Roots Soda Co.: Kaleidoscope

History: “The landscape of soda is one of ruin.” Bleak words from the founder of Roots Soda Co., Mark Pool. Even today in the midst of a resurgence where craft and gourmet soda are putting more and more pressure on the big boys, there is still a monopoly. But before the two mass manufactured brands put a strangle hold on the soda market, your favorite ice cold bottled beverage was made at local soda fountains and bottlers were bountiful from town to town. Ingredients were real. Flavors were unique. Competition was fun and not cutthroat. Roots Soda asks, “what if that never went away?” That’s the mentality they have when making soda. Tired of the current state of the industry, Mark Pool founded Roots Soda Co. in April 2012 in Edinburgh, Scotland. It’s an art to them. You get the sense that there’s this intense drive behind the company. This mission to bring soda back to its roots. They note on their website that they want “to make the best soda possible using and honouring only the best ingredients, and sending it off into a future yet unimagined.” I like to read that quote set to triumphant piano music. Are these guys soda jerks or power ballad writers? One thing’s for sure: they’re motivated to create. Pool notes “At Roots it’s not so much about one ingredient standing out, it’s about the ingredients coming together to make something new.” Pool initially sought to create a carbonated lemonade, a popular flavor outside of America, but felt more inspired by cola and how all of its flavors coalesce to form a signature taste. That really appealed to Roots and led to its two flavors. As you might expect, they’re well thought out, a little strange, and a lot inventive.

Hoodoo and Kaleidoscope. No, those are not the names of strippers at the dodgy club downtown. They’re the two flavors Roots Soda Co. produces. “The names for soda seemed a bit tired,” Pool adds. Hoodoo came first. Pool likens it to Jekyll and Hyde. It’s a soda that both burns and refreshes. Perhaps its no surprise then that Hoodoo took months to perfect. Kaleidoscope is the golden child of the bunch… at least it was initially. The first test batch came out perfect. According to Pool, the flavor was designed to evoke memories of childhood summers or going to a music festival for the first time. But Pool can’t take credit for the idea behind it. It was his buddy Jon Seller who “suggested a soda with strawberry, orange, basil and balsamic vinegar.” It tested off the charts at the farmers market. The problems came later and on a bigger scale. Strawberries proved to be a real bitch for Roots Soda. Basically they had to either double the amount of strawberries to maintain the soda’s optimal flavor and struggle with money or stick with the original recipe, lose a little bit of quality and hit their margins. Ultimately, Roots went with option one and had to re-arrange “everything” to make the money work. “We felt that there is too much stuff that gets made just to turn a profit. We wanted to make something we genuinely cared about,” said Pool. One thing’s for sure: these dudes have guts and they’re not afraid to screw up. They’ll have more flavors out in the future. Knowing their precision and high standards, it’ll likely take some time. Until then, we present to you: Kaleidoscope.

Where to get: In keeping with their old school vibe, currently Roots Soda is only sold at physical locations. And unfortunately, only a lucky few in the United Kingdom have access. If you’re in the area, here’s a list of where to find the goods. The company hinted online sales may be coming, so always be on the lookout.

Nose: Very tropical. Like a fruit punch. There’s a vey distinct smell of mango in this bottle. That’s interesting because there’s no mango in Kaleidoscope. It’s really pleasant though. Definitely smells like something fruity you used to drink as a kid.

Taste: Tropical juices; orange; balsamic; mild tartness. This starts out with those same tropical notes you smell when you hold Kaleidoscope under your nose. Like a fruit punch in the beginning that smoothly transitions into more natural flavors of juice. That fruit punch flavor really reminds me of Fruitopia Fruit Integration, a tropical soft drink from the 90’s. You can really taste the authentic orange juice at the end of each sip too. Orange is the most prominent of the ingredients in this you’ll taste. The natural juices render the carbonation very light, almost frothy with tiny bubbles. The tartness of the balsamic and orange provide a nice balance with the strawberry. For a soda with balsamic vinegar, this doesn’t taste like balsamic vinegar. That should make most drinkers happy. You’ll primarily taste tropical fruit punch that gets balanced out with tart, slightly acidic tasting notes.

Finish: Slightly bitter orange. This is where you can taste the basil, ever so slightly. There’s a little bit of an herbal flavor with the orange too.

