Other Stuff

Vignette Wine Country Soda: Chardonnay

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three Stars

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Chazzano: Brooklyn Born Coffee Soda

History: “If you put cream or sugar in my coffee, God cries and an angel loses its wings,” Frank Lanzkron-Tamarazo says in a corkscrewed, high-pitched New York accent over the phone. Lanzkron-Tamarazo is a sweet, funny man with a last name almost as long as the conversation we had together. Our time on the phone totaled 54 minutes. Normally our interviews for these reviews clock in at under 15. But Lanzkron-Tamarazo has much to say about his roots, his career, and most importantly, everything coffee. Lanzkron-Tamarazo is a master roaster and founder of Chazzano Coffee in Ferndale, Michigan. But it’s something else that ties all those things in a bow: his religion. He references God often in our conversation, usually in his jokes, though never in a decrying matter. Lanzkron-Tamarazo grew up in New York City with a Jewish mother and an Italian Catholic father before taking his talents to Michigan for a job in a synagogue there. It didn’t work out. But in the meantime, something else was brewing. Sixteen years earlier, his mother-in-law asked Lanzkron-Tamarazo what he wanted for his birthday. The small coffee roaster she gifted him quickly turned into something more. Roasting beans became his nighttime hobby and quickly turned into his full-time obsession. The roasters went from desktop-sized to industrial. The 1o-pound bags turned into 1000-pound bags. “I couldn’t find anyone else’s coffee that was better than mine,” he admits. And don’t get him started on “bad coffee.” He says “it’s against God to do that,” only this time he doesn’t sound like he’s joking. After the synagogue gig didn’t work out, Lanzkron-Tamarazo decided in 2009, “It’s time to do something that will really bring joy to my life.” He now spends more time at his cafe than the synagogue, but in a way, you could say Lanzkron-Tamarazo is at church in some form or another every day because coffee is a religious experience for him. It even influenced the name of the store. Quick story: Lanzkron-Tamarazo is a Cantor, which is the main Torah reader and singer in Jewish synagogues. In Hebrew it’s called a “Chazzan.” So he took the Hebrew spelling, added an “O,” because what Italian word doesn’t end in “O,” and created Chazzano Coffee. This dude gets so worked up talking about the stuff that I’m almost convinced to make the 10-hour drive to try all his varieties.

Being an obsessive, Lanzkron-Tamarazo couldn’t just stop at normal coffee. He needed coffee soda. He grew up around the stuff. His grandmother was a huge fan of Manhattan Special Espresso Soda and it was little Frank’s job to bring it to her. But Lanzkron-Tamarazo wanted his own version. In October of 2015, he introduced his own Brooklyn Born Coffee Soda at Chazzano Coffee. Lanzkron-Tamarazo describes its flavor as tinged with chocolate, nuttiness, and maltiness. When asked specifically which coffees are used in the soda, Lanzkron-Tamarazo is tight-lipped. Brooklyn Born Coffee Soda might be full of flavor, but it’s also notable for what’s not in the recipe. Lanzkron-Tamarazo expands on this, saying it’s a “completely different product than anything on the market because it has no sugar.” That’s right. This is a soda void of one of the genre’s trademark ingredients. And he admits, it won’t be for everyone. “It is a niche beverage. The problem is that there’s no competition for it yet.” The soda also contains no preservatives. As for caffeine content, Chazzano’s Coffee Soda contains about a fourth of the amount of a normal cup of coffee, according to an estimate by Lanzkron-Tamarazo. Carbonated water + coffee = …I don’t know, but it sounds intense.

Where to get: Brooklyn Born Coffee Soda can be purchased directly from Chazzano’s Cafe in Ferndale, Michigan. The company does not sell their soda online, but does take orders for it via email. Find the company’s contact information here.

Nose: Strong roasted coffee smell. Almost like someone brewed a fresh pot and then chilled it.

Taste: Coffee; acidic; dark roast; very mild chocolate; foamy. This’ll put hair on your peaches. Man, the coffee flavor is robust. This is a strong coffee soda. There’s one main flavor and one main flavor only here: powerful roasted coffee beans. Almost a little bit of a nutty flavor with the beans. You won’t taste sugar. You won’t taste many other subtleties like vanilla or creaminess. Coffee. All coffee. And as with most coffee beverages, this is fairly acidic. You can taste the freshness of the beans. Definitely tastes like a dark roast, almost bordering on espresso. If you search hard enough for it, there’s a little bit of a chocolate underbody to the soda. My guess is most won’t taste it. Lots of foam on this soda too. Low on sugar, big on coffee flavor.

Finish: Strong coffee beans with a little bit of earthiness that slowly fades into the background.

