Cherry/Black Cherry

Cherry/Black Cherry

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


Fitz’s: Black Cherry

History: Fitz’s is an institution in St. Louis, Missouri. It’s as Midwest as gooey butter cake and deep dish pizza. Luckily, Fitz’s soda won’t make you feel like dying after ingesting it, like those other stomach busters. Like many craft soda brands, Fitz’s started with root beer. Today it’s still the most popular flavor. According to the company, the root beer first popped up at “Fitz,” a local St. Louis “drive-in restaurant back in 1947.” After years of success, Fitz’s business slowly began to fade as the art of drive-in everything lost its appeal. People lost patience with waiting for food and a result, St. Louis lost one of its original glass-bottled root beer brands. Fitz’s Root Beer didn’t see the light of day again until 1993 when the restaurant re-opened under new ownership in the “Delmar Loop area of University City, a suburb of St. Louis.” It’s no longer a drive-in, but the restaurant offers a full menu with craft sodas and craft beers both on tap (so instead of paying two bucks per bottle like the rest of us schmucks, you can get endless refills of craft soda there… just a tip if you’re in the area). Fitz’s also serves up a variety of other craft soda flavors from key lime to Cardinal (red) Cream. But we settled on black cherry because if you can make black cherry soda well, it’s a good barometer for the rest of your stuff. It’s kind of like when you go over to a girl’s house for the first time before a date and you have to wait. If she takes an hour, your antennas should go up. If it’s 15 minutes or less, it’s looking good. That’s how black cherry is in a line of craft soda. Just trust us on this, we’re experts. We’ve also gone on a lot of bad dates

Where to get: You can purchase Fitz’s sodas online directly from the company or from our friends at Summit City Soda (we don’t get paid to shill for them; they usually just have good prices and we know shipping soda is expensive.). If you’re a little less adventurous, Soda Emporium has you covered with four-packs.

Nose: Smells medicinal, like cherry cough syrup. Kind of like watered down Robitussin. Not exactly the warmest of welcomes.

Taste: Bold and intense cherry; more red than black; artificial; heavy; tangy. There’s a bold cherry flavor that hits you. It’s somewhere in the middle between and black and red cherry flavor, but it’s not the classic black cherry taste you’re used to drinking. It’s solid. What separates it is the hint of red cherry and a definitive tanginess. But there’s also an accompanying aritifical, syrupy flavor that sits heavy in the mouth. Certain sips feel more processed than others. The cherry flavor is powerful throughout the soda, sometimes tasting very palatable and other sips mimicking fruity cough syrup.

Finish: Smooth and balanced with a tangy and tart red cherry flavor and just a hint of black cherry at the end. Very nice and easily the best part of the soda.

Rating: Fitz’s Black Cherry is a soda I’d recommend if you want black cherry, but are looking for very specific characteristics in your soda. It’s not what I’d consider “classic black cherry,” though occasionally you’ll taste that flavor. It’s kind of like its craft soda relatives, but slightly different. So if that’s what you want, Fitz’s may be the brand you should seek out. Where this soda shines is its tangy hybrid red and black cherry flavor. It’s bold. It’s tasty. And it’s different. The tanginess gives it a unique trait other black cherry sodas often don’t have. On the flip side, this soda can taste fake on certain sips. The artificial cherry flavor overwhelms you at certain points of the drink, which is enough to downgrade this to what I’d consider to be an average soda. It’s almost really good. Almost. I wouldn’t turn it down, but I probably wouldn’t seek it out.

Three Stars

Excel Bottling Company: Lucky Cherry Cola

History: Cherry colas are criminally underproduced in the craft soda industry, so it’s nice to see one of the old-timers churning out their take on the category. Excel Bottling Company out of Breese, Illinois has been around since 1936. These guys have been making craft soda since before it was called “craft soda.” Excel Bottling Sales and Communications Manager Colton Huelskamp tells us about the company’s origin, retelling the story of how “Edward ‘Lefty’ Meier caught a bank robber a town over and used the reward money to purchase a used bottle washer and filler” to serve the local community soda. What a swell guy. Catch the bad guys. Serve the good ones. Excel Bottling also makes beer, but they’re known mostly for their soda. The company bottles over 18 different flavors, from their signature Lucky Club Cola to the wacky Gooey Butter Cake Soda. Lucky Club Cherry, as you might guess, is a spinoff of their original cola. Made with pure cane sugar and no preservatives, Huelskamp says “Lucky Cherry stands out due to its ingredients. The cherry flavoring is actually from a cherry concentrate, so it uses real juices and no artificial ones.” My only immediate critique about this soda is that it comes in a 20 oz. plastic bottle instead of glass. The craft soda purist in me is sad about this. But as Huelskamp explains the soda’s flavor design to us more, I become more optimistic. He continues he previous thoughts, saying “We wanted it to have a very sweet cola taste that isn’t too acidic, while letting a lot of the real cherry flavor come through.” No preservatives √ Pure cane sugar √ Real cherry √. I’m ready; let’s do this.

