their sarsaparilla root beer. It was designed to mimic the flavors of real dewberry, which Rank describes as “a cross between blackberries and raspberries, with a slight grape-like note.” She adds that the flavor didn’t take long to perfect. “When you’ve been around Dewberry Cobbler all your life, it becomes second nature to you. It’s Texas and it’s home.” There’s something so homely about that statement. It takes me back to childhood when my grandma would cook cobbler with ice cream for my grandpa and I. Grandpa was usually more occupied with Irish Whiskey and Wheel of Fortune, but I loved it. Dewberry was one of the five original flavors introduced when Boots reopened in 2013. Rank admits not a lot of people know what a dewberry is outside of Texas, but apparently that hasn’t stopped them from trying it. Don’t worry, it won’t stop us either. Last year the company introduced five more flavors, bringing their line to 10 and are currently focused on distributing their sodas as fountain drinks in addition to selling them in the traditional glass bottles.

Where to get: Boots Beverages online store • HEB • Summit City Soda

Nose: It took me a minute to figure out the scent, but I got it. Mixed Berry Fruit Snacks. I used to eat these in unhealthy quantities in middle school. There’s a very berry scent to these. Kind of like Berry Fruit Roll-Ups too. Like a mixture of blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries.

Taste: Mixed berry; blueberry; blackberry; mild tartness; raspberry sno cone. Dewberry Soda tastes a lot like it smells; there’s lots and lots of berry flavors. I think the combination of blackberry and blueberry stand out the most. The two flavors coalesce to form a swirling dark berry base flavor. I also taste some candied raspberry notes – it’s kind of like a melted black raspberry sno cone flavor. It’s a very fruity soda. It’s also very carbonated, which is something you don’t see often in fruit sodas. When you pour it, a thick head forms. Looks good, tastes great.

Finish: Slightly tart, but still sweet blueberries that linger and then fade.

Rating: Dewberry soda is one of Boots Beverages’ most impressive offerings. It has a crisp, refreshing, and fruity berry taste that goes down smooth. It’s sweet like a traditional glass-bottled soda while balancing the flavors of blueberry, blackberry, and raspberry excellently. It also uses Quillaja extract, a foaming agent, in the recipe so it has a high-rising frothy purple head when poured in a glass. Blackberry and blueberry are the two main take away flavors from the soda, while candy raspberry hangs in the background. The blueberry tastes most authentic, while the raspberry tastes more like how it’s typically used in sno cones. Imagine someone gave you a bottle of Berry Juicy Juice, carbonated it, and slapped a picture of a slightly evil-looking young boy with a 1950’s haircut on the bottle; this is essentially what you have in dewberry soda from Boots Beverages. It also has a really beautiful purple hue that will turn your tongue a different color, which is the most action my tongue has gotten in the past couple months. I write about soda on the Internet… the ladies don’t exactly line up at my door. If I could make one suggestion for this soda, it’d be to make it a little more tart. Perhaps up the citric acid. But all in all, this is superbly delicious and should be tried by all. This is one of the best berry sodas on the market with a perfect blend of authentic and candy fruit flavors. You may not know exactly what a dewberry is, but that shouldn’t stop you from drinking in all its glory.

Four Stars

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Fentimans: Rose Lemonade

History: You can thank Indian food for this review… but we’ll come back to that. Fentimans does things the old fashioned way, in part because their company is, well, old. The British-based beverage producer actually brews their sodas like you would a beer, using fermented ginger root. They’re famous for the use of herbs and spices in their drinks, hence the term “botanically brewed” on every label. It was 1905 when an iron puddler in Clarkheaton, England by the name of Thomas Fentiman inherited a recipe for a botanically brewed ginger beer as collateral for a loan. That loan was never repaid, so Fentiman became the owner. To this day ginger beer is still the company’s leading seller, according to Fentimans North American Sales and Marketing Coordinator, Karyssa Veltri. Right behind it? Rose Lemonade, a carbonated take on the category with a color so pretty we almost considered not drinking it. Almost. Now, back to the Indian food thing. Veltri tells us rose lemonade “was inspired by our owner enjoying a dish at his favorite Indian restaurant which used rose petals” and that “the idea started with the aroma and moved on from there.” It’s the details behind the recipe that really make this soda (we’ve calling it soda because it’s carbonated just like all their other sodas). “We use only the finest Bulgarian rose oil from the world famous Rose Valley in Kazanlak. This source has been chosen specifically for the multi-layered aroma and natural taste of the oil,” says Veltri. For those of you unfamiliar with the Bulgarian Rose Valley, it looks like the place where all the Victoria’s Secret models are probably born. But it’s not just rose oil that gives Fentimans Rose Lemonade its signature flavor. You’ll also taste fermented ginger (as with all of the brand’s sodas) as well as “real lemon juice to deliver sharpness.” And it all comes in the Fentimans’ signature 9.3 oz bottle, known for the short, stubby body and long, skinny neck. Rose lemonade contains real sugar, is vegan-friendly, and uses no preservatives. Veltri notes that all Fentimans’ sodas “are pasteurized to give them a long shelf life” as opposed to using chemicals or preservatives. She also mentions that it’s a popular mixer with vodka and gin. Between the eye-catching pink hue and the extravagant use of Bulgarian rose oil in the recipe, I’m more than sold on wanting to find out just how beautiful rose lemonade tastes. My only hope is that this rose doesn’t have its thorns.

