Cream Soda

Hank’s: Orange Cream

History: Innnnnn West Philadelphia, born and raised, Hank’s Gourmet Soda is callin’ your name. Hank’s is one of those interesting sodas that came well after the old-school vintage stuff, but well before the craft soda renaissance of the mid-2010’s. The company was founded in (do we really have to tell you?) Philadelphia in 1995 by Bill Dunman and his business partners. The group came from a background in beer distribution, handling popular east coast brands like Yuengling and Sam Adams. But it wasn’t always smooth sailing in the beer industry. Dunman calls Pennsylvania’s beer distribution laws as “archaic,” and after years of fighting the system, the friends decided to try their hands at something a little less regulated: soda. “We all kind of knew the potential of brown-bottled root beer,” Dunman says. It was also a little bit about local pride. He notes that “We really felt like we needed a gourmet soda, specifically root beer, for Philadelphia.” As you can imagine, Hank’s started with root beer in ’95 before adding diet root beer, vanilla cream and Wishniak black cherry a year later. And can we just talk about how damn beautiful the bottle is? Look at that thing. It’s more attractive than my sister’s kid. Cheryl, if you’re reading this… he still has time to grow out of it. Dunman says whether it comes to flavors, packaging, or marketing, “we always try to make the highest quality product we can.” Today’s review, orange cream, was released around 1998. Predictably, the company designed it to taste like an old fashioned orange creamsicle. Just a side note: basically every bottler names that as the goal, but not everyone achieves it. The struggle is real in the craft soda game too, dawg. Dunman wouldn’t reveal many secrets about the ingredients, but did say they strive for big vanilla and orange flavors, before adding that Hank’s doesn’t carbonate its soda as much as other bottlers in order to achieve a more “full-bodied flavor.” And when you buy the soda via the Hank’s website, a portion of the proceeds go toward Spark Philadelphia, an organization that lists as part of its mission statement, “Helping underserved youth become motivated learners and connected community members, and by encouraging adults to nurture the next generation through mentoring and volunteerism.” Tip of the cap, Hank’s. Now for a pop of the cap.

Where to get: You can buy Hank’s Orange Cream Soda directly from the company’s website in 12-packs. It’s also available to purchase online in single bottles from Soda Emporium. Amazon has the hook up for 6-packs.

Nose: Vanilla; orange; creamy. Smells exactly how an orange cream soda should.

Taste: Bold orange; mild zest; frothy carbonation; vanilla cream. This is full of flavor. You’re initially hit with a wave of crisp carbonation that abruptly transforms into small, frothy bubbles. The body of Hank’s Orange Cream is an even mixture of slightly zesty orange and creamy candy vanilla. The two go hand-in-hand. It retains strong orange flavor while having enough vanilla cream flavor to make an impression on the taste buds. It’s not overly complicated in terms of a flavor profile – just two main tastes – but the two have great balance to make for an extremely smooth soda with great flavor.

Finish: Swirling orange and vanilla cream flavors. The zesty notes from the orange aren’t as prevalent in the finish, but the vanilla is slightly creamier.

Rating: The most important thing about Hank’s Orange Cream Soda is that it doesn’t make any mistakes when it comes to taste and gets better as you drink it. It’s hard to ask more from a soda. I think the same thing could be said about me, but that doesn’t stop my soon-to-be ex girlfriend from critiquing every single thing I do. You also have to commend this soda for what it’s not. It’s not funky-tasting. It’s not too creamy or heavy. It’s not too orange-y. Hank’s Orange Cream Soda is a perfect example of the Goldilocks Principle: it’s just right. Simply put, if I had to give a recommendation for an orange cream soda, Hank’s would be the one. It has great classic orange soda flavor with added zesty notes that provide some nice acidity in contrast with the creamy vanilla flavors. There’s great balance between the orange and vanilla, perhaps the soda’s greatest quality. This creates an enjoyable mouth feel along with the soda’s frothy carbonation. I wouldn’t mind if the orange was even more zesty to create more contrast, but that’s being pretty nitpicky at this point. The only way I could see someone not liking this is if they just don’t like orange. Here at Five Star Soda, we try so many sodas that we rarely finish the bottle when doing tastings. Hank’s sent us two bottles of this flavor and they were both gone within 20 minutes after taking the photos. If we haven’t convinced you this is in an elite tier yet, then I don’t know if we’re friends anymore.

