Ginger Ale/Beer

Ginger Ale/Beer

Spruce Soda Co.: Ginger Beer

History: It is almost impossible not to be tempted by Spruce Soda Co. simply based on their appearance. Their marketing is as crisp and clean as the Minneapolis, Minnesota air they inhabit. Just look at the bottle. It exudes a modern coolness. Matthew McConaughey is probably drinking one of these in his Lincoln commercials out of frame. If we haven’t been clear enough, it was the appearance that drew us to Spruce Soda Co. It’s still a young company, the product of Bryant Scannel and Jordan Hubred in the fall of 2014. The two had worked together at the now out of business Parka restaurant in Minneapolis where in 2013 Scannel began brewing up house cocktail syrups and ginger beer to serve. The ginger beer took off and after about a year of perfecting the recipe, it was clear to Hubred that “this could become a broader soda company.” Part of that realization was geographic. “We’re in Minnesota and there’s not a whole lot of local soda companies that are making soda from real ingredients,” dontchaknow. I added the last part because I’m funny and also eight years-old. Using natural ingredients is what Hubred says matters most to Spruce Soda. And while the company has already had up to three flavors and is working on more, the ginger beer will always be its foundation. It’s made with real ginger, real lemons, and surprisingly – salt. Scannel has always been a big believer in sodium when it comes to cooking and he figured why not apply the same concept to soda, adding it’s about “balancing the sweet with a little savory.” Hubred tells us he believes ginger beer is a love-it-or-hate-it sort of drink, so Spruce Soda’s Ginger Beer tries to sit somewhere in the middle of the flavor spectrum. He explains they want it to be “approachable” and adds that it’s a little more citrusy than normal ginger beer because that’s a comfortable flavor to most drinkers. It was also designed to pair well with alcohol. Shocker, I know. Currently the company is working on new flavors with perhaps the most intriguing being a (potentially) barrel-aged root beer. Sign us up for that. Until then, get out your copper mugs.

Where to get: Spruce Soda Co. is still a small operation. They distribute all their sodas themselves and are mostly found in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. The company has plans to expand to online sales, but as of this review, has not. Don’t let that discourage all you non-Minnesotans. Hubred says the company is happy to fulfill individual orders. Just contact them at enjoy@sprucesoda.com.

Nose: Authentic ginger root and lemon. Smells fresh and artisanal.

Taste: Ginger; cane sugar; lemon juice; mild pepper. Definitely more of a sweet than spicy ginger beer, but still has a nice little bite to it. Not overly acidic. You’ll taste sweet lemon and peppery ginger the most in the flavor profile. In fact, if you swish this around in your mouth, you get a slight lemonade flavor before the ginger finds its way to the back of your throat. That’s pretty unique for ginger beer. The lemon tastes fresh, as does the ginger. The more you drink this, the more of a unique ingredient you’ll taste: salt. It’s subtle, but you’ll definitely taste it along the back sides of your tongue. A ginger beer that errs on the mild side.

Finish: Tart lemon with subtle ginger notes for a mild bite.

Rating: For the curious soda adventurer unsure about the notion of ginger beer, Spruce Soda Co. offers up a mild version that should appeal to a wide range of drinkers. It would be a good first step for ginger beer beginners. It isn’t overly spicy; rather, it has more of a pepper bite. I’d give this a 3/10 on the spicy scale. It’s the cute girl in class who’s outgoing, but not stuck up. Definitely approachable. The only difference is this soda won’t date you for eight months and make a severe long-term impact on your bank account. Right, Heather?? Spruce Soda Co.’s Ginger Beer is an excellent mixer. It’s got a good amount of sweetness and absorbs the burn of the alcohol, yet has enough a bite to give a Moscow Mule or Dark and Stormy a signature ginger beer taste. This should appeal to fans of more artisanal sodas because of its authentic lemon and ginger flavors. It’s light and crisp. On the flip side, hardcore ginger beer enthusiasts may be looking for something more advanced that’s spicier and has greater acidity. I, too, wouldn’t mind seeing the heat dialed up to about a five. Something to make the lemon notes pop more and zing the tongue. Spruce Soda Co.’s Ginger Beer is a safe bet. It’s not going to let you down. Whether in a cocktail or on its own, any craft beverage connoisseur would be remiss not try this peppery Minneapolis import.