Rating: Chazzano coffee soda is definitely a beverage for javahead purists. If you’re a coffee lover or enjoy dry sodas with lots of flavor, definitely bust the cap off one of these. If you enjoy sweeter sodas in the more traditional sense, this will be a hard sell for you because I taste absolutely zero sugar here (because there is none). It’s definitely a niche soda for the reason that it tastes devoid of sugar and b u r s t i n g with intense roasted coffee bean taste. No sugar. No carbs. No calories. This is literally just carbonated water and coffee. I think no matter what, this soda is a sipper. Put on your fedora, open up your laptop, and watch the beautiful head on this form as your pour one out into your glass. Sip slowly at your favorite hipster cafe as you wax melodramatic about your first world problems. Bottom line is this: this is strong. Strong coffee. Coffee strong. Get it? If you’re into that, go far it. If not, pass. Simple as that. Personally, I think the roasted coffee flavor is great, but I also think it needs some supporting flavor. Maybe a sweeter nuttiness, maybe vanilla. But more than anything, it needs a little sugar. I think even with 20 grams of sugar, this could appeal to a wider audience. I get that this soda is a love letter to coffee enthusiasts. I just think maybe they should offer one that’s a little sweeter. Still, it earns major points for its flavor. Chazzano Coffee Soda is definitely one that will make you say “wow!” but the reasoning behind the exclamation is sure to be divided.

Three Stars

Scotty’s Butterscotch Soda

History: Times were simpler at Grandma’s house. You’d play on the swing set, run around the yard, eat whatever you wanted; life was good. Grandma always had the best candy, the sweetest lemonade, and the softest beds. If you skinned your knee, you got a piece of candy. If you didn’t, you got a piece of candy. Rocketfizz co-founder Ryan Morgan wanted to bring that sense of wonder into the lives of kids and adults alike, saying “The sense of exploration and fun you used to have as a kid; those are the things we try to bring into our store.” In 2007 Morgan and his business partner Rob Powells opened their first Rocketfizz store. Rocketfizz sells a variety of craft soda, including many under their own label, as well as “over 15,000 different types of candy.” I can already see one of those click bait Buzzfeed headlines about the company: Dentists LOVE them! 15,000 reasons why Rocketfizz is bad for your child!” Somebody probably read this, made that, and is making money off it now. You’re welcome. But the whole thing almost didn’t happen. Rocketfizz got off to a rocky (looks around for approval, sees none) start. Their first contractor took their money “and bolted,” according to Morgan, and it only became more complicated from there. After an initial uphill battle, Rocketfizz is in peak growth mode, now in 30 different states and just opening its 82nd store as of April 2016. Perhaps most surprising about all the success is that the company doesn’t even have official offices. It’s all done at houses, on road trips, or just hanging out with one another. Having a background in the restaurant business since 2000, Morgan wanted a platform to take soda to the next level. He also had an intense passion for design and admits “We originally just wanted to do fun labels.” Rocketfizz allowed him to do both. If you see an novelty soda flavor on the shelves with an interesting label, chances are it’s made by Rocketfizz. The popular novelty soda line, Lester’s Fixins? Rocketfizz. Bacon soda? Rocketfizz. Hot Wing Soda? Yeah, all that stuff is made by these guys. “I don’t look at it any different than a restaurant with a menu. The more we push the limits on flavors, the more we see where people are willing to go,” Morgan tells us. I’ll be the first to tell you, not all of those novelty flavors are good. Some are wretched, liquid gastrointestinal torture. But others, like Scotty’s Butterscotch are more approachable and fun.

Just like the stores themselves, the inspiration behind Scotty’s Butterscotch Soda harkens back to the more nostalgic times of grandma’s home. Remember those yellow round candies she always had in the jar that you never ate? Those are what this soda is designed to taste like. “We wanted it to taste like a basic butterscotch wheel,” Morgan says. Admittedly, it’s more of an adult soda flavor. Morgan also has no problem admitting it’s not a huge seller. One thing it definitely is? Unique. I can name you several butterscotch cream sodas and root beers, but go find me another strictly butterscotch-flavored soda in America. You can’t. This has the market cornered in that regard. What the duo like most about the soda is the label. A Scotsman wearing a kilt next to a stick of butter. It’s a wee-bit strange, but it does catch the eye. Will it please the tummy?

Where to get: A sure-fire bet for purchasing Scotty’s Butterscotch soda in person is to stop by your local Rocketfizz store. Check out the company’s online locator to find the store nearest you. You can also purchase it online from Soda Emporium in single bottles or 4-packs.

Nose: Man, this is butterscotch alright. If you’ve ever poured warm butterscotch syrup over your ice cream, that’s what this smells like. Strong and sweet.

