Ginger Ale/Beer

Ginger Ale/Beer

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

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Rocky’s Ginger Beer

History: Rocky’s Ginger Beer is so cute, you almost don’t want to drink it. Sitting there in it’s little stubby 12oz., clear plastic bottle and gold cap, I wonder when I grab it by its chubby little sides if it’ll giggle at me, “hehe!” But I promise, it doesn’t. This isn’t the beginning of some weird, erotic soda fan-fiction novel. Sorry to those of you we let down. Rocky’s is a relatively new company that markets itself as a lower calorie ginger beer that is both crisper in taste and cheaper in price than some of its more mass-produced competitors like Gosling’s or Barritt’s. The ginger beer was created in September of 2015 and named after the devilishly handsome Chicago beverage veteran Rocky Mosele. Seriously, I have no affiliation with Mr. Mosele and I am a heterosexual man, but I’d put a poster of him in my bathroom. The company certainly affiliates its ginger beer more with the craft cocktail scene than craft soda, but it does contain many signature craft soda traits. For starters, it’s made with pure cane sugar and high-quality ingredients like natural ginger extract, triple-filtered water, and is void of food coloring. The last part is what makes Rocky’s Ginger Beer stand out for me. It’s clear instead of hazy or a tint of pale yellow like most ginger beers. Pour it in a glass over ice and you can’t tell it apart from tonic water or Sprite. Beyond the above information, we don’t know a whole lot about Rocky’s Ginger Beer. When reached for comment about this review, Rocky’s did not return our emails.

Where to get: You can purchase Rocky’s Ginger Beer online via the company’s sister website Caffeinated Club or Amazon. It’s also widely available throughout the Chicago area.

Nose: Ginger candies; peppers. Reminds me of those bite-size, sugar-coated ginger gummy candies.

Taste: Ginger; cinnamon; peppery notes. You taste the ginger right away, and it’s accompanied by another interesting flavor you don’t find in ginger beers often: cinnamon. Ginger and cinnamon dominates the first half of each sip, while the back half is a more peppery ginger. This isn’t particularly spicy. Maybe a 4/10 or 5/10 on the heat scale. Rocky’s Ginger Beer also possesses a large amount of carbonation when compared to other ginger beers. The cinnamon influence is a little jarring when paired with the ginger. The peppery notes near the end of the sip taste familiar, but a little too similar to the cinnamon to provide much in the way of contrast. Also, the flavor drops out of the sip very quickly instead of taking residence on the tongue. Slightly unconventional with lots of fizz and conflicting cinnamon and pepper tasting notes.

Finish: Mild ginger and sugar that don’t last long.

Rating: Rocky’s Ginger Beer seems like something that is aiming to be a direct competitor to brands like Gosling’s and Barritts. Both are common ginger beers you can find in most liquor stores. And while you might see them often on the shelves, they don’t really stand out. I’m afraid the same can be said about Rocky’s Ginger Beer. The intense carbonation, mild spice, and high sugar content make this taste more like a ginger-flavored soda rather than a ginger beer. What makes most ginger beers taste great is the fermentation process. It gives the beverages an extra kick. Sometimes it’s a tartness, sometimes it’s even kind of a skunky taste like you find in certain beers. It’s one of those things where you know it when you taste it. It’s not a one-fits-all flavor. I don’t taste that process here. While Rocky’s Ginger Beer may be made with pure cane sugar, it tastes a little artificial when compared with all of the other wonderful ginger beers out there. I think this could do well with bartenders for creating interesting vodka or gin cocktails that simply have the novelty of containing ginger beer. The best asset of Rocky’s Ginger Beer may indeed be that it’s interesting to look at because it’s clear. Make of that what you will, but I didn’t open this bottle to just look at it. The bottom line here is that the flavors just aren’t strong enough to encourage repeat drinking. I think the ginger-cinnamon flavor you taste near the beginning is interesting, but the peppery finish is too similar to that combo. With ginger beer being the current hottest flavor in soda, it’s inevitable that some brands will swing and miss. How many strikes will you give Rocky’s is the question you have to ask yourself.

