Fruit Soda

AJ Stephans: Raspberry Lime Rickey

History: Sometimes when researching a soda or a company behind the soda, there’s just not a lot of information to be found. We may have a reviews what we call “in the can,” for months, meaning the tasting and photos are done, but there’s something missing. The reason we don’t publish these reviews is because we’re at a loss on information due to phone calls or emails not being returned and online biographies not being beefy enough for our standards. I’ll tell you what though, there’s really nothing out there on AJ Stephans sodas. What we do know is this: it’s headquartered Fall River, Massachusetts, it’s bottled by the same dude who makes Empire Soda, there’s nine different flavors, and the company was named when the late founder Jeff Rose combined the names of his two daughters. Rose was big on the idea of nostalgia. He said of his sodas, “My product is like going back in time.” Perhaps none of his flavors aside from root beer make that philosophy come to life more than raspberry lime rickey. A lime rickey is the nonalcoholic version of a cocktail called the “Rickey” that dates all the way back to 1903 and is very popular on the east coast. Adding raspberry to it seems like a smart decision to us. It’s like someone said, “Hey Margot Robbie, you look really pretty, but we also want you to wear this push-up bra for your photo shoot.” It’s making a good idea a great one. And I’m all about drinking in good ideas (also very much about Margot Robbie if she’s reading this).

Buy: Specialty Sodas  •  Beverages Direct

Nose: Raspberry jam and raspberry-flavored Tootsie Pops. Mmm.

Taste: Candy raspberry; mild lime; syrupy; melted snow cone; sweet. This is hard to pinpoint on flavor. It definitely has an artificial/candy taste to it. Very sweet. There’s kind of a melted down raspberry snow cone flavor with some faint lime notes. They’re subtle, if not a little dull. The raspberry and lime flavors are about 50% each in the soda, so the balance is there. But in this case, I’m not sure it works. It tastes like the raspberry is really about to sink in to your tastes bud, and then all of sudden the lime completely erases it.

Finish: Sweet raspberry encased in a cocoon of lime. Has a really nice lingering effect that is better than the body of the soda.

Rating: AJ Stephans Raspberry Lime Rickey is one of those flavors that sounds good on paper but fizzles in taste. Its taste is defined by sweet, artificial raspberry, reminiscent of a raspberry snow cone. Only, unlike Jackson Hole’s High Mountain Huckleberry (which has a similar melted snow cone flavor), this soda doesn’t have good supporting flavors. The raspberry flavor is too artificial. Still, despite that, it never even gets a chance to unleash its full potential in the mouth [insert porn joke here]. The lime flavor decapitates the raspberry before it gets a chance to showcase its potential. The lime itself is pretty dull. Also artificial. Almost chemical. This soda tastes like wasted potential. I mean, it has redeeming qualities. Decent initial flavor. Solid finish. But somewhere in that crucial middle part, things get hazy. I wanted to like this because raspberry is one of my favorite flavors in the world, but I just can’t. Too syrupy. Too fake. Too little. If you want a soda that takes you down a similar initial path, with much more rewarding results, try the aforementioned High Mountain Huckleberry.Two Stars

Buckeye State Soda: Scarlet Soda

History: Ready for the most pro-Ohio soda you’ve ever come across? Scarlet Soda by Buckeye State Soda glorifies the state. We’re not kidding. They take it very seriously, saying “It celebrates the great state of Ohio which has given so much to the world and changed the course of history.” I haven’t had that much pride in something since I built my dog an igloo out of Legos when I was eight. He ate a lot of them. It was an expensive vet bill and that was the last time I played with Legos. Scarlet Soda is truly a bottle of red mystery. There’s no flavor listed. So we reached out to the company to try to figure out what we were getting ourselves into. Buckeye State Soda CEO David Wolfenberger tells us “Everyone has a different idea of what it tastes like. We think it ‘Tastes Like Victory’.” So… we didn’t find out anything about how it tastes. He did divulge to us that “it is not a red cream soda,” so there’s that. Basically, this is a “decide-what-you-think-it-is” soda. In somewhat concrete terms, Wolfenberger calls it “an old style red fruit soda flavor.”