Five Stars

Fiz: Classic Cream Soda

History: After introducing myself and informing him of my intentions, Lou Petix greets me on the other end of the line with a guttural New Yorker’s, “Hey, how you doin’?” His disposition is friendly and talkative, yet his accent is deep and gritty, making him sound two stories tall. He and his brother Joe are third generation owners of College Club Beverages in Rochester, New York. “We started as kids here at 8 years-old…. It was just a natural progression” he explains. His grandpa, Luigi Petix, was an Italian immigrant who came over and started Family Bottling Works in 1922 before the business was renamed College Club Beverages after World War II. The company became famous for their refillable bottles and to this day still employs that method for their 18 flavors of College Club sodas. They’re old school. They don’t even have an official working website. Just a Facebook page. They still buy the raw materials and make their soda syrups in house, something that’s becoming more and more rare these days with the advent of flavor houses and culinary chemists. Now here’s the slightly confusing part, so follow closely. College Club has multiple brands under its company umbrella. You can only buy actual College Club soda in Rochester. The sodas you’ll see on the shelves around the greater New York area and available online are labeled “Fiz” and “Primo.” Fiz covers the 13 flavors of craft soda the company sells, while Primo is a line of two Italian sodas. You’re probably thinking… why? Why not just consolidate all of them? The answer is because while there is some overlap in flavors between College Club and Fiz (both brands have classics like cream soda and root beer, etc.), the recipes aren’t exactly the same. This is because up until the 1950’s Fiz was a totally different soda company that ran on its own. After calling it quits, the Petix brother liked their flavors, labels, and bottles so much, that they bought out the entirety of the company’s resources. Today, they use Fiz as their craft soda line. That’s the story. We promise there’s no more twists. This isn’t a review directed by M. Night Shyamalan.

When trying to decide which flavor of Fiz to review, we consulted Lou. He suggested the root beer or ginger beer (Fiz’s most popular flavor) before mentioning in passing an interesting tidbit about the cream soda. There’s a secret ingredient in it atypical to cream soda. “There’s a little trick to it that my father taught me,” he teased, noting it’s mild, but there. My reaction anytime someone tells me there’s a secret ingredient is to immediately crack the case. What could it be? Something New York-y? Petix did say “we try to access our raw materials as locally as possible,” while also adding they prefer natural flavors. Intrigued, I prodded him further about the cream soda. “This is what we call our classic cream soda,” saying it was very heavy on vanilla flavor. So in the end, he didn’t budge. But that makes it more fun for us, and for you.

Where to get: These aren’t the easiest sodas to get a hold of if you’re outside of the New York area. You can, however, order Fiz soda online from New York Style Deli. I know the website looks a little amateur, but we called and checked it out; it’s legit. Your best option might just be to call the company at (585) 328-6665. They take orders over the phone and will ship anywhere in the continental U.S.

Nose: Almond; cherry; pound cake. There’s a faint cream soda smell here, but it’s infused with chocolate, cherry and almond scents. Interesting and intriguing.

Taste: Fizzy; chocolate-covered cherry; vanilla; mild nuttiness; sugar. There’s elements of traditional cream soda here, and then there’s the part that gives the soda its flavor identity. You notice an initial burst of carbonation immediately, more so than an average soda, and then the unique flavors come out that separate Fiz Cream Soda from the crowd. You get all of the soda’s flavors up front spun together in a cocoon of sugary uncertainty. There’s definitely a fruity element to this that tastes like it’s paired with chocolate. After repeated tasting, I’m thinking it’s cherry. Almost like a Cherry Mash candy flavor. This is paired with vanilla and a corresponding mild almond nuttiness, but not like biting into the nut itself; more like how almond syrup tastes in pound cake. This isn’t a creamy soda, but that almond flavor gives the soda’s body a richness, something that’s pretty unusual for cream sodas that don’t have a particularly creamy mouth feel, and/or aren’t made with honey. I’m also getting some undertones of brown sugar and maybe a little bit of caramel. But the soda comes down to three flavors: vanilla, cherry-chocolate, and almond.

Finish: Vanilla sugar with notes of creamy cherry that linger for a few seconds and slowly fade. Excellent.

Rating: Fiz Classic Cream Soda by College Club Beverages ascends beyond the category’s normal realm into a distant plane of flavor even we can’t fully comprehend. But it’s good. It’s damn good. No… no, this is great. I am fanboy-ing out over how exquisite this is and I don’t even care. And it’s all about the taste. There’s a mystery flavor to this cream soda – sure you taste the vanilla and maybe a little caramel, but WHAT IS IT? It’s like a combination of chocolate and cherries with mild almond extract and maybe a little creamy brown sugar. Whatever it is exactly, it makes the soda. You won’t taste another cream soda like this one. Guessing the secret ingredient in Fiz Cream Soda is like being an 18 year-old boy and trying to hit on a 27 year-old woman: it’s fun to try, but you’ll never figure it out. Our best guess at the signature flavor is similar to what a Cherry Mash candy tastes like – a creamy cherry-chocolate flavor with notes of vanilla and nuttiness. To be clear, this is definitely more vanilla than cherry, chocolate, or almond – but the accompanying tasting notes are so unprecedented in cream soda that they stand out with noticeable contrast. We always try to find a few points to critique in sodas, but I’ve gotta admit I would change nothing about this. It’s so unique, flavorful, and delicious that it rises to the top of the cream soda category. It’s a little on the sweeter side at 46 grams of sugar per bottle, but those aforementioned flavors will keep your mind preoccupied until the last sip. Try the first half chilled straight out of the bottle for a crisper cream soda and the other half on ice for a creamier transformation. You’ll want more of this. I know we do. Fiz Cream Soda’s greatest trait isn’t even how good the soda tastes; it’s that it keeps you guessing long after you’ve finished it. There’s something special about this one. Go out of your way to taste the mystery.