Two 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

 

Bette Jane’s Blood Orange Ginger Beer

History: Bette Jane’s is a little west coast bottler filling a large gap for a great cause. Founder Kirk Pearson is the man behind the bottles and launched the company in July of 2014 after believing his home-brewed ginger beer deserved a larger audience. A portion of proceeds from all company sales go toward finding a cure for breast cancer, the disease Pearson lost his mother to at a young age. Pearson is a veteran of the spirits industry and “saw a need for high-quality mixers with a local twist,” he says. Bette Jane’s is probably most known for their ginger beer, but also makes a tonic water and club soda, in addition to the blood orange ginger beer we’re reviewing today. Pearson considers his biggest competitors to be Fever Tree and Q Tonic (whose kola we’ve reviewed in the past), but the former is from England and the latter from Brooklyn. He decided the best coast needed to up its cocktail mixer game. “We are the only full line of cocktail mixers made on the West Coast and we are all-natural,” he tells us. And with ginger beer being the hottest craft soda on the market right now, bottlers are trying to find ways to put a new spin on the flavor before it loses its steam with the general public. Enter Bette Jane’s Blood Orange Ginger Beer.

Pearson says blood orange was the logical next step, adding “When I first started making ginger beer at home as a hobby, it was the first flavor I started toying with…. It was always going to be our first extension off the ginger beer.” He also believes the fruit itself just has a nice verbal aesthetic. “The consumer can really relate. They love the name ‘blood orange.’” And I’ll admit, I’d want one even if I didn’t know what it was. Blood orange? Sure. Blood strawberry? Give it to me. That’s not a real thing, but it’s amazing what one word does. Blood orange a self-promoting fruit. Pearson concocts all Bette Jane’s drink formulas himself and uses a blood orange concentrate to give the ginger beer its signature flavor. His vision for this particular soda was all about balance. It’s designed to taste like a blood orange soda on the front and a ginger beer on the back end “with longevity of spice,” he says. It was critically important for Bette Jane’s to differentiate its take on blood orange from other sodas that attempt the flavor. Because what’s trendy isn’t always what’s good. Pearson said he believes other blood orange ginger beverages are usually “too chemically or too sweet.” He added that his version “needed to have the punch of blood orange, but not be too sweet.” Again, all about balance. Clearly a lot of thought was put into this flavor. So it’s time for us to drink in the knowledge.

Where to get: Bette Jane’s is distributed throughout all of California and starting in April 2015, it’s heading to Arizona. If you’re outside those areas, April 2015 is still the date you want to watch because that’s when Real Soda will start selling Bette Jane’s Ginger Beers online. Don’t mind the website looking like it’s from the 90’s. We’ve ordered from it before. It’s legit and its owner is one of the most eccentric, knowledgeable people on soda you’ll ever encounter. You can also contact the company directly here.

Nose: Ginger; orange popsicle. Lots of citrus going on.

Taste: Light orange; ginger juice; sugar; heat. Very soft orange up front with mild acidity and tartness. The flavor is kind of like what I imagine an orange popsicle made from real orange would taste like. Soon after the ginger beer namesake flavor wells up from of the bottom of the bottle to join the orange and it creates a heavy citrus flavor. This is the best part of the soda, which is nice because it’s also the most prominent flavor you’ll taste. Finally, after the ginger fully washes away the orange flavor, you’ll taste some fire that hangs out in the throat. It’s got some solid burn to it. I’d say probably a 7.5/10 on the heat scale. If you’re sensitive to spiciness, that number probably balloons up to 8.5. Sweet with soft, juicy blood orange up front and a gingery kick in the pants on the way out.

Finish: Lingering spiciness that slowly fades, leaving notes of ginger juice along the back of the tongue.

Rating: Blood orange is such a great flavor idea for soda. Why people haven’t thought to combine orange and ginger until around 2015 blows my mind, and despite this fact, most of these hybrid ginger beers still suck. Look, I’m just keeping it real. But I guess even two beautiful things don’t always work on the first try. Look at Brad Pitt and Jennifer Anniston. But Bette Jane’s has figured out the recipe for taking two great concept flavors in soda and turning them into something you need to put in your mouth. The orange and ginger together are refreshing, crisp, and full of spicy citrus. The sweetness and mildness of the blood orange combine perfectly with the peppery, spicy nature of the natural ginger used in Bette Jane’s Blood Orange Ginger Beer. What really stands out is that blood orange flavor. It’s so soft and light on the palate, but it has a nostalgic taste to it. Think orange popsicle made with real oranges. It takes me back to childhood. This soda is a perfect blend of flavors from the past and flavors of the present. The sugar levels are just right and don’t render the ginger’s heat barren of flavor or potency. You can’t beat the balance of fruity citrus and spicy ginger here. It’s exquisite. I wouldn’t even mind to crank the heat up one more notch, but I think you might run the risk of thinning out your audience by doing that. There’s no reason you shouldn’t buy at least four of these, enough to pair with an excellent dark rum and get drunk off of share with your friends. And to top it all off, the money goes to a great cause. Even non-ginger beer lovers should find this appealing. Delicious.

