Fruit Soda

Vignette Wine Country Soda: Chardonnay

History: Have you ever been sipping your wine at the dinner table and thought to yourself, “You know what would make this wine better? If it were soda.” Luckily Pat Galvin is already ahead of you. Galvin was tired of soda and how predictable it had become. After seeing his wife go through pregnancy, he says he realized just “how few sophisticated non-alcoholic options were available.” He wanted something classy, like wine, but void of booze. He wanted something to give the drinker a wine-like experience. He wanted… you get where this is going, right? Galvin founded Vignette Wine Country Soda in 2007. Based in Berkley, California, the company initially launched with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay soda. They’ve since added Rosé and most recently California Brut. Just like the real stuff, Vignette Wine Country Sodas are all about the grapes. Says Galvin, “We use real California wine grape juices. Our juices could easily be made into wine instead; these are premium grapes.” Those grapes are also the only source of sweetness in the soda, meaning no cane sugar or syrup of any kind is added. With their take on Chardonnay, Vignette wanted the soda to be light and flavorful. Galvin explains that he feels it’s light, fruity, and most of all, refreshing. In fact, he claims “it’s probably the most refreshing of the [company’s] flavors,” before noting that it pairs well with food. He also adds that for something that mimics white wine, people are often surprised at how flavorful the soda tastes. Great news. I love surprises.

Where to get: Vignette Wine Country Soda is sold online via the company’s online store. If you’re outside of California, online is the route you should go for purchasing.

Nose: It’s a very bright smell. I’m getting a little bit of peach combined with white grapefruit juice. This is one those scents five-star resorts make their beaches smell like. Refreshing, fruity, luscious.

Taste: Peach; tangy green grapes; white grape juice; dry; tart carbonation. What’s really striking about this soda is the peach flavor. Wine grapes often contain interesting tasting notes, and apparently these adopted some characteristics of peaches because there isn’t actual peach juice in the soda’s recipe. The soda’s flavor isn’t as bright as its scent. Definitely fruity, but more of a dry beverage. It isn’t overly sweet between the peach and green grape flavors. In fact, the grapes give the soda its signature white grape juice tanginess while the flowing, tiny bubbles of carbonation provide more mild bitterness. It’s an interesting combination: fruity, yet dry.

Finish: Tangy white grape juice that’s gone almost as soon as it appears. No lingering effect.

Rating: This is a prototype for what adult soda should embody. There’s enough sugar to leave an impression, but still less than a typical soda. There’s enough flavor to satisfy the taste buds, but the soda’s dryness makes it feel light on the stomach. Peach and white grapefruit juice dominant the flavor profile. The peach provides the sweetness and the green grape taste balances it out with a tangy tartness. There’s also more carbonation to this than I was expecting. Not sure if I love that. What I do love is the balance of sweet and tart flavors. The peach and green grape notes are great compliments to one another. It honestly drinks like a less potent, nonalcoholic fuzzy navel with some white grape juice splashed in. I picture a lot of 44 year-old moms questionably wearing two-piece bikinis drinking this by the pool. I don’t mind the peach, but I do wish it were bolder. It’s like a tease of peach. Just give me the whole thing. I think overall the flavors are just a little more subdued than I prefer. This is going to be a big hit with wine drinkers and the older crowd in general. So mom, if you’re reading this, look this up. Also, sorry about all the talk involving my lack of love life in almost every single review.