Where to get: Excel Bottling Sodas are usually found around the St. Louis region, but you can always contact the company for your own order and they’ll hook you up. To get in touch with Excel Bottling, go here.

Nose: Classic cherry cola smell with an added grenadine scent. Smells sweeter than the cherry cola you’re probably used to drinking. Like a cherry cola you’d have made behind the bar.

Taste: Grenadine; cola; maraschino cherry; vanilla; mild creaminess; soft carbonation. There are several elements of Lucky Club Cherry Cola that define its flavor profile and gustation experience. First, there’s a classic cola flavor as the base – it’s slightly sweeter than most craft colas. This base flavor gets taken to a different level with the soda’s elongated notes of grenadine syrup and maraschino cherry, along with slightly creamy vanilla. The grenadine flavor really gives this cherry cola a more sophisticated taste. The vanilla and maraschino cherries combine with the soft carbonation to give this a creamy vanilla-cherry cola taste. The carbonation is a major star in Lucky Club Cherry’s drinking experience. It floats along the tongue like morning ocean foam on the beach. This is a cherry cola that has classic flavors, but blends them with maraschino cherry and vanilla in a way that makes Lucky Club feel and taste like it’s on a higher plane.

Finish: Slightly bitter cola bite that quickly transitions into maraschino cherries and sugar. Notes of vanilla linger in the background and remain until the next sip.

Rating: Simply put, Lucky Club Cherry Cola is outstanding. It’s the craft cherry cola you should be drinking. It blends the flavors of grenadine, maraschino cherries, and vanilla in a way that makes the soda taste sophisticated, yet still easy to drink. Another enjoyable element of Lucky Club Cherry is the texture. It feels light and soft in the mouth. The bubbles are foamy and glide along the tongue. And the creamy vanilla flavor brings it all home and ties a bow on it. I’d go as far to label this as more of a cherry-vanilla cola than strictly cherry. Almost like a cherry cream cola. The use of vanilla here is some of the best I’ve tasted in any soda. On ice the vanilla notes open up even more, so if you want a creamier flavor, add ice. I can’t say enough good things about this – it’s dreamy. It makes me forget I’m in debt. Good thing I write about soda on the Internet… that’ll pay the bills. I really have no suggestions to improve Lucky Club Cherry Cola. Some people might prefer a little more bittersweetness in the main cola flavor, but cherry colas are almost always sweeter than their regular counterparts. This is so flavorful, so drinkable, and flat out enjoyable that I plan on putting it in my regular rotation. I hope you’ll at least give it a shot to crack yours.

Five 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

Wisco Pop!: Cherry

History: It took a lot of beer to get here. A lot. And I’m not referencing the ugly girl I went home with last night. No, I’m talking about one of Wisconsin’s freshest exports: Wisco Pop! Soda. Founder Austin Ashley is a lover of food and beverage. In 2003, he was ahead of the craft beer scene, sampling as many as he could ingest. He even bought equipment to brew his own beer. But before he got that far, he burned himself out on the stuff, both mentally and financially. With a curious mind and bunch of brewing equipment just sitting around, Ashley turned his attention to making ginger beer and root beer, the latter of which wasn’t quite as palatable. “That was pretty disgusting,” he admits. After trying out various recipes and flavors on families, the Wisco Pop! team of Ashley, his wife Hallie, and his friend Zac decided to hit the farmers market in July of 2012. When I think of farmers markets, I think of words like “local,” “fresh,” and “natural.” If you’re like me, you hit the nail on the head when describing the soda Wisco Pop! brews. “We’re 100% committed to using, real, fresh, natural ingredients. Everything comes from something in nature,” Ashely explains. Naturally, it was a hit at famers markets, so the trio launched a Kickstarter in December of 2013 to buy bottling equipment. Fast forward to late 2015 and the Viroqua, Wisconsin company is now selling their soda nationally online. Currently, Wisco Pop! produces three flavors: Ginger, Cherry, and Root Beer. “The natural food market is the consumer I’m after,” Ashley tells us, before adding that no soda from the company will ever be associated with a flavor house or any sort of outside recipe manipulation. Translation: you want fresh, you get fresh. No preservatives. Local ingredients. Real fruit, sugar, honey, and spices. Ashley actually gets frustrated occasionally with how fresh his company’s soda is because not every batch turns out the same. So you might buy Wisco Pop! Cherry in the summer and have it taste slightly different than a batch from the fall.

