Four Stars

Four stars

Boots Beverages: Orange Drömsicle

History: We know. The name. You’re curious about the name, right? Cream pop? Sure. Creamsicle? Yup. Orange Drömsicle? What the F is that?!? Don’t worry, we got you. According to Boots Beverages National Director, Kim Joiner, the name ties into the roots of the Bryan, Texas-based family business. “Mark Kristen’s grandfather, Ambrose (pictured on the Sarsaparilla bottle) came over from Germany in 1862. Ambrose purchased the bottling company in February 1930.” Apparently in Germany they enjoy drömsicles. But don’t panic, everyone. This indeed is an orange cream soda. In fact, it is designed with “ultra creaminess” in mind. Joiner tells us this is the closest Boots Beverages could get to an orange cream flavor without literally putting dairy in the soda. She doesn’t pull punches when we ask what the idea behind the concept was, adding they wanted to “create the best tasting orange soda” on the market. The flavor was launched in October of 2016 as part of the second five flavors the company launched. We’ve reviewed a couple from the first round if you wanna take a peek. If you’re looking for a culinary pairing for orange drömsicle, Joiner suggests a light protein like fish or to just go all in and enjoy it with ice cream. For the more adventurous, try it with champagne poured over the top and drink in the sophistication.

Where to get: Boots Beverages StoreSummit City Soda • Soda EmporiumAntiqology

Nose: Creamy orange, huge vanilla notes, dreamsicle, orange popsicle, those little childhood fake orange drink barrels, orange popsicles. The smell on this is divine. If the taste is anywhere as good as the smell, I may slip into something more comfortable…

Taste: Tangy orange zest, orange popsicles, mild vanilla. The vanilla swirls around the other flavors like a Texas tornado. It becomes more prominent as you continue drinking the soda. The orange is tangy and refreshing right off the bat, with an authentic punch. The flavors in orange drömsicle sway back and forth between zesty orange juice with smooth, mild vanilla and candy orange popsicle with bold, velvety vanilla cream. Superb.

Finish: Mild vanilla tails off, leaving a taste of light, earthy orange zest that lingers.

Rating: This is one of the best orange cream sodas on the craft soda market. It’s orange and vanilla exquisiteness. You won’t want to stop after you start drinking this, and there’s a few reasons. The flavors are familiar, but complex. Comfortable, but challenging. Refreshing, yet bold. We can’t think of anything wrong with this is what we’re saying. The way the flavors develop as you drink it is what takes orange drömsicle to the next level. Boots Beverages carefully crafted this soda in a way that mixes flavors of your childhood and adulthood. On the arrival, the orange half of the equation tastes fresh and ripe floating along a vanilla river. As you continue drinking, the orange transforms into more of a candy popsicle taste and the vanilla becomes creamier and bolder in flavor. I love the way this evolves. It’s tangy, creamy and has just the right amount of zip on it. When a soda can make you smile, it’s done its job. Boots Beverages will likely always be most known for their masterful coconut cream soda, but orange drömsicle proves there’s a new sheriff in town.

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Natrona Bottling Company: Pennsylvania Punch

History: “It really is a one-of-a-kind product.” About halfway through my conversation with Vito Gerasole, the self-proclaimed “Sultan of Soda” and owner of Natrona Bottling Company, he drops this line that raises my eyebrow about one of his sodas. The culprit? Pennsylvania Punch, a unique take on grape soda made with almost zero carbonation. Grape soda is classic – it’s one of the first flavors I think of when I conjure up images in my head of vintage flavors. And Natrona Bottling is one of the most vintage companies out there. They’ve been around since 1904. They still use pinpoint carbonation to put CO2 in their sodas, a time-consuming, expensive process involving dry ice that produces larger quantities of finer bubbles than traditional methods. It’s a company that does things the old-fashioned way. But here’s the thing: Natrona already makes a traditional grape soda pop. So why make another with almost no carbonation? The short answer: tradition. “The recipe dates all the way back to 1924,” Gerasole tells me. Gerasole himself is an agent of tradition. Back in 2010, Natrona Bottling was a company at the brink of bankruptcy with just $4,000 in its bank account. So with the help of an angel investor, Gerasole saved Natrona, Pennsylvania’s local soda bottler. “I’m a very nostalgic person,” he admits. There was no way he was getting rid of one of the company’s original flavors. He’s honest in telling us Pennsylvania Punch “is not my most popular flavor, but certainly one of my most unique.” Essentially what we have here is a a hybrid between grape soda and Concord grape juice with the latter being more of the goal. In fact throughout most of our conversation, Gerasole refers to Pennsylvania Punch as a “grape drink.” If the name sounds familiar to some of you in the northeast, you might be thinking of “Delaware Punch,” a drink similar in concept but made with high fructose corn syrup instead of cane sugar. We’re pretty excited to try this one just to figure out what’s going on here.

