Citrus

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

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Brood: Sour

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three Stars

Green Bee: Lemon Sting

History: According to Michigan State University, “It has often been said that bees are responsible for one out of every three bites of food we eat.” Chris and Lori Kinkcade thought they should be responsible for four flavors of soda as well. Chris Kinkade is a beekeeper in Brunswick, Maine and the founder of Green Bee Craft Beverages. He remembers looking at a jar of honey and thinking, “I could make something out of this.” Local honey might be the source of Green Bee soda’s flavor, but Kinkade’s kids are really the reason it exists. “They were always bugging me for soda, and I never wanted to give them what’s on the market,” he conceded. This led to the company’s first flavor of soda: Lemon Sting. As you might expect, with the health of children as the inspiration, Green Bee approaches soda in more of an organic, lower calorie way than what’s typical to the marketplace. “To us, it’s about fresh soda,” he says. As described in the company’s motto, “The Green Bee Way,” they say they “always use whole ingredients,” including “fresh pressed juices, natural herbs and spices.” They also do not use preservatives or extracts. When it comes to Lemon Sting, our review today, Lori Kinkade notes it’s made “from freshly squeezed lemon juice, rosemary and wildflower honey.” Sounds like a drink that would make Julia Child proud. The Green Bee website describes Lemon Sting’s taste as “fresh, clean flavor with crisp finish.” We like to call beverages like these “farmer’s market sodas” because they’ve just got that mom n’ pop feel to them and are made with minimal sugar (in this case solely honey) and use real, fresh ingredients. Buzz, buzz.

Where to get: Green Bee lists out where you can find and purchase their soda right here. For those outside of New England, you can buy it online via Green Bee’s official retail partner Jackeez.

Nose: Honey. Earthy honey.

Taste: Lemon; herbs; honey. The three main components of Lemon Sting are lemon juice, honey, and rosemary, and that’s spot-on in terms of what you taste. The lemon and honey are immediate and hit flush in the center of your tongue. There’s initially just a touch of sweetness from the honey that comes out, but soon the lemon juice becomes the dominant of the two flavors, though it does retain the honey’s earthy notes. This is not a sweet soda, but also not bitter – pretty typical for “natural sodas” in that regard. After a couple sips, the lemon and honey form a light, sweet lemon flavor like one might find in a tea. Then there’s the rosemary. I always taste this separately from the lemon and honey. It definitely imparts and herbal flavor to the soda near the back half of each sip, but doesn’t really add anything to the initial flavors. The lemon-honey combo is the star of this soda. The honey isn’t overly strong and the lemon isn’t too sour. The flavors compliment each other well.

Finish: Strange aftertaste. It’s like what a corn tamale tastes like. Not sure how this happened, but it needs improvement.

Rating: Natural sodas are a polarizing category, often looked down upon by old school soda drinkers and lauded by the new farmer’s market wave of diet-conscious hipsters. If you’re a rootin’ tootin’, sugar lovin’ root beer or cola fanatic, this probably won’t be your thing. For the rest of you, read on. I don’t know many people who’d drink a soda where lemon is the primary flavor, so it’s good Green Bee has recognized that and used local honey from Brunswick, Maine to cut into this powerful ingredient. When paired with with honey, the lemon flavor in Lemon Sting is present enough to make an impact, but transformed in a way that should appeal to fans of both natural beverages and citrus soft drinks. The honey has a very natural, earthy flavor. It is not sweet. The lemon tastes authentic, like something you’d find in lemon-lime soda with the volume turned up. My biggest disappointment is the soda’s third ingredient: rosemary. It’s such a fantastic herb with great flavor, and if you didn’t look at the ingredient list, you’d probably never know it was in Lemon Sting. You can occasionally taste it as kind of a general herbal flavor on the back half of some sips here and there, but it’s not prominent enough to affect the overall flavor profile. It’s exciting to read about, but ultimately never happens… reminds me of my sister’s wedding. If the rosemary was brought up higher in the flavor profile, I think if could play off the honey’s sweetness and give Lemon Sting’s earthy flavor more character. If you enjoy tea with honey and lemon, this is tailor-made for you. Lemon Sting is a solid offering for a natural soda with notes of earthy sweetness. I think you’d be best-suited drinking this on a hot day in the sun, perhaps paired with a sweet treat in hand.

