Two Stars

Two Stars

AJ Stephans: Raspberry Lime Rickey

History: Sometimes when researching a soda or a company behind the soda, there’s just not a lot of information to be found. We may have a reviews what we call “in the can,” for months, meaning the tasting and photos are done, but there’s something missing. The reason we don’t publish these reviews is because we’re at a loss on information due to phone calls or emails not being returned and online biographies not being beefy enough for our standards. I’ll tell you what though, there’s really nothing out there on AJ Stephans sodas. What we do know is this: it’s headquartered Fall River, Massachusetts, it’s bottled by the same dude who makes Empire Soda, there’s nine different flavors, and the company was named when the late founder Jeff Rose combined the names of his two daughters. Rose was big on the idea of nostalgia. He said of his sodas, “My product is like going back in time.” Perhaps none of his flavors aside from root beer make that philosophy come to life more than raspberry lime rickey. A lime rickey is the nonalcoholic version of a cocktail called the “Rickey” that dates all the way back to 1903 and is very popular on the east coast. Adding raspberry to it seems like a smart decision to us. It’s like someone said, “Hey Margot Robbie, you look really pretty, but we also want you to wear this push-up bra for your photo shoot.” It’s making a good idea a great one. And I’m all about drinking in good ideas (also very much about Margot Robbie if she’s reading this).

Buy: Specialty Sodas  •  Beverages Direct

Nose: Raspberry jam and raspberry-flavored Tootsie Pops. Mmm.

Taste: Candy raspberry; mild lime; syrupy; melted snow cone; sweet. This is hard to pinpoint on flavor. It definitely has an artificial/candy taste to it. Very sweet. There’s kind of a melted down raspberry snow cone flavor with some faint lime notes. They’re subtle, if not a little dull. The raspberry and lime flavors are about 50% each in the soda, so the balance is there. But in this case, I’m not sure it works. It tastes like the raspberry is really about to sink in to your tastes bud, and then all of sudden the lime completely erases it.

Finish: Sweet raspberry encased in a cocoon of lime. Has a really nice lingering effect that is better than the body of the soda.

Rating: AJ Stephans Raspberry Lime Rickey is one of those flavors that sounds good on paper but fizzles in taste. Its taste is defined by sweet, artificial raspberry, reminiscent of a raspberry snow cone. Only, unlike Jackson Hole’s High Mountain Huckleberry (which has a similar melted snow cone flavor), this soda doesn’t have good supporting flavors. The raspberry flavor is too artificial. Still, despite that, it never even gets a chance to unleash its full potential in the mouth [insert porn joke here]. The lime flavor decapitates the raspberry before it gets a chance to showcase its potential. The lime itself is pretty dull. Also artificial. Almost chemical. This soda tastes like wasted potential. I mean, it has redeeming qualities. Decent initial flavor. Solid finish. But somewhere in that crucial middle part, things get hazy. I wanted to like this because raspberry is one of my favorite flavors in the world, but I just can’t. Too syrupy. Too fake. Too little. If you want a soda that takes you down a similar initial path, with much more rewarding results, try the aforementioned High Mountain Huckleberry.Two Stars


Hippo Size: Prodigious Peach

History: I was watching No Country for Old Men the other night. Great movie, one that really gives you a chilling glimpse into the Texas-Mexico marriage to outlaw life. But even Anton Chigurh couldn’t have gotten his evil, clever hands on a bottle of San Antonio’s favorite past time soda brand. Hippo Soda was gone by 1980. Sorry Anton; you lost the coin toss on that one too. You see, the Hippo Soda we’re reviewing today isn’t how the beverage started. That distinction belonged to The Alamo Bottling Company, which founded Hippo in 1926. The company used the name “Hippo” because their bottles (13 oz., 15 oz., 16 oz.) were all bigger than the competition’s. Hippo used to come in numerous flavors, but all of them vanished for 30 years after the company closed its doors. Enter Orca Beverage, the Mukilteo, Washington-based craft soda bottler and distributor that has made its name on reviving previously extinct soda brands. Orca is known for buying up sodas no longer in production, reintroducing their vintage labels, but remodeling their recipes. You’ll see the same roaring Hippo on Orca’s short, stubby bottles that were used on Alamo Bottling Company’s former longnecks. But there are also differences: the recipes, the names, the flavors. The new Hippo flavors are all named with a masculine feel, from Burly Birch Beer to Prodigious Peach. We’ve had the latter requested to be reviewed too many times now to ignore. So here we are. We’re not sure what movie analogy to use for today’s new-look Hippo Peach Soda; we just hope it’s worth the price of admission.

