Other Stuff

Fentimans: Rose Lemonade

History: You can thank Indian food for this review… but we’ll come back to that. Fentimans does things the old fashioned way, in part because their company is, well, old. The British-based beverage producer actually brews their sodas like you would a beer, using fermented ginger root. They’re famous for the use of herbs and spices in their drinks, hence the term “botanically brewed” on every label. It was 1905 when an iron puddler in Clarkheaton, England by the name of Thomas Fentiman inherited a recipe for a botanically brewed ginger beer as collateral for a loan. That loan was never repaid, so Fentiman became the owner. To this day ginger beer is still the company’s leading seller, according to Fentimans North American Sales and Marketing Coordinator, Karyssa Veltri. Right behind it? Rose Lemonade, a carbonated take on the category with a color so pretty we almost considered not drinking it. Almost. Now, back to the Indian food thing. Veltri tells us rose lemonade “was inspired by our owner enjoying a dish at his favorite Indian restaurant which used rose petals” and that “the idea started with the aroma and moved on from there.” It’s the details behind the recipe that really make this soda (we’ve calling it soda because it’s carbonated just like all their other sodas). “We use only the finest Bulgarian rose oil from the world famous Rose Valley in Kazanlak. This source has been chosen specifically for the multi-layered aroma and natural taste of the oil,” says Veltri. For those of you unfamiliar with the Bulgarian Rose Valley, it looks like the place where all the Victoria’s Secret models are probably born. But it’s not just rose oil that gives Fentimans Rose Lemonade its signature flavor. You’ll also taste fermented ginger (as with all of the brand’s sodas) as well as “real lemon juice to deliver sharpness.” And it all comes in the Fentimans’ signature 9.3 oz bottle, known for the short, stubby body and long, skinny neck. Rose lemonade contains real sugar, is vegan-friendly, and uses no preservatives. Veltri notes that all Fentimans’ sodas “are pasteurized to give them a long shelf life” as opposed to using chemicals or preservatives. She also mentions that it’s a popular mixer with vodka and gin. Between the eye-catching pink hue and the extravagant use of Bulgarian rose oil in the recipe, I’m more than sold on wanting to find out just how beautiful rose lemonade tastes. My only hope is that this rose doesn’t have its thorns.

Buy: MyBrands Online Store • JetWalmart • Amazon • World Market (single bottles). You can also find your local retailer by checking here.

Nose: Floral, rose water, rose oils, mild citrus. Pleasant.

Taste: Tart, floral, lemon, rose petals, rose oils. One of the first elements you’ll notice is the tartness and how upfront it is in the soda. This is very tart, almost bitter. Those flavors are wrapped inside a blanket of floral notes. Light and fruity, you’ll taste mostly sweet rose water and rose oils that mix with the citrus to form a more balanced drink near the back end of its development in the mouth. This packs a tart citrus bang on the arrival that gets toned down once the rose oil notes blend with the lemon. Fentimans Rose Lemonade is tart, bright, and memorable. Slightly sweet and fairly acidic.

Finish: Mild rose petals with frothy, but tact carbonation punctuated by fleeting notes of lemon citrus that linger briefly before fading.

Rating: Fentimans knows how to make soda and their rose lemonade is no exception. While we don’t normally think of lemonade as soda, this is a carbonated lemonade made in small batches with real sugar and authentic ingredients. If it’s not craft soda, then the experts have been fooled. What surprised us most about Fentimans Rose Lemonade is just how astringent and acidic it is in the mouth. You’re greeted by a tartness that quickly becomes the soda’s signature. You’ll also taste sweet floral notes and rose oils throughout the body of the drink, but tart lemon citrus anchors the overall flavor. It’s a little jarring at first, but your palate should adjust. Perhaps this was done to counter the foreign flavor of rose oil. We mostly think of roses as flowers instead of tasting notes, unless you’re my dogs, in which case, you are very familiar with the taste of roses and all flowers for that matter. Anyway, when most of us encounter a flavor we aren’t used to, our brains process it as overpowering. The bold tartness in rose lemonade takes your mind off the floral notes for just long enough so that your taste buds can adjust as the two flavors eventually meld together. I’m not a flavor scientist and I don’t work for Fentimans, but I’m guessing my reasoning is almost spot-on. Or maybe not. Regardless, the sweet notes of rose oil and bold citrus flavors dance together in a way that leaves a lasting impression. This is a soda you won’t soon forget. It may not be an everyday beverage, but its presence should raise eyebrows at any get-together.