Three Stars

Original New York Seltzer: Lemon & Lime Soda

History: The 80’s were some of American culture’s most glamorous years. Big hair, neon signs, leather jackets, cocaine flying everywhere, acid wash jeans, baggy suits. It was a hell of a time. Original New York Seltzer (hereby referred to as ONYS) was a drink born in the 80’s and it personified that time. The independent brand became known for its flashy presentation with brightly colored labels that popped, big lettering on small bottles, and signature clear liquid in all flavors that separated it from the major labels. To be specific, ONYS was started in 1981 by the father-son team of Alan and Randy Miller. You might know Randy Miller’s other work because today he runs a company that trains big animals like bears and tigers often used in movies. As ONYS rose to prominence, the big boys took notice and eventually came calling. Anheuser Busch offered the Miller’s $180 million to sell. Because keeping the business independent was their top priority, they declined. Soon after, due to a damaged distribution network, ONYS stopped production, and everyone’s favorite 80’s soda disappeared just as fast as the jheri curl. But the beauty of nostalgia is that young fans grow up and old favorites die hard. So over 30 years later, Ryan Marsh resurrected the company, relaunching the brand in May of 2015. The new ONYS President said, “As a kid growing up in the ‘80s, my family and friends all knew and loved Original New York Seltzer. It was the only brand our parents would allow us to drink…. We’re committed to upholding everything that has made this brand unique.” That includes making soda that’s free of preservatives, coloring, and artificial flavors. Now some of you might be confused that we’re calling a brand with the word “seltzer” in it a craft soda. Don’t be. Here’s why: ONYS is carbonated, has a shared range of flavors with soda, is made with pure cane sugar, and contains a calorie content not that far removed from a normal craft soda. When Marsh said he wanted to restore things to how they once were, he wasn’t kidding. He elaborates by saying, “The carbonation has been set to 1987 levels. Original New York Seltzer is bottled in the original-sized bottles in the original factory. The same employees that brought ONYS to life in the factory are still running the lines and are monitoring the quality control process.” How ’bout that? A single nostalgic tear runs down my eye. Something that’s kind of funny? ONYS is and always was headquartered in Los Angeles, not New York. Marsh notes that vanilla cream and black cherry are the current most popular flavors, so we wanted to give some love to one of the other kids, lemon and lime.

Where to get: You can purchase Original New York Seltzer Lemon & Lime plus the rest of the company’s flavors directly from the ONYS online store and from Amazon.

Nose: Lemon-lime, ala 7-Up more than Sprite. More of a lime scent than lemon.

Taste: Lime-y; sugar; light lemon; bubbles. The lime here is more prominent than the lemon, but the lemon has a better flavor. First, the lime. Think along the lines of candy lime like you’d taste in a green Life Savers. The lime is accompanied by lots of little bubbles that amplify its intensity. The carbonation isn’t overly intense, but there’s definitely a lot of it. After a couple seconds, the lime fades and you’re left with a soft lemon flavor, similar to Sprite. However, the second half of each sip is also what distinguishes Original New York Seltzer’s Lemon & Lime Soda from Sprite or 7-Up. There’s no syrupy aftertaste. That said, overall this is pretty similar to a cross between Sprite and Howdy Lemon-Lime Soda.

Finish: Mild, crisp lemon flavor with sugar that slowly fades out.