Where to get: You can buy Hippo Prodigious Peach and other Hippo flavors online via both Amazon and Orca Beverage. Single bottles are available for purchase from Soda Emporium.

Nose: This definitely doesn’t smell like peach, but the scent is really hard to place. I don’t think anyone on our staff can quite place it. It smells kind of like dull fruit. Rustic. Maybe the best descriptor would be that it smells like walking into an orchard and getting a whiff of all those pre-ripe fruits. Prodigious Peach confuses your nose.

Taste: Authentic peach; candy peach; artificial flavor. This is interesting. I think there’s really three main components to the flavor: Real peach, fake peach, and an odd accompanying artificial taste. Unfortunately, those tastes comes in reverse order. You’re hit with an overbearing chemical flavor at first that masks the tastier peach elements. It takes several seconds for this to fade before the more redeeming flavors come in. The peach flavor itself is kind of a hybrid between natural peach juice and like a candy peach gummy flavor. It’s really nice, but you only taste it for probably 1/3 of each sip. It’d be much easier to drink if that peach flavor was more pronounced and the artificial taste was less intense.

Finish: Sliced peaches with sugar that permeate several seconds before fading. The second half of each sip is what you’ll be looking forward to with Prodigious Peach.

Rating: Hippo Size Prodigious Peach reminds me of a lot of Hollywood movies: great script, but a miscast lead actor. Peach is such a wonderful flavor in soda. Luscious, refreshing, and flavorful. Prodigous Peach misses the mark on all three because the main tasting notes in this soda are noticeably artificial in nature. The lead actor in this movie is wrong for it. That artificial flavor mars the drinking experience. What’s most frustrating about this soda is that there are really good peach flavors within this bottle, but they’re masked by an initial chemical taste that is so strong it dilutes the peach notes. But when the peach is there, it’s great. Fruity, sweet, and juicy in nature. A mix of natural and candy peach tastes. But again, they’re fleeting and pushed to the back half of each sip. Luckily they remain in tact for the soda’s finish, undoubtedly the best part of the drink. However, the overwhelming take away from Prodigious Peach is that it tastes fake without having a noticeable peach punch. We’d heard good things about this soda, so it definitely has its supporters, but we can’t recommend it. This is a movie I wouldn’t see again.

Two Stars

Rocky’s Ginger Beer

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two Stars

Goody: Red Pop

History: You know what wasn’t “goody”? Researching this damn soda. But by God if we can’t provide the best damn soda journalism in the world, we just won’t publish the review until it’s ready. So what do we have here? A soda called Goody Red Pop. It dates back all the way to the 1920’s, when it was created by Willow Springs Distillery in Omaha, Nebraska as an alternative to alcohol during prohibition. Soda Emporium states its exact year of birth was 1923. At one point, the brewery was making up to 24 flavors of it. And at another, the Willow Springs Distillery went bottoms up. Goody Pop was dead; it just wasn’t buried yet. Orca Beverage in Mukilteo, Washington is a distributor and producer of vintage sodas known for breathing life back into half-extinct brands. “Brands like Spiffy, Lemmy, Mr. Cola, Goody and Jic Jac were no longer being produced at all when Orca Beverage took an interest in them, acquired the trademarks and started researching recipes to come up with the authentic flavors,” says Harold Business Journal writer Jennifer Sasseen. In the early 2010’s, Goody made its return to the bottling line and on shelves. Orca Beverage produces four variations of Goody, and they’re all named after colors instead of flavors: red, blue, green, and yellow. You might’ve heard of another famous red pop by Faygo, but what’s this one all about? It’s made with pure cane sugar and according to the company, “it brings together all your favorite red fruits (and a few other candy notes) to make a big flavor classic red pop.” Not exactly the most descriptive explanation. But I guess the mystery is half the fun. I hope.

Where to get: Goody Red Pop is widely available throughout the U.S. You can probably find it at a Rocketfizz retailer near you, and if not, there’s a plethora of online options. Soda Emporium has single bottles and six-packs, while Orca Beverage and Amazon offer 12-packs.

Nose: Whoa, *coughs*. This smells s w e e t. Like, I have Type 1 Diabetes and I haven’t even tried it yet. Smells like a combination of a pack of old fashioned bubble gum and cherry syrup. Maybe a little candy strawberry too. Very candy-esque. But good Lord, this smells intensely sugary.

