Cola

Glam Cola

History: Nermin Çelik wanted to invent a soda that existed, in her own words, “in this realm between weirdness and brilliance.” Çelik and her family live in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin, Germany, a flashy area that inspired the name “Glam Cola.” It’s a clear cola that might remind a few readers of Crystal Pepsi. But Glam Cola is designed to taste “fresh and more elegant than common cola,” says Çelik. You can’t have a soda called “Glam Cola” and not explain the name first. But the inspiration behind the soda’s creation came from Çelik’s children. She notes “I saw them drinking it in alarming quantities and the huge amount of sugar worried me.” Newsflash: it isn’t just America where soda has a bad reputation. Unable to find a replacement that satisfied her motherly standards, Çelik decided to make one herself and by March 2013, Glam Cola hit the market. Looking at the label, Glam Cola is an interesting mish-mash of flavors: cola, lemonade and ginger. It’s also devoid of phosphoric acid and contains a large amount of caffeine at around 53 mg in a 12 oz. bottle. This is very similar to Mountain Dew. So, low sugar and lots of caffeine. Yeah, definitely sounds like a soda for kids. Glam Cola is not made with cane sugar and instead uses fructose (not high-fructose corn syrup… there is a difference). Another big marketing point for the soda is that it’s vegan-friendly. Çelik adds “Glam Cola is not only vegan but also halal and kosher.” I think this also makes it the most politically correct soda on earth. Çelik is currently at work on new flavors, including rose and lavender. No word on how glamorous those flavors will be, but we’re about to get pretty with the original.

Where to get: For a list of where to purchase Glam Cola, check out the store’s online locator. The brand is in the midst of expanding sales to Eastern Europe, Russia, and China. At the time of this review, Glam Cola is not sold online. If you are outside of Germany, your best bet is to contact the company.

Nose: Traditional cola; mild lemon; light cinnamon.

Taste: Bitterness; cinnamon; lemon. This is quite bitter for a cola. It has a very nontraditional taste. Surprising considering it smelled quite a bit like cola with notes of lemon. And there is definitely some lemon in this that you can taste, but there’s also ginger and I don’t quite taste that element considering how powerful ginger typically is in soda. Some of that bitterness may come from the ginger and lemon, but I think what you’re primarily tasting here is actually the caffeine. We all know caffeine can make you hyper, but most of us don’t know what it tastes like. Raw caffeine is very bitter. It really comes through in the flavor profile here. There’s no cinnamon in this, but the combination of the cola and bitterness create a flavor that’s very similar. Overall, this is nothing like an American cola. It isn’t particularly sweet and is noticeably bitter.

Finish: Bitter cinnamon with mild, traditional cola notes.

Rating: Glam Cola is a clear cola that tastes way outside the normal realm of what’s expected from this particular category of soda. The label of “cola” evokes a certain expectation of flavor and this is nothing like anything to which you’re accustomed. Sodas outside of America are often less sweet and more bitter. This certainly fits that bill. We were told the primary elements in this are cola, lemon and ginger. You definitely taste traditional lemon and cola influences, though they’re both subtle. What isn’t as subtle is the bitterness. It’s harsh. The combination of ingredients creates a cinnamon flavor that when mixed with the lemon and cola notes, just enhances the soda’s overall bitterness. Americans are likely to be turned off by the lack of sugar. I mean, look at how many of us have diabetes. The flavors just didn’t work for us. It’s as simple as that. Glam Cola has a fancy name and a foreign flavor that doesn’t beg for a second date. She’s the beautiful German vixen you found at the club in stilettos and a sequin dress, but just doesn’t have much personality. Now, any fans of bitter sodas out there should give this a shot the next time your travels take you to Deutschland. As for the rest of you, looking will tide you over. Glam Cola is beautiful to gaze at, but its flavor isn’t so glamorous.