Taste: Butterscotch; vanilla; toasted toffee. The butterscotch flavor is immediate. It’s initially sweet, but not as sweet as the scent would lead you to believe. The taste of the butterscotch is unmistakable. It’s a very candy butterscotch flavor. Picture those little yellow-wrapped candies your grandma kept in the candy jar, but no one touched. These things (We always write the tasting portion of the review first before the history – so they really hit the mark here). You’ll also definitely taste vanilla on some sips, giving the soda a slightly creamy, but still overwhelmingly butterscotch characteristic. I think the most interesting flavor in Scotty’s Butterscotch Soda is a toasted toffee taste. P.S. that’s some nice unintentional alliteration. Those toasted notes provide a nice variance to the butterscotch’s sweetness. I have say this becomes sweeter as you drink it, though. But if you’re looking for butterscotch soda, look no further. The signature flavor here is unmistakable.

Finish: Lightly toasted butterscotch with mild notes of caramel that fades, leaving only butterscotch. Transitions from sophisticated to plain fairly quickly. Not much of a linger.

Rating: Let’s be real here, how many of you expect butterscotch soda with a dude playing bagpipes and a stick of butter on the label to be good? Sometimes the label is all you need to see to know a soda is going to be terrible, but Scotty’s Butterscotch Soda is one on which you should not form assumptions. And I’m not saying the label is bad, but it does lead me to believe I’m about to drink carbonated liquid butter. And for the right price, yeah I’d do it. But I’d drink Scotty’s for free and I think a lot of you would too because it has a sweet, candied butterscotch flavor with a supporting cast of vanilla and toasted toffee notes. The vanilla and toffee flavors are crucial because this is a soda that starts sweet and only gets sweeter as you drink it. And that is the soda’s main problem. The initial sweetness is right where this needs to stay, but instead it becomes overwhelming at times. Kids will probably love this because of its sugariness, but adults and craft soda fans may need to take their time with it. If you’re a big butterscotch fan, Scotty’s should be near the top of your wish list. The butterscotch flavor is on point. The vanilla provides a slight creaminess. And the toasted toffee notes give it some needed flavor contrast and slightly pull back the sweetness of the butterscotch. Scotty’s is a Rocketfizz-produced soda, and if I’m being honest, I haven’t heard a lot positive things about their in-house brands; this bucks the trend. Scotty’s Butterscotch Soda won’t be for everyone because of its intense sweetness and due to the fact that many people are averse to caramel’s less popular cousin. But if you’re up for an adventure and have an open mind, look for the bottle with the stick of butter and lad playing the bagpipes on it. You might just be surprised.

Three Stars

Hooker Mountain Farm: Maple Spruce and Lime

History: In the little town of Cabot, Vermont rests Hooker Mountain Farm, a local spot that will sell you anything from live cows to maple syrup to dead post-Heaven barbecue-flavored cows (beef sticks). But they’re arguably most famous for the their maple syrup. How Vermont of them. David Thayer founded the farm in 2010 where they harvest their own maple syrup. But maple isn’t the only recognizable type of tree on the land. You’ll notice a canopy of spruces and firs staring down at you too. Thayer decided these trees also had culinary value. But what to use them on? Keeping his background in home brewing in mind, Thayer thought up a novel idea: farm-to-bottle craft soda using Hooker Mountain’s signature maple syrup as the primary sweetener. And those spruce trees? He took their needles, blended them with maple syrup, pure cane sugar, and lime and created Maple Spruce and Lime Soda. Hooker Mountain Farm has produced craft soda since 2013. Besides Maple Spruce and Lime, their two other flavors of soda are Maple Birch Beer and Maple Orange Cream. About 70% of the sodas’ maple syrup content is gathered right off the farm. Thayer’s says, “We wanted to resuscitate a more natural-tasting soda,” a reason why each bottle’s sugar content clocks in at 23 grams, about half of what a normal craft soda contains. Thayer likens this particular soda to a lemon-lime with a spruce influence. I’m an avid hiker myself who enjoys living off the land during my excursions, though I rarely trek through forests because let’s be real, the bears are waiting for you to stumble into their land like a drunk girl after bar close. But even if I did peruse through the woods, I’ve never imagined what they’d taste like in liquid form. Until now.

Where to get: Hooker Mountain Farm soda is currently only sold in Vermont. If you’re outside the area, contact the company directly via phone or email. Just know shipping may be pricey. In the near future, this should be much easier when the farm launches their line of soda syrups that will be more cost-effective to ship.

Nose: Pine tree; bold lime; eucalyptus.

Taste: Pine needles; eucalyptus; lime. Whoa, prepare your taste buds for a ride through the forest. This is tree soda with some notes of botanicals. Right away you get a wave of pine tree flavor. It won’t be for everyone. The spruce flavor is strong. There’s also some undertones of eucalyptus. Both flavors become more palatable as you continue drinking. The lime comes in late. It’s a very citrus-y lime. Also strong. It’s an acquired taste for sure. This soda is a grower. The one flavor I’m not tasting right away is the maple. You have to diligently search for it. The maple is tucked behind the lime. As opposed to other sodas from Hooker Mountain Farm, the maple in this one is very, very faint. This is not a sweet soda, but also not a bitter one. Part of that is obvious at 90 calories a bottle. It’s much closer to a botanical beverage. The spruce and lime work well to form a crisp, earthy drink. Whose taste buds it will please is another story.