Four Stars

 

Sipp: Ginger Blossom

History: “Um, hi. Is this coffee organic?” I hear variations of this phrase from girls rushing to yoga or guys trapped in itchy sweaters and tight jeans endless times a week as I write these reviews in coffee shops around town. Organic. Half the time we don’t even know what it means, but we need it. It’s not just coffee or food… it even extends to alcohol. That’s how this whole thing started. Sipp Eco Beverage CEO and founder, Beth Wilson-Parentice, was a mixologist with her own catering company for organic cocktails. They were good. Glasses full of blackberry juice, lemons, limes, tequila; who says no to that? People wanted these drinks. In fact, they wanted to know how to make them on their own, but upon hearing the methods involved they’d often tell Wilson-Parentice that they weren’t competent enough or didn’t have time. People are lazy. Case in point, I almost didn’t put pants on to write this. Wilson-Parentice decided she’d do the leg work for everyone by creating a nonalcoholic sparkling beverage customers could mix with their favorite spirits. She launched Sipp Eco Beverage in Chester Springs, Pennsylvania in 2009. Company communications manager Carly Mitchell explains that at the beginning of the “organic movement” in 2008 when the idea first came about, “eco” had kind of a hippie vibe to it. Wilson-Parentice wanted to turn that feeling into one of sophistication with a beverage that was versatile with layers of flavor. She wanted to create something that be enjoyed as both a mixer and on its own. “It’s really an anti-soda,” Mitchell notes because she says the beverages are not heavy or syrupy. However, she adds “at the same time, it sort of is a soda” because of its carbonation and use of natural extracts. Five Star Soda take: it’s soda. Shocking, I know. Upon launch, the company’s first flavor was the one we’re reviewing today, Ginger Blossom. “Everyone kind of enjoys the Ginger Blossom because it doesn’t have that harsh ginger taste,” Mitchell tells us. She goes on to explain that it’s a closer relative to ginger ale, but with smoother flavors. As you might’ve guessed, all ingredients in Sipp beverages are organic, but the big takeaway from our interview with Mitchell is the use of agave instead of pure cane sugar. Sipp believes agave gives their soft drinks a more crisp and unique sweetness than sugar. It’s also more expensive. “The biggest thing that we find is different is this very crisp taste,” Mitchell notes. She admits that so often “sparkling” beverages have no flavor and that Sipp wanted to be a company that broke the trend. Take me to flavor town, baby.

Where to get: Sipp Eco Beverages are sold nationwide at a variety of locations, including Albertson’s, Schnucks, Fresh Market, and copious natural or health food stores. Take a look at the company’s online locator near the bottom of their website to find the retailer nearest you. You can also purchase it online directly from SIPP here.

Nose: Mostly a lime-ier version of lemon-lime with a little bit of a floral ginger scent.

Taste: Lime; floral ginger; vanilla bean. A rare instance in soda where the smell translates almost exactly to the taste. You’ll taste lime first. It’s a familiar lime, like in lemon-lime soda… it’s just that there’s no lemon flavor. The lime isn’t sour, but has some tartness. The tartness slowly fades into the background, but stays throughout the rest of the drink. Next come the ginger and vanilla. These two flavors seem to be tied together. You’ll taste more ginger first, but it’s a subdued ginger flavor. Nothing like ginger in a ginger beer. No, this ginger flavor is slightly sweet and floral due to the vanilla. Definitely closer to ginger ale. The longer you take between sips, the more you’ll taste the vanilla notes. It’s nice and soft and adds just a touch of transformative flavor near the end of each drink. This tastes very light with mild sweetness, but has convincing flavors.

Finish: Vanilla bean. Slightly, slightly creamy. Also a little bit of lime. Vanilla-lime, actually. Refreshing and unique.