Rating: To be fair, there’s not a whole lot of wiggle room to start with when it comes to lemon-lime sodas, but Original New York Seltzer’s take on the category tastes remarkably similar to the major brands already on the market. And I’m not saying it’s bad. No, no. It’s good. It’s pleasant. It’s light and refreshing. It’s just doesn’t taste significantly different from a mass-produced brand like Sprite or a craft classic like Bubble Up. While a craft soda connoisseur might be able to taste that this is made with real sugar and not corn syrup, most drinkers will overlook a subtlety like that. And while an enthusiast might be able to differentiate the strength in lime flavors between ONYS Lemon & Lime vs. its competitors, most drinkers will just think it’s another lemon-lime soda. You could probably hand this to most people in a blind taste test and they’d tell you it was Sprite. Again, it’s not a bad thing. It’s a hard flavor to infuse with uniqueness. Put it this way: I think this tastes better than 7-Up and Sprite and is better for you. There’s no reason you shouldn’t be drinking this instead. Most may not find many differences between this soda and others like it, but I’d be willing to bet most people also wouldn’t turn down a bottle of this after having a few sips. This is a soda you bring out of the bullpen when you need a drink to rely upon. Old girl is solid.

Three Stars

Soda Jerk Soda: Lemon Lavender

History: Seattle, Washington is continually churning out some of the most inventive and artisanal craft sodas on the market. But some of these effervescent elixirs are hidden gems that not everyone knows about. We believe they deserve their day in the sun. Enter Soda Jerk Soda, some of the most creative craft soda on the west coast. Owner Cory Clark had been a cosmetic chemist with a couple stores in Texas, but he was looking for his next project. Something different, he thought. Something cool. “I’m kind of a person that has to be creating something to be happy,” he says. He told us initially he wanted to start an ice cream and soda fountain, but after seeing the success of the Soda Stream, Clark changed his mind and started exploring soda syrups. He quickly changed course again after he realized he preferred fresh ingredients to syrup. It’s hard to disagree there. But before we tell you about the liquid, here’s an example of Clark’s creativeness. Dude sells his soda out of what is essentially a cute-ass baby truck on wheels. He bought it online and customized it himself after being inspired by a Cushman Truckster… aka the next thing I’m drunk buying online. Back to the soda. You won’t find anything traditional on the Soda Jerk Soda truck. It features three taps with two rotating flavors. Strawberry Rhubarb. Lime Cilantro Jalapeno. Lemon Lavender. These are some of the flavors you’ll find in place of classics like root beer or cola. “I try to pair an herb or spice with the ingredient,” Clark notes. Soda Jerk Soda also always uses organic cane sugar and fresh ingredients with as many sourced locally from Washington as possible. Clark adds he uses organic ingredients whenever he can. There are also no preservatives in Soda Jerk Soda. Hipsters everywhere should be lining up for this stuff.

Lemon Lavender is one of the first flavors Clark created and to this day it’s the company’s best seller. It’s also the only flavor consistently available on tap. Fresh lavender flowers from Washington are used in the soda instead of lavender extracts in order to make the soda taste as authentic as possible. What’s really interesting about Clark’s process is that he doesn’t cook down his ingredients. He just uses hot water for steeping the herbs and melting down the sugar. He says he does this to ensure “the flavors are very bright and strong.” The Lemon Lavender soda contains 12.5 % juice. Time to ingest the freshness.

Where to get: Soda Jerk Soda is one of those local-only craft sodas, so you’ve gotta be in the Seattle area or going to the city to get a taste. Clark told us he’s looking into shipping methods, but as of fall 2015, it was still quite a ways off due to high costs for both parties. Here’s a list of where to find Soda Jerk Soda in Seattle.

Nose: Strong lavender. Mild lemon-lime tucked behind the lavender. The scent wavers between sweet, floral, and savory. A big nose on this soda.

Taste: Tart; sweet lavender; lemon. Definitely a floral/botanical soda, but uncharacteristically sweet for a soda in that flavor zone. The flavors here are big and bold. This looks like pink lemonade, but is defined by the lavender taste that permeates each sip. There’s a quick rush of light carbonation at the beginning of the drink, quickly followed up by tart lemon and sweet lavender. This is initially more tart than sweet, which makes it very crisp. The lavender does give the soda a bit of an herbal taste, but it’s a sweet one. While lavender really shines in the first half of the drink, lemon takes over the second half of each sip. It’s interesting; the lemon becomes sweeter, while the lavender begins packing a bit of zing and tasting more savory, along the lines of a tart lavender tea. The lemon and lavender taste fresh and don’t make your taste buds over think. Overall, it’s a pretty even mix of sweet to sour, though I’d give the nod to the former. There’s a lot going on for just two main flavors, but luckily, this artisanal soda isn’t overly complicated.

