Three Stars

Three 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

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Swamp Pop: Praline Cream Soda

History: Walk around the markets of New Orleans, and it won’t take you long to smell it. Stroll by the little pop-up shops along the streets of the French Quarter, and you’ll feel the heat radiating against your face as you whiz by. And then you hear it echo from the voices of the candy makers, almost like a beer vendor at a baseball game, “They’re hawt. They’re fresh. Who wants pray-leeens?” I’m attempting and doing a horrible job of dictating a Louisiana accent, but what I’m referring to are praline pecans. Basically what happens is someone takes something healthy for you, a nut, then cooks it in a warm concoction of butter, brown sugar and milk until it becomes something that can wrangle your heart into submission and your stomach into ecstasy. You can find praline pecans all over the country, but it’s a staple sugary snack down in The Pelican State. Cajun cousins, John Petersen and Colin Cormier, decided to transform the modern cream soda into something distinctly Louisiana by infusing their take with the taste of pralines. Petersen and Courmier founded Lousiana’s best-known craft soda bottler, Swamp Pop, in 2013. The Lafayette-based company takes its name from the 1950’s music genre of the same name that was popular in the region. Give it a Google. Kind of sounds like soulful Doo-Wop meets bluesy rock. Swamp Pop produces six different flavors. Petersen says they try to create their “flavor profiles in layers.” A quick Internet search reveals the general public finds Swamp Pop Soda especially sugary. Our past reviews of Noble Cane Cola and Ponchatoula Pop Rouge confirm those notions. Speaking of sugar, Swamp Pop uses only 100% pure Louisiana cane sugar in their sodas as well as natural coloring. Out of all their flavors, Praline Cream Soda is Swamp Pop’s rainmaker. In other words, it’s the best seller. My hypothesis: people like something that’s different. Another strong possibility: the flavor. Swamp Pop Public Relations Representative Anna Whitlow tells us the flavor is “supposed to be kind of a brown butter, praline flavor” before adding that it also tastes nutty and creamy. The more she describes it, the more apparent it becomes how rich this is going to taste. Like, maybe-you-should-change-into-sweatpants-before-you-drink-it, rich. Joke’s on you Swamp Pop, I already am. Writing about soda on the Internet, living my life one elastic-waisted pair of pants at a time.

Where to get: Swamp Pop Praline Cream Soda is sold nationally at Cracker Barrel restaurants as well as Cost Plus World Market stores. You can also buy it online directly from the company in four-packs for under $10. Trust us, for buying soda on the Internet, that’s a deal. To find the closest Swamp Pop retailer near you, type your info into the company’s online locator.

Nose: Butterscotch and toffee. Very similar to the smell of Flying Cauldron Butterscotch Beer. Smells like you should grab one of these after a class at Hogwarts.

Taste: Butterscotch; butter pecan ice cream; vanilla; creamy toffee; sugar. This is a very rich, very flavorful, and v e r y sweet cream soda. It’s especially heavy and thick on the palate with strong notes of butterscotch sweetness and the creamy flavor of butter pecan ice cream. The latter tasting notes really give it that signature praline flavor you see written on the label. Definitely different from other creams. This is anchored by an intense sweetness of primarily butterscotch and toffee flavors that swirl together throughout the soda’s body. There’s a lot of sugary sweetness to this soda. Very, very, very sweet. But it’s also very creamy. I’d say maybe even a 9/10 on the creamy scale with a thick head, so it’s very strong on that front. The more you drink it, the more you adjust to the sugar and the more those butter pecan notes come through. Swamp Pop’s Praline Cream Soda is a unique one that lives up to its name and packs a an especially sweet, but flavorful punch.

Finish: Creamy vanilla with lingering butter pecan ice cream. Not as sweet as the body. Excellent. 10/10 on the finish.

Rating: It may be 2016, but it’s really only been within the past couple years that bottlers have decided to get inventive with cream soda. Swamp Pop went beyond left field. They left the ball park to create their Praline Cream Soda. It retains a thick creaminess you might in other cream sodas, but its flavors are completely foreign. Butterscotch. Butter pecan ice cream. Toffee. These are the three main flavors you’ll taste here. Butterscotch and toffee form the base of the soda’s flavor profile and are consistent throughout each sip, but it’s that creamy butter pecan taste that gives the soda its true identity. Unlike the the butterscotch and toffee notes, the butter pecan ice cream works as more an undercurrent in the soda, occasionally rising up and splashing into the main flavor profile before receding away for a few sips. That give and take makes you lust for the flavor more. It really works. Where Swamp Pop’s Praline Cream Soda raises some hesitation from me is its sweetness. This is sweeter than watching a gaggle of Golden Retriever puppies struggling to fall asleep. At times it’s just too much for me and I can generally handle sweet sodas well. So I’d recommend sipping this one. I’d also recommend putting it on ice cream. Would make a great float. Overall that meandering creamy butter pecan flavor combined with the overall thick mouth feel and frothy head on the soda make this too enticing to pass up. If you don’t have a problem with high-intensity sweet sodas, this might leave a serious lasting impression on you. Its flavor profile should do that regardless. If you happen across a bottle of this, you’d be missing a unique experience by passing it up.