Five Stars

Waynesville Soda Jerks: Raspberry Cream Soda

History: If the farmer’s market had an all-star team, these two would be its captains. Chris Allen and Megan Brown are the founders and owners of Waynesville Soda Jerks in Waynesville, North Carolina – and they’re about as farm-to-bottle as you can get. The two launched their full eight-flavor line of handcrafted sodas in May of 2015, and they’re so serious about going local with their ingredients that they literally list where they came from on the bottle. These days “handcrafted” is becoming kind of a cliche in craft soda, but for this duo the word seems appropriate. “We really like to highlight the local agriculture around western North Carolina,” says Allen. The two started by picking local wine berries from outside their home and using a Soda Stream to see if they could create something worth drinking. In April of 2013, they launched a Kickstarter, and two-and-a-half years later, they’re one of the fastest-growing small bottlers in the nation. The highlight ingredient in all Waynesville Soda Jerk Sodas is the fruit, which Brown notes “is always local,” with the exception of citrus and vanilla. Allen and Brown had been focusing solely on going the route of fruit or fruit and herb sodas until the requests for traditional flavors finally struck a chord with the two.

“People were always asking for cream soda,” Allen admits. So the jerks went to work and put their own unconventional twist on the flavor: raspberry. As a soda fan, the marriage of these two flavors is exciting. Imagine taking something that people already love and adore and making it even more stunning. On paper, this is like combining all the best parts of Beyoncé and Taylor Swift… in soda form. Who doesn’t want to look at that? Who wouldn’t want to drink that? Who wouldn’t want to just… let’s get back to the point before this gets weirder. The decision on which fruit to choose for their newest flavor was easy. Brown tells us that the two “had an outstanding source for raspberries this season,” in Wright Way Nursery. The duo fresh presses the juice from the raspberries themselves and it goes right into the soda. We weren’t told exact proportions, but when asked about how much real juice went into each bottle of raspberry cream soda, Allen responded in a serious tone with “a significant amount.” Allen and Brown made it very clear there were two distinct tasting elements to this soda: the raspberry flavor and the cream flavor. For the fruit, Allen says they went for a “very clean and pure raspberry flavor.” As for the creaminess, it was really the first “traditional” non-fruit soda flavor the two decided to bottle. So in order to achieve the taste they wanted, the duo used real vanilla beans and caramelized the cane sugar for a creaminess that balanced out the sharpness of the raspberry. They also added a little lemon juice and a pinch of sea salt for what they called “soda seasonings,” adding that they brought acidity and richness to the flavor profile. We aren’t sure exactly how they put it all together, but I’ll take $200, Alex, for funnel this in my mouth. The pair is also working on another new, more traditional flavor – but we’d hate to spoil it for you.

Where to get: You can purchase raspberry cream soda and the rest of the Waynesville Soda Jerk flavors at the company’s new online store or from Summit City Soda. And if you’re from the Waynesville area, check out these spots to pick up a bottle.

Nose: Fresh raspberries just run through the water. On first smell, you’d swear this was raspberry soda. Not much in the way of vanilla or any sort of creaminess.

Taste: Fresh raspberries; soft vanilla; mild tartness; sugar. You’re greeted with a very authentic, but not overwhelming raspberry flavor. Reminds me of eating raspberries with sugar on top, but in liquid form. Very light and refreshing on the palate. Definitely more crisp than creamy. The initial raspberry flavor is joined by noticeable vanilla notes about half way through the sip. There’s also just a little bit of tartness from the lemon in this that adds contrast to the sweetness of the raspberry and sugar; you feel it on the edges of your jaw. A nice jolt of unexpected flavor. Before the drink begins to fade, the raspberry and vanilla meld to really create that raspberry cream flavor. Reminds me of raspberries with creme fraiche.

Finish: Vanilla sugar with subtle raspberry notes that linger, then slowly fade.