Three Stars

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Green Bee: Blueberry Dream

History: Bees are gonna be a real important part of this review. But those ‘lil dudes are crucial to our lives in general, whether we know it or not. And the bee population in the U.S. is declining, so much so that the United States Department of Agriculture is putting up $3 million to keep bees feed in portions of the midwest. But they’re also inspiring, and one man they inspired is Chris Kinkade, who took up beekeeping after hearing about their declining numbers. After being similarly concerned about the high-sugar content of drinks his three kids were consuming, Kinkade and his wife Lori took their bee-spiration and founded Green Bee Craft Beverages out of Brunswick, Maine. He distinctly remembers looking at a jar of honey and thinking, “I could make something out of this.” Guess what ingredient is in every flavor of Green Bee Soda? Yeeaaah. The company vows they “We always use whole ingredients and sweeten our beverages exclusively with honey.” They also “never use concentrates, extracts, preservatives, or artificial colors.” As you might guess, this is going to be a more natural-tasting soda. We call these “farmer’s market sodas” due to their heavy reliance on natural ingredients and lower sugar content. Green Bee produces four different flavors of their soda from Lemon Sting to Blueberry Dream. Speaking of blueberries, it only seems fitting for the company to make a blueberry soda because it is a fruit bees help pollinate. Lori Kinkade tells us “For our Blueberry Dream we use Maine Wild Blueberries and press the juice in an Italian wine press.” Blueberry Dream clocks in at a lower-than-average 110 calories and contains only a handful of ingredients: carbonated water, wild blueberry juice, wildflower honey, ginger, and citric acid. Sounds like a bubbly bottle full of nature.

Where to get: Green Bee sodas can be purchased online through Jackeez, the official online retailer of the company. Green Bee sells its soda mainly in the New England region. To see a list of where you can find it in the northeast, click here.

Nose: Honey. Unmistakably honey with a little bit of a berry smell.

Taste: Honey; blueberry juice; water. You’ll taste those three ingredients. This is straightforward. The honey taste is up front – it’s a little watery. It has a a tang to it – takes some time to get used to that. The blueberry juice takes a couple seconds to come through, but it tastes very authentic and provides some needed sweetness. One ingredient on the list I don’t taste inside this bottle is ginger. This is very much a soda you’d find in a health food store and has a flavor you would expect to accompany a drink like that. Good blueberry flavor, but the tangy honey taste up front is going to perplex some drinkers.

Finish: Mildly sweet blueberries with just a hint of tartness.

Rating: There’s two lines of thought here. If you’re big into “natural” sodas, ones that use lots of juice and taste earthier than your average glass-bottled liquid, then this might be for you. If you prefer sweeter, more traditional soda, this might shock your taste buds. Green Bee Blueberry Dream tastes much more like a soda that you’d find in a farmer’s market than one you’d see in a grocery or vintage candy store. Honey and blueberry juice are the marquee ingredients here, but the two stand out separately for different reasons. The honey flavor is upfront. It’s abrupt and is accompanied by an unforgiving tang that’s hard to get past. On the other hand, the blueberry flavors come in near the back half of each sip, and they’re very pleasant. You’ll taste a slight tartness and a natural sweetness that you’re used to when eating blueberries. But even the good blueberry flavor can’t save that odd initial taste that accompanies the honey. Whatever it is; it needs to go. That said, I’m more of a traditional soda guy – so take that for what it’s worth. If you frequent health food stores, have participated in a rally, or wear yoga pants more than 4 days a week – you’re gonna need a Blueberry Dream to put in your recycled denim tote bag. In all seriousness though, I’d recommend this to natural foods connoisseurs or fans of farm-to-table cuisine. I’m guessing fans of sweeter sodas will be confused by this offering from Green Bee. It’ll be a crowd divider, but it’s nice to see bottlers starting to use wholesome ingredients to bring something new to the table for craft soda drinkers.

Three 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

Faygo: Original Grape

History: Most of the country calls it soda. In the south it’s often referred to simply as “Coke,” and you have to specify your desired flavor. But up north, it’s pop. Or so-duh pahp. Detroit, Michigan’s Faygo is one of the original gangsters of soda pop. It’s been making the stuff since 1907 when Russian immigrants Ben and Perry Feigenson started the company. Over the years its image has morphed from highly nostalgic and retro to bright and quirky. Faygo Marketing Specialist Dawn Burch tells us the company now makes over 60 flavors of soda. All the classics are there, but where Faygo catches your eye is with its flashy flavors like Cotton Candy, Ohana Kiwi Berry, or Rock N’ Rye. Burch says the brand’s popularity is in large part because they “offer flavors that other companies are scared to try.” Oh, and I guess we should acknowledge the elephant in the room. The rebellious, face-painted, socially miscast elephant in the room. Yeah, this is that brand. The one associated with the band Insane Clown Possee and its legion of fans known as Juggalos. To be fair, Faygo has no official partnership or affiliation with the group. Burch goes on to tell us groups of these Juggalos will call the company ahead of time to request gallons of Faygo to be sprayed on each other during events like family outings and weddings. The call them “Faygo baths.” Suddenly that family barbecue I wanted to skip this Sunday doesn’t seem as bad anymore.

