Cherry/Black Cherry

Cherry/Black Cherry

Dublin Bottling Works: Cherry Limeade

History: Dublin Bottling Works has been producing quality soda for over 120 years, a company with a rich history and a connection to one particular soda that everyone knows. It was that same soda that almost killed it. Dublin Bottling Works was founded in 1891 by Sam Houston Prim in, of course, Dublin, Texas. It was that same year the company began bottling a brand new soda with a unique taste: Dr. Pepper. This is where the term “Dublin Dr. Pepper” comes from, Dr. Pepper with pure cane sugar instead of corn syrup. It may have been Prim who founded the bottling plant, but it was 62-year employee Bill Kloster who really defined the company as its general manager. Dublin Head Soda Jerk, Kenny Horton, recalls when the price of granulated pure cane sugar skyrocketed in the 1970’s, it was Kloster who refused to let his company switch to high fructose corn syrup, despite the potential for much higher profits. Things were going well for Dublin Bottling Works. Their success carried them into the early 2010’s. They were the Little Red Riding Hood of Dublin, Texas. But the Big Bad Wolf came calling, and in this story, the wolf got what it wanted. Dr. Pepper/Snapple is the nation’s third-largest soda creator. They tried their hand at a cane sugar version of their soda called “Heritage Dr. Pepper.” It didn’t resonate with people like Dublin Dr. Pepper. In June 2011, the beverage giant sued Dublin Bottling Works. According to Horton, they claimed Dublin Bottling Works was “diluting the brand” with Dublin Dr. Pepper. On January 11, 2012, Dublin Dr. Pepper came to an end. Horton recalls 15 employees being laid off. By now Kloster’s son, also named Bill Kloster, was the company’s owner. He remains so to this day. Horton notes, “He could’ve easily closed the doors and it would’ve been cheaper…. But he wanted to maintain the legacy his father started.” So Dublin Bottling Works went back to the drawing board.

After about four months of research and development, Dublin Bottling Works reemerged with a new line of pure cane sugar sodas. Today the company has 12 different flavors, including classics like root beer and cream soda and mysteries like Fru Fru Berry. Horton says root beer and black cherry are the two top-sellers. But we wanted to review something a little more daring, something off the beaten path. Enter Dublin Cherry Limeade. Horton tells me over the phone that the Dublin soda jerks used to make cherry limeades with real cherries and limes at the company’s old soda fountain in the 1930’s. The company wanted to replicate that flavor as much as possible in bottled form. This soda is wildly red. Like, I drank an entire bottle and I’m pretty sure my stomach glows in the dark now. But that’s fine. They wanted to make the flavor smooth, Horton notes. “We definitely wanted the lemon-lime, but not an overpowering lemon-lime.” Fun fact: Cherry Limeade is the most popular Dublin flavor at Cost Plus World Market. Alright, that’s enough information. Let’s drink.

Where to get: Dublin Bottling Works soda is sold throughout Texas, including HEB, United, and Kroger stores in addition to Cost Plus World Market. You can find it online for purchase from the Dublin store (24) or Soda Emporium (6) or (singles).

Nose: Lime; cherry limeade; cherry grenadine.

Taste: Sweet cherry; tart cherry; mild lime. This is a soda anchored by a classic cherry limeade flavor. Think Sonic Route 44 Cherry Limeade, only a little sweeter. The cherry flavor in this is more like the juice Maraschino cherries sit in. It’s got that sweet, candy cherry flavor on which most cherry limeades are built. The carbonation is light, but flush on the tongue. You get a sweet cherry flavor first, followed by a rush of carbonation that helps transition the cherry taste to a tart one. That tartness then transforms once again and this is where you taste the lime. It’s subtle, but certainly noticeable. Just a squeeze.

Finish: Mild cherry with undertones of tart lime that change in strength depending on the sip.

Rating: Dublin Cherry Limeade Soda tastes exactly like you want it to taste. It really does have that classic cherry limeade flavor. We even let one of our grandfathers try it and he’s so old, he’s basically disintegrating; and he said it tasted like his childhood. We think that warrants the label of “retro” flavor. The sweet, Maraschino cherry syrup flavor is just right. It’s crisp, sweet, and delicious. Not overly sugary and syrupy. The accompanying tart cherry flavor provides excellent balance, while maintaining enough sweetness to keep the soda refreshing and flavorful. The final, mildly bitter lime finish completes a simple, yet brilliantly executed flavor profile. I actually wouldn’t mind seeing the lime brought out just a little more. But alas, this is absolutely stellar. We could spill more eloquent prose about its flavor and distinctly vintage label, but the bottom line is this a must-try for all ages and anyone with the slightest interest in soda. Cherry and lime are two flavors meant for each other, always waiting for their next honeymoon. Dublin Bottling Works has married the two tastes together in a way that delights the palate and begs for a bulk purchase. Don’t waste pairing this with alcohol. You’d be selling yourself short. Life is too short not to drink good soda. This is one for the bucket list.