Rating: Waynesville Soda Jerks pride themselves on using fresh fruit in every hand-made batch of soda they produce. They even tell you where the fruit comes from on every bottle. You can taste their dedication. The raspberries in their raspberry cream soda taste real, not like candy. It’s like drinking raspberries with sugar on them with a dash of lemon and a dusting of vanilla bean. Typically when you think of cream soda, you think something that feels heavy on the palate, thick and frothy in texture. This is much lighter than you’ll probably be expecting. It’s more crisp than it is creamy. I’d probably call this raspberry-vanilla soda to my friends as opposed to raspberry cream, but it just doesn’t sound the same. Then again, I don’t call my stepmom Michelle to my friends either, but I don’t even think the Internet is ready for the words I do use. Bottomline, the flavors work. The raspberries taste fresh and delicious. The lemon provides an unexpected burst of tartness that contrasts nicely with the sweetness of the raspberries. And the vanilla adds a nice layer of sophistication to the raspberry taste near the end of each sip. It’s easily the unsung hero of the soda. I actually think the vanilla could be emboldened even more in the flavor profile and only good would come from it. This is the most subtle of any fruit cream soda I’ve tried, but also easily the freshest. Waynesville Soda Jerks continue to be one of the best local soda bottlers in the country. You should go out of your way to try their stuff, including the raspberry cream soda.

Four Stars

Cicero Beverage Co.: Candied Bacon Cream Soda

History: You’ve probably heard of bacon soda by now. Take a look at reviews on YouTube. The results are… unsavory. “Vegetable mixed with gasoline” and “made my eyes water” were some of the comments made in just the first two videos we watched. Simply put, bacon soda is usually a gag gift. It’s a gimmick. Cicero Beverage Co. out of Chicago, Illinois wanted to break the mold. See, this is a company that actually makes real flavors. You’ll find the usual root beer, cream soda, and orange cream flavors scattered amongst the bunch. But we’d be lying if we told you they were known for their “normal” flavors. It was the company’s salted caramel root beer that put it on the map. Cicero Beverage Co. President Desiree Alonzo says after the launch of the salted caramel root beer at the end of 2013, the company “took off as a full time business.” To this day, it’s the company’s most popular flavor. But it’s followed closely by another unique offering. Bacon? Bacon. Yes, Cicero decided to tackle craft soda’s court jester flavor by putting their own spin on it. Instead of doing a strictly bacon-flavored soda, the company introduced a candied bacon cream soda. “It’s not just a novelty…. It’s not bacon forward,” says Alonzo. It is admittedly hard to trust her words because I’ve had my taste buds abused so many times by the bacon sodas of samplings past. There are more and more bacon sodas popping up all over the world now. Each one is like going on a new date with the same broken promise. “No, no. I’m not like her. You can trust me. We’ll have fun ;).” It always ends in a broken heart and a battered stomach. But here’s a bit of information that might ease your fears about this one. Alonzo tells us “I try not to get ideas from beverages because they’re probably already out there.” Phew. Cicero sodas are usually inspired by candies or desserts, rather than soft drinks. Along those lines, she goes on to describe the company’s candied bacon cream soda as “vanilla-forward” with notes of smokey brown sugar bacon and a little bit of maple. “It’s very much a cream soda with a bacon finish,” she explains. Everyone loves a good cream soda. And she does a good job selling it. Maybe I’m a sucker, but I guess I’ll put myself out there one more time.

Where to get: You can find Cicero Beverage’s Candied Bacon Cream Soda at Cost Plus World Market locations around the U.S. If you’re not near a physical retailer, you can also find it online at Summit City Soda or Amazon.

Nose: Caramel; vanilla; sugar; milk chocolate. This smells the same as creamy caramel rich in vanilla and coated in a thin layer of chocolate, like a confectionary treat.

Taste: Vanilla; pork salt; hickory flavor. Definitely a blend of sweet and savory. Sugar and vanilla are immediate on the tongue, quickly followed by a smoked pork flavor. I taste more of a BBQ pork flavor than bacon. The smokiness has notes of hickory chips and salted meat. The sweet and savory elements have a surprisingly good balance due to the fact that this has a very, very, very high sugar content at 58 grams a bottle. The savory flavors are initially strong, but mellow over time after continual sips.

Finish: Smokey bacon with sugar… so candied bacon. The truest part of the soda and the only portion that actually tastes like bacon.

Rating: If there’s one thing the world has an abundance of, it’s bacon-flavored things. A quick Google search gives you some pretty eye-opening results, several of which are NSFW. Cicero Beverage Co.’s Candied Bacon Cream Soda is safe for work, but not everyone will allow it safe passage to their taste buds. This was always going to be a divisive soda simply due to the fact that soda is a prototypical sweet beverage, and Cicero is merging that flavor profile with savory and salty elements. The basic question most will ask is, “does it actually taste like bacon?” Answer: sometimes. The soda definitely has a candied bacon finish with a dash of smokiness. But I think the savory elements taste more of smoked pork and hickory chips than bacon. There’s definitely still a pig influence on this soda. Oink, Oink. Still, this is a cream soda rooted in sugar and vanilla – like most of them, but this one has a smokiness that sets it apart in terms of the overall flavor experience. That smokey flavor can be disjointing on the first couple sips, even when you’re expecting it. The pork flavor is bold, but mellows over time and becomes more of a smoked hickory taste that supplements the sugary vanilla notes. The balance of sweet and savory helps justify why the soda’s sugar content is so high (a third higher than most craft sodas). The vanilla and sugar in this are really nice – they make me want to try just a normal cream soda from Cicero. Despite the taste bud whip flash the soda’s bacon elements might give you in the beginning, the smokey flavor is a fun change of pace. Personally, I’d probably mellow them even more so they had just the slightest influence on the flavor profile. If you’re into cream soda or simply adventurous beverages, Cicero’s Candied Bacon Cream Soda should be on your radar. It probably isn’t something you’ll regularly drink, but it’s a fun one to add to your list.