If you can’t read big headlines, Cherry is the flavor we’re reviewing today. Wisco Pop! Cherry is perhaps the most localized flavor in the company’s line. The stars of the show are the Door County Cherries used. Ashley describes the cherries as tart and often used in Wisconsin cherry pies. So you probably won’t be surprised to hear Ashley say he wanted the soda “to taste like cherry pie a little bit.” In talking to Ashley on the phone, you get the sense he’s a pretty chill dude. It wasn’t much more of a surprise then to hear him admit that he didn’t put a whole lot of thought into the recipe as a whole. In addition to the cherries, the soda’s recipe also contains vanilla bean, Wisconsin honey, cinnamon, and lemon. Currently, Wisco Pop! is working on a 100% organic soda line with grapefruit hibiscus the likely first flavor.

Where to get: Wisco Pop! soda is available at 105 retailers mainly in Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Madison and surrounding towns. You can find your nearest retailer at the company’s online locator. You can also purchase the company’s soda online from anywhere in the U.S. via their web store.

Nose: Big vanilla bean scent. Smells like the inside of a cherry pie with a heavy vanilla influence.

Taste: Tart cherries; lemon; smooth vanilla bean; mild honey. This has really good, authentic flavor of cherry and vanilla. The vanilla bean tastes so pure that it gives the soda an earthy aspect. The cherries are flavorful and taste slightly tart; this is enhanced by the carbonation. There’s also some lemon notes in here that add to the tartness. I want to emphasize that this is tart and not sour. Back to the vanilla – the more you drink this, the smoother it gets and the creamier the vanilla becomes. The longer this soda goes on, the more and more the flavors meld with one another to create the taste of the inside of a cherry pie. It’s really pleasant and shows the sophistication of the recipe. Great authentic cherry and vanilla bean flavors.

Finish: Still fairly tart cherry flavor with subtle vanilla also still present. The one flavor you taste on the finish and not as much in the soda’s body is honey. Overall, pretty similar to the flavors you taste near the beginning and middle of the soda with the exception of some mild honey notes.

Rating: Wisco Pop’s Cherry is probably one of the easiest drinking cherry sodas you’ll come across. With its tart cherry notes and smooth, slightly creamy vanilla flavors, it’s an excellent fruit soda that demands more than one bottle be enjoyed. This only gets better as it goes on. The tartness of the cherries and lemon and the creamy, earthy notes of vanilla are a perfect contrast of flavors and provide a wonderful mouth feel. This soda makes me smile. I do wish I could taste the honey more because it’s advertised as local “Wisconsin Honey” and the brand is of course called “Wisco Pop!” But that’s really my only criticism. Cherry by Wisco Pop! is like a loving girlfriend. She’ll always take care of you and never let you down. You’d be silly not to invest in Wisco Pop’s Cherry. She’ll treat you well.

Four Stars

Fireman’s Brew: Black Cherry

History: Despite their well-earned status as heroes, firefighters are average dudes and dudettes just like you and I. They want the same things most of us do at the end of a long day, namely, beer. Firefighters Rob and Ed spent a full day in December of 2000 fighting a raging brushfire in the Glendale Mountains of California. The battle took them into the midnight hours. Exhausted, they just wanted an ice cold beer, something that really said, “you earned me, pal,” something a cut above the rest. I often felt the same way after my ex came back from a trip to the mall with her friends. As you might’ve guessed by now, they eventually decided to make their own under the name Fireman’s Brew in Canoga Park of Los Angeles, California. Company COO, David Johnson, remembers starting out in 2007 selling beer out of the back of his car. Over the phone, Johnson is extremely laid back. He and his fireman buddies enjoy the simple things. They just wanted to make a great beer for firemen. To this day, the company makes only three beers that they call “off duty drinks“: blonde, brunette, and redhead. “You stick to something and you do it really well… people enjoy that,” Johnson philosophizes to us. However, the guys at Fireman’s Brew quickly realized something… it’s hard to market beer to on-duty firefighters.