Finish: Lime; faint maple; eucalyptus. Dull lime flows into the back of the throat followed at a distance by a thin layer of maple syrup. Eucalyptus is the final flavor you taste, rising off the taste buds like fog on a morning lake.

Rating: If you’ve ever wondered what a liquid Christmas tree tastes like, this is the closest I’ve come to it. Those who enjoy herbal beverages will probably be delighted by this soda. Those who desire something sweeter should probably pass on it. The spruce flavor is up front and abrupt on the first couple sips. It’s hard to prepare for its intensity. The lime you get on the back end of the soda is very refreshing and helps elevate this to a spring and summer drink. We’ve also been told it pairs well with gin. All that aside, this would probably benefit from just a little more sweetness. Perhaps some more maple syrup. I’m just not tasting enough maple for a drink that has the word on its label. It’s probably not going to taste like what you’re expecting. Remember that morning in high school you ran those two miles to kill your hangover, then you got in your car and downed a fourth of your water bottle in an instant? Only you picked the wrong one, and it was leftover vodka from the night before? This isn’t that jarring, but you won’t be prepared for this drink either unless you’re reading this review. Even then, it still may not help. The spruce and lime are solid, but the maple is nearly MIA. We’ll leave this one up to you. If you’re up for an adventure, there’s a bottle of liquid tree from Vermont ready to rock your mouth.

Three Stars

Excel Bottling Company: Gooey Butter Cake

History: Prepare yourself for a taste of the midwest… in soda form. Gooey Butter Cake is a regional treat found throughout the heart of the U.S., but St. Louis, Missouri is the city most often associated with it. Think of it like an extremely moist, extremely rich vanilla brownie with a top layer of gooey batter that has a slight cheesecake flavor. It’s a decadent experience. One will fill you up. Three should put you in a coma. Excel Bottling Company out of Breese, Illinois decided the world needed this extravagant dessert in liquid form, and thus Gooey Butter Cake Soda was born in early 2016, becoming the company’s newest soda. While the soda is one of the newest in existence in the craft soda market, the company behind it is one of the oldest. Excel Bottling Sales and Communications Manager Colton Huelskamp tells the story of how in 1936 “founder, Edward ‘Lefty’ Meier, caught a bank robber a town over and used the reward money to purchase a used bottle washer and filler.” You could say, Meier put him on ice. You could say, the criminal’s efforts fell flat. Sorry. Like many other old time-y bottlers, Excel has always used pure cane sugar, according to Huelskamp. A major function of Excel Bottling upon its founding was providing the local community with fine fizzy beverages during the time of the Great Depression. They’ve since expanded the operation to include beer and are now up to around 20 different flavors of soda. The weirdest, undoubtedly, is Gooey Butter Cake. I mean, dude, come onnnnn. That’s like someone saying, “Yo, you know what would make this cupcake better? If it was soda.” The company is well aware of the stereotype, so they tested the flavor out last year at a local chain of stores. It did well enough to warrant a more permanent spot on the bottling line. “Yes this is an insane flavor to produce,” Huelskamp admits, “but not as insane as some other flavors that are out there.” The taste is described as similar to cream soda, but with “a subtle butter hint.” I’m just… I’m skeptical. Wouldn’t you be? I’m intrigued. I’m attracted. But I’m skeptical. Then again, dessert in a bottle doesn’t sound like the worst idea in the world.

Where to get: Currently, due to its new status, Gooey Butter Cake Soda is hyper local. According to the company’s Facebook page, you can find it around the St. Louis, MO/Breese, IL region at “Tru Buy, CC Food Mart, and Super Valu.” Your best bet is to contact the company directly and place an order with them. They’re really nice people and will quench your thirst.

Nose: Buttery vanilla. Lots of vanilla, honestly. It smells kind of like a rich version of artificial vanilla. I know that sounds kind of like a slam, but if this was a candle, I’d put them all throughout my house. It reminds me a lot of Shasta Cream Soda.

Taste: Vanilla; buttery; heavy; tangy. Gooey Butter Cake closely resembles a cream soda, but feels heavier on the palate. Buttery vanilla is the main takeaway flavor you’ll taste in this bottle. It’s rich. It’s heavy. A soda you should sip and not swig unabashed. There’s a tanginess to this that doesn’t really lend itself to vanilla or butter, which is why I’d attribute it akin to an artificial flavor. Not a bad thing – most sodas are made with artificial ingredients… you can just taste it here. Particularly near the end of the sip. I think what’s most striking about the flavor of Gooey Butter Cake is just how much it tastes like a retro cream soda you’d drink as a child. Buttery vanilla notes anchored by a tanginess not typical of a cream soda is the TL;DR version of this beverage.