Buy: MyBrands Online Store • JetWalmart • Amazon • World Market (single bottles). You can also find your local retailer by checking here.

Nose: Floral, rose water, rose oils, mild citrus. Pleasant.

Taste: Tart, floral, lemon, rose petals, rose oils. One of the first elements you’ll notice is the tartness and how upfront it is in the soda. This is very tart, almost bitter. Those flavors are wrapped inside a blanket of floral notes. Light and fruity, you’ll taste mostly sweet rose water and rose oils that mix with the citrus to form a more balanced drink near the back end of its development in the mouth. This packs a tart citrus bang on the arrival that gets toned down once the rose oil notes blend with the lemon. Fentimans Rose Lemonade is tart, bright, and memorable. Slightly sweet and fairly acidic.

Finish: Mild rose petals with frothy, but tact carbonation punctuated by fleeting notes of lemon citrus that linger briefly before fading.

Rating: Fentimans knows how to make soda and their rose lemonade is no exception. While we don’t normally think of lemonade as soda, this is a carbonated lemonade made in small batches with real sugar and authentic ingredients. If it’s not craft soda, then the experts have been fooled. What surprised us most about Fentimans Rose Lemonade is just how astringent and acidic it is in the mouth. You’re greeted by a tartness that quickly becomes the soda’s signature. You’ll also taste sweet floral notes and rose oils throughout the body of the drink, but tart lemon citrus anchors the overall flavor. It’s a little jarring at first, but your palate should adjust. Perhaps this was done to counter the foreign flavor of rose oil. We mostly think of roses as flowers instead of tasting notes, unless you’re my dogs, in which case, you are very familiar with the taste of roses and all flowers for that matter. Anyway, when most of us encounter a flavor we aren’t used to, our brains process it as overpowering. The bold tartness in rose lemonade takes your mind off the floral notes for just long enough so that your taste buds can adjust as the two flavors eventually meld together. I’m not a flavor scientist and I don’t work for Fentimans, but I’m guessing my reasoning is almost spot-on. Or maybe not. Regardless, the sweet notes of rose oil and bold citrus flavors dance together in a way that leaves a lasting impression. This is a soda you won’t soon forget. It may not be an everyday beverage, but its presence should raise eyebrows at any get-together.

Virgil’s: Cream Soda

History: If you’ve ever taken a stroll through your local health food store or maybe Whole Foods, you’ve probably seen a bunch of sodas with names you’ve never heard of. Except one: Virgil’s. The company is owned by ginger beer giant Reeds, Inc. It’s about as close to an all-natural soda as you can buy. All Virgil’s sodas are made with real sugar, natural extracts, and herbs and spices. The brand spans from the eccentric Flying Cauldron Butterbeer to the revered Bavarian Nutmeg Root Beer. Founder and CEO Chris Reed says the company is “about fun and creating an endearing product to both the company and the customers.” Outside of ginger beer, root beer is king at Virgil’s, but they also feature all of the standard craft soda flavors, including the cream soda we’re reviewing here. The company goes as far as saying “We decided to make a cream soda that would rival the super premium quality of our root beer.” The cream soda has been around since 2004 and according to Reeds, Inc. Sales Operations and Marketing Manager Todd Engstrum, it was designed “to taste like a true craft soda.” The company’s website also says the soda’s recipe contains “the finest vanilla beans and unrefined cane sugar.” We know it took a year to fine tune the recipe and beyond that, Virgil’s is keeping the rest of the soda’s secrets tight-lipped. Good thing we aren’t. Let’s investigate.

Buy: Virgil’s StoreAmazon

Nose: Classic cream soda nose: deep vanilla and soft, creamy caramel. Reminiscent of an older cream soda like Shasta.