Rating: Sipp Ginger Blossom is definitely part of the new age of soda. It’s soda for those who are more health-conscious. It’s soda for those who still want flavor, but won’t put up with excessive calories. At only 21 grams of sugar and 100 calories a bottle, in the eyes of traditional soda drinkers, Sipp is like a cute hipster girl with fake glasses and a nose ring ordering kale at the local market – you’re not sure the two of you would work out, but you wanna try it. Ginger Blossom’s core flavors: ginger, vanilla, and lime certainly sound intriguing on paper. In my opinion, any combo of two of those flavors sound great. Combing all three sounds like a challenge. But to the company’s credit, the flavors don’t overpower each other or combine to form some sort of liquid experiment gone wrong. The lime is the boldest flavor you’ll taste, but the vanilla might just be the star of the drink – funny, for a soda called Ginger Blossom. The lime’s tartness meanders throughout each sip as the vanilla gives the ginger a soft, floral taste. I suggest waiting several seconds in between sips to get the vanilla’s full effect. To dumb it down, Sipp Ginger Blossom is like a more sophisticated version of lemon-lime soda fused with a floral ginger ale. The lime’s tartness is excellent and the vanilla pairs great with its companion flavors. I’d just like to taste the ginger more and see it emboldened in the flavor profile, especially for a drink that bears its name. Think ginger ale as a template going in instead of ginger beer and I think you’ll enjoy your stay with this beverage much more. Sipp Ginger Blossom is one of those sodas that just catches your eye based on its flavors. It’s an intriguing mixture of flavors. We can’t object to you indulging yourself in it.

Four Stars

 

Timber City Ginger: White Peach Ginger Beer

History: “I’m sick of being in kitchens,” Kyle McKnight told Kara Patt in 2014 inside a Seattle bar. He was explaining his homemade ginger beer recipe to her that he came up with two-and-a-half years prior and hinting that maybe they could do something with it. Back then, McKnight was selling the ginger beer in a restaurant and it was going faster than the food. Patt also came from the food industry. She had 18 years of experience and received a masters from NYU in food studies. She wanted something new as well. She told us over the phone, “I wanted to start my own business and do it in the right way…. This ginger beer tasted like the right ticket.” Shortly after their encounter, they both quit their jobs to devote themselves to Timber City Ginger. The independent bottlers started in Seattle farmer’s markets, growing from two to seven and then to online sales. This is a sassy ginger beer, one with attitude, defiant even. The company proclaims on its website, “This is not a soda – This is a tonic: an elixir.” Hmm. Sometimes I put on a Kobe Bryant jersey, go to the Y, and get hot from the 3-point line. But at the end of the day, I’m still just an un-athletic white dude who writes about soda on the Internet. Point is, we think it’s still safe to call this soda. But we understand why they prefer the term “tonic.” Timber City Ginger produces a ginger beer that is noticeably less sweet, made with local Washington produce and herbs. Sage and thyme are used in every batch, and according to Patt, “The herbs are what really make it stand out.” The ginger itself does not come from Washington, as it’s not grown there. But don’t worry, you’ll get your money’s worth; there’s almost a pound of fresh ginger in every gallon of ginger beer. As you might imagine with a beverage this artisanal, there’s no preservatives or artificial flavors used. The use of local ingredients also leads to lots of seasonal favor variations on their signature ginger beer, including today’s review, white peach. They call the majority of ginger beers on the market today “formulaic” and “sugar saturated.” They’re certainly proud of their more botanical approach. “People will come in a cold rainstorm and buy the ginger beer,” says Patt. That’s a lot confidence to drink in. Let’s see how it tastes.

Where to get: If you aren’t in the Seattle area, you can buy Timber City Ginger Beer in 32 oz. cans, swing top bottles, or in syrup concentrate at the company’s website. Eventually, Patt and McKnight would like to expand Timber City Ginger down the west coast and perhaps open a branch in Colorado, where Patt is from.

Nose: Lemon; pink lemonade; earthy ginger. This is a beautiful desaturated pink hue and has the matching pink lemonade smell. Olfactory heaven.

Taste: Bitter lemon; crisp ginger; faint peach; mild sugar. This is definitely an earthier ginger beer, tinged with a mild peachy sweetness. Everything here tastes very authentic. You’ll taste the lemon first. Very fresh and definitely bringing a bitterness. The ginger has light savory notes on its own and gives off a little bit of a pickled ginger (the stuff you get with sushi) taste when combined with the peach. That savory aspect tastes familiar. It’s unquestionably sage, an herb Timber City Ginger uses in every batch. The sweetness in this ginger beer really comes from the peach. It elevates the sugar in the flavor profile and gives the ginger beer a signature flavor. It’s not too sweet, but enough to make this easily drinkable without rum or vodka. I’d say a 5/10 on the sugar scale. The peach also imparts a little bit of a floral taste when combined with the botanical ginger flavor. This gets mildly sweeter as you continue to drink it, and the peach flavor really elevates to the top of the flavor profile.