Now while Faygo produces over 60 different flavors, only six of them are made in glass bottles with pure cane sugar. The rest are made with high fructose corn syrup. Its retro line includes perhaps its two most famous flavors: Red Pop and Rock N’ Rye, as well as Grape, Root Beer, Cream Soda, and Orange. Burch says Faygo “definitely sees the line growing in the future,” but for now the company is committed to its six core old fashioned flavors. And it doesn’t get more retro than grape pop. That’s what grandpa used to drink, among other things. (A LOT of Irish whiskey). We wanted to see how Faygo’s offering in the category stacked up. “Faygo Grape is one of our original flavors and it’s definitely one of the most popular. The strong flavor and aroma make it a fan favorite,” Burch gloats. Faygo also makes a corn syrup, plastic-bottled version of grape, but to be clear, we are reviewing the pure cane sugar version of their grape soda. Faygo didn’t offer a full description of their intended taste design, but did say they believe their glass-bottled grape soda is “perfect for a hot summer day!” Grape is one of those flavors I believe doesn’t have a lot of leeway in terms of taste, so I’m interested to see what one of craft soda’s big boys does with the flavor profile.

Where to get: Faygo Original Grape (the one in glass bottles with cane sugar) can be purchased online from the Faygo store or you can find it at Soda Emporium. Just a click away. You can also use the company’s online locator to find your nearest physical retailer. Just remember, the pure cane sugar versions of Faygo soda are a little harder to find than those in plastic bottles made with corn syrup.

Nose: Crushed up grape SweeTARTS. And also kind of like Dimetapp… but I like the smell (and taste) of Dimetapp, so don’t hate.

Taste: Candy grape; sugar; mild tartness; crisp. Sweet, candy grape permeates the mouth and rises up into your teeth. There’s a mild tartness to this as well. I think it’s probably based off the classic Grape NeHi, and the two are definitely very similar. Faygo Grape is a very sweet grape soda at 50 grams of sugar and 200 calories per bottle. This isn’t one for your diet. Also some really nice, mild carbonation in this bottle that provides some needed tartness and crispness to break up that sugary, grape flavor. This is classic, tangy, sweet grape soda

Finish: Tangy, sweet grape that runs along the back of your tongue. Lingers for maybe 4 or 5 seconds before fading away.

Rating: Faygo Grape tastes like an old-time, classic grape pop. Every time I take a sip, I can feel the nostalgia welling up inside me like a waterfall going in reverse. I was going to make a joke there, but it probably would’ve gone to some weird places. Here’s the deal, you’ll probably either really like this or you’ll hate it. This is one of those sodas that I doubt has much if a middle ground with drinkers. You have to understand what you’re first getting into. Faygo Grape is 12 oz. of sweet, candy grape flavor with a decidedly retro taste that tangy and sugary. It is not a farmer’s market artisan soda that tastes like real grape juice and has minimal carbonation. So if you want something that tastes more nostalgic in flavor, like Grape NeHi, yes, give this a shot. Personally, it’s just a little too sweet for my tastes to drink consistently. The mild tartness provides some relief, but I’d dial this down to maybe 40 grams of sugar instead of 50. Great idea though to channel that sugar rush: tomorrow before I max-out on bench press I’m gonna drink one of these and invite all the hot girls I know. Maybe even my wife. This may not something you put in your normal rotation, but it’s still a good soda and an excellent throwback to vintage grape pop. Crisp, clean, and full of big candy grape flavor. Definitely worth giving it a shot to form your own opinion.

