Four Stars

Four stars

Cariboo Brewing: Root Beer

History: We’ve been gone awhile and we know we’ve left many of you parched for craft soda reviews. Well after accumulating many frequent flyer miles, we’re back baby. One of the places we zoomed through? Canada, eh. And though we didn’t see any moose, we did come across a root beer we felt fit for review from Cariboo Brewing out of Prince George, British Columbia. For perspective for our U.S. readers, Prince George is about a four and a half hour flight north from Seattle. Several things stood out to us about Cariboo’s take on root beer. Most noticeably is the 0.5% alcohol/volume label on the front of the can… yes, it comes in a can and not a glass bottle. But don’t fret, this isn’t a hard root beer. It’s nonalcoholic. Fun fact: even nonalcoholic beers are typically 0.5% alcohol/volume. Some of your favorite root beers from other breweries likely contain trace amounts of alcohol as well. Cariboo Brewing is also known for their environmental efforts, so if you’re a vegan, keep your pants on here for the next sentence. According to the company, “For every case of Cariboo, we will plant a tree to aid in the effort to save B.C. forests from pine beetle devastation and restore areas struck by forest fires.” The brewery “has partnered with the BC Ministry of Forests and Range to Refresh & Reforest BC with over 1 million trees by 2020.” Cariboo Brewing Root Beer is made with pure spring water and cane sugar and the company describes its taste as “smooth and creamy” with “sassafras on the palate.” The brewery’s creation was made with American taste buds in mind, where the drink is most popular. So while our elections are a disaster at the moment, at least our beverages are keeping our neighbors to the north happy. And guys, save some more for us and we’ll let you know in November if we’re moving there.

Where to get: For this one, your best bet is to live near Prince George, British Columbia, Canada or contact the brewery to place an order for a 6-pack.

Nose: Standard root beer smell, similar to A&W. Some nostril hits of birch oil and mint.

Taste: Mild vanilla; subtle wintergreen; birch bark; sugar; light creaminess. There’s a really pleasant synergy of all the flavors in Cariboo’s Root Beer. No ingredient overpowers its companions. In terms of mouth feel, it’s crisp up front, but the back half is creamy. You’ll taste traditional root beer flavors like vanilla, wintergreen mint, and birch bark, along with crisp sugar. Everything is balanced. No weird aftertaste either. If I had to pick a couple elements that stand out most, I’d go with the birch oil and the vanilla – but you’ll probably have your own opinions here. Pairs well with ice too, making this root beer slightly more creamy.

Finish: The finish is short, but slightly more earthy. After the creaminess of the body fades, you’re left with the birch and wintergreen flavors that briefly linger for a couple seconds.

Rating: With a cornucopia of craft root beers on the market, so often we just need one that doesn’t let us down or try to shove as many weird flavors in a bottle as it can. Cariboo Root Beer is here to satisfy your need for a traditional, tasty mug of soda brew. It’s one of the few craft root beers out there that comes in a can instead of a bottle. Purists may scoff at this, but we can attest there’s no metallic or weird aftertaste. The British Columbia, Canada brewing company achieves great balance in its root beer with vanilla, sugar, wintergreen, and birch oil all evident in the flavor profile. It’s crisp, but also creamy – a trait that scores big points with us. It’s consistent, has strong flavor, and doesn’t try to be something it’s not. This is the dad of root beers (no offense to Dad’s Root Beer): you can depend on it to do the right things when others let you down. One element I’d like to see brought out more is the vanilla. You get bits and pieces of it and can taste how Cariboo has done a great job with that flavor, but I think it needs to shine more. Overall, this is delicious. I’d have a hard time seeing any root beer purist or novice not enjoying this. If you’re all aboot (Canada pun? √) root beer, do yourself a favor and get in touch with your Canadian brethren for a tasty north of the border treat.

Four Stars

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Roots Soda Co.: Hoodoo

History: As soon as you hear the first chords of the Muse song “Hoodoo,” there’s an entrancing vibration that echoes your down your spine… but more importantly, there’s also a sense of dread. Like peering into an ocean blue sky before looking off in the distance and seeing a dark wave of clouds barreling forward. Middle Eastern-inspired guitar strings pluck quietly, conjuring up the image of a quiet dessert before the song quickly descends into a rapid, more folksy rendition of itself. Lead singer Matt Bellamy calmly croons about for half the song until the music then trades in its exotic flare for one that’s angrier, churning ahead with distorted guitars and sinister orchestral strings. The song shares the same name with an original creation from Roots Soda Co. in Edinburgh, Scotland. And much like the flow of the music, Roots founder Mark Pool describes Hoodoo the beverage as “Jekyll and Hyde, a split personality that would refresh and then burn.” The story is also the inspiration behind the beverage. He likens it to a fruit punch which is an interesting comparison to us after previously reviewing one of the company’s other sodas, Kaleidoscope, one we felt also tasted like a fruit punch. There’s more parallels to the Muse song too. The two share similar cultural influences. Pool says Hoodoo was “inspired by far eastern and South American drinks.” But there’s another, more important influence on the company’s creations. Roots Soda Co. prides itself on using real ingredients in their soda. They acknowledge and agree with the backlash against a majority of soda on the market. Pool is frank, saying “Soda is going to have to change and artificial sweeteners are not the answer. We started out wanting to make our sodas more healthy that what was on offer.” He hammers the point home, adding “The landscape of soda is one of ruin.” Damn, man – tell us how you really feel. Well, he did. And Hoodoo was his first answer.