In 2008 they introduced a line of “on duty drinks,” starting with coffee and quickly followed up by soda. Just like their beer, Fireman’s Brew makes three flavors of soda: root beer, cream, and black cherry. “It’s the same thing we do with our beers. We try to keep the flavor profiles simple and straightforward,” says Johnson. He adds that the company’s sodas are all-natural, using pure cane sugar in every bottle, and devoid of preservatives. Johnson doesn’t care to get too specific about his flavors, not because he’s keeping a secret; he’s just a a chill guy. “We weren’t sticking our nose in it and smelling it” he says about the soda flavors. With the black cherry, he does note the company sought out a retro cherry flavor that had a bit of a deeper taste to it. What’s really nice to see about this company though is their commitment to the cause. Johnson tells us there are “over 100 firefighter shareholders in the company.” But more importantly, Fireman’s Brew donates a portion of the profits from every product sold to the “National Fallen Firefighters Foundation in Emmitsburg, Maryland” to help out families in need. Whether you enjoy their soda or not, that deserves a tip of the hat and squirt of the hose.

Where to get: Fireman’s Brew sodas can be found at most Rocketfizz retailers. Use the company’s online locator to find the store nearest you. Garvey Nut & Candy is also another option (we assure you we looked – they have it). Online, you can buy Fireman’s Brew Black Cherry from Soda Emporium in single bottles or in 4-packs.

Nose: Mmm. A little maraschino cherry, a little traditional black cherry. Even a mild cherry cola smell in the background.

Taste: Maraschino cherry; Bing cherries; classic black cherry soda; vanilla. This is very lush, very smooth. You’re greeted with a deep, deep, sweet cherry flavor that’s more of a candied maraschino cherry than black. Definitely a little bit of a grenadine thing going on too. The flavor is big and permeates the mouth with mild bubbles that glide to the back of the tongue. As the taste settles in and the initial boldness wears off, the black cherry becomes more apparent, but it’s definitely subtle compared to the maraschino notes. You’ll also taste mild vanilla that floats about on each sip. Sometimes it accompanies the front end of the sip, sometimes it attaches itself to the black cherry notes. This is definitely a sweet beverage, more sweet than most black cherry sodas. But the main takeaway is the maraschino cherry taste with subtle black cherry notes. This tastes luxurious and bright on the palate.

Finish: Definitely a little tartness with a mellow black cherry flavor that slowly fades. A little bit of vanilla on the tongue, too. Mild.

Rating: Fireman’s Brew Black Cherry is 12 ounces of power in a bottle. The flavor rocks your taste buds. In my opinion, this is more of a sweet cherry soda with subtleties of black cherry and vanilla. Still, there’s nothing subtle about this soda. It’s got lots of personality and other sodas know when it walks in a room. Just like my ex. Please come back. The maraschino cherry and grenadine flavors are apparent before anything else. On some sips, there’s additional vanilla notes that accompany these flavors. The black cherry taste is more reserved on the back half of each drink. There’s just enough to make you feel ok with calling this a black cherry soda. Fireman’s Brew Black Cherry has a huge flavor that seems customized to work in a cocktail. Alcohol would dial back the sweetness, while the soda would still have ample flavor to transform the liquor into something fun for your mouth and bad for your liver. This has such a big, sweet flavor that a whole bottle may overwhelm some drinkers. It contains 45 grams of sugar per bottle. I’d probably either cut that down to 35-40 or add more tartness for balance. In the end though, what matters is flavor, and Fireman’s Brew Black Cherry soda has enough flavor to put out a forest fire. That doesn’t make any sense, but you get it. If you like maraschino cherries or Cherry Coke made with grenadine, you’ll love this soda. It’s one your taste buds need to try. Just mentally buckle up before you indulge. As their catch phrase says, extinguish your thirst.

Four Stars


Natrona Bottling Company: Red Ribbon Cherry

History: Vito Gerasole’s accent is thick, unmistakable. He’s an Italian with a love for the family business, big opinions, and lots to say. He’s the self-proclaimed “Sultan of Soda.” But in talking to him on the phone, you realize he’s not just another loud Italian dude. There’s a thoughtfulness there, a sincere caring for his craft. Perhaps then it’s no surprise when he mentions, “I’m a very nostalgic person.” In 2010 when an angel investor offered Gerasole a chance to breath life into a dying soda company, it was his love of nostalgia that made the opportunity too much to pass up. The business in question was Natrona Bottling Company, a small hand-made soda bottler in Natrona, Pennsylvania just outside of Pittsburgh. The company began back in 1904, but the fizz had almost left the bottle, so to speak, for Natrona. Gerasole recalls the company having just $4,000 in its bank account at the time of his arrival. He remembers a customer telling him, “I heard about you guys, but you never have anything.” Despite not having much money, the company luckily had little outside debt. Natrona just needed a new game plan and Gerasole was their ace in the hole.