Finish: Herbal lavender, almost like a tea with subtle tart lemon in the background.

Rating: What makes this soda interesting is the Jekyll and Hyde personalities of its two flavors, lavender and lemon. Initially the lavender is sweet and the lemon is tart, but on the back half of each sip, the roles are reversed. I’ve never tasted that before in a soda that relies so heavily on just two ingredients. Really takes your taste buds for a ride. Reminds me of that one night last year in Vegas… never mind. The standout flavor of the two is lavender. It’s very bold and very floral. Again, at times it’s very sweet, almost a little fruity. Near the finish, it becomes more tart and savory, imparting a botanical flavor. What I want to stress is this: the lavender taste in this soda is not a candied flavor. You can really taste the lavender flowers. Super, super authentic and flavorful. Lemon was a great companion flavor to pair with the boldness of the lavender. It helps reign in the soda’s overall flavor profile and adds a nice zing. For some, this won’t work because they simply can’t adjust to lavender in liquid form. For others, this might be a little too tart or herbal. Personally, I enjoy how the tartness lingers throughout each sip. I actually wouldn’t mind seeing the sweet lemon flavor enhanced in addition to that tartness. Soda Jerk Lemon Lavender is also really wonderful with dark rum for a simple, balanced, and flavorful night cap. Lavender is, of course, known for its sleep properties. The bottom line about Soda Jerk Lemon Lavender soda is that it tastes remarkably fresh and crisp. The two flavors work well in tandem and are bold on the palate. You’d be missing out if you didn’t indulge your taste buds in this unique, split personality of an artisan soda.

Four Stars

Howdy: Lemon Lime

History: Before Spite and 7-Up, there was Howdy. Orca Beverage President and Owner, Mike Bourgeois, calls Howdy the “original creators of the lemon-lime category.” In fact, Howdy Lemon-Lime was the primordial soda recipe from which 7-Up eventually evolved. The company originally began in 1929, and according to Bourgeois, back then Howdy was made with seven ingredients. I don’t think I need to explain the connection further. Here’s the weird part: one of those seven ingredients was lithium. Bourgeois tells us the soda was originally marketed as a “Bib-Lable Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda.” He goes on to tell us that lithium was used at the turn of the century as a mood-altering stimulant, thought to “give you a lift.” He offered up cocaine as a comparison. Good. Because there’s nothing I like with my lunch more than an ice cold lemon-lime soda chocked full of angel dust. Really makes the rest of the day go faster when I do my afternoon accounting work with a heart rate of 200 BPM. As you might imagine, lithium has since been regulated out of the drink. Bourgeois did not specify when Howdy went out of business, but notes the company had been dormant for many years until around 2010 when Orca Beverage reactivated the trademark due to its rich history. Orca has done this several times since the Mukilteo, Washington-based soda distributor began in 1987 because it wants to preserve the nostalgia of retro soda as much as possible. It is now the sole producer of Howdy. Currently, the company boasts around 120 different brands. Bourgeois says in the case of Howdy, “It was a natural niche for us to cultivate.” He adds that the recipe has been reformulated to be more modern and clean and uses pure cane sugar and real lemon and lime oils. Even the logo is the same as the original. “It’s more flavorful. It has a little more of everything in it,” Bourgeois says at the end of our conversation. Time to taste the history.

Where to get: Howdy Lemon Lime soda is distributed nationwide at retro soda retailers. We suggest checking your nearest Rocketfizz retailer. You can also purchase it online at Amazon (via Orca Beverage) and Soda Emporium. And if you’re a retailer looking to sell soda yourself, or you’re just a dude wanting a bunch of soda at one time, Homer Soda is your go-to.

Nose: Classic lemon-lime smell, leaning more towards the lime side of things. Fragrant pine scents as well.