“It took months” to perfect Hoodoo, a soda with a bevy of ingredients that make you wonder how the recipe will work when they’re all combined. Pool tells us the soda contains orange, lime, lemon and pink grapefruit juices in addition to pomegranate and chili peppers. That was the reason for the delay. Pool struggled with balancing citrus and heat. “I wanted the burn to come on slowly so that the soda first cooled and refreshed, and let you taste all of the ingredients before the burn started to build,” he says. He’s since mastered the level of heat he desired, but still faces battles with every batch of Hoodoo. Again, it’s the pepper that causes Pool to sweat. “The chillies come from different parts of the world throughout the year, and the heat from them can vary. Just like cooking a meal at home, we have to taste and adjust cooking times for the chillies in the syrup, in order to get the heat just right in every batch.” As with many sodas from Europe, the portion size is slightly smaller than the usual 12 ounces Americans are used to. But what the bottle lacks in size, it makes up in personality with its menacing red label and poetry inscribed on the back. It’s clear the crew at Roots Soda Co. have worked hard to make their sodas an experience from the names to the ingredients to the aesthetics. The only thing we all really care about though: the flavor. So here’s to the Jekyll and Hyde of sodas. It’s been a long time since I’ve tasted a split personality. At least three or four girlfriends ago.

Where to get: Roots Soda is only sold at physical locations in the United Kingdom. Sorry everybody else; you’ll have to travel for this one. But if you’re in the area, here’s a list of where to find the goods. The company also hinted online sales may be coming, so always be on the lookout.

Nose: Smells kind of like a fruitier version of V8 juice. Some savory vegetable and sweet fruits stirred together in a pot .

Taste: Juicy; pepper; orange; chili; lime; tangy. Each sip of Hoodoo reveals something a little different. Initially you might taste the chili, making the soda seem more savory. Then on the next sip, the orange comes through to make it seem more fruity and sweet. Try it again and you might notice the lime or pomegranate most, giving the soda a tangy characteristic. I’d say orange is the soda’s base flavor with chili and lime being tied for second most prominent. It really is kind of a split personality drink. Sometimes it’s more like a semisweet, vegetable-influenced juice cocktail. Sometimes it’s almost like a citrus fruit punch. But the reality is that Hoodoo is somewhere in the middle, both savory and sweet. Refreshing, yet atypical.

Finish: More savoy than sweet with notes of bell pepper and chili being most prominent and just a tinge of sweet and sour lemon, as well as orange.

Rating: So often we get asked for soda recommendations with the qualifier, “something not too sweet.” Hoodoo has shot up to the short list of sodas meeting that requirement. It’s a hybrid between a botanical and sweet soda, while getting its flavors from real fruits and vegetables. Some sips are rich, even savory with notes of bell pepper and chili. Others are sweet and juicy with a base of orange juice supported by tangy pomegranate and lime. It seems to change each time you bring the bottle to your lips. Even the degree of the flavors are different. Sometimes the pepper taste is subdued. Other times it’s vicious. Sometimes the orange flavor is juicy and upfront by itself. Other times it’s just a supporting player in the background as pomegranate and lime take over. Split personality. I’m not even talking about my exes this time. These two words define Hoodoo. And it’s clearly by design. And in that sense, Roots Soda Co. has certainly succeeded. The company is one of Europe’s best craft soda bottlers. If you’re looking for something truly out of the box, something unpredictable, give Hoodoo a try.