Where to get: Natrona Bottling ShopAntiqology StoreGalco’s 

Nose: Grape Sprees, artificial grape candy, liquid Dimetapp (don’t hate… I love that smell).

Taste: Sweet candy grape, smooth, sugary, very light carbonation. I see now why Gerasole referred to this as a “grape drink” because there’s hardly any carbonation in this soda. Just a touch of it on the finish. That said, the grape flavor is strong – more purple than green grape and more artificial and candy-like than actual grape juice. This is very grape-y and very sweet, but at the same time it’s also smooth and even kind of refreshing. The flavor is very much an old fashioned one. Fans of grape soda will enjoy.

Finish: Tangy purple grape flavor that lingers. This is actually where I taste the carbonation most. It kind of fizzes on your tongue at the very end of each sip.

Rating: What fun little grape soda… er, drink? Pennsylvania Punch tries to tow the line between grape soda and grape juice, but at the end of the day it’s sort of both. It has the sweetness and artificial grape flavor of a classic grape soda without most of the traditional carbonation. Despite the very sweet taste and the lack of bubbles, this is not syrupy. In fact, it’s pretty clean and easy to drink. I love the tanginess on the finish too as a nice little nuance. On a hot day by the pool, I could guzzle this like my uncles does a sixer of Michelob Light, except I won’t call my ex and then black out while my grill’s still on. Hope you aren’t reading this, uncle Dave. My one qualm with this soda is that it’s very, very sugary. I think kids will love it, but adults may be more apt to drink Natrona’s regular grape soda because carbonation typically pulls back that sugar factor a little bit. Pennsylvania Punch is a treat to be enjoyed on a warm day, but I probably couldn’t go past a bottle or two before needing insulin. That said, I’d definitely recommend it if you’re looking for a refreshing fruit soda or something to drink outside at a barbecue or pool session. Pennsylvania Punch: it’s familiar, but different. Only the best companies can successfully put new twists on something old, and in this case, Natrona’s been doing it since 1924. Go see what they’re all about.

Fentimans: Rose Lemonade

History: You can thank Indian food for this review… but we’ll come back to that. Fentimans does things the old fashioned way, in part because their company is, well, old. The British-based beverage producer actually brews their sodas like you would a beer, using fermented ginger root. They’re famous for the use of herbs and spices in their drinks, hence the term “botanically brewed” on every label. It was 1905 when an iron puddler in Clarkheaton, England by the name of Thomas Fentiman inherited a recipe for a botanically brewed ginger beer as collateral for a loan. That loan was never repaid, so Fentiman became the owner. To this day ginger beer is still the company’s leading seller, according to Fentimans North American Sales and Marketing Coordinator, Karyssa Veltri. Right behind it? Rose Lemonade, a carbonated take on the category with a color so pretty we almost considered not drinking it. Almost. Now, back to the Indian food thing. Veltri tells us rose lemonade “was inspired by our owner enjoying a dish at his favorite Indian restaurant which used rose petals” and that “the idea started with the aroma and moved on from there.” It’s the details behind the recipe that really make this soda (we’ve calling it soda because it’s carbonated just like all their other sodas). “We use only the finest Bulgarian rose oil from the world famous Rose Valley in Kazanlak. This source has been chosen specifically for the multi-layered aroma and natural taste of the oil,” says Veltri. For those of you unfamiliar with the Bulgarian Rose Valley, it looks like the place where all the Victoria’s Secret models are probably born. But it’s not just rose oil that gives Fentimans Rose Lemonade its signature flavor. You’ll also taste fermented ginger (as with all of the brand’s sodas) as well as “real lemon juice to deliver sharpness.” And it all comes in the Fentimans’ signature 9.3 oz bottle, known for the short, stubby body and long, skinny neck. Rose lemonade contains real sugar, is vegan-friendly, and uses no preservatives. Veltri notes that all Fentimans’ sodas “are pasteurized to give them a long shelf life” as opposed to using chemicals or preservatives. She also mentions that it’s a popular mixer with vodka and gin. Between the eye-catching pink hue and the extravagant use of Bulgarian rose oil in the recipe, I’m more than sold on wanting to find out just how beautiful rose lemonade tastes. My only hope is that this rose doesn’t have its thorns.