Taste: Vanilla, tangy, creamy, sugar. The first striking feature of Virgil’s Cream Soda is the sweetness. It’s upfront and bold. The cane sugar hits you first before the main flavors come in. This is a sugary-tasting soda. Once you get past that, you’ll taste big notes of vanilla extract. It’s a creamy, old fashioned vanilla taste that takes us millennials back to childhood. I think what stands out most about the flavor of this soda, more than the vanilla or the sugar, is the tanginess. I can’t quite place why it’s present. It’s a combination of tangy vanilla and sugar. When the two intersect, they seem to collide dramatically in a way you aren’t used to in cream soda. It leaves an odd taste in the mouth. This is rich, sugary, and tangy. And perhaps more than anything… puzzling.

Finish: Deep, sugary caramel notes that linger and then fade. This is the only part of the soda where the caramel from the nose reveals itself.

Rating: When your nostrils are blessed by the smells of Virgil’s Cream Soda, you’re certain that you’re in for a masterpiece, but the execution isn’t quite flawless. To be fair, this is a perfectly good cream soda. It has nice vanilla flavors and a sweet, cream caramel finish. But the development of this soda is hindered by a funky, sugary tang that’s hard to get past. This is already an excessively sweet cream soda, but when you combine the sugar levels with the strange vanilla tanginess, it raises a questionable eyebrow. Not like a Dwayne Johnson I’m-about-to-make-a-$240 million-sequel-eyebrow, but a hey-I-think-the-weird-neighbor-is-taking-a-bath-in-our-pool-again sort of eyebrow. The bottom line is that the flavor here is at first familiar, then jarring. Creamy vanilla shouldn’t be tangy. It should just be velvety smooth. Again, the vanilla flavor is great before the tang comes in, and the finish is very solid. I just wish those two elements were more present in the soda’s body. Look, there’s potential here and a lot of people are going to like this, especially young kids. It’s worth a try, I’m just not sure I’d put it in the upper echelon of cream sodas.

Frïsa: Black Currant Rosehip

History: You want some of that fancy soda? That stuff that makes you wanna throw on a robe and a crown and just do the Vince McMahon strut down the street as you drink it? Boy, do we have a beverage for you. Frïsa touts itself as “an ultra-premium European botanical beverage,” according to company general manager and COO Casey Beard. Do you already not feel a little more regal just having read that? Beard continues saying, “all of our ingredients are all natural, gluten free, non-GMO and Kosher certified. We made sure we used the best of the best when crafting FRÏSA… even our water is sourced from the Pyrenes.” Hold on. What? That’s right. Mountain water. European mountain water from the Iberian Peninsula is in every cute, stubby bottle. Ironically, Frïsa is not produced in Europe, but rather the cold tundra of Minneapolis, Minnesota and it was founded in early 2015. Each drink is also under 100 calories per serving. But what separates Frïsa from other sodas is the botanicals it uses. Botanicals usually refer to ingredients like herbs, spices, or floral notes that impart a unique flavor not often found in most soda. And Beard doesn’t hide the fact that his company is trying to be different. “We saw the need and opportunity for an alternative to the Cokes and Pepsis of the world but needed to put a spin on it,” he tells us. Frïsa’s most popular flavor is Elderflower, but its most interesting flavor in our opinion is black currant rosehip. Here’s the thing: we don’t know what black currant is, much less how it tastes. Beard lets us know we aren’t crazy, saying that black currant is a “more common ingredient in Europe where it is widely cultivated and consumed,” before adding that its best American comparison is the blackberry or marionberry. He calls the drink “refined and sophisticated,” yet “light and refreshing.” Listen, I’m already on my high horse so you don’t have to sell me on drinking it or the aesthetics. I just hope my taste buds get treated with a similar royal experience.

Buy: Frïsa Store

Nose: Strong grape juice smells, though a little bit more of a sophisticated grape/berry scent, ala wine.

Taste: Tart; berry; grape; light cherry; tangy; frothy. The standouts in this soda are the frothy carbonation combined with a strong tartness. The two contrast one another nicely. The flavor is something along the lines of a tangy grape and black cherry hybrid floating on a cloud of thick, but soft carbonation. The tartness comes from the use of lemon juice, but you don’t really taste lemon, per se. That tart and tangy flavor manifests itself in the form of a berry taste. There’s also just the faintest hint of floral notes. Like a grown up carbonated grape juice with an infusion of cherry.

Finish: Berry tartness that slowly fades in favor of light floral notes.

Rating: Frïsa continues to cement itself as an artisan soda brand of the future. The company walks a fine line of soda vs. carbonated juice, but that’s only because the flavors they use taste so fresh. Black currant rosehip is no exception. If there was ever such a thing as fresh-squeezed soda, this is it. The flavors are bold and bright. You’ll taste a hybrid grape and dark berry flavor with an accompanying cherry kick. But what stands out most is the tartness. It’s the shining star of the soda. It intensifies all of the flavors in the bottle in a positive way. It’s tangy, but not sour. For some, this may be a little too acidic, but I think for most it’ll be a refreshing new take on berry soda. The one area I’d like to see improved is the floral taste on the soda’s finish. I need to taste that a little bit more in the soda’s body before I can give this five stars. If you didn’t tell people there was rosehip natural extract in this soda, most wouldn’t even notice it. Beyond that, Frïsa’s black currant rosehip is fruity, sophisticated, and bold. It’s like simultaneously visiting the vineyards of California and the beaches of Miami at the same time, yet not coming back with an overpriced bottle you’ll never drink or a tattoo you’ll always regret. The bottom line is that this young company makes good stuff and black currant rosehip continues the trend.