Four Stars

Dry Sparkling: Malali Watermelon

History: It wouldn’t be summer without watermelon… soda? At least it wouldn’t be according to Dry Sparkling. Founder Sharelle Klaus says it’s “such a nostalgic flavor that is synonymous with this time of year.” The Seattle, Washington-based company boasts nine different flavors and decided to add Malali Watermelon and Serrano Pepper as seasonal offerings that run through August of 2016. Dry Sparkling is one of those companies not afraid to be different. Every soda they make is under 100 calories, containing only four ingredients. Basically none of their flavors are traditional. And they’re all designed to be paired with food. It’s soda for the artisan crowd. Klaus says, “I believe we’re creating a new category of soda.” But back to this particular flavor. Straight up, what is Malali Watermelon? It sounds like something you go on a quest for. Stranded deep in the rainforest for seven nights, the young boy returns to his village a hero, carrying in tow the legendary Malali Watermelon as the elders weep with joy. Just kidding, it’s actually a real fruit. Klaus tells us “Malali Watermelon is a smallish watermelon with sweet ruby red flesh and a bright green skin. They mature best in warm, dry climates and are often grown in home gardens.” So I guess we won’t be writing that epic watermelon novel after all. She did say they’re thought to have started growing first in Africa… so we kinda got that part right. According to Klaus, Malali Watermelon is currently the company’s fastest-selling soda. She says people’s first reactions are typically ones of “surprise that it tastes true-to-nature” before adding that another popular review is that it tastes like “summer in a bottle.” Oh, and if you’re looking for a food pairing to go with Malali Watermelon, try sweet shellfish like shrimp or lobster, or savory meats like lamb or grilled kebabs.

Where to get: Dry Sparkling is distributed across the U.S. You can find it in stores like Whole Foods and Target, among others, but the best way to find the retailer nearest you is to use the company’s online soda locator. For a full list of stores that carry Dry Malali Watermelon, click here. But remember, it’s only here through August 2016.

Nose: Sort a mash-up of a variety of melons, including honeydew, cantaloupe, and of course, watermelon.

Taste: Watermelon; tangy; soft; light. A light and refreshing take on watermelon soda. Not as sweet as other watermelon sodas, but still contains a noticeable amount of sugar and nice watermelon taste. A summer soda, for sure. One you could drink quickly. It’s very tangy up front – more of a tangy generic melon flavor than specifically watermelon. This segues into a more direct taste of watermelon that lasts for the finals two-thirds of the sip. The mouthfeel is also noteworthy. It’s soft. There’s noticeable carbonation, but it doesn’t sting the inside of your cheeks and adds to the soda’s drinkability. Not too strong, but still enough flavor there to satisfy watermelon enthusiasts. Very light and summery.

Finish: Softer than the initial tanginess. This is where you’ll really taste the watermelon. It lingers in the background for quite some time with the volume turned down.

Rating: Admittedly I’m not much of a watermelon fan, yet this soda is so light and mild I find myself continuing to sip it. It’s a quintessential summer beverage to be enjoyed by the pool or while grilling. I imagine it pairing well with food. As for the flavor, it’s tangy and full of subtle watermelon notes that show themselves more in the second half of each sip. The good thing about this soda is it’s not too melon-y, to use a technical term. Watermelon seems to be a divisive flavor among fruits. It’s not like cherry, which nearly everyone loves. So it’s nice to see Dry Sparkling not going over the top here. I think it could use just a littttttle more sweetness. Maybe up it from 19 to 26 grams. Other than that, this is a solid offering from Dry. The transition from tangy to fruit is excellently executed. You also don’t see a ton of watermelon sodas, so it’s nice to see one of America’s hippest craft soda bottlers tackle the flavor.

Four Stars

Dry Sparkling: Serrano Pepper

History: “Dear spice lovers – this one’s for you” is the message you’re greeted with on Dry Sparkling’s four-pack of Serrano Pepper soda. I know what you’re thinking. How did we get here? Is craft soda really heading this direction? Pepper soda? I can’t say we disagree with you. So we had to ask Dry Sparkling a few questions about their seasonal Serrano Pepper soda. Founder and CEO Sharell Klaus says “We really wanted to create something unexpectedly delicious! No other beverages out there specifically celebrate the taste of spicy peppers, so we set out to do just that.” Not only was this beverage created to be a refreshing take on pepper (it’s hard to even write that and understand it), it was formulated to pair with summer foods like BBQ and Cuban sandwiches. Klaus and her company have always been different. She says “I believe we’re creating a new category of soda.” Founded in 2005 in Seattle, Washington, the company boasts atypical flavors like Juniper Berry, Lavender, and Fuji Apple. That’s not the only unique aspect of Dry Sparkling. Each flavor contains less than 100 calories. Every bottle of soda is clear. And every recipe is made with only four ingredients: carbonated water, cane sugar, natural flavors, and phosphoric acid. For the summer of 2016, they cranked out two seasonal flavors: the one this review is about (if you’re like my girlfriend and just skimming this as I look over your shoulder for approval, it’s Serrano Pepper) and Malali Watermelon. Klaus expands on the former, saying “With Serrano Pepper DRY, you get these very intriguing savory and green, yet balanced notes, plus a touch of spice. We aimed for it to have a kick, but still be refreshing. Like spicy peppers themselves, some bottles of Serrano Pepper DRY are hotter than others due to the natural pepper emulsion that flavors each batch.” I think it’s safe to say, this is a soda for the adventurous. It’s a soda designed to appeal to the more culinary-inclined, a demographic to which Dry Sparkling caters. Klaus says the tastes of Dry’s target audience are more “artisan” in nature and that their drinks are “more of an elevated experience.” Translation: we make fancy shit. And if you’re here, you’re probably a part of the demographic who appreciates that. In her own words, Klaus sums up her company as “The new age warriors of soda.”