Finish: Tangy vanilla. Slightly artificial. Slightly creamy after the tanginess fades. Lingers perhaps a couple seconds too long for me.

Rating: Gooey Butter Cake Soda is a novelty flavor many will drink for giggles or avoid entirely, but it’s surprisingly solid despite it’s oddball roots. I know the majority of you are just in shock that this is a thing. Us too. What a world we live in, right? Now to the important things. The flavor is reminiscent of old school canned cream soda with an added buttery richness. If you’ve ever had Gooey Butter Cake, you know it’s like eating a soft, buttery vanilla brownie. It’s an amazing experience in the moment, but the aftereffect is like filling your stomach with a thousand balloons. Excel Bottling’s Soda doesn’t give you either of these sensations, though it is a fairly heavy soda to ingest. You’d be better off to sip this one or put in on ice to slightly dilute it. You’ll taste tart vanilla softened by heavy butter notes. The outcome is a slightly creamy, rich experience. Gooey Butter Cake is undoubtedly a relative of cream soda. In fact, it’s almost a dead ringer for Shasta’s take on the category. It’s like a cream soda that ran away from home, messed around a bunch, and came back home with this as its child. It’s a cream soda, but it’s not. The butteriness is something you don’t taste in traditional creams. There’s also a distinct tanginess near the end of each sip and on the finish. It’s also heavier than a lot of cream sodas because of that buttery taste. So it’s familiar, but different at the same time. The positives? Despite the uninspired label on the bottle, but this is a legit soda worth trying, so that’s a win. The vanilla is nice. The buttery notes give this relative of cream soda a nice variance that separates it from the field. The cons? The tanginess. I liked it at first, but it really outstays its welcome. It never overpowers the vanilla notes, but it’s prominent enough that you start to think about it too much. It has has too much of an artificial flavor and lingers too long on the finish. I like the soda, but if I didn’t see “pure cane sugar” on the bottle, I’d probably assume it was made with corn syrup. That said, I’m not trying to bash Excel’s Gooey Butter Cake Soda. I like it. It surprised me in an overall positive manner. I enjoy the buttery vanilla and nostalgic flavors. I’d drink it again. It won’t be for everyone, but if you’re looking for an adventure, Gooey Butter Cake Soda is worth the risk.

Three Stars

Brood: Sour

History: If you want to change the law of the land in craft soda, a previous career as a lawyer probably isn’t a bad start. Jon Lehman grew tired of being an attorney, so he took the logical next step and launched a craft soda company. Right, guys? But he didn’t want just any soda company. No, he was very specific in his vision. “The goal is to make something very far out there,” he says. Lehman wanted to steer away from the vintage feel many soda companies capitalize on, certainly an interesting strategy considering the affability of nostalgia and the role it plays among craft soda’s audience. Lehman founded Brood in 2012 in Durham, North Carolina. He probably could’ve called is Bold. The company’s tagline is “carbonated greatness.” And it’s definitely unlike any other brand on the market. For starters, each flavor is based on emotion, and as Lehman puts it,”is influenced to a degree by an urban feel.” You won’t find ginger ale or lemon-lime. Instead you’ll be greeted by names like “Devil” or “Sour.” Next, the branding. It’s dark. And that’s how they like it. Look at the soda’s hype man, “Rood Boy.” He looks like something Tim Burton created to be the hipper, edgier cousin of of Jack Skellington from The Nightmare Before Christmas. They also try to stay as local as possible when sourcing their soda’s ingredients. A lot of what you taste in the bottle comes right from Durham. Brood lists its ingredients on every bottle, but Lehman admits you might not always taste them. Often what occurs is people will “taste the flavor, and they go in a completely different direction of what it actually is,” he says. Having previously tried to tackle the mysterious flavor Smoky, this time we opted for something slightly more traditional. Sour, Lehman tells us, is the company’s take on a citrus lemon-lime soda. But of course there’s a twist. Two other ingredients you’ll taste are honey and myrciaria dubia, which is actually not a spell from the Harry Potter books, but rather a fruit found in the Amazon rainforest. It’s high in Vitamin C too, so it’s like an added bonus. We’re looking forward to something simpler this time, though it sounds like Sour still might house some secrets of its own.

Where to get: Brood Soda is sold in many locations throughout North Carolina and a couple in Florida. Take a look to see if it’s close to you by checking here. You can allegedly buy Brood Soda online, but at the time of this review it appears you need a login name and password. Your best bet is contacting the company directly.