Norka Beverage: Cherry-Strawberry

History: You’ve probably heard of Akron, Ohio… because that’s the hometown of LeBron James. But it’s also the home of Norka Beverage, a soda brand of which the city was proud. Note the past tense. Norka dates all the way back to 1924 and operated up until 1962 when it was liquidated. So how did we get here? Enter Michael Considine, a proud Akron resident with a history in the beverage industry. One day while at lunch with his father, Considine noticed an old bottle with its original label. He enjoyed his current job, but started thinking… what if. With the popularity of craft soda on the rise, the appeal of bringing an old classic back into the modern age was too much to turn down. “I had no idea Akron had its own soft drink,” he said. “It was a cool opportunity to bring something back in the beverage industry.” Considine started researching. He eventually tracked down the old ingredients lists and updated them for the current consumer market. Norka Beverage made its return to the world of glass-bottled soda in early 2015 with Considine as its new founder and president. The company uses only natural flavors and cane sugar while prohibiting caffeine and gluten from their sodas. Norka brought back four of the company’s original flavors: root beer, orange soda, ginger ale, and cherry-strawberry. And it’s the latter flavor that the company was founded on, the one we review today. According to Considine, Norka worked tirelessly to get it as close to the original as possible. They even conducted focus groups with people 70+ years-old who still remembered the original taste. And beyond all the details, no one really makes a cherry-strawberry soda hybrid. We couldn’t pass that up. Norka’s tagline is “Tastes better.” We’re about to find out how true that is.

Where to get: Norka Beverage sodas are sold throughout the Akron regional area and sporadically on the west coast in addition to high-volume craft soda retailers like Antiqology and Pop’s Soda Ranch. You can get your fix online via the Norka website or Amazon.

Nose: Absolute dead-ringer for Kool-Aid Bursts Tropical Punch. We used to call them “squeeze-its.” 90’s me is freaking out right now. Also a faint strawberry scent at the very end.

Taste: Cherry popsicles; mild tartness; cherry snow cone; Luden’s Wild Cherry Cough Drops (don’t tell me you didn’t love those as a kid. If you didn’t, I’ll fight you). This is more cherry than strawberry, for the better I’d say. The cherry flavor is very old fashioned, reminiscent of sucking out the cherry juice from a popsicle or a snow cone. It’s also a little tart and acidic, just enough to where the bite is enjoyable. This has a distinctive crispness, both in flavor and carbonation. Very drinkable. There is a mild strawberry flavor to this soda that floats about the flavor profile, but it mostly hangs in the background. One flavor that is very distinctive to me is the Luden’s Cherry Cough Drops I previously mentioned. That might seem like a weird reference, but I mean it in the best way. I ate those even when I wasn’t sick. If I had some, I would right now. Actually, is Walgreen’s still open?

Finish: Sweet candy cherry with a note of mild strawberry that’s very delayed. You won’t get it unless you wait about 10-15 seconds until the next sip.

Rating: This is straight-up delicious. One of the driving forces behind craft soda is nostalgia. It’s a term that gets thrown around often, usually referencing the glass bottle the liquid comes in or a retro label. But this is a soda that tastes old fashioned. This tastes like soda you used to drink as a kid, that your parents used to drink as kids. There’s a rich, old school candy cherry soda flavor with a little bit of acidity. That tartness is critical to the soda’s nostalgic flavor and gives it not only a really pleasing taste, but also a fun mouth feel. It also imparts a refreshing crispness to the soda that adds to its drinkability. This is a soda with which you’d have no problem rampaging through. Kind of like when my wife gets a hold of my credit card. The only knock on this, and it’s a minor one, is the strawberry. It doesn’t really come through that much. Personally, I like it that way, but consumers may be expecting a balance of the two flavors, and this is heavily on the cherry side. However, you could argue the strawberry flavor is part of the reason for the soda’s mild tartness. This is one of the more drinkable sodas we’ve come across in some time. Light, refreshing, crisp and full of old school cherry flavor. Norka Beverage is a blast from the past repackaged into the present, and what’s most important: they’ve preserved the authenticity of the brand’s flavors. You can taste it. This is one in which you should invest.