Finish: Bitter lemon notes with peppery ginger that lingers until the next sip. The ginger sticks around long after the peach flavor has faded to remind you just who owns this soda tonic soda.

Rating: Ginger beers are a dime-a-dozen these days, but what separates Timber City Ginger’s concoctions from the rest of the market is the signature freshness they capture in each giant silver can of ginger beer. The ginger tastes like you chopped off a fresh piece and ate it. The peach flavor is real and not from a candy store. Together, the two work well. Now, in addition to being extremely popular, ginger is a flavor that can really vary in character from soda to soda. Timber City Ginger went with an earthier, slightly floral take with mild sweetness. If you’re someone who likes a lot of sweetness in their moscow mule, this probably isn’t the ginger beer for you. Sugar isn’t where this ginger beer shines, but there are some sweeter elements. The peach notes blend with the sugar to create sweet, floral flavors. These contrast with the peppery, savory ginger notes to form a little bit of a pickled ginger taste. This is probably the best flavor in the entire drink. You’ve seen pickled ginger on those sushi dates you overpaid for and didn’t take the girl home on. Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing the cane sugar upped just a little bit to open up those peach notes more. I also think if the ginger had more heat, both the ginger and peach flavors would stand out more on the palate. Lovers of earthier, more natural sodas will almost certainly enjoy this take on ginger beer. Its versatility allows it to be enjoyed on its own as a sipper or as a great peach-infused dark and stormy. Start with the first, pass out with the latter.

Bruce Cost: Ginger Ale

History: Bruce Cost knows about ginger. Dude’s been writing books about it and using it in his Asian-inspired restaurants since 1984. According to Bruce Cost Ginger Ale Marketing Manager, Kevin Li, Cost is also a “2-time James Beard nominee as ‘Best Chef in California.'” As of this sentence, I’m a two-time Bruce Cost Ginger Ale and rum consumer. I wonder if I can make it to four by the end of this review. If I do, I wonder if I’ll even make it to the end. It’s good timing for Cost, considering in mid-2015, we’re in the midst of a ginger boom in craft soda. But, as Li tells us, Cost started making his “chef-driven” unfiltered ginger ale back in 2010 in Brooklyn, New York, introducing it in three flavors: original, jasmine tea, and pomegranate. You can literally see pieces of ginger floating in the bottle, hence the “unfiltered” label. The chef went through 14 different restaurants before putting all of his eggs in the craft soda basket. “The idea was to produce a kind of soda that was more akin to a microbrew beer, full bodied with the mouth feel of beer or wine rather than the sparkly flavored, sugar water that is familiar to most people,” says Li. But don’t think this soda has no sugar. He adds the company strives for a flavor that is “somewhat sweet and lightly carbonated.” There’s a reason we’re reviewing the original. Look around on the Internet. You’ll notice that Bruce Cost Ginger Ale has quite the reputation. Li notes the company sources its fresh ginger from Shangdong, China and does not use any ginger extracts or flavorings in its soda. Each bottle contains a whopping 40 grams of ginger. Though not fermented, Bruce Cost ginger ale’s unfiltered look, slightly foamy head, and use of only fresh ginger make it a close cousin to ginger beer. Like Arkansas-cousin close. Sorry, Arkansas readers. In fact, Li surprises us with a scoop, telling us the company is entering the other side of ginger soda market this fall and will introduce an 8.4 oz can of ginger beer. Until then, we pull back the curtain on Bruce Cost’s original ginger ale and see if the critical claim has merit.

Where to get: Bruce Cost Ginger Ales are sold in physical retailers mostly in New York and California. You can also find it at The Fresh Market stores nationwide and Whole Foods in five regions. Check out Bruce Cost’s online store locator to find out where the nearest retailer is to you. For the rest of us eating pizza in our Snuggies, there’s always the Internet. Amazon, BevMo, Harney and Sons Teas… just take your pick.

Nose: Musky, kind of has an agave syrup smell to it. Definitely not spicy ginger like you might be expecting from a soda with actual pieces of ginger floating in the bottle.