Nose: Honestly smells like a cola with notes of lemon. The more and more you sniff, the more you smell honey, too.

Taste: Lemon-lime; honey; tartness; mild cherry; intense carbonation. It takes a few swigs to get the flavors of this soda down as it’s very mild. I’d liken this most closely to a lemon-lime soda with the volume turned up. It’s bolder than 7-Up or Spite. But what really separates Brood Sour from its mass-produced cousins is that it’s much more tart. You taste the zing as soon as the liquid hits your lips, something that’s likely attributable to the myrciaria dubia because it’s a highly acidic fruit. So this soda is a little more acidic, but the sour notes fade quickly in favor of lush honey. Honey is the most recognizable flavor here. It really encapsulates all the other flavors. And one of those flavors that is very subtle, fleeting even, is cherry. It’s just barely there. You won’t taste it on many sips, so it’s almost like a hidden easter egg. I honestly can’t explain why we taste it… but we taste it. You’ll notice heavy carbonation in this soda too. Most of it is up front, so it doesn’t compromise the flavors. A zesty, fresher lemon-lime soda with dollops of honey that define the flavor profile.

Finish: Honey (more prominent) and lemon that slowly fade.

Rating: Brood Sour is perhaps the most “normal” flavor the company offers. Its tasting notes don’t reveal themselves immediately, but when they do, you realize they are ones with which you’re quite familiar. Brood Sour in layman’s terms is a slightly different take on lemon-lime soda. The citrus is bold. The carbonation is intense. The acidity is definitely makes this a little sour. And the starring flavor in this soda is… honey? Yup. This is essentially a bolder take on conventional lemon-lime soda with big notes of honey. I stress bolder because those lemon and lime notes are a lot stronger than what you’d taste in Spite. This is like when the cute, nerdy girl in math class runs out of band t-shirts and shows up in a crop top and tight jeans, so you do a double-take. It’s familiar, but it’s better than what you’re used to drinking in this category. It’s a win for all of us. The one issue I have with Brood Sour is the honey. It’s very, very prominent and when combined with the tart lemon and lime flavors, it occasionally overpowers them. If the honey was lower in the flavor profile, this could be one of the best lemon-lime sodas on the market. It needs to be taken down a couple levels. Still, Brood Sour is a solid alternative to Sprite or 7-Up and a nice change of pace. Brood is one the quirkiest craft soda companies out there and their offerings are always sure to spark conversation – Sour is no different.

Three Stars

Vignette Wine Country Soda: Pinot Noir

History: After nine grueling months of carrying a baby inside their stomach and then shoving something the size watermelon through an area the size of a lime, the first thing most women want after birth, understandably, is alcohol. But what about during pregnancy? Booze is out of the question, so that doesn’t leave many drinking options with the same regality. Pat Galvin noticed this and set out to do something truly unique in the soda industry: put it on the same platform as wine. “The idea came from seeing my wife go through pregnancy with our first child and seeing how few sophisticated non-alcoholic options were available,” Galvin tells us. He founded Vignette Wine Country Soda in Berkeley, California in 2007. The company believes their soda is “an elevated experience” for the drinker, allowing folks who don’t drink alcohol a new high-end option as well as those who do drink booze the chance to take a night off and still have something interesting in their hand. Vignette Wine Country Soda produces three flavors: pinot noir and chardonnay (the two original flavors), as well as rosé (launched in 2009). Now the question you’re all asking is: does this actually taste like wine? Maybe a little bit, but that’s not the goal. Galvin explains that with the pinot noir soda, they’re “really not trying to match the flavor of wine,” adding “that wouldn’t be possible.” Instead, the company prioritizes capturing “a nice, clean fruit flavor.” Think of this beverage as an artisan grape soda with a mild wine flavor influence.

At Vignette Wine Country Soda, it’s all about the grapes. The company uses varietal wine grapes from California. What are varietal grapes and why are they different? We didn’t know, so we asked. Galvin tells us wine grapes “have more complex flavors than a traditional table grape that you might be used to.” For example, some might be sweet, some sour, and some might even have a berry characteristic to them. Variety. Hence the term “varietal.” Did we mention the grapes are important? They want you to know the grapes are important. “Our juices could easily be made into wine instead…. These are premium grapes,” Galvin explains. Basically, you’re drinking the best of the best. And because of that, the company doesn’t add any sugar to their wine sodas. All the sweetness you’ll taste in each bottle comes from the natural sugar in the juices. I have to admit, I’m pretty excited about this, but also hesitant. We always ask bottlers what makes their soda unique, and Vignette Wine Country Soda has perhaps the most distinct claim to fame. But is being different being better? I’m about to elevate my experience and find out.

Where to get: Outside of California, you’ll have a hard time finding Vignette Wine Country Soda in stores, so your best bet is to buy it online directly from the company at their online store.