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Taylor’s Tonics: Chai Cola

History: You could hear the seriousness in his voice. “We would’ve gone out of business,” says Taylor Peck. It was a grave error, one that would’ve cost his new venture over $40,000 in expenses. $40,000 they didn’t have to lose. And then, a break through. “It was kind of a miracle moment,” he says, the tension still in his voice. Taylor Peck is the founder and brewmaster of Taylor’s Tonics soda kitchen and retail soda shop, The Fizzary; both are located in San Francisco. Their flagship product is the one we review today, chai cola. But it was never supposed to happen.

Taylor and his team started out in Santa Cruz, California in 1996 making and importing teas. They quickly got into chai tea and then transitioned into using organic ingredients. Eventually they started making tea concentrates that they sold to clients. Peck become known for his sophisticated, flavorful tea brews. Business was good, so good he relocated to San Francisco in 2002. Six years later, he almost destroyed it all. “I made a major blunder as a brewmaster,” he chuckles over the phone. You see, there are a lot of ingredients and precision that go into making fine tea. In 2008, Peck was making a 16:1 chai tea concentrate. When he went to add the citric acid, he was off by one decimal point, meaning he added 10 times too much. The batch was useless as tea. This was a major problem, a costly problem. Peck estimates he would’ve lost over $40,000 and bankrupted his business if he didn’t do something. So Peck started thinking. And tinkering. And adding things. I mean why not; he had nothing to lose. Just kidding; he had everything to lose. And then one day… voila. Peck discovered that by carbonating this liquid mess and adding vanilla, it transformed into a pretty damn good soda.

Taylor’s Tonics now markets this soda as Chai Cola. It’s the company’s most recognizable product and the one that saved his business. As you might imagine, there’s a strong tea influence. In fact, 98% of its ingredients are also found in teas. In 2009, Peck began selling it to the public. Eventually he and his team sold off the tea concentrate side of the business to focus solely on craft sodas using tea ingredients. He explains, “It’s still our product. We just took it to a different plane.” All of the ingredients are natural and listed right on the bottle. “We do a combination of organic black tea extract, steamed black tea, and yerba maté teas.” You’ll find spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and three different ginger elements. Like most colas, this one also contains caffeine. Taylor’s Tonics also sells two other year-round flavors and a few seasonal selections. Three years ago, they added a retail soda fountain next to their store called The Fizzary. You’ll never hear Peck brag about his soda, but if you ask his opinion, he won’t shy away from giving it you; “We say little, do much. We don’t want to over promote and we make recipes that aren’t based in hype.” Bold. But can you blame him? I would be too if I pulled some wizard shit like he did. Let’s see if his soda is just as magical.

Where to get: At the time of this review, the online shop at Taylor’s Tonics is down for repair. If you’re looking at this way past June 4, 2015… go give it a peak. Until then, Soda Emporium and Galco’s have you covered for single bottles and Amazon has the hook-up on 12-packs.

Nose: Vanilla cola; chai tea; cloves. One of the best-smelling sodas my nose has come across.

Taste: Cola; tea leaves; cardamom; cinnamon; vanilla. This is a mouthful with a flavor profile akin to a fine dining experience. Lots of things are going on here. First there’s the unmistakable taste of black tea with a sweet kick. This segues into a smooth cola body with notes of vanilla, cinnamon and cardamom. The vanilla isn’t quite as pronounced on the tongue as it was on the nose. The cola and black tea flavors sustain throughout the drink, but the cinnamon and vanilla fade in favor of light ginger and cloves. I’d love to see that vanilla linger just a little bit longer. For a soda with black tea as a bold ingredient, it works well with contrasting flavors like vanilla, ginger and cinnamon.

Finish: Creamy cloves; herbal notes; chai. I wouldn’t necessarily call this a creamy soda, but rather a smooth one. However, the finish is certainly creamy, but it’s more of a botanical creaminess instead of one rich in vanilla. Interesting, but also very nice.