Three Stars

Yacht Club: Cream Soda

History: Three-hundred years after the pilgrims made their way to New England in the early 17th century, the British made their contribution to modern American craft soda in what would become Yacht Club Bottling Works. Current Yacht Club President John Sgambato tells us over the phone that Yacht Club originated in 1915 and was brought over from England to Providence, Rhode Island by the Sharp family. It was a “roll your sleeves up” and go to work type business. Sgambato says the family found a well to source water for the soda and went from there. To this day, the company still uses its own water supply, which Sgambato says has great characteristics for carbonation. Their website expands on this idea a bit, saying “Its natural temperature is 45 degrees, which allows carbonation without the use of cooling towers that can be bad for the environment.” If I’m being honest, I don’t really know what that means… but it sounds nice. Sgambato’s grandfather, also named John Sgambato, started working for Yacht Club in 1935 and the Sgambato’s have owned the business since 1960. “We were doing it long before people called it craft or artisanal or gourmet,” he says. And he’s not lying. Yacht Club has always used pure cane sugar in its soda, even when others began switching to corn syrup for a period of time when its price became vastly cheaper. Good on them because when it comes to soda, the sweetening agent is one of those things you just can’t skimp on. Drinking corn syrup soda is like sleeping on a lumpy bed: the clients or women you’re trying to impress will never come back. Ahem. The Sgambato family has introduced many flavors to the Yacht Club line since they took over in 1935, but we felt like our first Yacht Club review needed to be one of the originals. Cream soda was one of a handful of flavors the Sharp family brought over. Sgambato notes that old cream sodas used to be made with condensed milk and vanilla. Because of shelf life issues, bottled cream sodas can’t be made that way today, but Yacht Club still tries to replicate that style of flavor. Sgambato tells us, “We wanted something that was more true to form to what it (cream soda) used to taste like.” The company’s not-so-secret ingredient? Pure alcohol extract of vanilla. Sgambato believes this gives the soda a pure, high-quality vanilla flavor. And don’t worry – there’s no alcohol in Yacht Club Cream Soda. When it comes to taste, Yacht club Cream was was designed to be “smooth almost like a vanilla ice cream.” The company also makes all of its syrups in-house, a task many businesses source out to flavor houses. Sgambato closes our conversation, simply saying “There’s not many places in the country that make soda the way we do.”

Where to get: Yacht Club soda is sold mostly in the southern New England region. To our knowledge it is not sold online through any outlets, though the company is considering creating an online store. Yacht Club is currently only willing to ship orders in bulk.

Nose: Mild caramel. Honestly not much of a scent.

Taste: Big carbonation; mild vanilla; caramel; burned sugar. The carbonation in Yacht Club Cream Soda is big and bold, and it’s immediate before any flavor comes in. Once the bubbles pass, you’ll taste mild vanilla and caramel. The caramel is the stronger of the two flavors. The vanilla is subtle, but nice, and it lingers for pretty much the duration of each sip. Interestingly, the body of the soda is dry, but the end of each sip is kind of creamy. It’s an odd mouth feel for a cream soda. The carbonation in this is borderline harsh on some sips and cuts into the flavor profile. When combined with the caramel notes, the two combine to give off a burned sugar taste.

Finish: Slightly creamy vanilla-caramel. By far the best part of the soda.

Rating: Yacht Club Cream Soda is powered by its subtleties of vanilla and caramel, but it’ll probably be remembered for its intense carbonation. Caramel is the soda’s biggest flavor, followed closely by mild vanilla. The two work very well together, particularly in the soda’s finish. At 28 grams, this isn’t an overly sweet cream soda. I’d say the sugar is just right. The problem is the carbonation. It’s a little too overbearing right from the get-go, just like my stepsister. About half way through the bottle it starts to subside a little more, but some drinkers may have abandoned ship at that point. The bubbles mask the really pleasant notes of caramel and vanilla. I think if that carbonation was pulled back some, the flavors in this cream soda would really open up more and take it to another level. Still, if you stick with this, the caramel and vanilla come through more as the soda progresses. The vanilla actually kind of becomes stronger as you drink it and has a vanilla ice cream taste. This is more of a crisp, sweet soda than a creamy one. It would be a really good mixer with an oaky bourbon or maybe even just an orange slice to add a little extra something. Is it worth your time? I think so. It’s a grower. There’s a number of joke opportunities here, but it seems like a safer option to end the review now.