Where to get: Dry Sparkling is distributed across the U.S. You can find it in stores like Whole Foods and Target, among others, but the best way to find the retailer nearest you is to use the company’s online soda locator. For a full list of stores that carry Dry Serrano Pepper, click here.

Nose: A subdued pepper smell. Imagine pulling a pepper out of the fridge and then cutting it open. The cold from the refrigerator will slightly dull the pepper’s strong aromas. That’s what I’m getting here. Definitely Serrano/green pepper, just subtle.

Taste: Refreshing; green pepper; brisk carbonation; crisp. For a soda that bases its flavor on a pepper, this is surprisingly very drinkable. Not overwhelming at all. It’s kind of like drinking a flavored tonic, infused with the crisp carbonation of a lemon-lime soda (without the lemon-lime flavor). The pepper really comes through. It’s nice and mild. Not particularly spicy. Anyone should be able to handle this. The initial sip has a savory characteristic from the pepper, and as it fades you taste just a hint of sweetness near the end. I think you’ll be surprised just how brisk and light this drinks.

Finish: Definitely not as strong as the initial sip. Bubbles continue to dance along your tongue as the soda’s sugar briefly reveals itself before going back into hiding.

Rating: Dry Sparkling Serrano Pepper is one of the most surprising sodas you’ll drink. Coming in, I expected something harsh and abrasive. I mean, it says on the label “spicy” and “savory.” Those aren’t exactly typical qualities of a soda. But I wouldn’t call this a spicy soda, rather it’s more refreshing and crisp than anything else. The pepper flavor is strongest on the initial sip before quickly fading in favor of mild sweetness. It drinks like a pepper-flavored tonic. Savory, then slightly sweet. Like my ex. But overall, this is very mild and drinkable, and these are the two characteristics that make Dry Serrano Pepper work as a beverage. I hesitate to say this is a soda for only the adventurous because I really do think more than just a fraction of soda drinker would like this. That said, it’s still pepper soda. The idea alone will be enough to scare many away. And if you’re not a pepper fan, I wouldn’t travel down this road. When I first started drinking this, I thought I’d rate this three stars, but by the end it’s clear that would be too low. Just the fact that I could get through an entire pepper soda and enjoy it says something about the craftsmanship of Dry Sparkling. Get Serrano Pepper while it lasts. It’s only here until August 2016.

Four Stars

Reed’s Raspberry Ginger Brew

History: Chris Reed, founder and CEO of Reed’s Inc. is not a shy man. He’s upfront and original with every thought. And he’s not afraid to tell you what he thinks about the competition. How could a raspberry ginger ale not catch your eye? Because c’mon, you know that sounds appealing. Well, the reason Reed created his is because the others… didn’t. He says over the phone, “Probably about 20 years ago, Canada Dry came out with a raspberry ginger ale…. They were so appallingly bad that I wanted the world to taste what real raspberry ginger ale tasted like.” Man, sounds like my ex-wife talking about me. Point is, probably not gonna be a combination soda between Canada Dry and Reed’s anytime soon. Reed adds that most of the competition has fallen by the wayside. If you google “raspberry ginger ale,” Schweppes is the only other brand on the radar. Apparently its a cutthroat flavor. While labeled a ginger ale, Reed prefers to call his line of Reed’s soda “ginger brews” because they contain spices and other fruits not found in traditional ginger beers or ales. Reed’s was making ginger-based sodas before the category became all the rage in 2015. They’ve been doing it since 1989. Raspberry ginger ale was the third flavor Chris Reed created after his traditional ginger brew and spiced apple brew. Upon founding his company, Reed admits “I wanted to dose the world with ginger.” Like all of the company’s sodas, the raspberry ginger ale does not contain preservatives, caffeine, gluten, or GMO’s. It does, however, use real raspberry juice. It’s “a very full-flavored raspberry [soda] with a background of ginger,” Reed says. He also adds that lime is probably the second most noticeable flavor. Speaking of noticeable, you’ve probably heard of Reed’s. It’s headquartered in Los Angeles, but it’s available all over America. If you ever stroll down the organic section of your grocery store, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll find something available from either Reed’s or its sister company, Virgil’s. The company also sells kombucha, ginger chews, and several other beverages. But ginger brews are and always will be the company’s marquee product.

Where to get: Reed’s is one of the most popular craft soda brands in the nation. Start by checking your local health food or all-natural stores, or even the organic section of your favorite grocer. Or you could just use the company’s online store locator. You can buy Reed’s Raspberry Ginger Ale online directly from the company or in single bottles from Soda Emporium.

Nose: Getting a lot of apple and pear notes with a little bit of ginger. This is made with apple and pear juices, so it makes sense, but I’m not smelling raspberry so much.