Frïsa: Black Currant Rosehip

History: You want some of that fancy soda? That stuff that makes you wanna throw on a robe and a crown and just do the Vince McMahon strut down the street as you drink it? Boy, do we have a beverage for you. Frïsa touts itself as “an ultra-premium European botanical beverage,” according to company general manager and COO Casey Beard. Do you already not feel a little more regal just having read that? Beard continues saying, “all of our ingredients are all natural, gluten free, non-GMO and Kosher certified. We made sure we used the best of the best when crafting FRÏSA… even our water is sourced from the Pyrenes.” Hold on. What? That’s right. Mountain water. European mountain water from the Iberian Peninsula is in every cute, stubby bottle. Ironically, Frïsa is not produced in Europe, but rather the cold tundra of Minneapolis, Minnesota and it was founded in early 2015. Each drink is also under 100 calories per serving. But what separates Frïsa from other sodas is the botanicals it uses. Botanicals usually refer to ingredients like herbs, spices, or floral notes that impart a unique flavor not often found in most soda. And Beard doesn’t hide the fact that his company is trying to be different. “We saw the need and opportunity for an alternative to the Cokes and Pepsis of the world but needed to put a spin on it,” he tells us. Frïsa’s most popular flavor is Elderflower, but its most interesting flavor in our opinion is black currant rosehip. Here’s the thing: we don’t know what black currant is, much less how it tastes. Beard lets us know we aren’t crazy, saying that black currant is a “more common ingredient in Europe where it is widely cultivated and consumed,” before adding that its best American comparison is the blackberry or marionberry. He calls the drink “refined and sophisticated,” yet “light and refreshing.” Listen, I’m already on my high horse so you don’t have to sell me on drinking it or the aesthetics. I just hope my taste buds get treated with a similar royal experience.

Buy: Frïsa Store

Nose: Strong grape juice smells, though a little bit more of a sophisticated grape/berry scent, ala wine.

Taste: Tart; berry; grape; light cherry; tangy; frothy. The standouts in this soda are the frothy carbonation combined with a strong tartness. The two contrast one another nicely. The flavor is something along the lines of a tangy grape and black cherry hybrid floating on a cloud of thick, but soft carbonation. The tartness comes from the use of lemon juice, but you don’t really taste lemon, per se. That tart and tangy flavor manifests itself in the form of a berry taste. There’s also just the faintest hint of floral notes. Like a grown up carbonated grape juice with an infusion of cherry.

Finish: Berry tartness that slowly fades in favor of light floral notes.

Rating: Frïsa continues to cement itself as an artisan soda brand of the future. The company walks a fine line of soda vs. carbonated juice, but that’s only because the flavors they use taste so fresh. Black currant rosehip is no exception. If there was ever such a thing as fresh-squeezed soda, this is it. The flavors are bold and bright. You’ll taste a hybrid grape and dark berry flavor with an accompanying cherry kick. But what stands out most is the tartness. It’s the shining star of the soda. It intensifies all of the flavors in the bottle in a positive way. It’s tangy, but not sour. For some, this may be a little too acidic, but I think for most it’ll be a refreshing new take on berry soda. The one area I’d like to see improved is the floral taste on the soda’s finish. I need to taste that a little bit more in the soda’s body before I can give this five stars. If you didn’t tell people there was rosehip natural extract in this soda, most wouldn’t even notice it. Beyond that, Frïsa’s black currant rosehip is fruity, sophisticated, and bold. It’s like simultaneously visiting the vineyards of California and the beaches of Miami at the same time, yet not coming back with an overpriced bottle you’ll never drink or a tattoo you’ll always regret. The bottom line is that this young company makes good stuff and black currant rosehip continues the trend.