Nose: This smells kind of like what I expected – a cross between sparkling grape juice and chilled red wine. There’s a tartness to the grape smell that you sometimes smell in wine, but also a sweetness that you often find in sparkling grape juice. Probably leans a little more on the sweet-smelling side.

Taste: Grape; raspberry; tartness. This tastes exactly like the smell would lead you to believe, like a cross between sparkling grape juice and a slightly sweet glass of pinot noir. The grape flavor in this bottle tastes very natural and not like what you’d drink in something like a NeHi or NuGrape. What’s immediately noticeable besides the grape flavor is tart raspberry. Depending on the variety of pinot noir you’re drinking, raspberry can be a somewhat common tasting note. So that’s a nice ode to the wine. The carbonation isn’t too striking, but the tartness from the raspberry leaves a little bit of a natural sourness that’s compounded by the bubbles. The sugar levels in this are perfect and interact with the tartness well. The more and more you drink Vignette’s Pinot Noir soda, the more you’ll taste the raspberry. It becomes a little more sweet throughout the drink, replacing the grape notes.

Finish: Definitely more of a wine flavor near the end of the sip than the beginning or middle. Grape and a mild dose of that raspberry flavor. Pleasant and doesn’t linger too long, leaving a clean finish on the palate.

Rating: If you like grape soda with just a hint of exoticness to it, Vignette Wine Country Soda’s Pinot Noir is going to be a national treasure for you. Truth by told, I could drink these all day. It’s a wonderful twist on grape soda with natural grape flavor and tart raspberry notes. It’s like a cross between sparkling grape juice and an actual glass of pinot noir. A couple points that I think are the big takeaways: first, the grape flavor is excellent. Each bottle of Vignette Wine Country Pinot Noir Soda contains 50% juice and you can taste it. Second, the accompanying raspberry flavor is also excellent. It provides a nice tartness to the grape’s natural sweetness, something you often taste in wine. The sugar levels in this are very nice and aren’t overdone. To my satisfaction, this also isn’t a soda that tastes bitter. Basically, it’s the correct blend of wine and grape soda flavors, though it’s definitely more grape soda than wine. My only complaint is that the more you drink the soda, the less the grape flavor comes though. The raspberry becomes more prominent. If this maintained the same flavor throughout the bottle, it’d be five stars. Maybe that change is the intention of the bottler, but I’d prefer a little more consistency. Still, this is supremely unique and full of lovely flavor. I really enjoy it and I’d recommend this to anyone and everyone. Works chilled or on ice and in both the hot and cold months. Pour this in a wine glass at a get together with your wife’s annoying friends and no one will know the difference.

Four Stars

 

Chazzano Coffee: Fruit of the Bean Cascara Soda

History: There are as many layers to Chazzano Coffee founder and owner Frank Lanzkron-Tamarazo as there are to the beans he roasts in his Ferndale, Michigan cafe. But first and foremost, this dude loves coffee – he talked to us about it on the phone for 54 minutes. Most of our interviews are done in under 15. He also knows it about 2940325x better than anyone I’ve ever met. He is a master roaster and takes it seriously. He generously sent us two bags of it. Can confirm his coffee is amazing. He’s also one of the funniest people I’ve ever interviewed. When talking about bad coffee, he quipped, “It’s against God to do that.” It’s a topical quote because religion is another big part of Lanzkron-Tamarazo’s life. He’s Jewish with Italian heritage and grew up in New York City. Religion is actually what led Lanzkron-Tamarazo to his own coffee business because he originally moved to Michigan to take a job in a synagogue that didn’t work out. It even impacted the cafe’s name. You see, Lanzkron-Tamarazo is a Cantor, which is the main Torah reader and singer in Jewish synagogues. In Hebrew it’s called a “Chazzan.” So he took the Hebrew spelling, added an “O” to it because he’s Italian and basically every Italian word ends in “O”, and voila – Chazzano Coffee was born in October of 2009. Lanzkron-Tamarazo’s journey to become one of America’s most knowledgeable sources on coffee started 16 years earlier when his mother-in-law bought him a roaster for his birthday. After buying beans from around the world, his “night time hobby” escalated from brewing ounces to pounds to hundreds of pounds to thousands. And after buying bigger and bigger roasters to satisfy his greater yields, the dollars were adding up and the passion was no longer pacing at a slow drip. Lanzkron-Tamarazo says he decided “Life is short. It’s time to do something that will really bring joy to my life.” Why, you might ask? “I could not find anyone else’s coffee that was better than mine,” he admits. Over the phone, you can tell he isn’t being condescending – this dude believes he’s it when it comes to coffee. Chazzano Coffee’s catchphrase is “Good coffee makes you sing!” Seems appropriate since Lanzkron-Tamarazo and his wife are both opera singers. “My kids will probably need therapy because of that,” he jokes.