Taste: Ginger; fruity; floral notes; apple; raspberry; blackberry; mild lemon. First of all, this is extremely refreshing for a ginger ale. Tastes more like a punch with a little oomph instead of a fruit-flavored ginger ale. Reed’s Raspberry Ginger Ale is made with a cornucopia of ingredients and many of them come through. Fruity and floral notes shine the most with raspberry, blackberry, apple, and elderflower being most prominent. For those of you not familiar with the flavor of elderflower, it’s a mild floral taste that usually varies depending on what ingredients with which it is paired. Here it tastes more like rose petal because of the sweetness from the raspberries and apples. The ginger is definitely present, but this is not a spicy beverage at all – more of a fruity summer drink with just a tinge of ginger spice. It hangs out in the background, mostly. The blackberry and raspberry flavors seem to switch out prominence with each sip, while the apple taste always stays on your tongue. You’ll also taste just a litttttttle bit of lemon to give this some light acidity and flavor contrast to the sweeter fruits. Another point I’d like to make: this is a very natural-tasting soda. The fruits taste real. But it also still has enough sweetness to make soda fans happy. All and all, very approachable and refreshing.

Finish: Light carbonation with mild raspberry and lemon notes. The apple is still present too, just not as much as in the body. The finish strips back some of the flavors in the body for a less complex, cleaner end to your sip.

Rating: Reed’s Raspberry Ginger Ale is an excellent fruity infusion to the category, but its flavors may surprise you. If you come into this thinking you’re going to taste a straight ginger ale with some raspberry juice, you’re in for a surprise. There’s lots of fruity and floral notes in this that give it a more complex flavor than you’ll probably expect. But it’s also very light and refreshing, so it’s easy to drink. Besides ginger root, spices, and elderflower, there are five other fruit juices in this recipe. As a result, Reed’s Raspberry Ginger Ale ends up tasting more like a fruit punch with mild spice notes from the ginger. In all honesty, the ginger is not the star of this drink. The apple, raspberry, blackberry, and elderflower flavors are much more prominent on each sip. Ginger plays more of a supporting role in the background with lemon to give the soda’s sweeter side some contrast and tartness. The fruity notes of apple, blackberry, and raspberry work well together to make this soda one that begs for warm weather drinking. I could drink this by the pool with a bunch of babes around. Or I could at least pretend to from my living room. What I’m trying to say is this: the fruit punchiness (yeah, I made it up) of this is excellent. If this was called Raspberry Punch instead of Raspberry Ginger Ale, you’d get no complaints from me. And this leads me to my only complaint – sometimes the fruit overpowers the spice so much that I can’t taste the ginger in this at all. Regardless, the flavor should turn a lot of heads in a positive way. If you like fruiter sodas that taste authentic, this is definitely going to be your thing. It’s also Vegan-friendly if you’re into that sort of thing. I was surprised by Raspberry Ginger Beer’s flavor. It wasn’t what I was expecting, but it was a nice surprise.

Four Stars

Cannonborough BevCo.: Sorghum Thyme

History: Soda keeps getting weirder and weirder. And in the words of Matthew McConaughey, “that’s good for me.” Sorghum is an ingredient most southerners are familiar with, and you might be too if you enjoy molasses. But never did I think I’d see the day when sorghum was used as one of the main ingredients in a soda, much less paired with an herb. Then again, the guys at Cannonborough Beverage Company are southern gentlemen, hailing from Charleston, South Carolina (although they actually look like three dudes you’d meet at a frat party. The guys grew up playing soccer together.) So the trio took sorghum from a Tennessee farm called Muddy Pond Sorghum Mill and paired it with… thyme? Yup. According to CannonBevCo’s head PR Rep Mick Matricciano, geographically, “it just made sense to incorporate it into our sodas.” Sorghum Thyme soda was introduced near the end of fall in 2015. The company was founded three years earlier in 2012. What’s really interesting about the particular sorghum they sourced for the soda is that they felt it tasted like something else entirely.”One thing that jumped out at us right away was, at a certain dilution, it starts to show flavors very similar to pressed apple juice. We thought that was super unique, so we moved forward treating it as if it was apple juice, pairing it with ingredients we would normally use with apples.” Matricciano also added that “it ended up being one of those fun, humbling moments” after the team realized that instead of taking the ingredients to its final destination, the ingredient guided them. Once they realized that was the case, they ran with it. “We wanted to maintain that cool apple-like flavor of the sorghum,” he says.