Rating: This is certainly an artisanal soda of the highest degree. Its flavor profile is rich with spices and herbs. Black tea leaves, cloves, vanilla, cinnamon and mild ginger are just a few highlights. The highest compliment I can give this soda is this: it’s a botanical craft soda that non-botanical soda fans will enjoy because its flavors work on multiple levels. The company fuses a blend of natural ingredients to form a tasty herbal elixir that really does taste like cola infused with chai. That said, with so many herbs and spices, this won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Get it? ‘Cuz there’s tea in it. Ingredients like cardamom, yerba maté, and cloves are likely to shock the taste buds of some drinkers, but more likely to delight the tongues of most. I’m still trying to figuring out how to do that with women to this day. This isn’t a soda you’ll drink every day, but you’d really be missing out not to try this work of originality and revisit it every now and then. You can taste the effort Taylor’s Tonics puts in every bottle and the quality of ingredients used. It leaves a lasting impact. Chai Cola is a great fancy alternative to alcohol at cocktail parties and also makes a really fun and weird whiskey and coke, something that certainly won’t stop most of us. Do yourself a favor and sample this botanical beauty.

Triple AAA Soda Company: Kola

History: When you think of Oklahoma, lots of things come to mind. OU Football, hating the Longhorns, massive tornadoes, emptiness. Soda probably doesn’t set off any light bulbs unless you know of Pop’s Soda Ranch, one of the largest craft soda retailers in America. And this story coincidentally has a connection to Pop’s. But we start in a candy store, of all places. According to Triple AAA Soda President, Justin Thomas, Bricktown Candy Company opened its doors in Oklahoma City about seven years ago. He recounts a reporter coming into the store for a story on its opening. The reporter asked, “What else are you guys going to do besides sell candy?” seemingly hinting that wouldn’t be enough for the start-up business to survive on. Thomas, an avid old soda fan, opened a large notebook revealing dozens and dozens of old soda logos. But it was the one hanging off in the distance behind him that the reporter noticed. It was Triple AAA, an old Oklahoma City soda company that started way back in 1937, but disappeared in 1974. After contacting a relative of the old company, they gave the ok and Triple AAA began its comeback via Bricktown Candy Company. Knowing that Pop’s Soda Ranch produced its own Roundbar Root Beer, Thomas knew that needed to be Triple AAA’s flagship flavor. So he purchased the original root beer recipe, but added a few tweaks. As for the other 24 flavors Triple AAA used to produce, he decided to bring back five in total. All other Triple AAA flavors are new recipes because as Thomas said, “No one really remembered the other flavors.” The goal for Triple AAA is to become a large regionally distributed soda. But at its core, Thomas says “We try to make a local product and we’re trying to bring back some of Oklahoma City’s history.” Now, after really pumping up their root beer, we’re trying the kola.

Where to get: Bricktown Candy Company sells their Triple AAA soda in their online store, though currently it looks like only root beer, cream soda and cherry are available. You can call them directly via their site and they’ll be happy to set you up. It’s also available in specialty stores and candy shops in Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, Louisiana, and Arkansas.

Nose: Kola nut; vanilla.

Taste: Kola nut; vanilla; cane sugar. This is pretty straight forward and simple. But it’s solid. Soft kola nut washes over the palate as the taste buds get introduced to this take on cola. The cane sugar in this is the most noticeable element. A very nice use of it, reminiscent of Mexican Coke. Definitely on the sweeter side. There’s some vanilla undertones in this, but not as prominent as they are when sniffing. It’s a soft cola with traditional tiny bubbles you typically find in this variety, though in this case the carbonation isn’t as flush in the mouth. The bubbles quickly fade. This has a classic old fashion, glass bottled soda taste.

Finish: Cane sugar and kola with some very light notes of cinnamon.