Four Stars

Soda Jerk Soda: Lime Cilantro Jalapeno

History: For those of you out there who need a seriously fresh craft soda fix and would prefer to buy it out of a vehicle that looks like it was created by Willy Wonka, say no more fam. Cory Clark, founder of Soda Jerk Soda, sells homemade craft soda in Seattle, Washington using only fresh ingredients. Oh, and he sells it on draft out of this thing. Completely custom-made, he calls it a “rolling jockey box” and it was inspired by a Cushman Truckster. Clark moved to Seattle from Texas where he was a cosmetic chemist. Because if there’s a next logical step after dabbling in cosmetic chemistry, it’s making homemade soda. “I wanted something really different,” he says. No kidding. Initially Clark wanted to build an ice cream store with an old fashioned soda fountain, but after the success of the Soda Stream, he decided to pursue creating soda syrups instead. Clark quickly changed course again after realizing he was more passionate about sodas made with real, fresh ingredients. “I was just looking for the next thing. I’m kind of a person that has to be creating something to be happy,” he says. As for what’s on the menu; flavors at Soda Jerk Soda are constantly in rotation. The one you’ll find most often is lemon lavender, but lime cilantro jalapeno is another of Clark’s favorites. In fact, at the time of this interview, it’s the favorite of Clark. The flavor was created for the “Taco Libre” Food Truck Festival where you can grab a soda, eat a taco, and watch Luchador wrestling. For those of you foodies who want a little more insight into the process behind the soda, here’s a tidbit: Clark doesn’t cook the ingredients in his soda and instead uses hot water to melt the sugar and seep the herbs. He says this makes the flavors “very bright and strong.” He also tells us he uses as many local ingredients as possible. What you’re dealing with here is farm-fresh fizzy soda. I hope it tastes as good as it sounds.

Buy: You’ll need to be in the Seattle area to get a hold of this one as Soda Jerk Soda is still mostly an on-draft, on-site soda. Your best bet for any potential small order for yourself is to contact the company directly or check their Facebook to see where they’ll be next.

Nose: Smells of sweet citrus and sugar with just a touch of heat. You can tell there’s some sort of pepper in there, but it comes through in a mild sense. Mostly importantly, this smells market fresh.

Taste: Sweet lemon/lime citrus; mild tartness; light spice; pepper. Citrus is the predominant flavor you’ll taste in this soda as the jalapeno plays the fiddle in the background. The citrus flavor also has the most character, greeting you with a tangy sweetness and transitioning into more of a light tartness as you taste more of the jalapeno. The pepper taste comes in near the end of the sip. It meshes nicely with the citrus. The two flavors are an excellent combination for taste. The jalapeno is not particularly spicy; instead it acts as almost a seasoning to the beverage. What I’m not getting here as much is the cilantro. There’s, at times, an earthy, herbal flavor to the soda which likely comes from the cilantro but it’s fleeting. Still though, lots of flavor going on here to be excited about.

Finish: Tangy citrus and pepper with more of an emphasis on the jalapeno flavor. On certain sips the spiciness is more apparent; this will vary slightly with every batch of soda depending on the strength of the peppers used.

Rating: Soda Jerk Soda’s Lime Cilantro Jalapeno is a refreshing combination of heat and sweet where citrus is the shining star. You get a nice variation of sweetness, tanginess, and tartness in this soda with just a tinge of spice. For those wary of spicy foods or beverages, you need not worry. The way this soda develops is really nice with an initial sweetness that transitions into tart citrus and ends with tangy spice. We’re always a little wary when someone uses pepper in soda, but Soda Jerk Soda gets it right. The jalapeno pepper taste is definitely in a supporting role and not too overbearing. Where this loses points with us is the lack of cilantro flavor. Now I don’t mind it personally because I don’t really care for cilantro, but if it’s in the name of the soda, we need to taste it more. To be fair, there are definitely some sips where you can taste an earthy, herbal flavor in addition to the citrus, but not enough for me otherwise know that cilantro is actually used in the recipe. When this soda excels, it really soars. The citrus flavor in this is excellent, near perfect. The way it changes characteristics throughout the sip is what keeps me coming back for more. It’s like a marriage that never gets stale. Honey, if you’re reading this, I love you. Most of the time. If you’re in the Seattle area and looking for an adventure, titillate you taste buds with an original flavor like this one.

Four Stars

Editor’s note: A previous version of this review referred to the soda as “Cilantro Jalapeno Lime,” but it has now been changed to its proper name of “Lime Cilantro Jalapeno.” Also, there is no lemon in the soda’s recipe. The only references to lemon are tasting notes inferred by our tasters.