Buy: MyBrands Online Store • JetWalmart • Amazon • World Market (single bottles). You can also find your local retailer by checking here.

Nose: Floral, rose water, rose oils, mild citrus. Pleasant.

Taste: Tart, floral, lemon, rose petals, rose oils. One of the first elements you’ll notice is the tartness and how upfront it is in the soda. This is very tart, almost bitter. Those flavors are wrapped inside a blanket of floral notes. Light and fruity, you’ll taste mostly sweet rose water and rose oils that mix with the citrus to form a more balanced drink near the back end of its development in the mouth. This packs a tart citrus bang on the arrival that gets toned down once the rose oil notes blend with the lemon. Fentimans Rose Lemonade is tart, bright, and memorable. Slightly sweet and fairly acidic.

Finish: Mild rose petals with frothy, but tact carbonation punctuated by fleeting notes of lemon citrus that linger briefly before fading.

Rating: Fentimans knows how to make soda and their rose lemonade is no exception. While we don’t normally think of lemonade as soda, this is a carbonated lemonade made in small batches with real sugar and authentic ingredients. If it’s not craft soda, then the experts have been fooled. What surprised us most about Fentimans Rose Lemonade is just how astringent and acidic it is in the mouth. You’re greeted by a tartness that quickly becomes the soda’s signature. You’ll also taste sweet floral notes and rose oils throughout the body of the drink, but tart lemon citrus anchors the overall flavor. It’s a little jarring at first, but your palate should adjust. Perhaps this was done to counter the foreign flavor of rose oil. We mostly think of roses as flowers instead of tasting notes, unless you’re my dogs, in which case, you are very familiar with the taste of roses and all flowers for that matter. Anyway, when most of us encounter a flavor we aren’t used to, our brains process it as overpowering. The bold tartness in rose lemonade takes your mind off the floral notes for just long enough so that your taste buds can adjust as the two flavors eventually meld together. I’m not a flavor scientist and I don’t work for Fentimans, but I’m guessing my reasoning is almost spot-on. Or maybe not. Regardless, the sweet notes of rose oil and bold citrus flavors dance together in a way that leaves a lasting impression. This is a soda you won’t soon forget. It may not be an everyday beverage, but its presence should raise eyebrows at any get-together.