Scarlet Soda was created in the fall of 2015, but the history behind the company dates back a lot farther. The real name of the business behind Scarlet Soda is Root Naturals located in Cincinnati, Ohio. The company produces root beer, cream soda, and black cherry under that name using “all natural botanical extracts,” according to Wolfenberger. They operate under the name Buckeye State Soda only when selling one product: Scarlet Soda. Confused yet? Back to the history lesson. It was 1937 when Deno Spaccarelli opened his first apothecary in Cincinnati. For those that don’t know, an apothecary was basically an old time medicine shop. They also often sold fountain sodas as a way to mask the awful flavor of the medicine. So while Scarlet Soda is still relatively new, the inspiration behind Root Naturals as a company dates back much further than 2015. Be prepared for an experience. Wolfenberger sums up Scarlet Soda saying, “People either love it and evangelize it or they they think WTF.”

Buy: • Summit City Soda  • Homer Soda Company (for larger orders)  • Other retailers

Nose: This is strawberry. No doubt. It’s like an artificial candy strawberry scent, reminiscent of strawberry Sour Punch Straws without the sour.

Taste: Sweet; artificial strawberry; mild watermelon. Whoa, this is sugary. It leans heavily on the artificial strawberry flavor side, but there’s also a faint watermelon taste that sneaks its way in and confuses you. This is like melted down strawberry hard candies that have been carbonated and bottled. You know those strawberry candies your grandma has in her jar that no one ever eats? Well, if you actually eat them, they’re full of fake strawberry flavor. That’s kind of how Scarlet Soda tastes.

Finish: Tangy fake strawberry flavor that fades quickly and leaves a bit of a film in your mouth.

Rating: We’ve solved the mystery of Scarlet Soda. Maybe. Probably. I think? This soda is chocked full of artificial strawberry flavor. Oh, and sugar. Lots of sugar. Drink a whole bottle of this and you might be able to lift a car. Kids, do not try this. But if you do and succeed, please post a video and give us credit for the idea. Ok, here’s the thing: I know reading that a soda tastes fake and full of sugar sounds bad, but Scarlet Soda is solid. You just have to be in the mood for it. Scarlet Soda has that old fashioned candy strawberry taste one might find at a state fair. This is a soda tailor-made for children. It likely drinks best on a hot day outside. No, I don’t think a ton of adults are going to be into this and I think its audience is limited. Yes, it’s really sugary, probably too much so. Still, there are going to be people who appreciate this. It’s worth a shot. Try one while you’re barbecuing or use it as a mixer with vodka and maybe some bitters. Because the more I try this, the more I enjoy it even the though soda snob in me is telling me no. Seems like an appropriate response for a soda designed to make the drinker think.

Three Stars

P.S. We only had one bottle of this, so we had to take photos before tasting. We guessed on the cherries… we were wrong. At least they look nice though!

Hippo Size: Prodigious Peach

History: I was watching No Country for Old Men the other night. Great movie, one that really gives you a chilling glimpse into the Texas-Mexico marriage to outlaw life. But even Anton Chigurh couldn’t have gotten his evil, clever hands on a bottle of San Antonio’s favorite past time soda brand. Hippo Soda was gone by 1980. Sorry Anton; you lost the coin toss on that one too. You see, the Hippo Soda we’re reviewing today isn’t how the beverage started. That distinction belonged to The Alamo Bottling Company, which founded Hippo in 1926. The company used the name “Hippo” because their bottles (13 oz., 15 oz., 16 oz.) were all bigger than the competition’s. Hippo used to come in numerous flavors, but all of them vanished for 30 years after the company closed its doors. Enter Orca Beverage, the Mukilteo, Washington-based craft soda bottler and distributor that has made its name on reviving previously extinct soda brands. Orca is known for buying up sodas no longer in production, reintroducing their vintage labels, but remodeling their recipes. You’ll see the same roaring Hippo on Orca’s short, stubby bottles that were used on Alamo Bottling Company’s former longnecks. But there are also differences: the recipes, the names, the flavors. The new Hippo flavors are all named with a masculine feel, from Burly Birch Beer to Prodigious Peach. We’ve had the latter requested to be reviewed too many times now to ignore. So here we are. We’re not sure what movie analogy to use for today’s new-look Hippo Peach Soda; we just hope it’s worth the price of admission.