Three Stars

Just Craft Soda: Pear & Vanilla

History: “You do it to yourself you do/And that’s what really hurts is/You do it to yourself just you/You and no-one else.” These are lyrics from the Radiohead song, Just. I always think of this song when I think of Just Craft Soda, not only because of the name, but because the message connects itself to the reasoning behind the company. As craft soda’s little bottlers become more popular, people often ask us why. The answer is because they’re tired of the same mass-produced, over-sweetened, high fructose-saturated soda. Just Craft Soda founder John McEachern knows this, saying “There’s very little flavor variety in the market these days.” For bigger bottlers, “that’s what really hurts is/You do it to yourself.” It’s taken the big companies years to realize this, and despite the fact that they’re starting to make inroads into craft soda, they’re well behind the smaller companies. David got a major head start on Goliath. McEachern had first-hand insight into the market place, having previously worked for PepsiCo. and General Mills, and he wanted to produce a “flavor variety” adults would enjoy. He jokes that most soda these days feels like it’s “been designed for a 13 year-old boy.” McEachern launched Just Craft Soda in early 2015. The Toronto-based company’s soda always begins with a fruit that is then paired with a spice. That’s the general formula. Each bottle of Just Craft Soda contains 60% (!!!) juice, carbonated water, natural flavors, and cane sugar. That’s it. Authenticity is important to the company. McEachern told us he didn’t want the juice content to just be a marketing pitch, jokingly mocking other companies as he exclaimed, “look, 5% juice!” He also feels a more natural-tasting fruit soda will pair well with food or alcohol. This is a soda you drink while adulting. Drink it doing your taxes. Drink it with a steak. Don’t drink it as you giggle to yourself tickling your buddy. Or do. Just don’t tell anyone. The company produces five different flavors from the more common pairing of Apple & Ginger to the slightly more exotic Lemon & Lemongrass. But Pear & Vanilla is the one that seduces your ear the most when you verbalize it, so we had to indulge. We’re told the soda’s formula is “very simple” and that “there’s nothing in the recipe that your grandma wouldn’t understand.” The company describes the pear flavor as “sweet, almost buttery” and liken it to a cream soda. What’s not to like? But we’re always cautious here at Five Star. We’ve gone on way too many bad soda dates. A soda date is basically just when we drink soda by ourselves and then tell strangers about it on the Internet. Yeah, I’m single.

Where to get: Currently, Just Craft Soda is only available in Canada. To find the retail location nearest you, look here. Americans or other nearby neighbors who are desperate to try these sodas can contact the company directly by going here. Online sales are currently being looked into, so that’s also a possibility down the road.

Nose: Light notes of fresh-cut pair and maybe just a tinge of bubblegum. Sometimes vanilla does that.

Taste: Tart; pear; apple juice; lemon juice. This is more that than you’ll probably expect it to be, but the flavors definitely stand out in the profile. There’s a bite right up front that’s briefly pear and then rapidly transitions to lemon juice. Just’s Pear and Vanilla Soda is tart, but not acidic. Pear and lemon are the main flavors you’ll usurp from this. There’s also undertones of apple juice. It’s almost as if the pear and lemon juices are the waves crashing against your palate in an ocean of apple juice. The apple is there, but the other two flavors are bolder and splash against your taste buds much more often. The vanilla in this is very, very light. It doesn’t act as a flavor enhancer as much as it helps mitigate some of the bite from the juices. Without the vanilla this would be too acidic.

Finish: Lingering lemon and apple juice tartness that takes about 10 seconds to fade. You do get a mellow note of vanilla at the very end of the tartness.

Rating: Pear and vanilla is a flavor combination that sounds like an adventure most soda drinkers would be willing to take. It seems like they could be good together, but you also know there could be issues. This is basically how I approach every relationship now. In a related story, I’m still single. Just Craft Soda is a company that swings for the fences with their sodas, pairing interesting flavors together while using at least 60% juice in every bottle. You can certainly taste the juice in this one. Pear and lemon stand out most. The pear is upfront, but the lemon punch comes quick and is tart. As a whole, there’s more of a bite than you’d probably expect before reading this review. Apple flavors linger in the background, but pear and lemon do most of the work in the flavor profile. I enjoy the apple flavors that weave in and out of every sip, but I’d like to see the pear flavor last longer in place of the lemon. Pear is, after all, the name on the label and I think it needs to be more prominent. The tartness isn’t too much, but it won’t work for some people. It doesn’t sting, but it does surprise. The sweetness in this is less than most craft sodas, but for one with this much fresh juice, it’s understandable and plays its part well. This is a natural soda that should be appealing to most. Certainly worth a try for its unique pairing of juices that surprise and satisfy the taste buds. It also apparently makes a pretty tasty maple pear bread pudding.