At the time of this review, there are only 30 bottles left of Sorghum Thyme. Will it ever be made again? Who knows. That’s the thing about CannonBevCo; it’s a company all about keeping things fresh, literally and figuratively. All sodas are made with real ingredients from local partners and farmers. Hand-picked herbs and spices. Fresh-squeezed juices. In fact, the ingredients are so authentic that they have to force carbonate the liquid they create and flash pasteurize each bottle to turn it into soda and keep it shelf-stable. Basically, they blast CO2 into said batch of liquid, which bonds with water, and when the CO2 dissolves you get bubbles. If you need a better explanation than that… I’m not a scientist; I write about soda on the Internet, you’re kinda dreaming here. Bottom line, whatever you taste is real and most flavors are seasonal, meaning once they’re gone, they’re gone. It’s up to you and the guys at Cannonborough to decide whether or not they’re gone for good. So if you like one of their flavors, make a fuss about it once it leaves to keep it coming back. As for their next round of seasonal sodas? We’ll keep that a mystery, but leave you with some clues. Something fruity. Something citrusy. And something with a kick.

Where to get: CannonBevCo Ginger Beer is available in bars, restaurants, and cafes throughout South Carolina. You can also order their sodas in 750ml bottles for $10 + shipping at their online store. Sorghum Thyme can be found right here.

Nose: Smells a little bit like apple cider and a lot like a kitchen full of lush herbs. Smells like it might have an herby citrus bite to it, but soda assumptions are a dangerous game, friendo.

Taste: Apple cider; herb; citrus; slight earthiness. I want you to know that we write out the tasting portion of our reviews first and then conduct an interview with the bottler. That said, I dunno if I’m crazy, but this tastes like a shrubbed apple cider with earthy undertones. All of us here think that. It’s not just me being the weirdo. Thing is… there’s no apple in this. The main ingredients are sorghum, thyme, and lemon juice. And I definitely taste a citrus influence from the lemon and some earthy, herbal qualities that infuses themselves into the cider taste, but the flavor of apples is what really stands out. It tastes like an artisan apple cider with a twist, the twist being mild citrus and maybe just a slight savory, herbal influence. Listen, I’m not dumb; I taste soda all the time. And I’ve run into sodas before that taste like an ingredient not included in the recipe, but never like this. This has a dominant, powerful apple cider taste. Look, it’s good. It’s a great cider. I’m just confused because I don’t see it on the label.

Edit post-interview: Vindication.

Finish: I think I taste the citrus influencing the apple taste most here. I don’t get as much from the thyme, but the lemon stands out to give the apple taste a unique tanginess as the sip fades into the distance.

Rating: I gotta be real, when I first heard about this flavor, one that combined an herb with a different sweet plant; I thought it’d be butt. Not like Beyonce butt. Like Danny Devito butt. But I was wrong. I should’ve known too. The guys at Cannonborough Beverage Company seemingly only make delicious soda, based on past reviews. This is a surprising flavor based on the label, but a familiar one to the tongue. It’s like going on a date with a beautiful New York woman… only in China. Lush apple cider is the flavor that you’ll take away from CannonBevCo’s Sorghum Thyme soda. It forms the base of the drink. Very fresh and light, while also having an element of mild citrus sourness. The lemon juice and thyme interact in a way that give the cider taste some additional tangy notes with just a slight herbed influence. If you’ve ever had a shrub syrup in a cocktail, there are definitely some influences of that here. All in all, it’s one of the most surprising sodas I’ve ever tasted in an enjoyable way. The South Carolina trio continues to delight with their unique artisan soda flavors that tickle the tongue and boggle the mind. CannonBevCo should be on your short list of brands to try if you’re a fan of craft soda.

Four Stars

Bundaberg: Pink Grapefruit

History: Perched along the northeastern coast of Queensland, Australia sits the city of Bundaberg. The name itself is hard not to say in an Aussie accent. It’s ok, we’ll pause so you can do it. You good now? Right, then. But you might know the name from arguably its greatest export, Bunderberg Brewed Drinks. The company, founded in 1960 and named after the city, is most famous for its ginger beer. Today, the company brews around 12 different flavors at a time with new ideas for sodas always being kicked around. Bundaberg ships its sodas across 46 different counties. Most of their flavors can be found around the world, though Australia and New Zealand are probably the only places you can be guaranteed to find the entire collection. For example, you won’t find Creaming Soda or Pineapple and Coconut in America. And let me tell you, we were given some of the latter just to sample and not review… and it is delightful. I may not have a girlfriend, but I do get sent rare sodas from time to time. I digress. I also mentioned that Bundaberg “brews” its sodas. This word is very important because it really is the best way to describe how their beverages are produced. Ashleigh Gray, Bundaberg’s Brand Manager, says “We pour our heart and soul into every brewed drink.” And I know that warms your heart, but the most important ingredients are actually yeast and fruit. Using yeast to ferment the fruit allows Bundaberg “to extract real flavor,” giving the sodas their signature, authentic fruity taste. According to Gray, the process can take “up to seven days.” Trust me, for a soda, that is intense. The company branched out from ginger beer in 2010, introducing its sparkling line that included pink grapefruit, guava, and blood orange. Even though it can be a divisive fruit, we’ve always felt like grapefruit could really translate to soda if the bottler could actually pull out the real essence of the fruit. Bundaberg’s Peach Soda does exactly that, so it was time to see how they tackled something a little more challenging to a wider audience’s palate. When we asked how the company designed the soda’s flavor profile, we were given an encouraging answer. Gray told us that “the grapefruit juice and the locally sourced sugarcane used in our beverages means that we don’t need to design the taste of our beverages, the taste comes through the use of real, quality ingredients.” We’re more than convinced our audience deserves to know more about Bundaberg’s Pink Grapefruit soda. Yet, as with any grapefruit soda or new relationship, we’re guarded.