Three Stars

Flying Cauldron Buterscotch Beer

History: Throw on your cloaks, grab your magic wands, and gather around the cauldron because we’ve got a soda so magical that even the greatest of spells could not stop its forthcoming. Flying Cauldron Butterscotch Beer is the creation of Chris Reed of Reed’s natural sodas. You’re probably most familiar with their Ginger Brews. Despite the name “Butterscotch Beer,” Flying Cauldron is nonalcoholic, and it mimics a certain drink from a certain series of books based on a certain young wizard. In fact, upon its introduction in 2012, the soda actually used to be called “Butterbeer” because Warner Bros hadn’t trademarked the name. So Reed trademarked it. Guess how that went over? Quickly the wizards (lawyers) at Warner threatened to use their excessive magic (money) in an act of the dark arts (court) against Reed’s, so they promptly changed the soda’s name to “Butterscotch Beer.” You’ll notice Butterbeer is now ™ by Warner. So why make Butterbeer™? Reed tells us he was as captivated by the drink as we all were. It “sounded amazing,” he explains. So he began to research. He sent a sales manager to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, Florida to try the Butterbeer™ they serve at the theme park. The sales manager sent some back to give Reed a basis for creating his own version. He told us he could taste the chemicals in it. He wanted his version to be a natural soda, like all of the others in the Reed’s/Virgil’s line. Flying Cauldron started with a base of Virgil’s Cream Soda and then had butterscotch flavor added in. Reed was inspired by a German butterscotch candy with a silky smooth flavor. He tried diligently to replicate that specific flavor and says triumphantly, “I think the butterscotch we ended up with is just phenomenal.” Flying Cauldron contains no artificial ingredients, no GMO’s, and no caffeine. It’s also made with a blend of pure cane sugar and Stevia; this reduces the number of calories in every bottle down to 120. Like the books and movies, Reed concedes the “product has had a life of its own and continues to show up in stores around the country.” He adds that Flying Cauldron is consistently in the company’s top seven sellers. You can find the soda year-round, but it’s most popular in October and November. We’re right on time. Let’s see what kind of sorcery is inside the bottle.

Where to get: Flying Cauldron is distributed nationally. Call your local health food or grocery store to see if they carry it. You can also find it at Cracker Barrel restaurants. It’s also available online from Summit City Soda, as well as the Reed’s online store. You can also get it on Amazon, but it’s a worse deal. And if you’re a retailer looking to sell soda in your shop, or maybe just a deprived wizard, Homer Soda Company is who you should call for those types of inquiries.

Nose: Buttery; bold butterscotch; vanilla cream.

Taste: Sweet butterscotch; mild creaminess; soft vanilla; sugar. There’s big, big butterscotch flavor in this. The initial taste is a mixture of vanilla cream soda with sweet butterscotch, so it really lives up to the butterscotch cream soda label in terms of flavor. Spot on. Definitely sweet. Sugary, even. As it settles into your mouth, the creaminess of the vanilla comes out more, while the butterscotch dominates the flavor profile. Those two elements: creamy vanilla and sweet butterscotch candies combine to create a bold butterscotch cream taste.

Finish: Creamy vanilla and butterscotch swirl together and linger on the back of the tongue. Certainly the creamiest part of the soda.

Rating: Flying Cauldron Butterscotch Beer is one of those sodas that excites drinkers on so many levels. The inspiration, the flavor, the color, the label – it’s all there. It resonates. It’s fun. It’s got an air of mystery around it that you want to literally drink in. Butterbeer™, Butterscotch Beer – whatever you want to call it is fine. The bottom line is you want it in your mouth. Now, this won’t be for everyone simply because butterscotch tends to be a love-it-or-hate-it flavor. And this has enough butterscotch flavor to hold you over for a month. It’s a sweet, buttery candied flavor. There’s a nice infusion of creamy vanilla slightly at the beginning of each sip that becomes much stronger on the finish. I’d like to see that creaminess come out even more. I think it’s the soda’s best element. When I think Butterbeer™, I think of something that’s very creamy with lots of butterscotch tasting notes. This is maybe a 6/10 on the creaminess scale. The vanilla in Flying Cauldron works really well with the butterscotch. It adds that extra something that all good sodas possess. It’s also the biggest reason Flying Cauldron smells so wonderful. I enjoy my women just like I like a fine soda – smelling like vanilla kisses. This is big on butterscotch flavor and sweetness, and even bigger on eye-catching flashiness. The marketing team for Flying Cauldron deserves as much of the praise as the creators of its flavors. This is too much fun and way too interesting not to try at least once in your life. Also makes a tremendous mixer for your favorite fall cocktail. In the mean time, let us know if you develop any powers or the ability to summon dragons.