Taste: Lemon-lime with an emphasis on lime. Howdy tastes like 7-Up with bolder flavors. The lime is much more dominant than the lemon. Still refreshing and light, but heavier and sweeter than your day-to-day lemon lime soda. Definitely more acidic as well, but not anything that’s going to overpower you. The lime becomes bolder as you drink it. Fairly straightforward in terms of lemon-lime flavor, again, with more lime than lemon.

Finish: A wave of tart lime followed by a smooth, sweet lemon flavor. That tartness outlasts both flavors and lingers until the next sip.

Rating: Howdy is classic, old-school soda. Not complicated, not sophisticated, but reliable. Howdy Lemon Lime is the Toyota Corolla of craft soda. Always dependable when called on and will get you where you want to go. This in-review ad brought to you by Toyota *cash register noise*. Howdy definitely tipped the scales toward lime in this soda. You still get the lemon, but the lime is bold and continually increases in flavor as the drink goes on. The carbonation is nice and works really well to compliment the soda’s flavors. It’s refreshing. The sugar is probably a gram or two high, but nothing you can’t get past. The only complaint we have is the lime. At times when it reaches its strongest points, it takes on a bit of a pine flavor, something that makes me feel like a lumberjack lost in the woods. I’m just trying to drink a soda, not chop down trees. So maybe juuuust tone down the lime a little. Or perhaps up the lemon. But Howdy Lemon Lime is a classic and it has staying power for a reason. It won’t blow you away, but it’s flavors are crisp and refreshing. I’d recommend it for a hot day out in the sun.

Three Stars

Rogue: Citrus Cucumber

History: This is a story that ends with soda, but one that took clam chowder, nudity, and charity to get there. Now I’ve aroused your interest. Rogue is a company with gusto. “Our soda is a revolution,” they proclaim to us via email (For clerical purposes, all quotes in this article were relayed by marketing manager, Anna Abatzoglou, who made it clear these are not direct quotes from herself, but rather the company. The specific employee(s) were not specified.). Rogue began in October of 1988 in Ashland, Orgeon, but soon needed to expand. A few months later, founder Jack Joyce became stranded at a bar in Newport, Oregon due to a raging snowstorm. There he met the creator of Mo’s Clam Chowder, Mo Niemi, who told Joyce it was always her dream to live above a bar. Needing a bigger space, Joyce listened to Niemi’s conditions. There were two: 1. Give back to the community and 2. Make sure this picture of a naked Niemi in a bathtub hang inside the bar. How lucky. Dude meets a girl and instantly gets a nude photo. I can’t even get one from girls on Tinder. The company tells us to this day that photo hangs in all 10 of their pubs. Rogue also doesn’t have a marketing budget, instead putting that money toward local charities and infrastructure. Rogue has resided in Newport, Oregon since 1992.

If you’ve heard of Rogue before, you’re probably aware of their wide array of beers, from normal to straight funky. The company tells us they not only also make beer and soda, but farm a bunch of different fruits, vegetables, and grains. Today’s review, Rogue Citrus Cucumber, contains both Rogue Honey and Rogue Cucumbers from Rogue Farms in Independence, Oregon; this ad brought to you by Rogue. Says Abatzoglou of the soda’s signature fruit, “When they’re ripe, we pick them off the vine, slice them up, and add them fresh into every hand-crafted batch of Citrus Cucumber Soda. We grow cukes for our small batch spruce gin so why not go cuke to cocktail with a refreshing cucumber citrus soda?” Any excuse to get the term “cuke” into this review will do. It sounds like a combo of cute and puke. Some company specializing in cat products reading this just got a great idea, I’m sure. All Rogue sodas are brewed in small batches, using pure cane sugar and Rogue Farms Honey. “We get honey from 7,140,289 Rogue Farms honeybees that is used to sweeten all of our sodas,” the company tells us. I love that they maintain a current count on their over seven million bees. Most days I can’t even keep track of where I put my keys last. They also note the bees are “carefully kept and fed.” I conjured up an image of what I hoped this meant, and the Internet did not disappoint. But seriously, it’s apparent Rogue is a company about fun and one that takes pride and puts serious effort into its products. They’re basically internally going farm-to-table with their soda, a very interesting concept in the craft soda world. Rogue’s motto is “Dare, Risk, Dream.” I’m about to add a fourth: drink.