After a successful marketing push, Natrona Bottling was back on its feet and able to get back to making soda the way it had been made there for over 100 years. Gerasole also added several new flavors to the company’s portfolio: vanilla cream, almond cream, birch beer, and minted ginger ale. But the company’s flagship product, the one it was founded on, is its Red Ribbon Cherry. When asked about its flavor, Gerasole peps up, “It smells like cherries. It tastes like maraschino cherries!” Like many mom and pop craft soda companies, Natrona uses only pure cane sugar in their sodas and bottles each one of them by hand. They also use vintage machinery. But what sets Natrona Bottling Company apart from other soda bottlers is its method of carbonation.”I believe we are the last soda producer that uses a style of carbonation called ‘pinpoint carbonation.’” To achieve this particular fizz, dry ice pellets are dropped into pressurized tanks that create, smaller and smoother bubbles. Gerasole says the pinpoint carbonation gives Natrona sodas an “effervescence.” In the coming years, he hopes to introduce another original idea: chocolate soda made with milk. We’ll let him figure out the science behind getting that one right. Just give us the cherry soda.

Where to get: Natrona Bottling Company soda is sold in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia. You can also purchase Natrona soda online from several different outlets, including the Natrona Bottling store, Pennsylvania Macaroni Co., and Galco’s Soda Pop Stop.

Nose: Strong candy cherry that evokes memories of childhood. So much nostalgia. Anyone who’s over 18 undoubtedly knows that cherry smell. Another good comparison would be a bowl full of Luden’s Cherry Cough Drops, which also had a bold candy cherry scent.

Taste: Maraschino cherry; cherry popsicle; Luden’s Cherry Cough Drops; soft carbonation. A couple things jump out from the beginning. First, there’s big cherry flavor in Red Ribbon Cherry. A candied maraschino cherry/cherry popsicle juice hybrid with just the slightest, slightest touch of acidity for variation. Second, the carbonation. You can taste that it’s different than other sodas. Very soft in the mouth, almost fluffy. The bubbles feel small. They provide a unique texture that carbonation in sodas do not. Back to the cherry taste. It’s strong and sweet but not overpowering or sugary. Very much a candy cherry taste rather than black or Bing cherries. Initially, it’s like drinking carbonated cherry popsicle juice. It quickly morphs into a slightly tart candy cherry flavor, much like having a mouthful of Luden’s Cherry Cough Drops (which are delicious). Notes of maraschino cherry linger around the end of each sip.

Finish: Maraschino cherry juice that fades back into mild cherry popsicle with lighter carbonation than in the soda’s body.

Rating: Natrona Bottling’s Red Ribbon Cherry has all the components of a home-run soda. Great flavor. Perfect mouth feel. And not overly complicated. This is a soda that gets even better as you drink it. The carbonation-flavor combo is exquisite. I may not understand the science behind the pinpoint carbonation method that Natrona Bottling uses, but I’ll be damned if you can’t taste it. The bubbles are light and frothy. One of the best uses of carbonation I’ve ever tasted in any beverage. The candy cherry taste is flawlessly executed. There’s layers to the flavor, each one just slightly different than the other. You taste cherry popsicle off the bat, a great childhood memory. Before it gets too sweet, the cherry becomes slightly more sour and acidic. It finishes off sweet again, but slightly less so than the initial taste. What I like most about this soda is that I don’t have to over think when tasting it. I just like drinking it. It’s enjoyable, and you can’t ask for more than that in a soda no matter what arbitrary ranking it receives on the Internet. This is one I’d probably put in your regular rotation. At times it’s a little sweet, perhaps a touch rich for some people’s taste. But I think that’s just Red Ribbon Cherry showing its gourmet side. It’s like when the hot girl in school dresses up for classes. The other girls might hate it and think it’s overkill, but sometimes even the finer things in life enjoy showing off their finer things. And if you ladies are reading this, I would settle for any of you texting me back. After tasting it, there’s clearly a reason Red Ribbon Cherry is Natrona Bottling Company’s flagship product. The taste, the carbonation, the subtleties; it all works. This isn’t one you should try just to check it off a list. This is a beverage that should stay stocked in your craft soda arsenal.