Taste: Sugar; candy strawberry; mild cherry cough syrup; mild bubblegum. This is a mish-mash of as many red flavors as Goody could fit into a 12 oz. glass bottle. Red Pop is very sweet. That’s the first thing we noticed. Its strongest flavor is probably a candy strawberry. Think sugary strawberry bubblegum. There’s also some mild cherry going on. It reminds me of a cherry flavor you taste in cough drops. Kind of a sweet, tangy cherry. This tastes like someone melted down strawberry bubble gum and candy cherry chews into a syrup and added some carbonated water. Very sweet.

Finish: Tangy cherry and sweet strawberry bubblegum swirl about before dropping off suddenly. Strawberry lingers the longest. Still very sugary.

Rating: Let’s get right to it: I’m not gonna say this is good, but I’m not gonna say it’s terrible. It’s tolerable. Kids will probably like it. Adults will likely fall into a coma if they have more than a bottle. First off, the sugar hits you like the earth’s tectonic plates smashing together to break apart Pangea. If you don’t get that reference, you probably didn’t make it past second grade. I mean, this is very, very sweet. Sugar. Sugar. Sugar. Get it? Alright, now the flavor. Red Pop is like a cross between candy strawberry bubblegum and candy cherry. It’s mostly a rush of those two flavors encapsulated by a shield of sugar. You’ll also taste some tanginess along with the cherry flavor, the soda’s most redeeming quality. Kids might like this for its sweetness, but I’d have a hard time recommending it to any audience over 14 years-old. The sugar is just too intense. The strawberry and cherry flavors blend in an odd way that don’t compliment one another. And did I mention this is too sweet yet? All in all, it’s just too overbearing with a flavor that probably won’t move the needle for most fans of craft soda. If you need to fuel your heart for the final half mile of a marathon, have someone throw a Goody Red Pop your way. Just be prepared to have paramedics near by once the effect fully kicks in.

Two Stars

El Manantial: ToniCol

History: “I don’t know how to explain this, but it is unique,” says ToniCol Project Manager and third-generation family businessman Tobías Ricardo Lozano Solorza. That’s a direct quote from someone within the company. Even they can’t explain their soda. So we’re off to a fun start. To be fair, Solorza did try, saying “It is something between Coke, Dr. Pepper and IBC Cream soda.” We always like to start every review in a unique way, but what we’re saying here is that El Manatial’s ToniCol is different. That’s actually the company’s catch phrase, “es diferente.” But ToniCol’s history is a rich one, dating all the way back to 1887. On an unrelated note, here’s a video of the soft drink’s history that looks like it was edited in 1887. Let us educate you on some Mexican soft drink history, filled with rivalries, friendships, and our superhero, Ángel Solorza González, also known as Don Angel. The story begins in the town of El Rosario in Sinaloa, Mexico. There were two soft drink companies: La Eureka and La Azteca. La Eurkea was far superior, and according to Solorza, its boss wanted to create a “Vanilla-flavored soft drink, with a touch of other essences.” He called the soda “TonyCo,” after his own nickname, Tony. You see, bossman was a savvy entrepreneur, but he was also a little self-absorbed and cutthroat. Don Angel started working for La Eurkea in 1925 in a different city, but after learning his youngest brother would need a leg amputation, he needed to return to El Rosario. Despite the family emergency, La Eureka’s boss fired Don Angel. With one of the best businessmen in the Mexican soft drink industry now a free agent, guess who came calling? La Azteca.

After beginning work for La Azteca, Don Angel quickly began increasing the company’s value and quality. It didn’t take long for La Eureka to take notice. The bossman’s son, Joaquín Espinosa de los Monteros approached La Azteca and inquired about merging the two companies. Side note: why did everyone in Mexico used to have names longer than my wife’s credit card statement? Moving along. Long story short, the merger happened and La Azteca’s owner, Enrique Casteñeda, Monteros and Don Angel owned the new company three ways. In 1947, a fourth shareholder was added and the company’s name was changed to the current “El Manantial.” It was also the year Don Angel’s son and Solorza’s grandpa, Ángel Solorza, designed the current logo and branding for Tonicol. But remember, back then the name was TonyCo. It stayed that way until the 1960’s when the Mexican Ministry of Health banned the name because, according to Solorza, “it confused the consumers, making them believe that the drink had curative attributes.” It was also in the 60’s when Ángel purchased complete ownership of El Manantial. Today, Solorza’s mother and her siblings own the company. As for what goes into this vanilla soda, Solorza elected not to answer that question. So I guess we’ll have to unravel the mystery ourselves.