Saranac: Shirley Temple

History: Saranac Brewery has been around a long, long time. And it’s stayed in the family, now in its fourth generation of brewers. Dating all the way back to 1888, F.X. Matt started the brewery with 4,000 barrels of beer a year under the name West End Brewing Co. How about that name? Seriously. F.X. Matt? How ominous does that sound? Brb while I go pitch ideas for super villains to Marvel and DC. Maybe we should start going by F.S. Soda. God, this review is already spiraling out of control. As with many long-lived breweries, prohibition hit this one hard. According to Saranac Assistant Brand Manager, Martha O’Leary, West End had just begun brewing root beer before prohibition hit and it’s essentially what kept them alive throughout those years. In 1985, the company produced its first craft beer called “Saranac.” The brewery later took this on as its name to honor of the anniversary of the Saranac Railroad’s inaugural trip from to Saranac to Utica, New York. Saranac began making craft sodas in the 1990’s. Currently they boast six different flavors, including today’s review, Shirley Temple. “It’s been with us for such a long time, and we continue to build on that,” says O’Leary. One thing we need to give you soda connoisseurs a heads up on is the fact that Saranac uses high fructose corn syrup in their sodas as a sweetener. When asked why, O’Leary was honest, “I think it’s because we maintain the same recipe” from the 90’s. She also added that there have been discussions to make the switch to cane sugar. But Saranac does have a strong reputation in the world of gourmet soda. Their root beer won gold in the 2014 U.S. Beer Open competition. But Shirley Temple was too fun to resist.

Where to get: Saranac is sold throughout the greater New York region as well as online at Amazon and ShopRite.

Nose: Grenadine syrup. Smells very sweet.

Taste: Cherry syrup; shirley temple; light bubblegum. So there’s two things that go into making a Shirley Temple. Grenadine/cherry syrup and lemon-lime soda. And I gotta hand it to Saranac… this tastes exactly like a Shirley Temple. Well, almost exactly. There’s a definitive hit of sweet cherry-flavored soda with a light bite. The carbonation in this is much lighter than if you mixed your own cherry syrup with something like Sprite. But the biggest difference is that this tastes much sweeter than a normal Shirley Temple. Much sweeter. And the classic citrus notes have been replaced with sweeter ones, reminiscent of bubble gum candy. The closest thing I can think of is those bubblegum cigars you got as a kid. This has a sweet cherry syrup taste with an added bubblegum flavor and a hint of citrus.

Finish: Just the tiniest bit of citrus. Maybe lime. Followed by a more mellow grenadine flavor.

Rating: If you like sweeter sodas, you’ve hit the jackpot here. If I drank of six-pack of these, I’d be Wilford Brimley before it was all over. That said, if you’re looking for a bottled Shirley Temple soda, you can’t go wrong with Saranac. I’d like to have seen some more citrus or some kind of bite to this to cut back the sweetness a little bit, but this stuff is good. You can really taste that classic Grenadine flavor present in all Shirley Temples and there’s a little bit of a mild bubblegum flavor as well. Kids will love this for its fun color, packaging and candy-like flavor. Adults will enjoy its nostalgia-inducing taste that jettisons you back in time to when all you wanted was mom to put the cherry syrup in your soda to make it taste better. I’d recommend putting this on some ice cubes and sipping it. And if you want to have some real fun, try a spiked Saranac Shirley Temple by adding vodka and a couple squeezes of fresh lime. This accomplishes what it set out to do and, despite the sugar rush, will please a lot of soda enthusiasts. Approved.

Hank’s: Wishniak Black Cherry

History: Hank’s has one of the most recognizable bottles on the craft soda market with its name emblazoned in bold, raised metallic letters. They prefer the language “gourmet” as opposed to “craft,” but we don’t have to tell them they’re the same thing *w;)nk face*. As for its history, despite several attempts, we were unable to reach the folks at Hank’s Gourmet Sodas in time to talk to them for this review, so we relied heavily on their website and an article from Beverage Industry. So we’ll keep it relatively simple this time. Back to that unmistakable bottle. It sticks out, kind of like my old neighbor who leaves the bathroom blinds open. Only this instance is by design. “We just tried to make the bottle as unique, upscale and premium as we could,” co-founder Bill Dunman says. In 2007 the Glass Packaging Institute, an actual thing, awarded Hank’s the Clear Choice Award for best Carbonated Beverage. Hank’s began in 1995 in the Philadelphia area as a distribution business. A year later, they abandoned distribution entirely in favor of manufacturing and began adding flavors starting with root beer. At one point the company reached as many as 10, but today has scaled that number back to six. As with most soda companies, Hank’s profits the most from its root beer, with cream soda, black cherry and orange cream coming in second at about equal market shares. Hank’s is made using pure cane sugar and also produces a line of all natural teas. You can drink a black cherry soda and chase it with their Watermelon Cucumber Black Tea. What a time to be alive.