Rating: For a soda with only a handful of natural ingredients, Roots Soda Co.’s Kaleidoscope tastes surprisingly like a more mature version of fruit punch. The orange juice is the most prominent element in the soda, interacting with the strawberry to impart a sweetness and the balsamic to provide some bitterness. This is sweet, then tart. The amount of sugar isn’t overpowering. In fact, it works really nicely. The flavors here are really dynamite. Balsamic is an ingredient that might scare some people because of its strong bittersweet flavor, but it’s not strong enough in the flavor profile here to make you notice it. This doesn’t have any sort of vinegar taste. What the balsamic does is help provide some tartness with the orange to balance out the sugar levels. The balsamic here is like the last kid in a big family. It’s there. It has an effect. You’ll probably even like it. But most of you will forget about it. And one day it’ll end up writing soda reviews on the Internet *cries*. This is a modern-day gourmet fruit punch-esque artisanal soda that touches all the right fruity notes with an impressively small list of ingredients. I wouldn’t mind tasting the strawberry profile a little bit more, but the use of orange is exquisite. This is truly one of the most inventive and flavorful fruit sodas out there. We can’t recommend it enough. Roots Soda Co. is currently a two-soda business in Edinburgh, Scotland. If they keep making flavors as good as Kaleidoscope, new creations will be inevitable. We hope they’re just getting started.


Matt’s Homemade Sodas: Black + White

History: Matt Haley was a wonderful man. He was also a troubled youth, in and out of prison, battling drugs and alcohol. Once Matt figured his life out, dude went full angel and became a serious philanthropist, building schools and orphanages in India and also giving back to his local Delaware community. He also started a film company, a coffee plantation, partnered with an Italian winery and ran a restaurant consulting company. Talk about a 180. I have trouble putting my pants on in the morning. But first he started his signature restaurant, Blue Coast, in what would become a mini empire of restaurants in the Delaware coastal area. You know what people like to do in restaurants? Drink. You know what Matt and his business partner both couldn’t do because they were recovering alcoholics? Drink. Lightbulb: craft soda! So they started concocting flavor ideas. They wanted a cool, complex beverage reminiscent of a craft beer, minus alcohol. The process started  with making syrups at his restaurant’s bars and serving cocktail-style sodas there. In late 2013, the next logical step was bottling. As Matt Patton (different Matt), General Manager of Fish On said, they wanted “a good experience for the guest who didn’t drink beer or wine, and that meant having a bottle at the table a server could open for you.” Today’s those bottles hold cuisine-influenced flavors like Blood Orange + Sage and Matt’s original signature, Black + White soda. Matt and his partners pride themselves on using the freshest spices, herbs, vegetables and unrefined sugars in their sodas, while also not using any preservatives. Matt Haley passed away in a motorcycle accident in India while there on a humanitarian mission. Today, his companies live on, including Matt’s Homemade Sodas.

Where to get: Currently, Matt’s Homemade Sodas are sold locally in the eight restaurants (including Blue Coast and Fish On) found along the Delaware coast. The company is working to get their sodas distributed to a wider market. In the meantime, if you’d like to get a hold of the stuff yourself, you can place an order directly with Matt Patton.

Nose: Herby; sweet balsamic vinegar; warm Italian bread loaf.

Taste: Sweet balsamic ginger ale. This is definitely an artisanal soda of the highest degree. Definitely a sipper. The main three ingredients in this soda after water and sugar are white balsamic vinegar, bay leaves and black peppercorn. Being a soda void of any preservatives, that allows the flavors to have more authenticity. The balsamic really sings here. It smacks you in the face on first taste. You may not be ready for it, but dammit it’s here, so answer the door, man. White balsamic vinegar is typically sweeter than its black relative, but not as quick or athletic. Hence, the white balsamic sits on the bench and gets put in soda, while the traditional balsamic makes the owners big bucks on the dinner plate. (You don’t get it? It’s is a sports joke; shh, don’t worry about it.) The white balsamic is accompanied by an herby ginger flavor. It isn’t spicy like ginger beer, more like ginger ale. Still, the ginger taste doesn’t cut the strength of the white balsamic quite enough. The balsamic flavor, while sweet and drinkable, is still potent. The bay leaf in this really stands out the more you drink it and begins to integrate more with the balsamic, ginger flavors. This is where the drink really shines. The pepper is there, but it’s so subtle that you probably wouldn’t notice it if you didn’t look at the ingredients label.

Finish: Lingering sweet balsamic, candied bay leaves and the faintest possible hint of pepper. The lingering aftertaste after finishing the entire soda has a vinegar funk to it. Have some gum on hand.

Rating: You gotta hand it to Matt’s Homemade Soda – they went for it, here. This is definitely something the craft soda adventurer should try because, honestly, who makes soda with balsamic vinegar and bay leaves? Sign us up. If you have an aversion to balsamic vinegar or had a weird experience with salad as a child, you probably wanna skip this one. This is a beverage meant to be savored while relaxing or having a nice meal. The balsamic is a little strong and will overwhelm some people, but the bay leaf helps mellow that out. It’s an extremely unique, chef-driven approach to craft soda. Don’t be surprised to see more adventurous ideas like Black + White pop up in the near future.