Taste: Cane sugar; candied ginger; light spiciness. An easy-drinking ginger ale that surprisingly leans on the sweeter side of things. This is an unfiltered ginger ale, and while this is obvious when looking at the pieces of ginger in the bottle, it seems to have an effect on the sugar as well. The sugar, in turn, really impacts the flavor profile. The signature flavor in this is more of a candied ginger than one that’s raw and full of fire. There is a little bit of spice to the ginger on the backend every now and then, but not enough to make those hesitant of spicy flavors bat an eye. You’ll taste more sweet than spicy with just enough of the latter to provide balance. The carbonation is very light and the ginger intensifies throughout the drink. Definitely does not have the same bite and tartness you’ll find in a ginger beer, but also isn’t as dry as most ginger ales. Lots of sweet ginger flavor.

Finish: Sweet ginger with a tinge of pepper. Almost a little bit of a mild herbal effect if you take enough time in between sips.

Rating: Generally ginger ales are full of carbonation and fairly light on flavor. Bruce Cost flips the script with its Ginger Ale by filling each bottle with unfiltered pieces of ginger root packed with big, sweet flavor and hardly any bubbles. The ginger flavor tastes more candy than spicy, but it permeates every sip from beginning to end, increasing in strength as you continue to drink it. Probably one of the sweeter ginger ales you’ll try and not quite as dry as some others. This makes it a great candidate for cocktails. I understand a lot of you will leave at this point to go make a drink. I get it. For those of you who stuck around, the password is wast3ofAsentenze. Bruce Cost certainly tastes like a gourmet ginger ale, but it is a little on the sweet side, coming in at 37 grams per bottle. I’d probably chop that number down to around 30. But this has a nice ginger flavor and is versatile enough to be enjoyed on its own or in your favorite Friday night concoction. One of the better ginger ales on the craft soda market. It certainly seems to be a fan favorite.

Glam Cola

History: Nermin Çelik wanted to invent a soda that existed, in her own words, “in this realm between weirdness and brilliance.” Çelik and her family live in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin, Germany, a flashy area that inspired the name “Glam Cola.” It’s a clear cola that might remind a few readers of Crystal Pepsi. But Glam Cola is designed to taste “fresh and more elegant than common cola,” says Çelik. You can’t have a soda called “Glam Cola” and not explain the name first. But the inspiration behind the soda’s creation came from Çelik’s children. She notes “I saw them drinking it in alarming quantities and the huge amount of sugar worried me.” Newsflash: it isn’t just America where soda has a bad reputation. Unable to find a replacement that satisfied her motherly standards, Çelik decided to make one herself and by March 2013, Glam Cola hit the market. Looking at the label, Glam Cola is an interesting mish-mash of flavors: cola, lemonade and ginger. It’s also devoid of phosphoric acid and contains a large amount of caffeine at around 53 mg in a 12 oz. bottle. This is very similar to Mountain Dew. So, low sugar and lots of caffeine. Yeah, definitely sounds like a soda for kids. Glam Cola is not made with cane sugar and instead uses fructose (not high-fructose corn syrup… there is a difference). Another big marketing point for the soda is that it’s vegan-friendly. Çelik adds “Glam Cola is not only vegan but also halal and kosher.” I think this also makes it the most politically correct soda on earth. Çelik is currently at work on new flavors, including rose and lavender. No word on how glamorous those flavors will be, but we’re about to get pretty with the original.

Where to get: For a list of where to purchase Glam Cola, check out the store’s online locator. The brand is in the midst of expanding sales to Eastern Europe, Russia, and China. At the time of this review, Glam Cola is not sold online. If you are outside of Germany, your best bet is to contact the company.

Nose: Traditional cola; mild lemon; light cinnamon.

Taste: Bitterness; cinnamon; lemon. This is quite bitter for a cola. It has a very nontraditional taste. Surprising considering it smelled quite a bit like cola with notes of lemon. And there is definitely some lemon in this that you can taste, but there’s also ginger and I don’t quite taste that element considering how powerful ginger typically is in soda. Some of that bitterness may come from the ginger and lemon, but I think what you’re primarily tasting here is actually the caffeine. We all know caffeine can make you hyper, but most of us don’t know what it tastes like. Raw caffeine is very bitter. It really comes through in the flavor profile here. There’s no cinnamon in this, but the combination of the cola and bitterness create a flavor that’s very similar. Overall, this is nothing like an American cola. It isn’t particularly sweet and is noticeably bitter.

Finish: Bitter cinnamon with mild, traditional cola notes.