Three Stars

Goody: Red Pop

History: You know what wasn’t “goody”? Researching this damn soda. But by God if we can’t provide the best damn soda journalism in the world, we just won’t publish the review until it’s ready. So what do we have here? A soda called Goody Red Pop. It dates back all the way to the 1920’s, when it was created by Willow Springs Distillery in Omaha, Nebraska as an alternative to alcohol during prohibition. Soda Emporium states its exact year of birth was 1923. At one point, the brewery was making up to 24 flavors of it. And at another, the Willow Springs Distillery went bottoms up. Goody Pop was dead; it just wasn’t buried yet. Orca Beverage in Mukilteo, Washington is a distributor and producer of vintage sodas known for breathing life back into half-extinct brands. “Brands like Spiffy, Lemmy, Mr. Cola, Goody and Jic Jac were no longer being produced at all when Orca Beverage took an interest in them, acquired the trademarks and started researching recipes to come up with the authentic flavors,” says Harold Business Journal writer Jennifer Sasseen. In the early 2010’s, Goody made its return to the bottling line and on shelves. Orca Beverage produces four variations of Goody, and they’re all named after colors instead of flavors: red, blue, green, and yellow. You might’ve heard of another famous red pop by Faygo, but what’s this one all about? It’s made with pure cane sugar and according to the company, “it brings together all your favorite red fruits (and a few other candy notes) to make a big flavor classic red pop.” Not exactly the most descriptive explanation. But I guess the mystery is half the fun. I hope.

Where to get: Goody Red Pop is widely available throughout the U.S. You can probably find it at a Rocketfizz retailer near you, and if not, there’s a plethora of online options. Soda Emporium has single bottles and six-packs, while Orca Beverage and Amazon offer 12-packs.

Nose: Whoa, *coughs*. This smells s w e e t. Like, I have Type 1 Diabetes and I haven’t even tried it yet. Smells like a combination of a pack of old fashioned bubble gum and cherry syrup. Maybe a little candy strawberry too. Very candy-esque. But good Lord, this smells intensely sugary.

Taste: Sugar; candy strawberry; mild cherry cough syrup; mild bubblegum. This is a mish-mash of as many red flavors as Goody could fit into a 12 oz. glass bottle. Red Pop is very sweet. That’s the first thing we noticed. Its strongest flavor is probably a candy strawberry. Think sugary strawberry bubblegum. There’s also some mild cherry going on. It reminds me of a cherry flavor you taste in cough drops. Kind of a sweet, tangy cherry. This tastes like someone melted down strawberry bubble gum and candy cherry chews into a syrup and added some carbonated water. Very sweet.

Finish: Tangy cherry and sweet strawberry bubblegum swirl about before dropping off suddenly. Strawberry lingers the longest. Still very sugary.

Rating: Let’s get right to it: I’m not gonna say this is good, but I’m not gonna say it’s terrible. It’s tolerable. Kids will probably like it. Adults will likely fall into a coma if they have more than a bottle. First off, the sugar hits you like the earth’s tectonic plates smashing together to break apart Pangea. If you don’t get that reference, you probably didn’t make it past second grade. I mean, this is very, very sweet. Sugar. Sugar. Sugar. Get it? Alright, now the flavor. Red Pop is like a cross between candy strawberry bubblegum and candy cherry. It’s mostly a rush of those two flavors encapsulated by a shield of sugar. You’ll also taste some tanginess along with the cherry flavor, the soda’s most redeeming quality. Kids might like this for its sweetness, but I’d have a hard time recommending it to any audience over 14 years-old. The sugar is just too intense. The strawberry and cherry flavors blend in an odd way that don’t compliment one another. And did I mention this is too sweet yet? All in all, it’s just too overbearing with a flavor that probably won’t move the needle for most fans of craft soda. If you need to fuel your heart for the final half mile of a marathon, have someone throw a Goody Red Pop your way. Just be prepared to have paramedics near by once the effect fully kicks in.