Rating: This is simple, but well done. It’s a company that began in 1937, and though its recipe has since changed, this soda definitely harkens back to the old days when glass bottle sodas were purchased after school at the ice cream store on the way home. I’d say it’s something like a cross between RC Cola and Mexican Coke. It’s a soft cola. Very drinkable, though it’s a little sweet. I think it’s probably missing something small that could take it over the top. Maybe cinnamon or some fruit notes. But this is something you should drink. Little bottlers like Triple AAA are what make the craft soda game fun. What a name too. Who actually calls themselves triple letter… and then promptly spells out the letter three times as if you needed guidance? I’ll tell you who else. This guy. I bet this probably goes great with booze too. I’m going on a blind date after this, so I’m definitely about to find out. Get a bottle, crack it open, and in the immortal words of Triple HHH (who should really sponsor this)… time to play the game.

Faygo: Rock N’ Rye

History: Remember that girl from middle school whose hair was a different color seemingly every week? The one who was cool with being weird? The one you work for now? We’re all a little different. The ones who truly stand out are the people that embrace it. And in the world of soda, being different is so hot right now. Faygo has always been a little weird. And they’re not afraid of it. Marketing Specialist Dawn Burch says enthusiastically, “We offer flavors that other companies are scared to try…. We’ve become this cult classic somehow.” Indeed, Faygo is known for their variety. Currently, they boast over 60 different flavors, from the Rock and Rye we’ll be reviewing today to their newest creation, cotton candy. How do they do it? “We have a really talented team of scientists,” Burch says. I get the flavor giggles just thinking about it. But you might know the Detroit-based company for a slightly more insane *looks around for approval* reason. Insane Clown Posse. Juggalos. The dudes who paint their faces and rap… I guess that’s what you call it. A quick Google Image search on Faygo doesn’t disappoint. Juggalos often spray each other and get drenched with Faygo soda at concerts. Why? Who knows. Maybe that face paint has some strong chemicals in it. Burch mentions how Juggalos will often call the company for wedding orders so they can ensure a proper soda shower. I’ll save this idea for my first wedding. It should free up that weekend for me.

Back to the soda. Ben and Perry Feigenson founded Faygo in 1907 and began basing their flavors on desserts. They’re been in the same manufacturing facility since the 1930’s. Today, Faygo is famous for its Red Pop and Rock and Rye. Both of these are part of the retro glass-bottle soda line Faygo produces that also includes four other flavors: cream soda, grape, orange, and root beer. These six sodas are all made with cane sugar. The rest of Faygo’s sodas do not contain cane sugar. The company is good for about one new flavor a year. We can’t tell you what their next one is… but it’s something you wouldn’t traditionally think of as a beverage flavor. Today, we sample Rock and Rye. Introduced in the 1920’s, it was named after the vintage rock candy and rye whiskey cocktail. We’re told this one doesn’t contain whiskey. We can’t guarantee it won’t by the time we’re done.

Where to get: Faygo has one of the oldest online soda stores in the world. It opened in 1998, right about when Al Gore invented the Internet! Not really. But maybe. If you’re beholden to Amazon, they’ve also got your back. Faygo is nationally distributed. If you can’t find it, I’d be surprised. If not, call the company. They’re nice people who want their soda to go in your body.

 

Nose: Classic pink bubble gum strips; cream soda.

Taste: Vanilla; cherry cream; tartness; frothy carbonation. The carbonation in this soda really accentuates its flavors. It’s also the first noticeable element you taste. Tiny, frothy bubbles flood the mouth before a distinct creamy vanilla-cherry flavor enters the picture. That said, carbonation this noticeable may be a turn off for some. For a deep burgundy craft soda, Faygo’s Rock and Rye is rich with creamy vanilla as opposed to intense bubblegum as is often found in red creams. The bubblegum flavor in this soda is discreet, like a mirage in a desert of tiny, creamy vanilla bubbles. It’s there, but only as a complimentary flavor component. We were told that Detroit natives think of this as a strawberry cream soda, and the strawberry is there, but it’s really old-school cherry notes that we taste. This has the richness of a cream soda with the carbonation and mild fruitiness of a cherry cola. Not overly complex, but highly drinkable and a delight on the taste buds.

Finish: Cherries and cream; deep and rich. The longer the drinker lets the flavors linger, they’re joined by creamy, mild vanilla undertones.