Frïsa: Black Currant Rosehip

History: You want some of that fancy soda? That stuff that makes you wanna throw on a robe and a crown and just do the Vince McMahon strut down the street as you drink it? Boy, do we have a beverage for you. Frïsa touts itself as “an ultra-premium European botanical beverage,” according to company general manager and COO Casey Beard. Do you already not feel a little more regal just having read that? Beard continues saying, “all of our ingredients are all natural, gluten free, non-GMO and Kosher certified. We made sure we used the best of the best when crafting FRÏSA… even our water is sourced from the Pyrenes.” Hold on. What? That’s right. Mountain water. European mountain water from the Iberian Peninsula is in every cute, stubby bottle. Ironically, Frïsa is not produced in Europe, but rather the cold tundra of Minneapolis, Minnesota and it was founded in early 2015. Each drink is also under 100 calories per serving. But what separates Frïsa from other sodas is the botanicals it uses. Botanicals usually refer to ingredients like herbs, spices, or floral notes that impart a unique flavor not often found in most soda. And Beard doesn’t hide the fact that his company is trying to be different. “We saw the need and opportunity for an alternative to the Cokes and Pepsis of the world but needed to put a spin on it,” he tells us. Frïsa’s most popular flavor is Elderflower, but its most interesting flavor in our opinion is black currant rosehip. Here’s the thing: we don’t know what black currant is, much less how it tastes. Beard lets us know we aren’t crazy, saying that black currant is a “more common ingredient in Europe where it is widely cultivated and consumed,” before adding that its best American comparison is the blackberry or marionberry. He calls the drink “refined and sophisticated,” yet “light and refreshing.” Listen, I’m already on my high horse so you don’t have to sell me on drinking it or the aesthetics. I just hope my taste buds get treated with a similar royal experience.

Buy: Frïsa Store

Nose: Strong grape juice smells, though a little bit more of a sophisticated grape/berry scent, ala wine.

Taste: Tart; berry; grape; light cherry; tangy; frothy. The standouts in this soda are the frothy carbonation combined with a strong tartness. The two contrast one another nicely. The flavor is something along the lines of a tangy grape and black cherry hybrid floating on a cloud of thick, but soft carbonation. The tartness comes from the use of lemon juice, but you don’t really taste lemon, per se. That tart and tangy flavor manifests itself in the form of a berry taste. There’s also just the faintest hint of floral notes. Like a grown up carbonated grape juice with an infusion of cherry.

Finish: Berry tartness that slowly fades in favor of light floral notes.

Rating: Frïsa continues to cement itself as an artisan soda brand of the future. The company walks a fine line of soda vs. carbonated juice, but that’s only because the flavors they use taste so fresh. Black currant rosehip is no exception. If there was ever such a thing as fresh-squeezed soda, this is it. The flavors are bold and bright. You’ll taste a hybrid grape and dark berry flavor with an accompanying cherry kick. But what stands out most is the tartness. It’s the shining star of the soda. It intensifies all of the flavors in the bottle in a positive way. It’s tangy, but not sour. For some, this may be a little too acidic, but I think for most it’ll be a refreshing new take on berry soda. The one area I’d like to see improved is the floral taste on the soda’s finish. I need to taste that a little bit more in the soda’s body before I can give this five stars. If you didn’t tell people there was rosehip natural extract in this soda, most wouldn’t even notice it. Beyond that, Frïsa’s black currant rosehip is fruity, sophisticated, and bold. It’s like simultaneously visiting the vineyards of California and the beaches of Miami at the same time, yet not coming back with an overpriced bottle you’ll never drink or a tattoo you’ll always regret. The bottom line is that this young company makes good stuff and black currant rosehip continues the trend.

Four Stars

Soda Jerk Soda: Lime Cilantro Jalapeno

History: For those of you out there who need a seriously fresh craft soda fix and would prefer to buy it out of a vehicle that looks like it was created by Willy Wonka, say no more fam. Cory Clark, founder of Soda Jerk Soda, sells homemade craft soda in Seattle, Washington using only fresh ingredients. Oh, and he sells it on draft out of this thing. Completely custom-made, he calls it a “rolling jockey box” and it was inspired by a Cushman Truckster. Clark moved to Seattle from Texas where he was a cosmetic chemist. Because if there’s a next logical step after dabbling in cosmetic chemistry, it’s making homemade soda. “I wanted something really different,” he says. No kidding. Initially Clark wanted to build an ice cream store with an old fashioned soda fountain, but after the success of the Soda Stream, he decided to pursue creating soda syrups instead. Clark quickly changed course again after realizing he was more passionate about sodas made with real, fresh ingredients. “I was just looking for the next thing. I’m kind of a person that has to be creating something to be happy,” he says. As for what’s on the menu; flavors at Soda Jerk Soda are constantly in rotation. The one you’ll find most often is lemon lavender, but lime cilantro jalapeno is another of Clark’s favorites. In fact, at the time of this interview, it’s the favorite of Clark. The flavor was created for the “Taco Libre” Food Truck Festival where you can grab a soda, eat a taco, and watch Luchador wrestling. For those of you foodies who want a little more insight into the process behind the soda, here’s a tidbit: Clark doesn’t cook the ingredients in his soda and instead uses hot water to melt the sugar and seep the herbs. He says this makes the flavors “very bright and strong.” He also tells us he uses as many local ingredients as possible. What you’re dealing with here is farm-fresh fizzy soda. I hope it tastes as good as it sounds.