Rating: Glam Cola is a clear cola that tastes way outside the normal realm of what’s expected from this particular category of soda. The label of “cola” evokes a certain expectation of flavor and this is nothing like anything to which you’re accustomed. Sodas outside of America are often less sweet and more bitter. This certainly fits that bill. We were told the primary elements in this are cola, lemon and ginger. You definitely taste traditional lemon and cola influences, though they’re both subtle. What isn’t as subtle is the bitterness. It’s harsh. The combination of ingredients creates a cinnamon flavor that when mixed with the lemon and cola notes, just enhances the soda’s overall bitterness. Americans are likely to be turned off by the lack of sugar. I mean, look at how many of us have diabetes. The flavors just didn’t work for us. It’s as simple as that. Glam Cola has a fancy name and a foreign flavor that doesn’t beg for a second date. She’s the beautiful German vixen you found at the club in stilettos and a sequin dress, but just doesn’t have much personality. Now, any fans of bitter sodas out there should give this a shot the next time your travels take you to Deutschland. As for the rest of you, looking will tide you over. Glam Cola is beautiful to gaze at, but its flavor isn’t so glamorous.

Top Note Tonics: Ginger Beer

History: Mary Pellettieri was growing increasingly tired of the soft drink selection in restaurants. It was always the usual brands. No creativity. No variety. And seemingly no room for improvement. She disagreed. She wanted to dial the clock back and return to the days of flavored tonics, something a little more bitter on the palate. Italian sodas, another bitter soft drink, were a major inspiration. When you think tonic, let’s be real, you think alcohol. But based on her background in beer, her desire might not seem so surprising. In 2014, Pellettieri founded Top Note Tonics in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, an all-natural artisanal tonic and soft drink mixer company. “People forgot tonics could be used in the soft drink category,” she notes over the phone. Top Note Tonics lives the best of both worlds, serving both the craft cocktail and soft drink markets, though admittedly, it gets more mileage from booze. If you’re a soda fan, Ginger Beer and Bitter Orange are the two flavors most likely to stand out. Just add a couple ounces of syrup to eight-ish ounces of seltzer water and you have a do-it-yourself craft soda. If you’re into booze, try the exotic spice-infused Indian Tonic or the company’s most popular Gentian Tonic. Pellettieri recalls how difficult of a process it was making all-natural syrups with premium ingredients. Often soda companies work with what are called “flavor houses” to get their syrups tasting just right without using expensive ingredients. Pellettieri says many flavor houses are hesitant to innovate and that Top Note Tonics was unwilling to compromise on the quality of its ingredients, making any kind of partnership difficult. “We don’t use any fake ingredients. Everything that we use is derived directly from an herb or a natural extract we work with,” she adds. You also won’t find any preservatives in Top Note Tonics. Because Ginger Beer is so hot right now, and because it seemed like the syrup with the most logical connection to craft soda, we chose that one to review. The ginger beer came in the company’s second wave of flavors and is made with lots of fresh ginger, prunes, grapefruit peel, and a Belgian candy sugar often used in beer brewing. Sign us up. We’ll sign you up too. Maybe.

Where to get: Top Note Tonics are available to purchase online here. If you’re in the Milwaukee area, you can buy Top Note Tonics at Sendiks, Groppis, and Outpost stores.

Nose: Out of the bottle, there’s a musky ginger smell going on. When mixed with the seltzer water, the smell becomes much sweeter and more like a traditional ginger beer.

Taste: Citrus; ginger; spice. There’s a definite citrus note to this on the first sip. Yes, you can taste the ginger immediately, but it’s paired with a citrus element. Top Note Tonics’ Ginger Beer is made with grapefruit peel, so that’s likely what you’re tasting. The ginger has a little bit of heat to it, but nothing that’s going to overpower anyone. Like on the smell, the ginger flavor to this is a bit musky, but it’s accompanied by an unusual sweetness. Likely, this is simply due to the way the ingredients interact, but I taste a little bit of burned brown sugar in here to go along with the ginger. That could be the Belgian sugar coming into play. It’s a different type of sweet. Definitely an earthier ginger beer with a little bitterness.

Finish: Bitter grapefruit and ginger notes.