Where to get: You can buy Hippo Prodigious Peach and other Hippo flavors online via both Amazon and Orca Beverage. Single bottles are available for purchase from Soda Emporium.

Nose: This definitely doesn’t smell like peach, but the scent is really hard to place. I don’t think anyone on our staff can quite place it. It smells kind of like dull fruit. Rustic. Maybe the best descriptor would be that it smells like walking into an orchard and getting a whiff of all those pre-ripe fruits. Prodigious Peach confuses your nose.

Taste: Authentic peach; candy peach; artificial flavor. This is interesting. I think there’s really three main components to the flavor: Real peach, fake peach, and an odd accompanying artificial taste. Unfortunately, those tastes comes in reverse order. You’re hit with an overbearing chemical flavor at first that masks the tastier peach elements. It takes several seconds for this to fade before the more redeeming flavors come in. The peach flavor itself is kind of a hybrid between natural peach juice and like a candy peach gummy flavor. It’s really nice, but you only taste it for probably 1/3 of each sip. It’d be much easier to drink if that peach flavor was more pronounced and the artificial taste was less intense.

Finish: Sliced peaches with sugar that permeate several seconds before fading. The second half of each sip is what you’ll be looking forward to with Prodigious Peach.

Rating: Hippo Size Prodigious Peach reminds me of a lot of Hollywood movies: great script, but a miscast lead actor. Peach is such a wonderful flavor in soda. Luscious, refreshing, and flavorful. Prodigous Peach misses the mark on all three because the main tasting notes in this soda are noticeably artificial in nature. The lead actor in this movie is wrong for it. That artificial flavor mars the drinking experience. What’s most frustrating about this soda is that there are really good peach flavors within this bottle, but they’re masked by an initial chemical taste that is so strong it dilutes the peach notes. But when the peach is there, it’s great. Fruity, sweet, and juicy in nature. A mix of natural and candy peach tastes. But again, they’re fleeting and pushed to the back half of each sip. Luckily they remain in tact for the soda’s finish, undoubtedly the best part of the drink. However, the overwhelming take away from Prodigious Peach is that it tastes fake without having a noticeable peach punch. We’d heard good things about this soda, so it definitely has its supporters, but we can’t recommend it. This is a movie I wouldn’t see again.

Two Stars

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

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

Reading Draft: Strawberry Cream Soda

History: Reading Draft is one of the older soda bottlers in America, concocting their own flavors using pure cane sugar since 1921. But there’s a new sheriff in town, baby. Er… sort of. The company had been under the ownership of Martin Radvani and his wife since 2004, but was purchased by the Hiester family in November of 2015. But don’t worry, they aren’t making any sweeping changes just yet and seem to retain the old school mentality the brand has had since its creation. Reading Draft Marketing Director Jared Hiester says “Drinking a great soda is something that’s both nostalgic and tradition, no matter what age you are…. Being born and raised in this area, this brand of soda had a great reputation, and we all loved the idea of continuing a tradition of handcrafted soda.” Hiester says the family plans to retain the “Pennsylvania Dutch” style of the company as well as all of Reading Draft’s current 13 flavors and is planning to add peach cream in the near future. They also gave the company web page a much-needed update. He added that previously, the company was successful with minimal advertising, so the new website of one of the first steps the Hiester family is taking to revamp the scope of the brand. Reading Draft is known for its variety of birch beers, but arguably, their most unique flavor is strawberry cream. There’s a bit of mystery to every Reading Draft flavor because of the amber bottles and tan labels. You can’t see the liquid inside. Strawberry cream is bright red, almost pinkish. It’s primed to give your tongue a nice painting. Hiester says his family describes the flavor as “liquid strawberry sundae” and that his nieces enjoy it on top of vanilla ice cream. He goes to say that he believes it’s a balanced soda with “just enough creaminess to give it a bit of extra sweet.” I wish when my girlfriend was um, “out of balance” around the middle of the month, I could just give her a bit of sweet and make her go back to normal. Don’t worry, she doesn’t know this website exists. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have a girlfriend. Speaking of balance, there’s one other element about Reading Draft Soda that contributes to it. Hiester explains “What makes the soda unique is that it is one of the select few on the market that is made with a pinpoint carbonation technique. Carbonation is introduced and absorbed slowly into the soda, which leads to smaller bubbles that have a smooth taste and longer persistence.” Another company famous for this method that’s worth checking out is Natrona Bottling. But we’re here for Reading Draft and its strawberry cream, and review it we shall.