Buy: You’ll need to be in the Seattle area to get a hold of this one as Soda Jerk Soda is still mostly an on-draft, on-site soda. Your best bet for any potential small order for yourself is to contact the company directly or check their Facebook to see where they’ll be next.

Nose: Smells of sweet citrus and sugar with just a touch of heat. You can tell there’s some sort of pepper in there, but it comes through in a mild sense. Mostly importantly, this smells market fresh.

Taste: Sweet lemon/lime citrus; mild tartness; light spice; pepper. Citrus is the predominant flavor you’ll taste in this soda as the jalapeno plays the fiddle in the background. The citrus flavor also has the most character, greeting you with a tangy sweetness and transitioning into more of a light tartness as you taste more of the jalapeno. The pepper taste comes in near the end of the sip. It meshes nicely with the citrus. The two flavors are an excellent combination for taste. The jalapeno is not particularly spicy; instead it acts as almost a seasoning to the beverage. What I’m not getting here as much is the cilantro. There’s, at times, an earthy, herbal flavor to the soda which likely comes from the cilantro but it’s fleeting. Still though, lots of flavor going on here to be excited about.

Finish: Tangy citrus and pepper with more of an emphasis on the jalapeno flavor. On certain sips the spiciness is more apparent; this will vary slightly with every batch of soda depending on the strength of the peppers used.

Rating: Soda Jerk Soda’s Lime Cilantro Jalapeno is a refreshing combination of heat and sweet where citrus is the shining star. You get a nice variation of sweetness, tanginess, and tartness in this soda with just a tinge of spice. For those wary of spicy foods or beverages, you need not worry. The way this soda develops is really nice with an initial sweetness that transitions into tart citrus and ends with tangy spice. We’re always a little wary when someone uses pepper in soda, but Soda Jerk Soda gets it right. The jalapeno pepper taste is definitely in a supporting role and not too overbearing. Where this loses points with us is the lack of cilantro flavor. Now I don’t mind it personally because I don’t really care for cilantro, but if it’s in the name of the soda, we need to taste it more. To be fair, there are definitely some sips where you can taste an earthy, herbal flavor in addition to the citrus, but not enough for me otherwise know that cilantro is actually used in the recipe. When this soda excels, it really soars. The citrus flavor in this is excellent, near perfect. The way it changes characteristics throughout the sip is what keeps me coming back for more. It’s like a marriage that never gets stale. Honey, if you’re reading this, I love you. Most of the time. If you’re in the Seattle area and looking for an adventure, titillate you taste buds with an original flavor like this one.

Four Stars

Editor’s note: A previous version of this review referred to the soda as “Cilantro Jalapeno Lime,” but it has now been changed to its proper name of “Lime Cilantro Jalapeno.” Also, there is no lemon in the soda’s recipe. The only references to lemon are tasting notes inferred by our tasters.