Rating: We’ve written before that cream sodas can basically boil down to two flavor profiles: vanilla and/or bubblegum. Faygo’s Rock and Rye straddles the line between cola and cream soda and has the best execution of bubblegum I’ve ever tasted in a soda. It’s light, creamy, and rolled in a bed of sweet vanilla and mild cherry. Not too overpowering, but has enough flavor to delight the taste buds, while being undercut by a semi-tart cherry cola taste. It’s truly an achievement in soda flavor engineering. Easily one of the most drinkable sodas I’ve had in years. I’m delighted to say this truly exceeded my expectations. Unfortunately, I don’t think my date last night said the same to her friends about me. If you’re reading this, please return my texts. This probably leans more toward the cream soda side of things, though its carbonation is distinctly that of a cola. While the frothy little bubbles in this bottle serve to highlight its excellent flavors, they may also be its only downside. The bubbles can be intense and always greet the tongue before the flavors develop. It is a necessary buffer. But this is a minor complaint, and one I’m not personally making here. After all these years, what could be called Faygo’s most original flavor is arguably its greatest. Its staying power is undeniable and its deliciousness is unquestionable. It’s cream cola. If you love craft soda, just the thought that this combination is even possible to bottle should give you the tingles. We all need some soda tingles every now and then, right? Put this in your regular rotation.

Boots Beverages: Caramel Cola

History: Mark Kristen has been around the block. He’s a veteran of the liquid business. Talking with him over the phone, his southern Texas drawl is grizzled, yet soothing. I get the sense that before talking to me, he just got done changing the tires on his tractor. Probably for fun. But Mark Kristen also runs a third generation family business called Kristen Distributing down in Bryan, Texas. His grandpa started the company in 1930 and ran it up until after World War II, at which point his father, “Boots” Kristin, took the reigns. It was “Boots” who started Boots Beverages, making seasonal sodas like strawberry, lemon and peach in glass bottles. Back then, the soda business depended on refillable bottles. But customers weren’t returning bottles for deposits. Instead, they littered the streets with them. In 1962, Boots Beverages closed down. Mark Kristen had no plans to revisit it… until a client made a suggestion.

You see, Kristen Distributing already delivered sodas, but they didn’t have the rights to distribute in the area of this specific client. “You’ve got the background,” they told Kristen. In 2013, Boots Beverages made its return with five flavors including atypical offerings like coconut cream, dewberry and caramel cola. They wanted flavors that were available back in the old picture shows of the 1950’s. According to Kristen, his company moves roughly 2 million cases of beer/alcohol and 1 million cases of non-alcoholic beverages a year. The revenue from that business creates an advantage for Boots Beverages. They can take risks. Kristen says, “I see the movement in craft as opportunity and not competition.” They make soda for fun. For the people. But they’re serious about taste. Every single flavor the company produces is signed off on by an expert sommelier. Today, we review caramel cola. Giddy up, partner.

Where to get: You can buy soda from Boots Beverages directly online from the company’s website. Their sodas are distributed in Texas and St. Louis, Missouri. Random, but true. The company is currently looking for distributors and has aspirations of eventually becoming distributed nation-wide.

Nose: Cane sugar juice with the aroma of sweet maple syrup. Unmistakable.

Taste: Maple syrup; sweet, mild caramel; smooth milk chocolate. The flavor profiles in Caramel Cola by Boots Beverages are distinct. Perhaps the biggest surprise is on the initial sip, something that doesn’t taste like the rest of the soda. Once your lips meet the liquid, you’re greeted with a sweet, fruity note. It’s somewhere between fig and sweet prune. It makes you think, but before the thought is complete, the rest of the soda’s flavors come through after a buffer of crisp carbonation. The body of the soda is sweet, yet defined. Like a mixture of mellow maple syrup infused with hand-pulled caramel. Purists may expect a more defined caramel flavor, but the maple notes work as a nice compliment, whether or not it’s intended. The more you drink the soda, the richer the flavors become and the more the caramel takes over. You’ll also notice undertones of milk chocolate as your mouth gets down with this thing.