Where to get: Reading Draft Soda is mostly sold locally throughout Pennsylvania. For those of us not living the Pennsylvania Dutch lifestyle, Amazon has the hook up online in 12-packs.

Nose: Has a very artificial strawberry scent. Think like Strawberry Sour Punch Straws mixed with mild bubble gum. Definitely reminds me of going to the candy store and opening the bin to some strawberry-flavored sugary treat.

Taste: Tangy strawberry candy; sugar; flush carbonation. This is more straightforward than we expected. The strawberry flavor is rooted in old fashioned strawberry soda flavor, but Reading Draft has added a mild tanginess to their version. It’s definitely a strawberry flavor you’d taste in candy as opposed to eating the real fruit. A little bit of an artificial taste, to be honest. It’s a sweet soda, but the tangy notes help balance it in the mouth. One thing we aren’t tasting here – creaminess. No vanilla. No frothy or velvety texture in the mouth. It might have something to do with the fact that this soda’s carbonation definitely plays a part in the flavor. The bubbles amplify the tanginess, and perhaps take away from the intended strawberry cream flavor. Despite what’s on the label, I’d call this more of a regular strawberry soda.

Finish: I’m not getting much of a cream sensation unless I wait for a long time after the sip. It’s mostly a lighter, more floral version of the strawberry from the soda’s body. Pleasant, but again, reminds me more of regular strawberry soda than strawberry cream.

Rating: Reading Draft Strawberry Cream Soda has the classic liquid strawberry candy flavor many of us in our 20’s, 30’s and 40’s used to drink as children. A good comparison soda would be Fanta Strawberry, though Reading Draft’s flavor is way less syrupy. The soda is mildly tart, sweet and slightly artificial with nice levels of carbonation. A really nice strawberry soda. Thing is… this isn’t supposed to be a regular strawberry soda. It’s supposed to be strawberry cream soda. The only part of this soda that’s creamy is the finish, and you have to really wait before that sensation comes through. There’s no vanilla or strawberry-vanilla hybrid flavor. Just strawberry. In a few words, this isn’t bad; it’s just not what I expected. Kind of like my sister’s baby. Don’t tell her I said that. I didn’t know babies could have heads that big. Back to this. I think a lot of the people who will wish to try this soda will want to on the basis that strawberry cream is an unusual flavor. I’m afraid a lot of those people may be let down because this just tastes like normal strawberry soda. On the other hand, for strawberry soda, this is good. So are you a glass half empty or half full kind of person? If I’m making changes to the recipe, I’d throw in vanilla or more(?) vanilla to make the flavor match the label. Until this happens, Reading Draft Strawberry Cream is a fine soda for a hot day in the sun.