Rating: Let’s just call it like it is: most soda purists approach craft soda syrups with a lot of hesitation. Bottled soda feels safer, and more importantly, it’s less work. I have to walk all the way to the fridge and add WATER to this? What if I mess the proportions up? What if I don’t even like the recommended recipe? People are willing to think out strategy, but much less inclined to actually take a few more steps to ensure refreshment. It’s just the way we are. Why do you think Netflix and pizza delivery are so popular? That said, Top Note Tonics has managed to make a ginger beer syrup that when added with seltzer water, forms a very serviceable soda. If someone poured the right combination of water and syrup into a bottle and served it to you, I’d seriously doubt you’d know this began as a bottled soda syrup. The ginger spice is mild, probably a four or five on the heat scale. That gets paired with some semisweet grapefruit notes and a distinct, earthy sugar flavor. You’ll taste a little bit of bitterness at the end of every sip. When paired with rum, this makes a tremendous dark and stormy. On it’s own, it’s solid. I’d prefer the ginger to be a little bolder and the sugar to be crisper. But the more and more you drink it, the more you like it. Here’s what I did would do: drink one on its own as a soda, then four one with rum and pass out see what you think. The grapefruit goes a long way in supplementing the lack of heat in the ginger. It really adds some nice citrus flavor to a ginger beer that needed a companion flavor. The two elements work well together. Even we at Five Star are cautious when it comes to soda syrups, but we’re here to tell you that this one can come over and stay the night. Let it show you a good time.

Garwood’s Ginger Beer

History: Ginger beer is one of the most adult craft sodas on the market. But don’t tell that to Salt Lake City’s Thomas Garwood, who used to drink the stuff down as a kid. Still a young adult at 28, Garwood was no longer satisfied with the state of ginger beer. He felt he’d grown up, but his favorite soda hadn’t. It’s not me, babe. It’s you. “As an adult I’ve never been able to find a ginger beer that was quite spicy enough,” he says, his phone cutting in and out as if he was communicating from an AOL dial-up landline. He’d also become disenchanted with studying music in school. So Garwood, already experienced in the food industry, went to work. But he needed some help. Garwood’s Ginger Beer probably wouldn’t exist had it not been for a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised $5,000. When it came to the soda, he didn’t just want more spice. He wanted more flavor. Fresh flavor. Garwood’s Ginger Beer is made with 30% real juice, using cold-pressed ginger, lemon and lime juices. Garwood made it a point to ensure his ginger beer was wrapped in a bed of natural citrus as opposed to using syrups or extracts. The only other ingredients are carbonated water and cane sugar. He adds, “The purpose of starting this business was to do unique things that you don’t find around a lot.” For example, down the line, he wants to create a malt soda. In the more immediate future, grapefruit or grapefruit-ginger may be on the table. He says so far, his two-man team (Garwood and his wife) have gotten a great response locally in Salt Lake City. Time to try this out. Better put on my adult pants for this review.

Where to get: Due to the small size and recent launch of the company, Garwood’s Ginger Beer is still only sold locally in Salt Lake City. For those of you stopping through, you can pick up a bottle at Liberty Heights Fresh Market or Caputo’s downtown market. Garwood was confident online sales would eventually happen. If you’re desperate, you can contact the company via their Facebook page.

Nose: Skunky, almost like a citrusy Heineken or Modelo beer. Lime and lemon juice are also prevalent. The ginger smell is relatively mild.

Taste: Ginger; lemon juice; lime juice. This tastes extremely fresh. You can taste all three of the main juices that make this up. Each bottle of Garwood’s Ginger Beer contains 30% juice, yet it tastes higher. You start out with a sweet, but tart lemon-lime flavor. The lime has more of a punch, but the lemon has more staying power in the flavor profile. The ginger comes in last. It’s not particularly hot, but full of flavor. This is light and tart, an extremely refreshing take on ginger beer that relies heavily on lemon and lime flavors to supplement the ginger.

Finish: Slightly skunky lime with just a tinge of citrus-infused ginger that coats the tongue. Some people are into skunky tastes, but others may be turned off.