Five Stars

Red Rock Golden Ginger Ale

History: Red Rock Golden Ginger Ale is one of the classics in the American craft soda scene, and man, was it hard to track down someone to talk to about it. After a seemingly endless number of fruitless Internet clicks, we finally used some common sense and just looked on the bottle to discover Red Rock is distributed by Clayton Distributing in Atlanta, Georgia. We spoke to Paul Redd, the company owner and proud southern boy. The accent? Thick. Occasionally when he really got going, his words all spilled out in one gelatinous blob like molasses dripping out of a jar. For example, he explained “Red Rock was formulated inAtlantahfewYAassforeCo-CoCola.” But in all seriousness Redd was extremely helpful, and to translate, he said Red Rock Ginger Ale was created in Atlanta in 1885 by Lee Hogan and G.T. Hogan even before Coca-Cola. It reached its peak popularity in the 30’s and 40’s when it was available in all 48 states of the continental U.S. “It did very well on up through World War II,” says Redd. But with the sugar rationing that occurred during the war, Red Rock as a brand took some damage (there’s also a Red Rock Cola). The ginger ale always survived, though its availability shrunk decisively to mainly just Atlanta until the 1980’s. From one southerner to another, this is a soda that’s seen hard times, daddy! The ginger ale’s formula, made with cane sugar, has been the same since 1885 with one exception: Clayton Distributing added capsaicin, a component from chili pepper. Redd adds that it gives the ginger ale its signature “hot and spicy taste.” Red Rock is similar to another old time ginger ale called Blenheim in that both are known for being especially fiery when it comes to taste. In fact, Redd says “The first time you drink it, some people think it’s too hot,” before quickly adding “the more you drink it, the better it tastes.” I guess we’ll find out.

Where to get: Red Rock Golden Ginger Ale can be purchased online in single bottle quantities from Soda Emporium or in six-packs from Beverages Direct. If you’re a retailer looking to sell Red Rock in your store or just need to make a large order, contact Homer Soda Company. Physically, the ginger ale is available mostly in the southeast. Cracker Barrels around the nation also carry the soda. Basically, you’d need to have a really good excuse not to find it.

Nose: Smells like what you’re accustomed to with ginger ale. Slightly earthy, slightly sweet.

Taste: Medium spice; bold ginger ale flavor. I think we all know how Canada Dry Ginger Ale tastes. Take what you know about Canada Dry and imagine its flavor emboldened by about two levels with a little heat, and that’s what you have in Red Rock Golden Ginger Ale. A couple other differences: this has more carbonation and it also has a funky initial taste I’m not crazy about. It has an earthy spice to it that crawls into the sinuses at first, but mostly resides in the throat. This is a ginger ale that has some familiarities, but is stronger than what most people buy at the grocery store. Definitely has a noticeable kick.

Finish: Candied ginger with some earthy notes and lingering medium heat in the throat.

Rating: Red Rock Golden Ginger Ale is a classic and one of the bolder-tasting ginger ales on the market. If you’re using Canada Dry as a base, this has stronger flavor, more carbonation, and some actual heat for a ginger ale. The spice initially creeps into your nostrils before settling in the back of the throat. It’s definitely a good ginger ale, but I wouldn’t call it great. There’s a funky, earthy taste you get immediately at the beginning of each sip that’s just hard to shake. It’s a little too earthy and unwelcoming. The longer you drink this, the more it goes away… or maybe you just get used to it. But I can’t forgot it when it comes to rating this ginger ale. That said, there are also good qualities. One is the carbonation. There’s lots of it and the bubbles really make the ginger ale pop in your mouth. Great texture. The body of the ginger ale also has really nice flavor. Bold, crisp, and refreshing. This would probably make a really good cocktail mixer. Love the color. Like the flavor, but don’t love it. Definitely stands out as retro amongst the newer styles and flavors of ginger ale, so if you’re looking to get down with some old fashioned nostalgia, Red Rock Golden Ginger Ale is definitely an option for you.