Three Stars

Joia: Grapefruit, Chamomile & Cardamom

History: Like many fans of craft soda, Bob Safford doesn’t drink. Unlike many fans of craft soda, Bob Safford had the money to turn his ideas into liquid for the masses. The irony is that Safford hammered home his ideas by drinking (just a sip) of an alcoholic beverage at a fancy cocktail bar. “It just kind of hit me, why couldn’t you do this with soda?” he says over the phone. A veteran of the marketing industry, Safford was no soda expert. So he assembled a team ranging from a veteran beverage entrepreneur to a Minneapolis mixologist. In an interview with CircleUp, Safford explains how they immediately got to work. “We studied cocktail menus from around the United States to see what fruit, herbal/floral and spice flavors were appearing in cocktails with the greatest frequency.” If he was going to make soda, he wanted it to be more artisinal and, frankly, more healthy than the majority of options available. To many of you, I know that’s an oxymoron. It’s kind of like saying “I ate five cream-filled donuts today, but they were made with skim milk!” as you squeeze the life force out your body to fit into those yoga pants. But healthier options in soda can be created. Typically, they’re fruit-based, which is where Safford took the direction of his team’s creations. In 2011, the group made it official, founding Joia All-Natural Soda in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The name is pronounced “Joy-a,” as an ode to the passion and joy the company feels for its products. Safford believes Joia sodas can function both on their own as more refreshing alternatives to mass-produced soda, and as mixers with alcohol. The company produces four flavors, all using natural fruit juices, spices, and herbs. We’ve previously reviewed their Pineapple, Coconut, and Nutmeg, but no flavor is more popular than the widely available Grapefruit, Chamomile, and Cardamom. The latter was picked up nationally in August of 2015 by Panera restaurants. So now you can have a Joia soda with your low-fat sour cream and onion bagel and soup. Their grapefruit flavor accounts for about 40% of the company’s soda sales, according to Safford. When it came to the creation of their grapefruit soda, Safford says they wanted it to be fruity with an herbal flavor. Interestingly, they focused on aroma first. “Who thinks of soda as having an aroma?” he asks. They wanted to create something that not only smelled authentic, but tasted fresh. “We wanted something that was grapefruit-y but didn’t have that typical tartness of the grapefruit.” So essentially the company tried to take all of grapefruit’s greatest attributes and combine them with the complimentary smoothness of chamomile and the mild savoriness of cardamom. It’s a bold strategy, Cotton. Let’s see if it pays off.

Where to get: Joia’s Grapefruit, Chamomile, & Cardamom is sold nationally at Panera restaurants. You can also purchase it from a number of online retailers, including Amazon, Soda Emporium (single bottles), and Jackeez. To find the physical retailer nearest you, use the company’s online product locator.

Nose: Fresh-cut grapefruit with some additional citrus. This smacks you in the face with authentic grapefruit scents. It couldn’t be closer to the real thing – super impressive.

Taste: Grapefruit juice; bitter spice; smooth. The grapefruit flavor is just as lush as the scent leads you to believe. It’s immediate and upfront, and it caries the soda’s flavor profile throughout. So if you don’t like grapefruit, you won’t like this. Unlike some grapefruit sodas, this one doesn’t try to hide the fruit’s bitterness. You taste real, sweet pink grapefruit upfront, but are then quickly greeted with a tart, bitterness. Some of that comes from the grapefruit itself and some comes from the cardamom. Cardamom is an interesting spice when describing its taste. It’s usually just a complimentary flavor, but in this soda, it has more of an impact and amplifies the grapefruit’s acidity and bitter notes. The chamomile comes through mostly in the aftertaste, but its main accomplishment in this beverage is helping smooth out the soda’s bitterness as it tails off. Strong grapefruit flavor that’s sweet upfront, then sour, and quietly trailing off before the next sip.

Finish: Tart pink grapefruit that transforms into more of an aromatic spiced flavor. The cardamom and chamomile work in tandem on the finish; they give the soda a slightly different flavor as the sip fades. More spiced and smooth with less grapefruit flavor. The chamomile does most of the work here, giving the bittersweet soda a soft, floral ending.

Rating: This is probably the best grapefruit soda we’ve tried thus far. Not just for the website, but life in general. It articulates its main flavor of grapefruit perfectly without hiding its true identity. Grapefruit isn’t a completely sweet fruit. If you ever try a grapefruit beverage that tastes like a trip to the candy factory, the company wasn’t being authentic in its interpretation of the flavor. Joia embraces grapefruit’s bittersweet nature and adds two other flavors that both amplify and assist it. Most of the sugar you taste comes from the fruit itself, but there’s definitely enough of it there to make you feel like you’re drinking soda and not juice. From the very first sniff of the bottle, Grapefruit, Chamomile, and Cardamom gives off the impression that it was made with real ingredients. It is. From the opening sip, the grapefruit’s sweetness is lush and flavorful, before the cardamom intensifies its bitter notes. The chamomile works as a softening agent near the finish, making this soda an extremely smooth one with mild floral notes. For a grapefruit soda, that’s damn impressive. That’s like taking a fat dude and somehow fitting him into 30×30 jeans. All praise aside, this is grapefruit through and through so if you don’t like the fruit itself, stay away from this one. For the rest of you wanting to try something excellent regardless of your fruit prejudices, Joia makes arguably the best grapefruit soda on the market. Put it in your mouth.

Five Stars