Bec: Cranberry

History: We always appreciate when someone tries something different, so kudos to Bec for making a cranberry soda. I think that needs to be said from the beginning. For those of you unaware with Bec, it’s a soft drink company out of Montreal, Quebec in Canada. They make a pretty dope cola… but cranberry? As a soda… really? Cranberry is the fruit that people only remember exists during November and December. Pretty bold move to make it a permanent flavor. I mean, I keep my Christmas lights up year-round, but I’m not sure all my neighbors appreciate that my front porch looks like it’s on drugs when it’s May. I’m just saying, this needs to be good to be justified twelve months out of the year. Now that said, we did our journalistic soda diligence and asked Bec why they landed on cranberry. Turns out the company had been working on two new, unusual flavors – lime and cranberry – for over a year, according to Bec Associate Gwendal Creurer. She continued explaining the decision by saying “We decided to use cranberry for its amazing taste and its health benefits (diuretic, antioxidant, vitamin). In Quebec, we have the world biggest production of organic cranberries, so it’s a kind of ‘big up’ to our land and it’s great products.” Bec is a brand very focused on organics. Yes, they want their soda to taste good, but they’re also very careful about where their ingredients are sourced. Speaking of ingredients, it wouldn’t be a Canadian soda if there wasn’t maple syrup in this, right? Well, you can sleep easy tonight because Bec Cranberry does indeed contain maple syrup and its inclusion is critical in the recipe. Says Creurer, “It was a long process to deal with the astringency of the fruit and not make it too aggressive; with maple syrup, we found the right balance between acidity and sweetness.” Oh, and for all you health nuts out there, Bec Cranberry contains no chemical ingredients. The sodas’s crimson color is completely natural from the cranberry juice. “It deserves to be known!” is the company’s philosophy behind their new cranberry soda. Five Star Soda is here to answer the call for you, Bec. We’ll see how long we stay on the line.

Buy: Bec sodas are sold throughout a majority of Quebec, Canada and scattered across parts of France. To see if there’s a retailer near you, check out the Bec product locator here. You can also purchase Bec Cranberry from Terroirs in Quebec.

Nose: Like a sweeter version of cranberry Ocean Spray with maybe just a dash of cherry. Fruity and lovely.

Taste: Tart; authentic cranberries; lots of light, but frothy carbonation. This is spot on to what actual cranberries taste like. It’s almost like juicing a real cranberry and then carbonating it. What’s most surprising about this soda and also what makes it taste authentic to the flavor is the tartness. It’s not sour, but it is very tart, something that is a signature of cranberries. There’s also lots of brisk, frothy carbonation that adds to the tartness. This is a rare soda where the tartness and flavor of the fruit stand out more than the taste of the sugar.

Finish: Tangy cranberry sauce that slowly fades. Like having the holidays in your mouth.

Rating: I wasn’t sure what to expect from a cranberry soda and Bec has pleasantly surprised me. It’s about as authentic to the flavor as it can be without being a juice. But make no mistake – this is heavily carbonated and very much a soda. In fact, the carbonation is really my only criticism here. There’s a little too much of it, making an already tart soda at times too tart. Luckily, Bec’s Cranberry soda is so flavorful that this doesn’t present much of an issue. This is really the definition of a craft soda. It nails the flavor. It uses real ingredients like cranberry juice and Canadian maple syrup. And it’s not too sweet, so it should appeal to more of an adult crowd. The biggest takeaway from Bec Cranberry is what it should be: the flavor is excellent. This probably won’t be a soda you drink all the time, but around the holidays it makes for a fantastic beverage. Also a great mixer, if you’re into that sort of thing. And around the holidays, I’m always looking for good mixers to help me tolerate my uncles.

Four Stars

Appalachian Brewing Co.: Root Beer

History: You know you’re doing something right when everyone knows you as a beer place, but you secretly make more money off of your craft soda sales. That’s what happened with Appalachian Brewing Company in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Appalachian Brewing Company’s Brewmaster Artie Tafoya says “It was due to the demand. People wanted to buy it. It just ended up turning into a bigger deal.” On paper that’s a pretty impressive feat considering the brewery produces around 15 beers at a time depending on the season and just four bottled craft sodas. Like most in the craft soda business, their signature soda is their homemade root beer, something Tafoya experimented with initially as a family-friendly alternative to the hard stuff. When asked what sets Appalachian Brewing’s root beer apart from a plethora of others, Tafoya said he believes several ingredients stick out including: pure Appalachian spring water, cane sugar, mexican vanilla bean extract, and clover honey. The clover honey is a signature ingredient in several of the company’s craft sodas. It’s a recipe designed to taste like “old fashioned root beer,” Tafoya says. The brewery has been around nearly two decades and will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2017. And while it’s not much of a secret anymore that Appalachian Brewing Company is as much of a player in craft soda as it is in beer, the company’s dedication is what will keep it at the forefront of both industries in the years to come. “I’ll spend any amount of money to make it,” Tafoya says of his products. That’s a formula for good liquid.