Finish: Creamy maple syrup that lingers for a few seconds and transitions into a sweeter caramel than in the body of the soda. Cocoa nibs enter the picture and become more prominent than the maple as the bottle draws to a close.

Rating: Mark Kristen made it clear that Boots Beverages produces their sodas for fun. So why not swing for the fences with their flavors? Caramel cola is a rare breed in the craft soda game. I’m hard-pressed to name another. Boots has cornered the market for now, and they’ve set a high standard. This is a soda with almost two totally different flavor components for me: the initial candied fruitiness and the richer caramel/maple flavors that form the soda’s overall body. I have to say the soda’s biggest success is the unexpected deliciousness you get at the beginning of every sip with notes of fig and prune. There’s even a brief tart, carbonated bite right before the caramel and maple take over. And then it hit me: that’s the cola aspect of this craft soda. You get a fresh, fruity cola taste up front and then a milkier, richer flavor profile of caramel, maple and cocoa nibs at the back. Mystery solved. Case closed. I feel like I just completed a 24,000 piece puzzle and then immediately beat the Cracker Barrel game on the first try. Yeah, I’m single. Some may be turned off by the sweetness of this soda, but its rich flavors help distract from the sugar. Notify me if you find another caramel soda on the market. When you don’t, that should be reason enough to buy a ticket and get on this flavor train. Keep your eye out for Boots Beverages as a company on the rise in the coming years. The Texas craft soda jerks will even be introducing four new flavors in early 2016. We can’t tell you the details, but in the words of Kristen, “they’ll blow your mind.”

Drink More Good: Cassia Kream

History: Craft soda is hot right now. You know what the hottest trend in craft soda is right now? Craft soda… syrup. That’s right, do it yourself! Don’t be a slave to the confines of the man and his portions on taste! Just add some seltzer water and poof! Drink More Good by Jason Schuler started in 2012 to “make this world a better place.” A Bold statement. But one that has a noble explanation. The company has partnered with generosity.org in an effort to help make clean water more accessible across the world through sustainable water wells. In 2014, Drink More Good raised over $14,000 toward the cause. And that’s great. But you’re more interested in what goes in your mouth. And in this case, it ain’t water. Well, actually, it mostly is. Drink More Good makes three different soda syrups. Perhaps the most unique is the one we sample today: Cassia Kream. It’s sort of a hybrid cola/cream soda, leaning more toward the former. Schuler is proud of his creation. He says, “When colas were made with real ingredients, you would have found coriander, star anise, lavender, citrus, and roasted kola nut in a lot of those recipes. I started my spice blend here, then added cinnamon and vanilla.” So there’s a lot going on in this baby. Schuler’s Drink More Good was a 2014 finalist for the Martha Stewart American Made Awards. He adds, “We’re bringing soda back to what it was. Everything you’re tasting is a real herb or spice that’s been crushed by me in an eight inch mortar and pestle” (in his retail spice shop).

Where to get: Drink More Good is sold online through the company’s web site. Bottles can be purchased individually or as a three-pack.

Nose: Raw, organic honey; anise.

Taste: Lavender flower; honey; cane sugar; mild anise; cinnamon and vanilla. There’s a very distinctive organic honey taste to this. It’s very pleasant and refreshing, almost relaxing. The only thing is… there’s no honey in Cassia Kream. So what we’re really tasting is cane sugar being transformed by the spices in the syrup and how they blend with the seltzer water. Lavender is very apparent and soothing. Cinnamon and anise come in next, though the anise isn’t too overwhelming like in some root beers. Often, this almost tastes like a sweet herbal tea with the addition creamy vanilla. It has a very distinctive flavor and the use of spices here are mesmerizing to the tongue. There’s even the faintest hint of lingering orange throughout the body of the drink. A relaxing honey taste is what rises above everything else. If you told me this didn’t actually have honey in it without showing me the ingredients, I wouldn’t believe you.