Roots Soda Co.: Hoodoo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Four Stars

Zuberfizz: Chocolate Cream

History: In Colorado, a deep breath will net you lots of scents. Smell that mountain air? The fresh clay under your boots? Maybe, just mayyyyybe a little pot? Colorado is an olfactory orgasm. But it’s also a mouthful, literally. The state is full of tons of great craft beer and craft soda. But the one with the weirdest name is undoubtedly Zuberfizz, founded by former Colorado State roommates Banden Zuber and Dan Aggeler. And the brand actually has ties to both craft beer and soda because before going completely nonalcoholic with their business, the two had planned on opening a brewery. In fact, if they hadn’t purchased the equipment to make beer, they wouldn’t have been able to make soda. The duo opened the business in 2002. By then Colorado had become flooded with breweries, but craft soda was still ripe for the taking. Zuberfizz produces eight flavors. Perhaps the most inventive is their newly renamed Chocolate Cream Soda. Originally, it was called “Coco Fizz.” The soda’s recipe was created by Zuber as a sales pitch to Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory in order to gain the business of a big client. Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory is a gigantic company. According to Zuber, they have over 300 stores. And in his own words, “they loved it;” a partnership was born. Now, back to the name change thing. It’s a relatively new occurrence, so new that as of July 2016 Zuberfizz has yet to actually change the name on their website. To be clear, Coco Fizz and Chocolate Cream Soda are the same soda; the recipe has not changed. The only difference is the label. Previously, Coco Fizz used the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory logo on the front of the bottle and didn’t look like the rest of the Zuberfizz’s soda labels. The company simply changed the name and label for consistency. As for the flavor? Zuber deadpans, “Tootsie Roll. Two words.” It’s hard to get much dialogue out of Zuber, but after a brief pause he adds, “People either love it or they hate it.” Sounds about right for chocolate soda.

Where to get: Zuberfizz sodas are most prevalent in the Colorado and four corners region, but you can always buy it online directly from the company. Don’t be alarmed if it’s still called Coco Fizz on some websites that haven’t updated the name – again, it’s the exact same recipe. You can also buy the soda online from Summit City Soda in 12-packs and Soda Emporium in single bottles.

Nose: Rich cocoa. Like smelling hot cocoa powder.

Taste: Bold chocolate; mild creaminess; chocolate hard candy; Tootsie Rolls. It’s almost jolting to taste chocolate in a soda because it’s so rare, but this is full of chocolate flavor. Imagine a chocolate breath mint stripped of the mint. That’s the best way to describe the flavor. I’d also say there are some additional undertones of cocoa. Slightly creamy, ala eating a Tootsie Roll. The bigger the sip, the more creamy the soda seems to be, particularly near the end. But overall, it’s overwhelmingly more chocolate than chocolate cream.

Finish: Lingering creamy cocoa notes with a hint of milk chocolate. Still strong chocolate flavor.

Rating: This is chocolate soda. And damn, it tastes like it. In a category where membership is limited, Zuberfizz tried to plant their flag deep in the ground with a soda full of rich, chocolatey flavor. You taste a milky, hard candy chocolate flavor mixed with sweet cocoa notes. When it comes to the creaminess, don’t think along the lines of traditional cream soda. It’s more like the creaminess of chewing a Tootsie Roll along with the flavor too. And that part of the soda is where it excels most. I have to give Zuberfizz credit: this is definitely chocolate cream soda. There’s no denying the authenticity of the flavor. That said, it’s a little harsh for me. All that concentrated flavor is a lot to handle in soda form. It’s a sipper for sure. Imagine the hip hop Gods somehow managed to concentrate the power, boldness, and sassiness of Nikki Minaj in a 12 oz. bottle. Now imagine what would happen if she got out. That’s what I feel like when drinking this. It’s powerful. Note: this is not a sexual reference toward Nikki Minaj, but Nikki if you’re reading, I’m single. Where I think Zuberfizz’s Chocolate Cream Soda could really improve is its carbonation. It’s a cream soda, so to convey that more, I’d make the carbonation frothier than it is in its current form. Fans of chocolate simply can’t pass up trying this. For everyone else, it’s a wild ride if you’re up for the challenge.

Three Stars

Dry Sparkling: Serrano Pepper

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

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

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

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

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

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

Four Stars

Cannonborough BevCo.: Sorghum Thyme

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

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

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

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

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

Edit post-interview: Vindication.

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

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

Four Stars

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