Where to get: Bundaberg is the largest nonalcoholic craft beverage distributor in Australia and their sodas can be found all over the world. To find your nearest retailer, enter your info in their online product locator. You can also buy it online from Soda Emporium in single bottles or on Amazon in 12-packs.

Nose: Smells exactly like a fresh-sliced pink grapefruit. You can’t get a more authentic grapefruit scent.

Taste: Grapefruit; mild sweetness; mild acidity. For as lush as this smells, the grapefruit taste is more pulled back than I’d expect. Pink grapefruit is definitely the dominating flavor here; it’s just not as bold as your nose leads you to believes. It’s a mild, but authentic grapefruit taste with reasonable sweetness and a slight, slight tartness. Solid grapefruit flavor, but doesn’t have the same punch or acidity that a real grapefruit slice contains. Refreshing and easy to drink. A summer soda, no doubt.

Finish: Medium tartness that flows outward on the tongue with the same grapefruit flavor from the body of the soda. The only difference on the finish is that the acidity is a little more noticeable.

Rating: Bundaberg is one of the best mass-produced craft soda brands at taking a fruit and transforming it into a sugary carbonated beverage while maintaining its authentic flavor. Their take on pink grapefruit is no different. It actually does taste like real grapefruit, just more mild in every way. Bundaberg Pink Grapefruit Soda takes everything about the fruit – namely the flavor and the acidity – and dials it back. Even the sugar levels aren’t as high as in other craft sodas. All of this, I assume, is intentional since grapefruit’s flavor is pretty divisive to the general population. Unlike drinking fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice, this is much more approachable. This is a grapefruit soda that’s light and refreshing while still tasting like the real thing. It’s like the opposite of when my sister makes meatloaf – I’m not really sure what’s in there, and God knows it’s better if I don’t ask. Bundaberg seems to have made a grapefruit soda for both fans and non-fans of grapefruit. Even if the fruit itself makes you a little hesitant, I’d still suggest trying the soda. My only qualm is the fact that it’s so approachable. For me, I’d enjoy a little more punch from the flavor. Bolder grapefruit and more of a bite. Admittedly, I’m probably in the minority, but I just need a little more oomph. I think Bundaberg’s Pink Grapefruit Soda would be best enjoyed on a hot day, perhaps by the pool or on a boat, maybe with some rum or vodka. Just make sure you’re not the driver. Grapefruit sodas are quietly becoming more popular in craft soda and many of today’s bottlers could learn a lesson from Bundaberg’s take on the category.

Four Stars

True Roots Brewing Company: Ginger Beer

History: Ginger is the Swiss Army knife in a bartender’s back pocket. Drink is too sweet? Add some ginger for a kick. Cocktail is lacking in flavor? Throw in ginger to give it a full-bodied boldness. When he’s not dreaming up cocktails for Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steakhouse like the Mai-Tai-relative “King Hippo Milk Punch” or pickled strawberry and ginger beer combo “Clear Keep Lane Fire,” Ray Fuentes is probably busy working on ways to make his current libations better. Fuentes is a well-known Los Angeles, California bartender, leader of Bourbon Steakhouse’s bar program, and the business partner of True Roots Brewing Company co-founder John Shin. Ginger beer continues to be the hottest beverage in craft soda. It’s downright mandatory these days for any bartender, and with the rapid ascension of choices and quality on the ginger beer market, Fuentes grew tired of the old options he’d been using and decided to try his own hand at ginger beer. “Wow, this is good!” was the first thought Shin had when sampling his buddy’s brew. The two quickly turned it into a product, testing it in a restaurant in San Francisco, perfecting the recipe, and then officially debuting it in July of 2015. Less than seven months later, they were bottling True Roots Ginger Beer is cute-ass stubby, little bottles. The company produces a stand-alone ginger beer for drinking by itself or in cocktails, a ginger beer syrup, as well as the more exotic smoked ginger beer syrup. Looking at the ginger beer’s atypical bottle, you might not even believe it to be a beverage. But there’s a lot of thought and ingenuity the liquid in that little bottle.