Finish: Less honey and more cane sugar that fades into mellow cinnamon and anise star. All of this is carried along by a wave of underlying vanilla and citrus that accentuate the flavors they’re carrying.

Rating: Cassia Kream isn’t your every day cola, but in the world of craft soda, every day cola is a thing of the past. Schuler’s starting point of traditional cola and label of “kream” have landed him elsewhere in a foreign, yet flavorful paradise of herbs and sweetness. It’s kind of like when you’re on Tinder and swipe the wrong person, but it works out in your favor. Trust me, this rarely happens. I would know; I’m often on the wrong end of it. But rare wonders do happen and Drink More Good has created a rare wonder. Cassia Kream does not taste like cola. It does not taste like cream soda. It’s truly on its own island of originality. Think flavors and not necessarily ingredients – this tastes of sweet honey and spices to form a highly drinkable herbal tea-like soda with undertones of vanilla. That’s the best description I can give for something that truly needs to be experienced to understand. Notes of cinnamon, citrus and anise are all apparent throughout the body of the soda, while a rich raw honey taste brings it all home. Wild, earthy and full of flavor. If you were anti soda-syrup before reading this, I hope we’ve at least opened you to the possibility. Drink More Good, you should.

Swamp Pop: Noble Cane Cola

History: You sit on your front porch. Fog rises off the lake. You see eyes peak above the surface before descending again into the grassy marsh. Sweat drips from your forehead and spills on to your half buttoned-up shirt. The humidity is smoldering. A love-torn voice echoes in the background from your record player as you reach for your mason jar that’s consumed by condensation. This is Louisiana. And Swamp Pop, started in 2013 by cousins John Petersen and Collin Cormier, is all about creating old school glass-bottle sodas with a distinctly cajun identity. Says Petersen, “We wanted to take soda profiles people were more broadly familiar with, and then twist them with a Lousiana flavor.” In fact, Swamp Pop is a double entendre as both the name of the company and a classic Louisiana style of music. It sort of sounds like the blues meets honky-tonk meets 50’s rock. The cousins knew the cajun influence had a wide appeal across the country, but they wanted to stay authentic. All of their sodas contain 100% pure Louisiana cane sugar from Louisiana farmers, natural flavors and natural color. Petersen says they wanted to make their soda flavors “in layers,” in order to create something a little more sophisticated for the drinker. The company produces six different flavors. Today, we try Noble Cane Cola, Swamp Pop’s twist on traditional cola made with Louisiana Brown Turkey Figs. They also wanted it it taste more herbal than the average cola while still maintaining sweetness. Petersen adds confidently, “The cola is a cola for grown-ups.”

Where to get: Swamp Pop is mostly sold in the gulf coast region and is national to some extent. Cost Plus World Market carries their sodas. You can also buy it directly from their web site. To find the nearest retail location near you, use the company’s online locator.

Nose: Sweet sugar; fig blossoms; candied plums.

Taste: Sweetness; cinnamon; candied fig; mild brown sugar. This tastes unique. Swamp Pop boasts about the Brown Turkey Figs they use in their cola and that must be what I’m tasting here. It’s sweet, but not syrupy. It’s crisp, yet not overbearing. Right away you get a flash of sweetness that flows into a creamy candied fig taste which glides across the tongue. Next comes a wave of carbonation that brings with it robust cinnamon sugar to pair with that unique fig flavor. The closest thing I can compare the fig flavor to is a very rich, sweet, fruity cherry. But that’s still not quite right. It’s just so original. You almost get a little bit of brown sugar too. Incredibly drinkable. The flavors all work here. The Louisiana cane sugar really brings out the fruity fig notes in this truly original cola. Notes of cinnamon and brown sugar undercut the main body of the soda. There’s also the slightest hint of an herbal taste to this, but that’s really an afterthought. All around brilliantly executed.

Finish: Creamy cinnamon and ripe fig that linger briefly before your mouth is ready for another sip.