Six years later, Chazzano Coffee gained a new relative on the shelves in the cafe: soda. As a youngster, Lanzkron-Tamarazo’s grandmother loved Manhattan Special Espresso Soda, a beverage you can still buy today. It was always his duty to bring it to her. As an adult, it was his dream to create his own coffee soda. So in October of 2015, he did. But he also created another, arguably much more interesting soda based on cascara, also known as “coffee cherry.” Cascara is the husk or skin of coffee cherry, the fruit of the coffee bean. Lanzkron-Tamarazo describes the taste of coffee cherry as honeydew-esque. It’s often used in teas. He notes many coffee farmers use the fruit as compost for trees, however others in countries like Yemen use it to create beverages. Lanzkron-Tamarazo first tasted coffee cherry at Gold Mountain Coffee Growers in Matagalpa, Nicaragua in January of 2015. It wasn’t long before he started making his own tea using cascara. That tea is a central part of Fruit of the Bean Cascara Soda. In fact, it is the soda… because the soda is literally just the tea and carbonated water. No sugar. No preservatives. No added flavors. Just two ingredients. His coffee soda follows the same principle. “There’s nothing like it that has no preservatives, that has no sugar,” he boasts. And while Lanzkron-Tamarazo describes coffee cherry’s flavor as tasting like honeydew, he says the cascara soda is sweet with notes of apple and pineapple. It’s not often we taste sodas based on something we’ve never even heard of, but I suppose there’s a first for everything. Chazzano Coffee is already ahead of the game when it comes to originality.

Where to get: Chazzano’s Fruit of the Bean Cascara soda can be purchased in the Ferndale, Michigan cafe. For those of you not able to make the trip, Lanzkron-Tamarazo takes orders for his soda via email or phone. You can find their contact information on their website.

Nose: Prunes with just a touch of mild cherry.

Taste: Unsweetened prunes; slightly fruity tea; tobacco; mild coffee. There’s an interesting combination of flavors going on that all go back and forth. Typically with sodas you taste an initial flavor, then some more tasting notes that come in to blend and form the soda’s base, and then a finish. Here, the three flavors of mild prunes, tea, and coffee all make up the soda’s body and intermingle throughout each sip. This is not a sweet soda as it contains no sugar. Each of the three flavors have equal balance throughout the bottle, though some flavors are stronger on some sips and milder on others. The prune taste provides a little bit of natural fruit flavor with some floral hibiscus notes, while the tea has slightly fruit, almost cherry-like notes. The coffee flavors are pretty straightforward and provide some mild bitterness. It’s hard to pinpoint an exact coffee flavor with the fruity notes also in play. An interesting taste worth pointing out that comes from the brewed cascara tea used to make this soda is tobacco. It’s not strong, but it does provide some subtle smokey and savory notes for a more full-bodied flavor. Both are mild in nature. It’s a mild soda in general, but is very drinkable for one with no sugar.

Finish: There’s a very light coffee flavor at the end of this soda, kind of like a blonde roast. It’s a unique sensation going from a tea flavor in the soda’s body to a coffee one on the finish.

Rating: Fruit of the Bean Cascara Soda is truly a pioneering soda in the industry. It’s the only bottled soda made from “coffee cherry” or cascara that we know of… and trust us, we’ve looked into it. It’s a coffee shop connoisseur’s dream. This is a soda you can drink as an alternative to tea or coffee and still get a little caffeine kick from, as cascara contains about a quarter of the caffeine of normal coffee. The flavors are truly… odd. That’s not a bad thing. It’s a swirl of prune notes, blonde roast coffee, and steeped tea with notes of hibiscus and tobacco. The tea flavor brings both floral and savory elements to the table, while the coffee brings a little bit of a roasted bitter taste. But the biggest flavor I notice is that fruity prune taste. It’s there just enough to stand out the most to me, but all three flavors are balanced throughout the beverage. Like Chazzano Coffee Soda, Fruit of the Bean Cascara Soda also contains no sugar. For some, that’ll be a turn off. Personally I’m not a fan of sodas without sugar, whether they are labeled diet or not, but I don’t know – this one is so light and drinkable that I do actually enjoy it. It has real flavor despite the absence of sugar while maintaining a sophisticated flavor profile. It doesn’t surrender taste. Frank Lanzkron-Tamarazo has said he won’t make a soda with sugar in it. I’d be interested to how this one would taste if that were to happen. I also think adding sugar would strengthen its appeal to a larger audience. It’s hard to critique this soda beyond that because there’s no basis on which to judge it seeing as its the first of its kind to be bottled. I have to praise Chazzano Coffee for being truly original and I’m interested to see where this pioneering soda takes the flavor in the industry and how it might inspire its creators to branch out even farther.

Four Stars