Two Stars

Hank’s: Orange Cream

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five Stars

Avery’s Beverages: Black Raspberry

History: “Starting a soda company back then was kind of like starting a .com right now. It was just a very trendy thing to do,” confesses Avery’s Beverages General Manager, Rob Metz. And when he says back then, he means back then. Avery’s has been brewing up soda the old fashioned way in New Britain, Connecticut since 1904 when Sherman F. Avery founded the company. Dude was actually a milk peddler before he hit it big with soda. Ridin’ dirty on his horse, Sherman the milk man. That could be a Kanye West lyric and still be better than most of the stuff on his new album. Ahem. Avery’s still uses artisan well water in their sodas. That should give you the warm and fuzzies if you get nostalgic about glass-bottled soda. And P.S. they make a ton of them. From normal flavors like birch beer and root beer to oddities like Toxic Slime and Monster Mucus, Avery’s has over 40 different flavors of your favorite fizzy drinks. If there’s a flavor you like, they probably make it. Out of all the concoctions they brew, we had to pick a unique one, so we went with black raspberry. What’s the difference between a red and black raspberry besides color? I dunno man, I’m asking you! Avery’s isn’t even sure themselves. Metz admits the soda came before his time with the company, so he can’t list a ton of differencea between the two berries. He likens the flavor to huckleberry. Metz credits the company’s loyal fan base as the reason they’re still in business today. “We’ve got the authenticity that lot of the newer folks in the craft soda industry might not have,” something that without question appeals to a large portion of their target audience. It’s cool to be retro right now. Remember that when we’re begging you for quarters on the street in two years.

Where to get: Avery’s soda can purchased purchased throughout the U.S. online from Vintage Soda Company. If you’re a retailer looking to sell Avery’s Black Raspberry in your store, contact Homer Soda Company for a wholesale or large order. The company also fulfills orders directly, but you’ve gotta contact them the old fashioned way via phone or email.

Nose: An interesting smell, kind of a combination of grape, raspberries with sugar on top, and a raspberry Sno Cone. Definitely raspberry forward, but more floral than a typical raspberry scent.

Taste: Grape; raspberry Jolly Rancher. This is more straightforward than I was expecting based on the nose. I have to say that this is surprisingly strong in grape flavor. More than raspberry. The grape taste is subdued. It’s like drinking a Grape Nehi, except right as the flavor is about to crescendo, it stops and you never get any signature tasting notes. This is void of boldness. Instead it falls off into a very subtle Jolly Rancher blue raspberry that lacks a bite. Kind of like someone took the tartness out. It’s a really smooth drink and soft on the palate, but the flavor isn’t as bold as you might be expecting.

Rating: Mild grape tinged with the tiniest bit of raspberry Sno Cone. Most will probably taste only the grape.

Finish: For a soda labeled “black raspberry,” this tastes remarkably like a more subdued version of grape soda. The soda’s biggest selling point is its smoothness. It goes down incredibly easy. You could drink two of these in a sitting, easily. However, this is partially due to the fact that its flavors are very mild. The strongest element in the soda is the sweetness, but give credit to Avery’s; it isn’t overpowering. If you handed a bottle of this to someone without a label on it, my guess is they’d probably just guess it was grape soda. And it’s not a bad take on grape soda… but this isn’t grape soda. I was hoping for a big note of raspberry with perhaps some extra sugar. I remember picking black raspberries in my grandma’s back yard as a child, plucking them right off the bushes and into my mouth. They had an earthy sweetness to them, but overall have less flavor and less tartness than a regular raspberry. This is where Avery’s missed an opportunity with their take on black raspberry. None of those elements are present. You’ll taste mild grape with a soft raspberry Sno Cone flavor near the end of the sip, so at least there is some variance to the flavor profile. The taste is simple and pleasant, but it isn’t what’s on the label. If you’re in the market for a highly drinkable, mild take on grape soda with a little flavor variance near the end of the sip, then you’ve literally hit the jackpot. If your favorite fruit is raspberry and you’ve had a rough day at work and all you want is a carbonated raspberry beverage before downing a bottle of wine and having a good cry in the bathtub… then this isn’t for you. I have to stop airing my personal problems out on here. Luckily, Avery’s has like 45 flavors for you to try. We’ll keep searching until we find the magic one(s).

Three Stars