Buy: Due to freezing temperatures in the northeast over the winter, your best bet for placing an order is by contacting the company directly.

Nose: Classic root beer with a vanilla-forward scent and a touch of spearmint. When you’ve tried as many sodas as we have, you can tell that this also smells like it’s going to taste creamy.

Taste: Mint; birch bark; sarsaparilla root; vanilla; mild creaminess. When you think of old time root beers that relied heavily on botanical flavors and mint vs. modern root beers that are all vanilla and very creamy, this definitely leans towards those of yesteryear. Right away you taste a big minty influence, more wintergreen than spearmint. Not spicy, but really permeates the nose. Next there’s a 1-2 combo of sarsaparilla root and birch bark that give the root beer a signature throwback flavor, the kind you used to taste at medieval fairs as a kid. What? You didn’t go to any medieval fairs as a kid? That was just me? Man, you missed out. But there’s also a subtle creaminess to this. It’s not as hard-hitting on the vanilla as most modern root beer recipes, but there’s enough of it for you to taste. As far as the honey, that really comes in on the finish. This is a nuanced, full-bodied root beer with a nice old school flavor.

Finish: Tangy sarsaparilla and mild vanilla flavors that fade into noticeable honey. The more you drink this, the more pronounced the honey becomes.

Rating: It’s refreshing to see a modern company creating a root beer that tastes like it was imported from the past. Appalachian Brewing Company’s Root Beer is bold and layered with big notes of wintergreen mint, sarsaparilla root, and birch. It feels like something you should should drink out of a silver chalice in the woods while wearing flannel and blue jeans. Maybe something to quench your thirst with after chopping down a tree. I also appreciate the mild use of vanilla and honey that make this root beer a lot more approachable for soda hounds who aren’t fans of the more earthy flavors. This drinks easily and is very crisp on the tongue, giving it a pleasant mouth feel. I personally like a little bit more vanilla in my root beers, but I think Appalachian Brewing is really catering to a part of the root beer crowd that feels like their favorite recipes have fallen by the wayside. This is a callback to simpler times and bolder soda. I wouldn’t hesitate to try this if you get the chance.

Four Stars

Nichol Kola

History: We have been waiting a long time to write this review. Not because we’re lazy, but because finding the history behind this soda was a maddeningly slow process. In the 2010 edition of Soda Spectrum, contributor Blair Matthews writes “there’s hardly a trace of what was once such a successful and lucrative cola brand.” But searching is our thing… so we searched. We consulted Eric Wideman, “the nation’s expert on Nichol Kola,” according to his boss, Orca Beverage President Mike Bourgeois. And based on the information we’ve gathered from Wideman, I believe it. I mean what an absurdly specific thing to be obsessed with: a soda that started in 1936. Personally I am obsessed with Natalie and Tonya… but they’re not talking to me anymore. Anyway, here’s what Wideman relayed to us about Nichol Cola: first there was Sun-Boc, then there was Ver-Vac, Pow! World War I – sugar problems – yadda, yadda, yadda. And now here we are years later with Orca Beverage resurrecting a forgotten brand. Got it? Good. Peace out. Jk. God, for how long it took us to write this, we are doing it in the most annoying way possible. Here’s a synopsis of the soda’s history as written in the book The House of Quality: The History of the H.R. Nicholson Company by Harry R. Nicholson. Wideman sent us excerpts from this extremely rare publication. We do know it’s a real thing though because we found it online in Australia’s National Library. Go figure. Harry R. Nicholson was a business man. Dude was savvy back in the early 1900’s. With prohibition on the rise, he created Sun-Boc an amber not-quite-beer that became a hit with people looking for something to replace their former definitely-real-beer. After Sun-Boc’s success, Nicholson invested that money into a cola he called Ver-Vac designed to compete with Coca Cola. Well Ver-Vac, despite maybe being the worst-named soda I’ve ever heard of, was a hit. Nicholson raked in $110,000 from investors to go all-in on it. And then he hit a road block called World War I, which led to sugar rationing and a spike in sugar’s price. Here’s the big problem with that; sugar is a huge part of soda and the amount of sugar businesses “were allotted was based on their usage before the rationing” and since Ver-Vac was a relatively new venture, Nicholson didn’t get anywhere close to enough of it to run a soda business. After a bad business deal on sugar and then the sudden stoppage of the war, Ver-Vac’s fizz as a company went flat. In 1926, Nicholson gave cola a shot again, this time branding it as “Nichol Kola” to compete with brands like Pepsi. He would sell the concentrate to independent bottlers who would then mix it up and sell it. Guess how much each bottle sold for?