Four Stars

Sprecher: Cream Soda

History: Sprecher sodas are known for their bold, deep flavors. Turns out you can thank Germany for this. I’ll explain in a minute. In talking to Randy Sprecher on the phone, I get the sense he’s a gentle, intelligent soul with an almost intimidating knowledge on the intricacies of beer and soda-making. Originally from California, he reminisces how he spent 18 months in Augsburg, Germany in the late 60’s. Deustchland is arguably the beer capital of the world, so naturally, Sprecher says he lost his taste for American beer there. This became a problem when he moved back to California because he couldn’t afford to import his favorite beers. Solution? He started making his own in 1971. Despite having a degree in oceanography, Sprecher wanted to pursue beer, and so he packed up his van and drove up to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he began working for Pabst. He made about $40,000 before he said the company started deteriorating. Wanting to start his own business for the modest amount he made at Pabst, Sprecher began buying various pieces of brewery equipment via auction. Through his craftiness, he successfully started up Sprecher Brewery in Glendale, Wisconsin and began selling beer in 1985. Really puts bargain shopping into perspective. Hope my girlfriend is reading this. He’d also researched soda recipes to a great degree on the side, and thought, “What does it take to make a soda that is of much higher quality?” Three years later, he figured it out, creating and selling his own root beer and cream soda.

To a craft soda connoisseur, Sprecher soda might raise an eyebrow or two. What you’ll likely notice is that the brewery uses high fructose corn syrup in its soda as opposed to pure cane sugar. To many, cane sugar is to craft soda what great actors are to movies; you can make it without them, but it’s not the same. Sprecher believes his recipes shouldn’t cause drinkers any hesitation. Let me at least try to explain to you why. Be forewarned, Randy Sprecher is a scientist and I am not. Sprecher Brewery brews their sodas in gas-fired kettles. Everyone knows that water boils at 212 degrees. Well, Sprecher tells us that the skin of the kettles the brewery uses reach up to 1,100 degrees. This causes a chemical reaction in the high fructose corn syrup (which is also bonded to glucose) by splitting the sucrose and forming inverted sugar. As Sprecher explained this process to me, jumping from chemical reaction anecdotes to overviews of molecules, all I could think in my head was, “I know some of these words!” He adds, “Whether you’re talking about cane sugar or fructose, you’re talking about the exact same molecule,” and “I can show you letters from Harvard Medical School” that don’t support the idea that cane sugar is better than corn syrup. I understand this won’t satisfy some people, but just know that Sprecher sodas are also brewed in small batches using Wisconsin-sourced ingredients, including the crown jewel of the cream soda – clover honey from Indian Summer Honey Farms. “We use more honey than they can produce,” says Sprecher. He’s not joking. Indian Summer Honey’s beekeeper literally has to pack up his bees from Wisconsin in the winter and take them down to Florida just to fulfill the massive orders Sprecher Brewery places. When it comes to the cream soda, Sprecher adds that vanilla plays a critical role in addition to the honey, and that he believes the flavor is akin to a toasted marshmallow. “We just strive for big, pure flavor so it really comes at you,” he says. Then come at me, Sprecher. Come at me.

Where to get: Sprecher soda is distributed nation-wide, though it may be sporadic in some areas. If you live in Midwest America, you should be golden… just check one of your local grocery stores. You can also use the company’s online locator (ignore the fact it only lists 10 states. Just enter your zip code) to find the retailer nearest you. For the rest of us, there’s always the Internet. You can buy anywhere from a single bottle up to 36 of them directly from Sprecher’s online store. Amazon can also hook you up.

Nose: Rich, dark vanilla; honey; mild french vanilla ice cream.

Taste: Vanilla cream, brown sugar; semisweet honey; creaminess. This is such a deeply rich, vanilla cream soda. The vanilla comes through more than any flavor and it’s bold, yet not overly sweet like some vanilla cream sodas. The sugar keeps the flavor nice and crisp. Undertones of honey carry the soda throughout each sip and contrast nicely with the vanilla, keeping the sugar levels in check and providing a slightly bittersweet bite on some sips. This is very, very creamy with big honey-vanilla flavor. There are even some brown sugar and caramel notes that float about throughout each sip. On some sips, there’s even a sweet earthiness to it, kind of like a toasted marshmallow. Very satisfying on the palate. When paired with ice, the cream soda becomes even creamier.

Finish: Creamy vanilla caramel with a semisweet bite at the tail end of each sip. Fantastic.