Rating: Ginger beers are almost always engineered to be enjoyed with alcohol and for that reason, they almost always taste better with alcohol. I think this is the first ginger beer I’ve had that I would say is better on its own. The ginger, lemon and lime juices work perfectly together to form a refreshing citrus elixir. To me, this is like a ginger-infused lemonade with some notes of lime. Now this is a little skunky, something unusual in ginger beers, but that’s really an aside. Some may disagree, but I think it adds to the flavor. All three main juices stand out in a unique way in the flavor profile. The lemon is refreshing and full of citrus that forms the base of each sip. The lime is brief but adds a burst of tart, bold flavor. And the ginger tastes so fresh and zesty that it’s almost impossible not to be impressed. This won’t make your eyes water with heat, but you will cry if you don’t try one. This is like when a hot hipster girl transfers to your college in po-dunk nowhere and you realize you’ll be making a lifestyle change. Other girls can’t match her style, looks and sassiness. In similar fashion, I don’t think I can name a more flavorful or better ginger beer than Garwood’s. That’s a bold statement, but this is a bold ginger beer that ascends to the highest peak in its category. This is that hot hipster girl wearing her plaid shirts and shiny leggings. You need her. You need her like you need air. To be fair, I don’t think you’ll need this like you need air. If you do, contact a hospital and scientist. But you’ll need this more than any other ginger beer you’ve had to date. This is one of the newest players in the game and if Garwood’s continues making other flavors, they’ll be one of its heaviest hitters.

Americana: Honey Lime Ginger Ale

History: The Americana line of sodas is produced by a giant retro soda bottler known as Orca Beverages. Orca came about in the 1980’s and was founded by Mike Bourgeois in Mukilteo, WA, an affluent suburb of Seattle. The first brand they produced was their very own called Orca Sparkling and “contained over 50 percent juice sourced from Northwest juice processors.” Orca no longer bottles their own name brand, but they’ve expanded to become one of the biggest craft soda bottlers in the country. They’ve partnered with over 100 brands to produce their sodas, including classics like Dad’s Root Beer, Moxie Original Elixir, and Bubble Up. According to CFO Charles Funk, Americana is now the company’s flagship brand with 11 different flavors. The Americana bottles used to feature old presidents on the label. Personally, we’re not sure why they abandoned such a neat idea. But I’m also not sure why I’m on my third marriage and sleep on the couch half the time. In the words of the company, the brand is a throwback to the time of “soda fountains, sock hops and five-cent sodas.” You can’t even get a disease for five cents these days, much less soda. But you get the idea. Orca Beverages is steadfast in their emphasis on quality. Says Funk, “One thing about our whole line of sodas we produce is that we use the best ingredients we can find,” even if it means paying more. The company employs their own “Tasteologist.” So do we. We’re called Five Star Soda. Today, it’s honey lime ginger ale made with premium honey.

Where to get: Americana craft soda from Orca Beverages is distributed world-wide and easily found in stores that sell glass-bottled sodas. Americana is one of the more popular craft soda brands, just a touch below Boylan’s, Virgil’s, and Jones. You can find it online at Summit City Soda (better pricing) or on the company’s website. You can also purchase single bottles at Soda Emporium.

Nose: Ginger; honey. Maybe the first soda made with honey I can actually smell in the bottle.

Taste: Ginger; mild heat; honey. This is spicier than you expect it to be for a ginger ale with the word “honey” on the label. It’s light like a ginger ale with enough spice to call it a ginger beer. Probably a 7 on the heat scale with spice that lingers on the tongue. Some of that may be from the citrus of the lime that causes the heat to stick. It takes a few sips to adjust before the honey really comes through. After that initial heat, this becomes quite a sweet ginger ale. Almost too sweet at times. The spice of the ginger and the flavor of the lime form together to create a pepper-like heat. This is a ginger ale that’s definitely sweet with lingering spice.

Finish: Light honey immediately followed by peppery spice.

Rating: Americana Honey Lime Ginger Ale is an interesting take ginger ale and probably won’t fit the preconceived notions of taste you might have about what’s in the bottle. It’s quite spicy, but not the traditional gingery fire akin to ginger beers. No, this tastes like it has some kind of pepper in it. It’s a little too prevalent for me. Yet at the same time, this is also sweeter than most ginger ales. It’s an odd combination of sweet and spicy. The lime doesn’t quite come through in the flavor profile all that much, but that doesn’t really bother me. I just keep coming back to the sweet vs. heat. It feels like a struggle over which one should be more bold on the palate as opposed to working in tandem to create a balanced flavor profile. This is worth a try simply because it’s different, but it could use some tweaks. One thing I will say about this soda is that it benefits from being on ice as opposed to sipping straight from the bottle. There are better ginger ales out there, but you will please your inner soda connoisseur by trying one this different.