Three Stars

 

Green Bee: Blueberry Dream

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three Stars

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

Faygo: Original Grape

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three Stars

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

Hosmer Mountain: Cream Soda

History: Tucked away in the small city of Willimantic, Connecticut is one of the oldest, most retro soda companies in the nation. Hosmer Mountain Soda began over 100 years ago in 1912 bottling their signature high-quality spring water. It’s hardly a surprise when you find out Willimantic was called “the land of swift moving waters” by the Native Americans that hunted in the rivers there. After the success of their spring water, the company decided years later to capitalize on their greatest local resource by using it to make a cleaner-tasting soda. Today the water comes “from a deep well.” Despite going through four different owners (the current owners purchased the business in 1958), Hosmer Mountain is still going strong, producing over 30 flavors of soda a year. The company says “all of our flavors are ‘retro,'” in the sense that they strive for a sweet, but authentic flavor as opposed to something that tastes artificial. Hosmer Mountain also makes a flavor-of-the-month that rotates out, something that indeed feels like a very vintage thing to do. Reminds me of how local pie companies rotate out a monthly flavor. Mmm, pie. Another retro thing Hosmer Mountain does for its local customers? Delivery. Now if we could just come up with a fiscally manageable way to do this with craft soda nationally, our staff would quickly become very poor. But very happy. However, one very non-vintage aspect of Hosmer Mountain Soda is that they say “High fructose corn sweetener is our primary sweetener.” This will hurt a lot of craft soda fans’ feelings. Luckily, they also produce an “antique line” of four flavors: root beer, cream soda, white birch beer, and sarsaparilla. All four of these flavors are made with pure cane sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. The company believes these are the four flavors most representative of New England. Fun fact: the labels on the antique line flavors are a throw back to the company’s original soft drink logos from 1916. They add “You’re looking at the work of a pre-WWI graphic artist.” Neat, let’s put this “antique” cream soda in my mouth now.

Where to get: Outside of Connecticut, Hosmer Mountain Cream Soda is available to purchase online from Summit City Soda. If you’re a business owner looking to sell Hosmer Mountain’s Cream Soda in your store or just someone looking for a large order, get in touch with Homer Soda Company and they’ll take care of you.

Nose: Pretty standard cream soda with a little bit of toasted marshmallow.

Taste: Sweet brown sugar; caramel; marshmallow. This is definitely sweet, but it’s a different type of sweetness because of the brown sugar. It imparts more of a caramel taste, which is usually more common in root beer or cola than cream soda. Not a creamy texture on the palate, but still has a thick mouth feel because of the brown sugar and carmel flavors. A little bit syrupy. You also get sort of like an earthy bittersweetness, ala roasted campfire marshmallow. But the biggest flavor you’ll take away from this is caramel, for sure.

Finish: Sweet caramel and burned sugar. Gone almost as soon as it appears. No linger.

Rating: Hosmer Mountain Cream Soda is a unique one in that it’s not rich and creamy, nor does it taste like bubblegum. It splits between those two common cream soda flavor profiles. It’s also unusual in that it uses brown sugar. The brown sugar really gives it a different flavor, full of big waves of sweetness and mouthfuls of caramel. On certain sips it’s even a little bittersweet like a campfire marshmallow. The caramel flavor is nice. The problem is that it’s very sweet and when paired with the the brown sugar notes, it becomes overpowering at times. The slightly sweet marshmallow bite helps soften the blow, but not quite enough for us. I’d either up the bittersweet notes in the recipe or lessen the overall sugar content. Fans of caramel will instantly fall in love with this soda. Give it to Hosmer Mountain for doing something unique. I’d definitely recommend it because it is different from other cream sodas out there, but I probably wouldn’t buy a six-pack myself if I’m being honest. But hey, I’m just a dude that writes about soda on the Internet. What do I know? This definitely has good qualities too. The marshmallow undertones are really pleasant and do a great job contrasting against the soda’s powerful sweetness. The caramel flavor is a nice nuance in cream soda, a genre with lots of room for experimentation. Hosmer Mountain Cream Soda is a nice change of pace. The question is who will be able to keep up with it.

Three Stars