Rating: Immaculate. Swamp Pop has taken an old favorite, infused it with vintage Louisiana flavors, and yet somehow brought it into the 21st century. Wonderfully original. The Brown Turkey Figs form the base of Noble Cane Cola’s flavor. It’s sweet, different, and even a little fruity. The underlying notes of cinnamon reign in some of the sweetness and make this an easy-drinking soda. It’s even got a nice foamy head due to the company’s use of quillaia, an ingredient more often found in root beers and cream sodas. Enjoy a couple bottles in a sitting or just sip on it to savor the flavors. This works both ways. It’s a cola like you’ve never had, and one your mouth just has to experience. Have you ever made out with someone who was like definitely a couple levels above you, and your mouth didn’t even know things like that could happen inside of it? Me neither. But I imagine the level of joy and surprise in that situation would be comparable. Put on your finest Bayou wear, grab a Noble Cane Cola and watch the gators swim into the sunset. Most of us will have to settle for a YouTube substitute *shudders*, but the point is: this is more than worth your time and money. Louisiana is killing the soda game right now. We endorse this with five stars.

Maine Root Mexicane Cola

History: Maine Root is a well-known craft soda brand. It’s nationally distributed, but despite its widespread availability, the company’s reputation is still darling. Sometimes the bigger a brand is, the harder the craft soda connoisseur will push back against it. Not so here. It still feels genuine. Maybe it’s because Maine Root is still a family business. Maybe it’s because they place a major emphasis on “organic” and “fair trade.” Or maybe people just love Maine. It is just kind of hanging out up there, all cutesy in the northeast. But it’s probably something you don’t see: the owners. Mark Seiler was working in a pizza place that sold a root beer he loved. Pepsi bought it out. Aw HELL NAH! That led to Maine Root and the creation of its root beer by brothers Mark and Matt Seiler. Today’s review, Mexicane Cola, is the company’s newest regular soda and came out about three years ago due to customer demand. What the owners will repeatedly emphasize to you is that Maine Root is the first and only company to use fair trade, organic cane sugar juice. They source it from Paraguay. This is in contrast to cane sugar. It’s also “incredibly expensive,” according to Matt Seiler. Let’s drink it in.

Where to get: Maine Root is a nationally distributed soda. You probably already knew about it. It can be found in well-known stores like Whole Foods and O’Naturals. And if you can’t find it in your city, order it online.

Nose: Not much of a scent on this, but sugar is what hits the nose most.

Taste: Cane sugar; soft kola nut; nutty; light cinnamon. Right away the kola nut is upfront. You’ll want to compare this to Mexican Coca Cola based on the name, but the two aren’t that similar in flavor. Coke is more bitter due to its use of high fructose corn syrup, while Mexicane Cola’s organic cane sugar juice gives it a sweeter, earthier taste. Maine Root keeps the spice in this a secret, but you can taste them swirling around after the kola nut wears off. Cinnamon is identifiable, but it’s very faint. The cane sugar flavor is constant throughout, which is the staple of a mexican cola. Definitely more a rustic flavor than most colas. The sugar permeates the mouth. It’s the soda’s defining trait, but at times it overpowers the spices.

Finish: Cane sugar juice that trails off into spices.

Rating: A new take on an old classic, Mexicane Cola is anchored by its use of fair trade cane sugar juice and secret spices. The cane sugar powers this soda from beginning to end. It’s a natural sweetness not found in many other sodas. The spices help mellow the intensity of the sugar’s flavor, but it still packs quite a punch. If you’re not a fan of sweeter sodas, then I’d keep looking for your dream cola. The use of kola nut in this soda plays nicely with the rest of the spices to help create a nuanced flavor profile. Unfortunately, the sugar limits the opportunity for more of those flavors to come through in the mouth. This is solid as is, but could really go to the next level without as much sweetness. Our suggestion? Try it on ice to help limit some of the sugar’s effect. If you see this in a coffee shop or grocery store, it’s worth a shot. It’s an adventurous take on a soda that’s often so dull, and the craft soda world needs more adventurers.