Five Stars

Jelly Belly: Sour Cherry

History: “I don’t know of another soda that marries up with their brand so closely,” says WIT Beverage Company Sales and Marketing Director, James Akers. So to answer your assumption from the get-go, yes, Jelly Belly Soda is designed to taste like a liquid version of its corresponding jelly bean flavor. It’s not a difficult concept to grasp, yet it wasn’t actually the directive given from Jelly Belly to WIT Beverage, the makers of Jelly Belly Soda. Akers recalls being told “Make ’em taste good. We don’t care if they taste like the bean.” This seems astonishing to me, and apparently it did to Akers too. It was his directive to make sure the sodas matched up to their candy companions. As an ex-buyer for Walgreens for 16 years, Akers saw lots of beverages come and go, including the failed Life Savers Soda. He didn’t want Jelly Belly to become another candy-turned-soda disaster. It was 2010 when Jelly Belly Soda hit the market. Today the brand boasts 10 flavors, including its bestseller, blueberry. Interestingly, two of those ten flavors are cherry: one normal, one sour. If you read the giant bold letters in the title above, you know which one we chose. If you didn’t, you might be Floyd Mayweather. “The sour cherry is intended to go after that younger, pucker-y sour candy crowd,” Akers tells us. In addition to the pure cane sugar in all Jelly Belly sodas, there’s a special ingredient in the Sour Cherry that gives it that signature zing: citric acid. And it’s not necessarily the ingredient itself that’s unique, it’s the amount. Akers notes Jelly Belly Sour Cherry contains two-and-a-half times more citric acid than the average soda. If you’ve ever tried pure food grade citric acid, it’s more intense than the sour taste you get in your mouth after waking up next to a bad decision the morning after a night out. It’s clear the company really wants to hammer home that sour bite. Will you be able to handle it, or will it handle you?

Where to get: Jelly Belly Soda is distributed all over America and in the United Kingdom. It’s also available for purchase online at Summit City Soda and in single bottles at Soda Emporium. And if you’re a retailer wanting to sell soda in your store or just someone looking to place a large order, give Homer Soda Company a call; they’ll have you covered.

Nose: Cotton candy. Didn’t see that coming.

Taste: Sour; candy strawberry; mild cherry. The tart bite is evident near the end of each sip. It coats your tongue. But the actual flavor is hard to place. It doesn’t jump out. Artificial candy strawberry is in there. The same could be said to a lesser extent with candy cherry. At times there’s even a strange cotton candy flavor. But there’s no bold complimenting flavor to go along with the sour. As the soda progresses, there’s definitely more of a candy cherry that jumps out once the soda hits your lips, but it’s literally gone in a fraction of a second in favor of a sour candy taste that’s more strawberry than cherry. The sour bite is what defines Jelly Belly Sour Cherry soda, but the main flavor is more of a question mark.

Finish: Candy gummy strawberry lingers just a bit longer than the soda’s signature sour flavor.

Rating: I know what a lot of you are thinking. There’s no way a Jelly Bean company can make a good craft soda. This isn’t necessarily true, but in the case of Jelly Belly Sour Cherry, the jury is still out. And I don’t know if they’re coming back. Sour cherry certainly nails the sour taste. It’s like someone melted down the sour bite from Sour Straws candy and infused it in this liquid. It works. It’s not too strong and would be a nice complimentary flavor. Would be. That’s the problem with this soda. It has no flavor identity. Sometimes it tastes like candy strawberry. Sometimes candy cherry. Other sips, you taste cotton candy. This soda is having an identity crisis, and I already get enough of that on a daily basis with my brother. He just can’t let the 80’s go. What I judged this soda on was a simple criterion: does it taste like the sour cherry jelly bean it’s named after? Answer: I don’t think so. But listen, it has one really solid quality in that signature sour taste. But the sour notes need something to play off of and there’s no consistency in the soda’s complimentary sweet side. If you’re a big fan of sour candy like Sour Straws, War Heads, or Sour Patch Kids, you’ll probably like this and I’d say it’s worth a shot. For the rest of us, there are better (slightly less) tart sodas out there, but I won’t fault you for trying it because the sour taste is unique and nice. Someone needs to send this soda to an adoption center. We can only hope it finds a family that will provide stability.

Three Stars