Three Stars

Cannonborough BevCo.: Ginger Beer

History: As craft soda continues to evolve and enter a new realm of artisanal quality, freshness is becoming an increasingly popular buzzword. And if there’s a model for fresh soda, look no further than Charleston, South Carolina where the gents at Cannonborough Beverage Company (hereby referred to as CannonBevCo) have been concocting seasonal fresh fruit sodas since 2012. These three dudes grew up together playing soccer and now they’re competing in a different arena that America actually cares about: beverages. CannonBevCo has been at the forefront of the farm-to-table soda movement since the company’s inception. To create their sodas, they get fruits from local farmers and blend a mixture that balances the sugar and acidity of the fruits. “Sometimes you feel a little guilty drinking soda. We wanted to take the vehicle of soda we loved and elevate it a little bit,” says co-founder Mick Matricciano. But it’s their methods that really set them apart. The company uses the same equipment used to brew craft beer. A couple of them actually got their start in the bar scene mixing cocktails, a trick of the trade that’s come in handy when crafting recipes for their soda using fresh fruit and herbs. CannonBevCo is also one of the only soda bottles in the nation that uses force carbonation. Let me explain this to you like you’re an eight year-old. They blast CO2 into their liquid, which bonds with water, and when the CO2 dissolves you get bubbles. I get that a few of you still didn’t get that. It’s fine. One of you is probably an ex-girlfriend of mine. A more recent innovation is finding a way to keep their soda shelf-stable without the use of preservatives by using bottle pasteurization. It’s a method more commonly used with other juice beverages like ciders. Matricciano likens it to canning jams.When they’re not making soda, they’re winning awards for the soda they already made. Recently CannonBevCo was awarded “best beverage in the south” by Garden and Gun, a southern United States travel, food, and culture magazine.

CannonBevCo specializes in sodas using real, local ingredients, meaning most flavors have a limited seasonal run with the exception of Grapefruit Elderfower, Honey Basil, and Ginger Beer. Those are year-round. You’ll notice one of those flavors doesn’t sound like the other. For those of you who need some help: ginger beer is a very common flavor of soda and often utilized in cocktails. That was actually the appeal of making the ginger beer. “It’s a classic style,” says Matricciano, before adding that ginger beer gave the guys the chance to show them “working within the box” as opposed to their more artisanal offerings. This is a ginger beer recipe with ingredients you’re not used to seeing. In addition to real ginger juice, the company uses lime juice instead of lemon juice in addition to vanilla beans, cloves, and habanero peppers. Matricciano explains “We wanted ginger to be the main attraction of the soda, but use the clove and vanilla to soften it.” He adds that the cloves provide a warmth to the flavor, while the vanilla helps prolong the ginger’s flavor. They also chose lime over lemon juice because they felt like ginger’s flavor was already aggressive enough and that adding lemon would overdo it. That idea sounds frighteningly like my love life. CannonBevCo’s ginger beer was designed to be used both as a mixer and a stand-alone soda, something many ginger beer brewers don’t take into consideration. The thought of a ginger beer made with vanilla certainly has us intrigued.

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.

Nose: Ginger with maybe a little pepper. Smells more sweet than spicy.

Taste: Lime; vanilla; ginger; mild heat. Let’s start with the basics – this tastes good. Surprisingly, you taste lime right off the bat. It’s a softer lime, blended with notes of vanilla. You can taste the real lime juice Cannonborough used and it’s a refreshing flavor. Definitely not too acidic, which is nice because the ginger comes in next and it has a lot of flavor character. The ginger flavor is crisp and has a little heat to it, but the real burn comes from the habanero pepper in this – and that’s what you taste near the end of the sip. I’d give this maybe a 6.5/10 on the heat index. The lime provides a nice citrus contrast to the ginger. There’s equal parts harmony between the ginger, lime, vanilla, and spiciness. Easily one of the most refreshing and flavorful ginger beers we’ve ever tried.