Rating: Sprecher’s Cream Soda is a standard-bearer in its category. It’s incredibly flavorful without being overly complex. Creamy vanilla and bittersweet honey highlight this delectable liquid treat from Wisconsin. Notes of brown sugar and burned caramel dance about in the background of each sip. The vanilla is velvety in the mouth and is sweet with a subtle tartness. It definitely communicates the essence of real vanilla. If I had to use one word to describe this cream soda it would be this: scrumptious. If I had another, it would be rich. When you’re tasting the flavors in this bottle, you know you’re drinking a craft soda. Even the look is mesmerizing. Sprecher’s Cream Soda mirrors a cream ale sitting in a glass with its thick, foamy head that takes considerable time to subside. It’s a nice visual touch. The last time I had something that tasted this good and looked this sexy, I was in Mexico on my post-divorce celebration. The details are kind of hazy. You’ll feel hazy in all the right ways after this cream soda too. It’s heavenly. You’d never taste the corn syrup in it. We can’t even tell and we taste hundreds of sodas a year. I wouldn’t change anything about this. Cream soda is a flavor that evokes stars in the eyes of soda connoisseurs, yet often leaves them in tears because of diabetes-inducing sugar overload. There’s nothing to cry about here. Celebrate the magnificence of this creamy, rich mouth magic and order a four-pack. This is one that just needs to be experienced.

Five Stars

Ipswich Ale Brewery: Orange Cream

History: Along the northern shore of Massachusetts where the cold, salty waves crash against the sand of Crane Beach, sits the small city of Ipswich. It was 1991 when locals Paul Silva and Jim Bovae were tired of drinking same old beer in the same old places. So they started their own spot to make beer their way. This was the founding of Ipswich Ale Brewery. “We were one of the first local breweries on the North Shore,” says Ipswich Ale Brewery Marketing and Event Manager, Mary Gormley. As one might expect with a brewery, Ipswich coasted on their beer sales for a long time. It wasn’t until current Ipswich Ale Brewery President Rob Martin took over that a few changes started to take place. Gormley tells us Martin has been with the brewery since its inception doing everything from brewing the beer to driving the delivery truck. His most important change in our eyes? Free beer Friday. I wish I wasn’t kidding, but I am; no, it was soda. He wanted something for the kids to drink. Gormley recalls how serious he was about this when testing the initial soda recipes. “I don’t think he even let an adult try it,” she said. Martin first introduced soda in 2000 under the name “Mercury Soda Pop” because Mercury Brewing Company is the parent company of Ipswich Ale Brewing. It was only recently that the soda was renamed “Ipswich Soda Pop.” Makes more sense, right? I’d like to market myself as Brad Pitt, but in reality I’m a dude who just ate mac and cheese over his sink like a rat. I embrace it. Anyway, I’m single. As for the soda, Ipswich has up to as many as ten flavors at a given time, with plans for more. Gormley says the brewery will soon be opening its own restaurant and will be featuring exclusive in-house soda flavors that, if they test well, could be bottled in the future. All Ipswich Soda is caffeine-free, gluten-free, and made with pure cane sugar. Root beer and orange cream are the top-sellers, according to Gormley. If you’re in the Ipswich area, stop in for a popular West Coast IPA and order up one of those in-house sodas for us. In the meantime, we’ll try this one for you.

Where to get: Unfortunately for the masses, the appeal of some of these little soda bottles is… you gotta be there to try it, man. Ipswich Ale Brewery is located at 2 Brewery Place, Ipswich, MA 01938. North Shore, Massachusetts: you’re in luck. The rest of us: time to plan a road trip. But hey, you can always beg the brewery (we did).

Nose: Orange Creamsicle; Lifesaver Orange Swirl Pops (R.I.P.). Lots of creamy orange vanilla smells. What you want going on in your nose with an orange cream soda.

Taste: Orange soda; vanilla; creaminess; tartness. At the beginning of each sip, this soda is distinctly orange in flavor, more of a standard orange soda than orange cream. Then there’s a fast rush of sugar with light carbonation and the soda’s flavor transforms into what’s on the label. You taste sweet orange creamsicle rich in vanilla and orange rind flavors. You also get a little bit of lingering acidity and tartness for balance. The orange flavor is bold near the end of each sip just before the finish. It’s like a rollercoaster of orange, then creamy vanilla-orange, and back to classic orange again. The classic orange flavor in this is more potent than most orange creams.

Finish: Intense creamy vanilla encased in a thin coating of orange. Exquisite. Best part of the soda.

Rating: What works about Ipswich Orange Cream Soda is that it has both creamy vanilla and bold orange flavors in it. There’s even a little bit of tartness that you expect with standard orange soda, but not often present in orange cream sodas. It works really well in tandem with the signature orange creamsicle taste to provide balance in the flavor profile. The orange flavor in this is executed to near perfection, while the creamy vanilla really shines on the finish. The only drawback we can find with this soda is the tartness on the backend of each sip. It lingers just a touch too long and, at times, comes off a little bitter. But this is a minor gripe for an excellent orange cream soda that should you should put on your radar. On the soda side of things, Ipswich Ale Brewing is known for their orange cream and it shows. Its flavors are luscious and robust and it’s mouth feel is pleasing. I wish the same could’ve been said for my Friday night. Tinder really fed me a monster this weekend. Do yourself a favor and find a way to get a hold of this somehow. That big orange flavor is a component more orange creams would be well-served to try and one Ipswich has already bottled and readied for your mouth.