Where to get: Rogue sodas are available in about 30 states, according to the company. You can always purchase it online via the Rogue store.

Nose: Definitely smells like candy melon with a hint of cucumber. That sweet fruit is evident on the nose, almost like a candy kiwi. Starburst tropical fruit chews are the closest comparison I can come up with. It’s definitely a familiar childhood smell. An intriguing beginning.

Taste: Fruity melon; cucumber; mild lemon and lime; cane sugar. The flavors here hit you quickly and are unchained from harsh carbonation like most lemon-lime sodas. This is very fruity for a lemon-lime soda, but I wouldn’t call it tropical. You’ll taste these fruity flavors before the lemon-lime. Cucumber is definitely in here, but not as bold as I expected it to be for a soda that bears its name. I also taste some kiwi in here, but I think that’s more of a result of how the honey contrasts with the cucumber. There’s a variety of melon tastes here too, though subtle. Most prominent among those tastes is honeydew. There’s two types of honey in this (wildflower and Rogue Farms), so that’s probably a big reason for the melon flavor. All those melon flavors in addition to the kiwi and cucumber swirl around in your mouth and coat the back of your tongue before mild traditional lemon-lime finishes out the body of the sip. The sugar is crisp, and with the citrus elements, makes the soda even more refreshing than expected. The way the honey and cucumbers work together makes for some really interesting tasting notes.

Finish: Cucumber and lemon-lime that alternate back and forth. Lime is the most prominent of the three flavors.

Review: Rogue is perhaps best known for its unconventional beers. It’s a company with attitude and feistiness, and one not afraid to take risks. Rogue’s Citrus Cucumber is probably the wackiest offering they have on their soda side, and it’s one that displays a surprisingly wide range of flavors. Cucumber certainly has a leading role in the flavor profile, but I wouldn’t say it hogs the spotlight. There are very nice candy melon flavors that accompany the cucumber, like bold honeydew and even undertones of watermelon. Both the wildflower and Rogue Farms Honeys play a big role in the taste as well. They interact with the cucumber to form a kiwi taste that’s up front along with the honeydew. It’s so fruity for a cucumber-flavored drink. There’s a joke in there somewhere, but I just won’t. Traditional lemon-lime comes in near the end, but it’s subtle. I wouldn’t mind seeing the lemon-lime higher in the flavor profile, personally. The fruitiness is unexpected, but it takes the edge off the cucumber and that’s a nice little deal for you. Trust me, you don’t want cucumber to be exceedingly strong in a soda. I gotta admit, this is a little weird, but it’s definitely something your taste buds need to experience to fully understand. Rogue seems to be one of the best beverage companies at understanding this concept. Their creativeness is much-needed. Just remember… the quirky, creative kids from high school are the ones writing your checks now. Don’t be afraid to get a little weird.