Finish: Lingering pepper-like heat that you feel on the back of your tongue and in the throat. Maybe some herbal notes in there as well, which is most likely the clove used in this recipe. The habanero heat slowly fades and the lime juice and vanilla bean flavors remain. Really nice.

Rating: We used to say that root beers were a dime-a-dozen in craft soda, and they are, but you can make the same argument for ginger beer now. 2015 was the year of ginger in soda. Unfortunately, many companies are now making ginger beer just to say they have the flavor in their line with little regard for making a unique product. It’s refreshing, literally and figuratively, to drink this one in. CannonBevCo perfectly walks the line of “natural” and “classical” sodas when it comes to taste. Their ginger beer is a prime example. It’s made with real ginger juice, lime juice, vanilla beans, and habanero peppers, while simultaneously being sweet enough to taste good. So often “natural sodas” are like when dudes hit on girls out of their league – admirable in their inspiration and unenviable in their execution. It usually comes down to sugar content. Natural sodas are often earthy in flavor and taste more like a flavored carbonated water than anything else. They usually sacrifice taste for lower calories. Cannonborough pulls off a nifty trick with their ginger beer, coming in at 90 calories/12 oz while still being packed with flavor. Oh yeah… we should probably talk about the flavor more. First and foremost, everything tastes real and fresh. The use of lime juice in CannonBevCo’s ginger beer is alarmingly good. It pairs well with the sweetness of the vanilla beans for a soft vanilla-citrus combination, and also provides a nice citrus contrast to the ginger. The heat on this is right where it needs to be. Strong enough to make an impact, yet not so fiery to distract from the ginger, lime, and vanilla flavors. I even think they could turn the heat up one more level and still be fine. But that’s a personal preference thing. I think what really makes CannonBevCo’s ginger beer stand out is the use of vanilla. It’s very uncommon in ginger beer, yet extremely common in most soda. Sometimes the best ideas don’t fall far from the tree. This is undoubtedly one of the best ginger beers available in America – crisp and refreshing, full of citrus with notes of pepper, and anchored by a perfectly executed use of real vanilla. This ginger beer is out of your league. Fortunately, if you throw a few bucks her way, they’ll let you have a go with her.

Five Stars

Norka Beverage: Ginger Ale

History: Akron is a city in Ohio of just under 200,000 people, but if you ever ended up there for more than a few days, guessing its population would almost be impossible. The dichotomy of personalities in Akron is perplexingly stark. I know from experience – I have family from around the area. Some days you feel like you’re back in the 40’s when you stop in at the local deli and the butcher knows the names of all the shop’s customers. Other times it feels like some bizarro displaced version of New York City where loud Italians on their porches sit their beers down to yell at you just to see what’s up. “Ay, kid whaddahyou doin – you lost?” No, but you sound like you aren’t far from it. One thing all these people have in common? Pride. Michael Considine, Norka Beverage Founder and President, feels the same. He thinks what originated in Akron should stay in Akron. The city is famous for being the home of LeBron James and the corporate headquarters of Goodyear Tires, but back in the 1920’s, it was also where local soda bottler, Norka Beverage originated. Norka is, of course, “Akron” spelled backwards. Considine had no idea about the soda until he spotted an old bottle in a restaurant while out to lunch with his father. The original Norka closed its doors in 1962, but with the rise in popularity of craft soda, Considine dug deeper into the soda brand’s history, finding the old packaging designs with the original ingredient listings. He decided to take a chance, saying, “I had no idea Akron had its own soft drink…. It was a cool opportunity to bring something back in the beverage industry.”

Considine re-opened the doors to the new Norka Beverage in early 2015 and tells us Norka sodas are made with “100% natural flavors and pure cane sugar,” and are also caffeine and gluten-free. Norka is most famous for its cherry-strawberry soda, but another one of the original flavors from 1924 is the ginger ale. It’s Norka’s third-best seller behind cherry-strawberry and root beer. Considine tells us the ginger ale took the longest to get right of Norka’s four flavors, going through six months of focus group taste testing. With the current popularity of ginger in the world of soda, there are no limit to the flavor variants of ginger ales available on the market. “True ginger ale is crisp, refreshing, and does have the real ginger in it” Considine says. He goes on to add, “A lot of ginger ales will try to be spicier…. Ours on the spectrum probably leans towards a Canada Dry.” Norka Ginger Ale uses natural ginger extract and cane sugar, something Considine believes helps eliminate the syrupy aftertaste of many ginger ales, even the comparable Canada Dry. It is designed to be “very crisp and not overpowering.” We’re told it pairs well with both food and alcohol. Considering I already have sweat pants on, this sounds like it could be the beginning of something special.