Where to get: According to Solorza, ToniCol is available to purchase for Mexico natives at major retailers like Wal-Mart, Seven Eleven, and Soriana. For Americans, your best bet is to order online through Alegro Foods.

Nose: Hard to place. A little bit of orange cream and, oddly enough, carrot cake.

Taste: Carrot cake; sweet orange; light creaminess; vanilla; strong sugar. Whoa, this is different and weird. I definitely taste carrot cake. So much so that we put it in the photos. But there’s also kind of an artificial vanilla-orange cream flavor as well. There’s a creaminess to the orange, but not necessarily a creamy mouth feel. The mouth feel is very much a traditional cola in the sense that there’s some bitter notes and a rush of carbonation that aids the bitterness. Very sugary, borderline syrupy. This is very sweet. Man, I can’t shake that carrot cake flavor. It’s just… that’s what it is. Strange.

Finish: Tart sugar with orange undertones. If there is such a thing as orange-flavored sugar (eh), that’s what the aftertaste is like. It’s a tart sweetness. Odd, just like everything else about this soda.

Rating: ToniCol is hugely popular down in Mexico. I didn’t know that once you crossed the border, the flavors could change so much. I wouldn’t call this a cola, despite what your brain tells you based off the name. It brands itself as “vanilla soda,” but I wouldn’t call it a cream soda either, even though there are some slightly creamy orange notes in this. It’s just very puzzling. Here’s what we can tell you definitely about ToniCol: it’s incredibly sweet; it tastes like carrot cake; and there are some syrupy vanilla-orange cream flavors going on in the background. First, the sweetness. It’s intense, so intense there’s a syrupy taste tinged with orange. It could really stand to lose some of the sugar rush or add quite a few bitter notes. Next, carrot cake. Never in my life did I expect to taste something this vivid and weird outside of a Rocketfizz brand soda. I don’t know if this flavor was intentional, but you can take my wife on a date if that’s not exactly what you taste too. She’s with another guy now, but the offer still stands. Last, the puzzling orange cream flavor. Don’t think traditional orange cream. Think syrupy orange mixed with vanilla frosting. Not necessarily flavors that make you rush to pull your wallet out. If you want to try something really off the beaten path, ToniCol is worth a shot. Look, I commend ToniCol for being different, but I’m not sure it’s the kind of different I’d mess around with beyond a one-night-stand.

Zuberfizz: Key Lime Cream Soda

History: Little did a couple college roomies know way back at Colorado State University that they’d open a little soda operation that would bloom into a nationally-known brand. But that’s exactly what happened to Banden Zuber and Dan Aggeler. The two opened Durango Soda Company in 2002 and used the former’s last name to create the Zuberfizz Soda brand. Honestly, it seems like it was probably an easy choice to us. Aggeler sounds like some type of farm tool and Zuber sounds like the last name of a superhero. Just sayin’. After trying their hand at craft beer, the business partners realized they were a little too late to that game because Colorado already had enough beer drinkers and more than enough brewers willing to feed their bad habits. The two wanted to stay in liquid. Zuber said he thought to himself that soda “had the same footprint as beer.” And off they went, first introducing root beer and then cream soda. Today, the company boasts eight flavors, including some wild ones like Coco Fizz and Key Lime Cream Soda. The latter sounded so weird that we had to indulge ourselves and everyone else. It’s been thirteen years since the company’s inception and Zuber and Aggeler still hand brew every batch of soda themselves with cane sugar and ingredients of the “highest quality.” That’s the kind of mom and pop shop mentality we dig.

Where to get: Zuberfizz’s main distribution is found throughout Colorado and the four corners region. However, it’s also commonly found in Rocketfizz retailers. And if neither of those work, get your Key Lime Cream Soda fix at Summit City Soda, Soda Emporium, or Amazon.

Nose: Strong lime notes; the more you inhale, the more a menthol smell comes through. Interesting because, obviously, there is no menthol in this.