Four Stars

Gazosa La Fiorenzana: Pompelmo

History: Hailing from the Alps of Switzlerand comes a soda that’s been brewed the same way since 1921, a hidden gem tucked away in the little village of Grono located in the Grisons canton. It’s been traveling over 4,900 miles and longer than 14.5 hours to reach America, and now it’s here… for the first time ever. That’s right, Five Star Soda is the first American media outlet to get its hands on Gazosa La Fiorenzana. Francesco Tonna started Gazosa with four original flavors: Pompelmo (grapegruit), Limone (lemon), Mandarino (mandarin orange), and  Lampone (raspberry). Today there are a total of eight. It was in 2002 when ex-footballer (soccer) and Polpenzisch founder Stephan Keller descended from the Netherlands to a bar in Zurich during his time playing for FC Zurich. It was there he sampled Gazosa for the first time. He and his immaculate beard realized immediately he couldn’t let this tasting be his last and decided to begin importing the Swiss soda to the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. Meanwhile, I didn’t put pants on until noon today. His description of Gazosa paints the company as the epitome of little mom and pop productions. He jokes, “Swiss small is different to U.S. small.” First of all, the business has stayed in the Ponzio-Tonna family and is currently in its fourth generation. According to the Keller, the soda’s label remains unchanged. The company still uses refillable swing-top bottles, a reason, Keller adds, that Gazosa will probably never be available in America. People in America definitely probably don’t have the patience for refillable bottles. The company also has no marketing budget and relies soley on word-of-mouth. But what we all care about is taste. To that, Keller added, “Our flavors are pure and old fashioned, please don’t expect any mixes or addition of vanilla or anything.” Like many soda bottlers outside of America, a majority (six) of Gazosa’s flavors are citrus, including all four original flavors. There’s a simple reason for this. You ready? Keller explains the secret, saying, “Francesco Tonna just used what he had available, experimented and tested the flavors amongst his loyal drinkers.” Mind blowing, right? What we’re getting at is this little, independent Swiss family business has been making soda the old fashioned way with real ingredients for a long time. They might just be one of the soda universe’s best kept secrets.

We wanted our first Gazosa review to remain true to the original four flavors, but also to be a little adventurous. We went with Pompelmo. We figured if you can make a divisive flavor like grapefruit taste good in soda form, then you probably know what you’re doing. Turns out Pompelmo was the second flavor Tonna cooked up and Keller notes it’s actually the original Limone with real grapefruit added to the recipe for some added bitterness. You can actually see bits of pulp in the bottle. If you’re curious (even if you’re not), Pompelmo means “grapefruit” in Italian. As with all Gazosa citrus flavors, the fruit comes “from Italian traders to the south of Switzerland,” says Keller. The flavor is the company’s international best-seller.

Where to get: Gazosa La Fiorenzana is available at many fine Swiss restaurants and cafes. It’s currently distributed only in Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany.

Nose: Grapefruit. Real grapefruit. It’s like cutting open a grapefruit and holding the peel up to your nose. It’s actually pretty remarkable. There’s also some lemon on the nose as well.

Taste: Sweet lemon; tartness; grapefruit; bitter carbonation. There’s a bittersweet element to this soda that authentically ties the whole drink together. The lemon is more prominent in the flavor profile than the nose, but the bitterness of real lemon shines through in combination with the tart sweetness of a grapefruit. The carbonation is a rush of intensity at the beginning of each sip that amplifies the bitter lemon notes. This gradually fades into a sweeter lemon-grapefruit hybrid. The lemon at this point becomes more candied akin to a traditional lemon-lime soda, but the grapefruit really does taste like real grapefruit juice. It’s bitter, then it’s sweet and ends with a mild tartness. An authentic citrus soda.

Finish: Tart grapefruit with a light dusting of sugar that gradually fades. The linger on this is perfect.

Rating: The best grapefruit soda in the world may very well hail from Switzerland. Gazosa has taken one of America’s most divisive fruits and presented it in a soda with juice to taste fresh, enough tartness to remain true to the lemon and grapefruit, and enough sweetness to keep soda purists happy. It’s very rich in citrus. The juices are very prominent. The grapefruit juice really holds its flavor. If you don’t like grapefruit, you wouldn’t like this. But why would you be drinking grapefruit soda to begin with, you weirdo? The lemon goes through more of a transformation, at one point bitter, and at another much sweeter. Americans aren’t used to sodas that garner a large portion of their sweetness from the natural sugars in the juices. Compared to American soda, even some of the artisinal fruit ones, this probably tastes more like a carbonated juice than soda if I had to choose. But then there’s that distinctive soda fizz and sugar rush on some sips. It’s a nice mixture. The Swiss have beautiful women and make beautiful soda. That’s already two reasons for me to find a new girlfriend in Switzerland. This is a rare treat for us at Five Star to review something from so far away. The only sad thing is that unless you’re heading to Switzerland, this will be out of your reach. The one that got away. Maybe you should go chase after it. Just maybe. Fünf sterne.

lemon