Where to get: Norka Beverage sodas are sold mostly throughout Ohio with limited regional reach in surrounding states. You can also find it at massive craft soda superstore Pop’s Soda Ranch in Arcadia, Oklahoma, as well as in parts of Los Angeles and San Francisco. For everyone else, the easiest way to buy Norka sodas is by ordering them online from the company’s store or at Summit City Soda.

Nose: Classic ginger ale; lime. This smells more along the lines of a classic ginger ale in the sense that you don’t get a forceful ginger scent that singes the nostrils.

Taste: Citrus; cane sugar; classic ginger ale. This is a crisp and refreshing take on ginger ale. If I had to compare it to a brand you might be familiar with, Canada Dry comes to mind. The ginger in this is very mild, though if you let it sit on the tongue for a second, you do get just the slightest zippy sensation of heat up the nostrils. So the ginger is definitely there. The carbonation is crisp and interacts with the cane sugar in a way that allows for a sweet bite. The most prominent element in Norka’s version of ginger ale is citrus. It’s a citrus closer to a lemon-lime soda than a ginger beer. Mild, drinkable, and very refreshing.

Finish: Light citrus that bubbles on the tongue and tails of for a very crisp finish.

Rating: Ginger is possibly the hottest flavor on the craft soda market. So often bottlers get caught up in who can add the most ginger to their soda. It gets to the point where the ginger is either too spicy or too masking of the other flavors present. Norka decided not to go this route. Instead, they focused on making a light, refreshing ginger ale that stands on its own and doesn’t need to rely on alcohol in order to pull back the reigns on its potency. I’d call this a relative of Canada Dry ginger ale, only this one does everything just a little bit better. The cane sugar plays the fiddle of flavors in this ginger ale, giving the bottle’s carbonation a sweet, crisp bite, enhancing the lime notes in the citrus flavor profile present, and giving the mild ginger bite a drinkable, refreshing finish. This is one ginger ale to which I wouldn’t even bother adding alcohol. And if my neighbor’s cat hadn’t puked on me earlier, I might actually follow that advice. Rough day. But seriously, this pairs excellently with bourbon. It’s also great with ice. Lovers of strong ginger may be let down. This won’t make your eyes water, but it will beg for you to crack the cap on another bottle. This is simple, yet elegant in its taste. It’s an old-school take on a classic flavor in a world that increasingly craves nostalgic, glass-bottled soda. Its flavor and versatility place it in the elite tier of craft ginger ales on the market. Still, the classics aren’t always a sure thing as bottlers continue combining artisan flavors in search of creating a modern masterpiece. Norka didn’t over think this and the brilliance is in the simplicity. This is a near-perfectly done take on a milder ginger ale.

Five Stars

Top Hat Provisions: Ginger Beer

History: Ginger beer – so hot right now. Ginger beer syrup is even hotter because it’s easier for bartenders to make cocktails with and allows consumers to pour drinks to their own liking. San Francisco native Shane McKnight recognized this popularity and accessibility as an opportunity. McKnight is a veteran in the cocktail scene and at his day job, he “activates cocktail programs for bars at the national level.” He’s the founder of Top Hat Provisions. The name isn’t by accident. Since 2011, McKnight has worked an event in San Francisco called “The Edwardian Ball.” For those wondering, the Edwardian Period generally refers to most of the first decade of the 1900’s. Well there’s a shop at the event where you can buy clothing from that period from long coats to canes. And top hats. There’s top hats all over the place. McKnight notes “I made it a tradition to buy a top hat every year…. I have a lamp that has five top hats on it.” The whole thing is basically a drunk theme party. I guess when you wake up surrounded by top hats, you name your business after it. Based on that logic, my uncle should start a business recycling old Playboy magazines. Top Hat also provides ginger beer to major music festivals, like Coachella. There’s a lot of drunk moms at those things – someone’s gotta quench their thirst. He recalls ordering 1,500 pounds(!!!) of ginger beer for Coachella 2015. As demand continued to rise, McKnight realized making a ginger beer concentrate needed to be done “out of absolute necessity.”