Where to get: Straight from their website, Hank’s Gourmet Sodas are “sold in over 40 states in every region of the nation.” For the ten unlucky states and the majority of us who prefer conducting our business in our underwear, you can order Hank’s soda in 12-packs directly from their site, 6-packs via Amazon, or single bottles from Soda Emporium.

Nose: Fresh cherry juice; Juicy Juice Cherry.

Taste: Sweet black cherries; mild tartness. This definitely tastes like real cherries. It has a deep, rich taste to it. Imagine blending fresh cherries into juice, adding some sugar and maybe a little vanilla extract and then drinking it. This tastes like that. Simple, yet refreshing and flavorful. Definitely a sweeter soda, clocking in at 40 grams of sugar per bottle. There’s also just the slightest amount of tartness to this on the backend of each drink embedded in the carbonation. This is a rare instance where you can taste the flavor of the citric acid used. It isn’t syrupy, but does leave a filmy feeling on the teeth on some sips. Overall though, the rich black cherry flavor is wonderful.

Finish: Tart black cherry that fades into sweet cherry juice.

Rating: A really nice take on black cherry soda that tastes refreshing and real. Hank’s could probably stand to dial back the sugar in each bottle by a few grams because the sweetness really piles on top of itself with each continuous drink. It’s kind of like speed dating. It’s great at first, but by the end you’re disoriented, need a nap and crying. Sorry, that last part is just a personal problem. Most black cherry sodas are fairly simple. It’s all about nailing that main flavor, and Hank’s does a nice job in that regard. There’s also a faint tartness to this soda. It helps to balance out the sweetness a little bit. I actually really enjoyed that aspect and wouldn’t mind seeing the mild sour notes turned up ever so slightly. Despite the intensity of its sweetness, the black cherry flavor profile shines bright. Definitely in the upper tier of craft black cherry sodas. Sip this one slowly out by the pool.

Olde Brookyln: Brighton Beach Black Cherry

History: “Every good brand has its own personality,” says White Rock Beverages President, Larry Bodkin. And if you’re Brooklyn-born, Brooklyn-raised, or hell, ever just been to the borough – you know Brooklyn’s got personality. Olde Brookyln sodas try to capture that personality in every bottle, offering up favorite flavors of the urban coastal areas. In fact, every Olde Brooklyn soda is named after a neighborhood in the borough. There’s eight flavors in total. Coney Island Cream may be the line’s most recognizable flavor, but for our purposes today, we’re sampling Brighton Beach Black Cherry. Brighton Beach is known for its Ukrainian and Russian immigrant influences. Just did a Google search on Ukrainian food and women. In a related story, we’ll be writing to you next week from Brighton Beach. White Rock Beverages is the same company that produces Sioux City sodas. But whereas Sioux City is distributed mainly throughout the heart of America, Olde Brooklyn is popular on the coasts. This is a brand White Rock actually purchased about 10 years ago from some guys, as Bodin puts it, “with a colorful background.” But the recipes are almost all the same. Bodin also notes that the company’s market research indicates about one in every seven people can trace their roots back to Brooklyn. I’m about to let this black cherry soda put its roots in me. Sorry.

Where to get: Olde Brookyln soda is distributed mainly throughout the two coasts and sporadically in the midwest. Here’s a list of common retailers from the company’s website. Hit up Amazon for 12-packs, Soda Emporium for 6-packs , or single bottles from the same source.

Nose: Fresh Bing cherries.

Taste: Sweet black cherry; vanilla. Small frothy cola bubbles permeate the mouth before a flood of classic black cherry coats the taste buds. But you also get a fresh Bing cherry flavor that follows up the traditional black cherry cola taste. Notes of vanilla weave in and out throughout the body of each sip. My only complaint is I’d like to see that vanilla taste more consistently. It’s very refreshing for a black cherry soda. Not overly sweet or syrupy, but crisp and flavorful. This is a two-toned cherry taste bud flavor-fest of classic and farmer’s market freshness. An excellent execution of black cherry is an understatement.

Finish: Cherry juice and mild sugar with a very long and mild vanilla finish.