Taste: Lime; faint licorice; light creaminess. This neon green soda slams you with strong lime up front that immerses itself on the palate. It’s bold. So bold, it might overwhelm some. Eventually, the lime gives way to a subtle citrus creaminess that’s still mostly lime, but not before a flash of licorice dances on the tip of the tongue. It doesn’t specify on the label, but I’d be willing to bet that there’s no licorice in this, so it’s interesting that flavor profile is showing up. Again, it’s an acquired taste. To be clear, the creaminess is extremely brief. You’d have to really be looking for it. This definitely tastes more lime than key lime, but unless you eat a lot of key limes or key lime pie, that probably won’t matter to you. It definitely isn’t like key lime pie in a bottle, though that didn’t stop us from enjoying a slice with it. The traditional vanilla cream soda flavor you’re used to doesn’t show up here even in a vanilla-citrus variety. This is mostly lime all the way through that tails off into a lighter version of the initial bold flavor. The cane sugar in this is noticeable and done well, not distracting from the citrus.

Finish: Lime that seemingly increases in sweetness, but not creaminess. Nothing too complicated.

Rating: Zuberfizz set out to do a unique flavor here with a key lime cream soda, but I’m not sure they totally captured that essence. They’ve definitely nailed the lime aspect, but this soda lacks the smoothness and really the creaminess that cream sodas typically possess. I’d be a lot more comfortable with this if it was just labeled “Key Lime Soda.” I think that’s way more accurate. Regardless, the lime flavor isn’t overbearing. It tastes a little artificial, but Zuberfizz does a really good job balancing the cane sugar in this soda, and that really holds together its drinkability. It didn’t really do it for us, but I wouldn’t call this bad. It’s just different. It’s like the weird guy from high school in the back of math class who never talked, but surprised everyone with that really cool solo dance at homecoming, so everyone is cool with him. This is a bit of an oddball, and won’t be for everyone, but there’s something likable about it. We probably won’t be revisiting it, but flavors like this are so rare that we have to recommend you give it a shot and see if your taste buds disagree. Plus, thes neon green, antifreeze-esque color is mesmerizing. If you drink a whole six pack of these, let us know if you develop any super powers.

Simpson Spring: Coffee Soda

History: Let me tell you about a company whose namesake dates back to 6000 BC. Gives a whole new meaning to the word “retro,’ huh? “We’re the oldest bottling plant in the country,” says Simpson Spring co-owner and marketing head Chris Bertarelli. The spring itself is what’s ancient. The South Easton, Massachusetts company actually started up in 1878. The bottling plant is built around the spring, meaning the spring is literally in the building. After Sam Simpson acquired and farmed the land where the spring is located for 50 years, he was convinced by his grandson, Fred Howard, to sell him five acres around his property. According to Bertarelli, Howard was a bit… uhh, weird. But if it was for his eccentricities, Simpson Spring Soda might not exist. It was Howard who started experimenting with carbonating the spring water and adding flavor to it. The coffee soda we review today is still the original recipe made with real coffee and was one of the first flavors in company history. Bertarelli was uncertain about the exact date of when the company began producing soda, but notes the year on the recipe book is dated 1919. The only difference between the original sodas of now and then is that today’s versions contain pure cane sugar instead of syrup. The first incantation of Simpson Spring Coffee Soda was called “Spar Coffee.’ People would add cream and sugar… and scotch. Because nothing says starting your morning like getting hammered and stumbling through bacon and eggs. Another fun fact about the coffee soda: in 1930 it was sent down to Manhattan and sold in Macy’s department stores. Eventually, Fred Howard left the company to pursue the “dustless duster.” Bertarelli and her husband took the business over in 1988 and continue to run the historic, yet small operation. At the end of the day, it’s all about the spring. Says Bertarelli, “Soda is a 90% water and we’re using a spring water that has no chemicals added to the water and it’s in glass.” We’ve heard this is a love-it or hate-it soda, and it’s our job to tell you which side to believe.

Where to get: You can purchase Simpson Spring Coffee Soda online at Summit City Soda.

Nose: Light Starbucks Frappuccino; cinnamon bread. Not a particularly strong smell for a coffee-related beverage.

Taste: Dark roast; tartness; cane sugar. The coffee taste is immediate followed by an acidic bite. The bite is a little harsh and takes time to adjust to throughout the drink. The coffee flavor tastes a little watered down. You can really taste the water. The cane sugar helps supplant it a little but, but the tartness in this soda really cuts the sugar. The flavors are simple, but not in balance.

Finish: Dark roast with the volume turned down along with some caramel notes and tartness. Pretty similar to the body of the soda.