In talking to McKnight, you can tell he knows his stuff and cares about his product. He resisted making a syrup until he found a company that was able to organically extract the vegetal and the heat. I know you don’t know what that really means, but basically it allowed McKnight to create and launch the ginger beer concentrate he envisioned in June of 2015. “The thing that was holding me back was that most ginger beers are spicy in the throat,” he says, adding that he feels many ginger beers on the market are just “ginger ales on steroids.” “Our spice stays in the mouth and a little bit close to the lips,” McKnight says. Top Hat Ginger Beer has three important elements to it that McKnight believes provide balance. The first is the heat of the ginger that we just mentioned. The second is the sweetening agent; Top Hat uses organic cane juice as opposed to pure cane sugar or something like honey because McKnight believes it provides the best taste. The third important element of the ginger beer is it’s acid balance. Like most ginger beers, Top Hat contains citric acid and lemon juice, but it mixes in a little bit of apple cider vinegar to keep the lemon flavors subtle. Based on the balance of sweetness, acidity, and spiciness, McKnight tells us he believes you’d have a hard time ruining a drink regardless of the amount of the ginger beer concentrate you use. In that regard he calls it “very, very forgiving,” which is also what I can already tell one of our staff members will hope we will be tomorrow as he continues to drink moscow mules while we write this review.

Where to get: Top Hat Ginger Beer is growing quickly on the west coast from California to Oregon, but the most reliable way to get your hands on it is ordering a bottle via Amazon (small – 375ml or large – 1L). (At the this this review was written, Top Hat Ginger Beer was just being introduced by Amazon, so if it isn’t available yet, check back in a few days.)

Nose: Ginger; acidic. Smells like it has a bit of zip on it. Maybe the word I’m thinking of is sour. The smell indicates you might need to wear the seat belt for this one.

Taste: Lemonade; ginger spice; pepper; grape. You taste the normal ginger beer elements, and I’ll get to those, but there’s one flavor that really stands out as unique – grape. The label doesn’t list grape as an ingredient, so the flavor is likely a result of how the other ingredients pair together with the apple cider vinegar, but it’s definitely there. It is actually kind of a grape-apple flavor. Very different. The signature flavor in Top Hat Ginger Beer is lemon. It’s a sweet, lighter lemon, like a shrubbed lemonade. The grape and lemon flavors work in tandem together to impart a very different flavor to this particular ginger beer. In fact, the ginger itself isn’t that strong in the flavor profile. You get a little bit of the ginger’s spiciness in the nostrils on the initial few sips. The spice mostly stays on the tongue. The flavors that stick here are aside from ginger are tart, sweet lemon and mild grape that’s reminiscent of sparkling grape juice.

Finish: Tart lemon; lime; spice. You’ll taste the lemonade flavor fade into a more tart lime flavor. The end of each sip is where the ginger beer’s spicy notes seem to take up residence.

Rating: Top Hat Ginger Beer isn’t your average take on the category. This is ginger beer for non-ginger beer drinkers… if that makes sense. What I mean is that this doesn’t taste like a traditional ginger beer, despite containing all of the typical ingredients. It isn’t particularly hot and spicy. The ginger isn’t overly powerful. If you’re looking for a ginger beer full of citrus tasting notes, Top Hat Ginger Beer should be right up your alley. This is light and tart. It’s bright and sweet with a lemon flavor tinged with apple and grape notes, as well as a little bit of spice on the finish. It can be enjoyed on its own, but in small doses at a time. This seems to be tailored more for cocktails. The grape flavor most likely comes from the apple cider vinegar. It’s unexpected, but it works well with the lemon. This will probably be a little tart for some craft soda drinkers. I’d also prefer to taste a bolder ginger flavor, since it is of course, a ginger beer. But all and all, this is too different not to give a try. The use of apple cider vinegar in this is really a home run. Top Hat Ginger Beer is one of the strangest ginger beer I’ve ever tried, but also one of the most fun. If you’re a craft soda fan that also dabbles in the spirits, try Top Hat Ginger Beer in a Kentucky Buck.

Four Stars

P.S. By the time this review was completed, our staff member we mentioned in the beginning is, indeed, drunk.