Four Stars

NORKA Beverage: Orange

History: I recently had a conversation with a friend about her haul from a popular midwest craft soda store. “I got one that was blue, one that had a cat on the label, and one with a really cool bottle shape,” she said. Michael Considine would turn over in his grave if he was sitting with us. Considine (who is actually not dead, the previous phrase just seemed fitting) is the owner and founder of Akron, Ohio’s NORKA Beverage, a brand with roots all the way back to the 1920’s. The company’s old tagline was “tasting better” and Considine says his goal is to keep the current version of the company in line with that same mentality. For NORKA, it’s not about fancy labels or gimmick flavors; they care about the flavor of the liquid inside the bottle. “Craft soda is such a unique industry full of passion and pride,” says Considine. He’s not wrong, but you could also throw in a third word: nostalgia. And NORKA epitomizes nostalgia to the fullest. The brand originated back in the 1920’s when local soda bottlers were more common than craft beer brewers. NORKA comes from Akron, Ohio. If you didn’t notice, the brand’s name is A-k-r-o-n spelled backwards. Don’t face palm, most of us didn’t realize it either. The company existed until 1962 when it liquidated and disappeared. Its rebirth happened totally by chance. Considine recalls having lunch with his father and seeing an old bottle in the restaurant. “I had no idea Akron had its own soft drink…. It was a cool opportunity to bring something back in the beverage industry” he says. Considine went as far as to research the company’s original labeling designs and ingredients lists. In 2015, NORKA was born anew.

Orange soda is a classic in the industry, yet it’s probably the flavor most overlooked in the NORKA Beverage line. The company is famous for its cherry-strawberry flavor, but according to Considine, orange is its most “refreshing” soda. He tells us that instead of creating a soda with a candy orange flavor like others, NORKA “wanted to return to natural orange taste that’s crisp, refreshing and light.” He added that it was equally important for the soda to not feel thick or have a heavy aftertaste. NORKA orange soda contains no caffeine, like all of the company’s flavors. The company also uses natural flavors in its recipes along with cane sugar and no gluten. Personally, it feels like orange soda is one of the classics that has kind of fallen by the wayside. It’s not going anywhere, but it’s not really advancing. Brands would rather make flavors that cross flowers and fruits or something savory and something sweet. So it’s nice to see a newer (older?) brand sticking to their guns and honoring a flavor that all of our grandparents grew up drinking.

Buy: NORKA StoreSummit City SodaAmazon • Soda Emporium

Nose: A dead-ringer for Sunny D. Uncanny. Have to say this definitely smells artificial, despite the company’s rep for using natural flavors. Hopefully it’s just the smell.

Taste: Big orange flavor, bold, mild zest, Sunny D. The orange flavor here is unrelenting. It’s closer to the Sunny D (only carbonated) taste you were used to as a kid as opposed to a retro orange soda like Slice. It has a light mouth feel, but is bursting with orange flavor. Maybe even a little bit of a San Pellegrino influence here too, but this really reminds us of a carbonated Sunny D with bolder orange notes, and as such the taste definitely has an artificial twang to it.

Finish: Smooth, almost buttery orange. Exquisite. The best part of the soda, unquestionably.

Rating: When you think orange soda, you probably conjure up images of Sunkist, Fanta, or maybe something like Crush – NORKA orange soda is like none of those. Instead, think of this flavor as a smarter, distant cousin of Sunny D. It boasts a strange combination of bold, authentic orange oils and childhood, artificial orange drink flavors. It’s light. It’s easy to drink. And it has one of the most sensational finishes in an orange soda we’ve ever tasted. But the development of the soda definitely doesn’t have what I’d consider to be a “craft” soda flavor. There’s something off here. It’s too close to Sunny D. Remember that friend in high school that hung out in your group, and no one really had a problem with them in the halls… but you definitely weren’t inviting them to the party? Yeah… that’s what NORKA orange soda is like. It’s friendly, it’s drinkable, but I probably wouldn’t put it in my top three orange sodas or stock it in my fridge. Still, it’s worth a shot just for the creamy, buttery orange notes that come through at the end of each sip. It’s a safe bet, but likely won’t blow you away.