Rating: This is black cherry soda done extremely well. I want more of this, which should tell you something because I taste a lot of soda. It has a crisp, flavorful classic black cherry taste that isn’t syrupy or too sugary. It’s light and refreshing, a hard trick to pull off for most darker sodas. It’s light ruby red/burgundy color is eye-catching, almost the color of the ring I gave my first wife. Except, unlike that ring, I won’t regret buying this. The taste is similar to IBC black cherry soda, but fresher on the back end. You really do get a natural, Bing cherry taste with some occasional vanilla notes that add a lot of flavor. This is a perfect summer drink you could run through multiple bottles of in one sitting. This ranks right up there with the best black cherry sodas I’ve tried. Olde Booklyn Bighton Beach Black Cherry has the potential to ascend to your regular rotation of sodas. It’s that good. The vanilla notes really make the soda. I only wish they appeared more than occasionally. If the vanilla notes were more anchored to the black cherry taste, this would be a five-star rating. Still, it’s a minor grip for a major success. Olde Brooklyn nails it here. This is a must-try for all soda connoisseurs.

Ski Cherry

History: Ski is one of the most well-known names in the retro soda business. It’s been the flagship citrus beverage of Chattanooga, Tennessee’s Double Cola Company since 1956. But unlike most citrus sodas, this one is lemon and orange instead of lime. The company actually uses real lemon and orange juice in each soda, something fairly uncommon for larger brands. It was 1996 when Ski Cherry made its debut. Unlike most craft sodas, this one does contain caffeine. Now here’s an important distinction to make: Double Cola markets a majority of Ski in cans and plastic bottles with more modern labels. That version of Ski is made with high fructose corn syrup. However, their “nostalgic packages” in glass bottles are made with pure cane sugar. Ski Cherry (the bottle we’re reviewing) is made with pure cane sugar. The high fructose version of Ski Cherry is actually called Ski InfraRed. Confused yet? Think of it this way: Ski Cherry is your cute neighbor who is au naturale. Ski InfraRed is your new, cute neighbor who’s nice to look at because she’s full of silicone… err, corn syrup. Get it? If you don’t, you could just get drunk because according to the St. Louis Post Dispatch, Ski has a reputation has a hangover cure.

Where to get: Ski Cherry can be found at many Rocketfizz retailers across the nation. You can also purchase it online at Soda Emporium.

Nose: Like when you were a kid and poured every soda in your fridge into a cup. In my day we called them suicides. This is like that: swampy smelling. There’s definitely a cleaning fluid smell to this. Hopefully it’s deceiving.

Taste: It wasn’t deceiving. Bitter; pungent; old citrus. Ski soda is known for its mixture of lemon and orange, but this really tastes more like lime than anything else with some cherry flavoring added. Tastes very artificial. Usually cane sugar sodas are sweeter. This could use some sweetness. It could use anything, really. This is supposed to be an alternative to Mountain Dew. The two don’t taste all that similar. Whereas Mountain Dew has a crisp citrus taste, this is more of a dull citrus flavor with a pinch of cherry at the end. The cherry isn’t too bad, but isn’t prominent enough to stand out on its own. Ski Cherry shocks the taste buds not with a tangy burst, but with a lack of refreshing flavor so often found in citrus drinks. If you’re sensitive to caffeine, be warned, this is a soda that contains a caffeine punch. Most craft sodas do not contain caffeine. This one gave us a headache.

Finish: Lingering lime with a hint of orange. Not as harsh as the body of the soda. Probably this bottle’s only redeeming quality.

Rating: Ski’s tagline is “Real lemon. Real Orange. Real Good.” Coulda’ fooled me. Nothing about this tastes authentic in the slightest, nor do I taste any lemon in this soda. It’s more like a dull lime taste with faint artificial cherry and orange. It smells like chemicals and tastes only slightly better. Listen, I’m not trying to blatantly trash this. There are people out there who like it. Thirsty Dudes gave this four bottles out of five. They must’ve been really thirsty. It does have a decent finish and the cherry flavor near the end of each sip is fine. Citrus soda drinkers, yeah, go ahead and give it a shot if you wish. Maybe you’ll find its redeeming qualities. Maybe we got a bad bottle. But more likely, this just isn’t our thing. If you don’t like citrus, you can skip Ski Cherry and it’s fake brother Ski InfraRed. The name doesn’t exactly have me volunteering to put it inside my body. “Sir, would you like to drink this infrared liquid?” “Why yes! I’ve been wanting to go to the hospital!” I think this would be a wonderfully-scented toilet cleaner, but it comes up short as a soda.