Nichol Kola continued into the 1970’s, but as independent bottlers fell by the wayside, there were fewer and fewer businesses to which the company could sell their soda’s concentrate. The trend continued until Nichol Kola met the same fate as Ver-Vac. But in 2006 Orca Beverage revamped the brand. If you haven’t read past reviews, Orca Beverage is a large soda manufacturer and distributer based out of Mukilteo, Washington. Their “thing,” if you will, is buying up vintage brands no longer in production and putting them back on shelves. Bourgeois tells us about his company, “We do that because our specialty is vintage soda. We just want to consolidate as many in-house as we can.” The current incantation of Nichol Kola is not the original formula. When asked to describe today’s recipe, Bourgeois played it pretty close to the vest, but pointed out cinnamon and coriander as ingredients used. He also says there are ingredients in it “that typically aren’t found in colas anymore.” Alright, history lesson over. We finally got that part out of the way. Now let’s drink this damn thing.

Where to get: Nichol Kola is commonly available at Rocketfizz retailers. You can also order it online from Summit City Soda or Orca Beverage. Single bottles are available for purchase from Soda Emporium.

Nose: Rich cola scent. Prominent cinnamon and mild citrus smells.

Taste: Cinnamon; vanilla; mild spice; sugar. Nichol Kola’s defining flavor is spice. To give you an idea, imagine a soft cola with prominent cooking spice notes, most notably cinnamon. There’s also some vanilla and mild citrus flavors. Drinks very easy. If you take some time in between sips, the soda’s spices slowly reveal themselves. Coriander jumps out as well as a stronger, spicier cinnamon. It has a really nice lingering effect. It’s very smooth and not as bitter as certain colas like Pepsi. The sugar isn’t too strong either. The real flavor bang comes near the end of the sip, so take your time on this soda.

Finish: Lingering spices. Reminds me of a spice cake with added vanilla. As with the body, cinnamon is probably the most recognizable flavor on the finish.

Rating: Nichol Kola is an exceptionally smooth cola that drinks easy and maintains a nice balance of sweetness and bitterness. Any bottler that uses cinnamon in its cola is already ahead of the game and it’s the starring ingredient in Nichol Kola. This has a warming sensation to it when you drink it. It’s comfort soda. What surprises me is that the majority of the flavor comes on the soda’s finish. You really get the full-bodied flavor after you’ve already swigged the liquid down your gullet. You’ll taste bold cinnamon, similar to spice cake. Also vanilla and mild orange citrus. It also mixes really well with a vanilla-heavy rum if you’re into the spirits. Try Captain Morgan Black + Nichol Kola. We call it the Five Star Fadeout. One of our writers is passed out on the couch as I write this after having several of them. He’s the reason for the name. This is definitely a cola to try. But it’s not without faults. I wish there were more prominent flavors in the first half of each sip. I wanted to be greeted by something lovely rather than having to wait for it. But I use that same philosophy in my marriages and I’m on my third one, so I could be wrong there. If the first half of each sip was as nice the finish, this would be a five star soda. It’s still one that we believe all craft soda connoisseurs should sample and it’ ability to function well as a standalone drink and a mixer make it even more appealing. Definitely try it both ways. Just don’t be like our writer.

Four Stars