“It’s very hard to get a good, robust ginger beer,” tells us over the phone. True Roots brews their ginger beer with cocktails in mind first, and instead of making the bartender add a bunch of bitters and syrups to your drink, Shin and Fuentes wanted their ginger beer to be a one-stop-shop of flavor. It’s for this reason True Roots Ginger Beer is made with a handful of complimentary spices that you won’t find in others. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say this stuff is maxed-out to the limits of what we know as artisan. Fans of gourmet culinary experiences: keep your pants on as we go through this list. First this is a ginger beer made without preservatives of any kind, meaning to ensure freshness it needs to be refrigerated. It’s also literally brewed in beer tanks. Next, it’s “very ginger and lime forward,” according to Shin. Typically ginger beers are made with more lemon than lime. True Roots Ginger Beer has no lemon because they felt lime provided a bolder tasting experience. Shin goes on to say, “We’re probably the only ones that cold-press our ginger.” I don’t know what that means and neither do you, but now we’re both intrigued. As for the sweetener? They use both pure cane and brown sugar, something Shin says gives the ginger beer “a bit of a molasses flavor.” Despite multiple sugar types, the total amount is less than a majority of craft soda on the market. This is done to ensure the real flavors in their soda are not masked. Then, of course, there’s those spices we previously mentioned. We tried to pry, but the duo keeps that list close to the vest, though they did divulge the use of cinnamon. The one spice we forgot to put in our photos? Cinnamon. In terms of whether or not this packs a punch, Shin admits they “absolutely meant for it to be a spicy ginger beer,” but also adds that due to a longer carbonation process, it has a bit of “a creamy complexion.” It seems like with True Roots Ginger Beer, for every Yin, there’s a Yang. After our interview with Shin, I’m convinced this will be one of, if not the most interesting ginger beer I’ve ever reviewed. But that’s not the point, he says. ““We weren’t trying to do something different. We were trying to do something better.”

Where to get: True Roots Brewing Ginger Beer is currently sold only in California. To find out where you can purchase some, check out the company’s Facebook page or contact them directly via their website.

Nose: Ah, a complicated smell. A little bit of ginger and several spices. Those are what you’ll smell most. The spices are robust. Cinnamon and clove smells stand out the most. Also some lime too. Very nice.

Taste: Lime; mild ginger; citrus; general spice. This is an especially citrusy ginger beer, and it’s mostly lime you’ll taste. Bold, strong lime. What’s most important to get across here is that this tastes real. You can taste the fresh juices in this ginger beer. Pretty mild carbonation, as well as mild ginger flavor. You actually taste the ginger more near the end of the sip than the beginning. In my opinion, this isn’t particularly spicy in terms of heat. The spice is more in the flavor. I’d call it a 5/10 on the heat index. The spiciness doesn’t hit you hard. It’s more of a lingering effect that builds in the back of the throat. The more you drink this, the more the spice flavor reveals itself. It’s more of a combined effect, meaning you’re probably not going to be able to isolate just cinnamon or clove notes. They work as a whole to impact the ginger beer’s flavor profile. What you’ll likely take away from True Roots Ginger Beer the most is a strong lime influence with subtle ginger near the finish.

Finish: Ginger root, mild spice that lingers, and citrusy lime. Definitely a little more cinnamon on the finish than the body. You also get a little bit of the brown sugar here, even if it’s fleeting.

Rating: If you’re looking to make a stellar dark and stormy or moscow mule, pull out your copper cup and an endearing stubby bottle of True Roots Ginger Beer and go to town. Its intense lime and subtle ginger flavors really work well when paired with a high percentage alcohol. However, on its own, this is likely to be a divisive soda amongst drinkers. For some, the lime flavor, while very authentic, is going to be overbearing. It’s loud and proud like a fat woman in a two-piece on the beach. The ginger flavor isn’t as strong as other ginger beers and mostly hangs in the background while the lime takes center stage. What works best about True Roots Ginger Beer as a stand-alone beverage is the lingering heat that continually builds as you drink the soda. It’s very pleasant and adds a nice kick that should be tolerable for almost everyone and brings an extra layer to the ginger beer’s flavor. On the other hand, the biggest downfall for us was not tasting all the spices in the recipe. You can smell both cinnamon and cloves on the nose, but I don’t get much of that in the ginger beer’s body. What we do taste in terms of spices is very mild. I think if you could taste the spices in this, it would really add something extra for drinkers who want to enjoy it without alcohol. I’d dial up the cinnamon a little more. Cinnamon and citrus actually pair really nicely next to the bitey flavor of ginger. Bottom line, if you enjoy lime and ginger, you should really enjoy this – but you need to like lime or citrus. I also want to add this: don’t give up on this ginger beer if you don’t enjoy it solo after one bottle. I wasn’t sold after one go ’round without booze. A couple days later I came back and the flavors seemed more pronounced. Sometimes complicated soda complicates things for your mouth and brain. They need time to warm up to it. It’s a grower for sure. True Roots Ginger Beer won’t be for everyone on its own, but I’d certainly recommend it over almost any competitor a cocktail. And trust me, we did the market research. We woke up at noon the next day. Cheers.

Four Stars