Rating: Coffee sodas are their own animal because of the wide variety of flavor options available. Do you want mocha java? Maybe Irish Cream? How about some wild Columbian blend infused with spices? This is what makes some of the great coffee sodas some of the best craft sodas, period. But this is still soda we’re talking about, and soda has three main elements: carbonated water, a sweetener, and the ingredients used to impart the soda’s intended flavor. With Simpson Spring’s Coffee Soda, the company has blended these three elements in a way that leaves an imbalanced flavor profile. The flavor of dark roasted coffee is nice, but it’s a ghost of what it could be and is too watered down and not sweet enough. There’s also a tartness to this that seems out of place. Coffee is an acidic drink in general, but especially so in this soda. It’s a sensation that makes your face wrinkle. It’s like every time I remember the guy my sister married. What a dumbass great stepbrother. I’d prefer to have seen the coffee flavor shine more boldy with less water used. Fans of coffee drinks should certainly still give this a try. But if you’re on the fence about it, unless you’re cool with acidic coffee, you’re better served to try another coffee soda. I wanted to like this, and I know it has a fan base, but our team isn’t sold.

Gross Gus’s: Pirate Piss

History: The last time we tried a novelty soda, it didn’t go so well. Here’s hoping this turns out better. Gross Gus’s soda comes from the Indian Wells Brewery. They’re the same people behind Death Valley Soda. “We’re gonna make something that’s really disgusting,” Indian Wells Master Brewer, Rick Lovett, says to me over the phone. They’ve succeeded. Today’s review, Pirate Piss, is one of the milder sodas in this line. Pimple Pop is the most popular. We have that one too, I just wanted to keep what’s left of my dignity for now. Lovett is a man of many flavors, 151 and counting to be exact. Many of these are top shelf sodas. As such, I asked him if Indian Wells put as much stock into the taste of these novelty sodas. His response? All of our soda pops… we believe them to be premium.” If you look past the name and label, most of these Gross Gus’s sodas have at least a somewhat normal flavor you wouldn’t be opposed to trying. For example, Pirate Piss is actually banana and Pimple Pop is actually marshmallow. Why banana? ‘Cuz it looks like piss,” Lovett says without hesitation. Alrighty, then. As you might imagine, these sodas are kept alive by little boys who bug their moms to buy them. And they do. All the time. There’s no special ingredients in Gross Gus’s Soda. Lovett says they just make them big and bold, though Indian Wells does use some preservatives in these sodas for shelf life stability that they don’t use in their higher end lines. However, as with all Indian Wells sodas, the company uses natural spring water from, well, Indian Wells Spring. Indian Wells is a California historical landmark and the water is filtered through millions of feet of granite. Now that the history is out of the way, here we are: urine-esque banana soda. Who’s thirsty?

Where to get: Gross Gus’s sodas are most commonly purchased at Rocketfizz retailers. Check here to find the nearest one to you. There’s also Amazon for 12-packs and Soda Emporium for individual bottles.

Nose: Runts banana hard candies; aromas of banana popsicles.

Taste: Banana hard candies; frothiness; watered down earthiness. You definitely get that sweet childhood banana candy taste right up front, but it’s fleeting and doesn’t last long enough. It gets replaced by a frothy, funky taste that unfortunately forms the body of the soda’s flavor. It’s just strange. It’s kind of like old fruit and it doesn’t really taste like banana. Harsh on the taste buds. Perhaps it’s literal pirate piss. I hope not. I’ll sue.

Finish: Earthy banana funkiness. I had to take too many sips to come to this conclusion.

Rating: Novelty soda rarely aims for taste and almost always attempts to convince the buyer of its worthiness with a funny name or outrageous label. How many annoying ten year-olds beg their mom to try *giggle* Pirate Piss? That alone makes this soda a success. Unfortunately, in the world of the craft soda, the drinker’s needs are more sophisticated. Gross Gus’s Pirate Piss is another banana soda that misses the mark. The initial banana taste is promising, but disappears before its potential gets realized. The soda’s main flavor is like squeezing old fruit you forgot about into your mouth. The aftertaste isn’t any better. But it’s not totally horrible. The idea is fun. It could serve as a fun novelty piece for your soda collection. People who enjoy banana soda… you might like this? I’ve yet to have a good banana soda, so if you’re one of these people, please email me. Just don’t be weird. The last time I asked someone to email me about banana-related things, I had to get a lawyer.