banana

Filbert’s: Banana

History: Over the phone, Ron Filbert’s voice is old-school Bridgeport, Chicago. Somewhere between grunge-fueled Mike Ditka and classic nasally Brooklyn, his voice conveys a sense of seriousness. You can almost feel the tradition through the phone. Filbert bares the company’s name because he’s a third generation soda jerk and has been in the business since he was 12. He still brews the soda in the same Bridgeport community where his grandpa founded the company in 1926. He says, “Back in the day, root beer was the number one soft drink in the country.” Considering this was in the era of prohibition, he’s probably not joking. If people couldn’t drink beer, at least they could guzzle something still with the word in its title. Root beer continues to be Filbert’s most popular flavor out of around 30 different options. A couple others high up on the list are a little more unique: watermelon and banana. He adds that ginger beer is also rising in sales. Filbert’s falls into an interesting category in craft soda. Filbert tells us “We make our flavors in small batches,” but also notes a majority of the company’s flavors are made with high fructose corn syrup as opposed to pure cane sugar, though several do use the latter. Banana, our review today, is made with high fructose corn syrup. We’d consider Filbert’s a craft soda company because every batch is made by hand in small quantities, and also because there’s a rich tradition there. Filbert, a man of few words, made the objective when making the banana soda pretty clear. “You want it to taste like a banana. You want it to look like a banana.” Alright, then. That’s super clear-ish. What we can tell you definitely is that banana is a flavor most companies shy away from because it’s a fruit that is hard to capture accurately in liquid form. Filbert’s took a chance, so maybe you should take a chance on them.

Where to get: Being a Chicago-based company, Filbert’s is heavily distributed throughout the midwest. It’s also growing out on the west coast, but still working its way east. Luckily, you’re online purchasing options are numerous. If you’re a retailer hoping to sell soda in your store or someone looking to make a larger order, you can hit up Homer Soda. Everyday folks can go to Summit City Soda and Soda Emporium to get your fix.

Nose: Banana popsicles; faint smell of Banana Laffy Taffy. A very candy banana smell.

Taste: Tart; banana taffy; heavy carbonation. This is surprisingly tart for a banana soda. When we think banana, I think we often imagine a creamy flavor, but this is slightly acidic and mild. The banana flavor is definitely a candy banana taste more akin to a taffy than say a popsicle. The carbonation, despite the bubbles being small, is heavy throughout each sip. Fairly syrupy, probably due to the high fructose corn syrup. The banana flavor isn’t overly harsh or bold. It’s actually pretty light. But I think what you take away from the soda’s flavor most is that syrupy taste full of carbonation.

Finish: Tart banana that lingers only for a few seconds. No different from the body of the soda.

Rating: Filbert’s Banana Soda is fairly straight forward in terms of flavor, but it does what a majority of banana sodas do not: it doesn’t suck. The banana flavor is more of a candied taste, but it’s pretty light. Most banana sodas are overly harsh, so this is a welcome change. The carbonation is thick, encasing the soda’s taste. But it just feels like something is missing here, and I can pinpoint a couple ideas for improvement. First, there’s a syrupy taste to this. Undoubtedly, it’s because Filbert’s uses high fructose corn syrup in their banana soda as opposed to cane sugar. It just feels a little heavy and not as crisp as it could. I think cane sugar would make the soda’s mouth feel a little lighter and more refreshing. Second, the banana flavor is almost too mild. I’d either up the amount of banana flavor in the recipe or cut back on how intense the carbonation is in the soda. Less bubbles might unleash a more aromatic and robust banana taste. It sounds like we’re picking on this soda. We’re not. Banana is such a wonderful flavor, one of nostalgia. As kids we all enjoyed it in some fashion. Today, it hits its mark in candy, pastries, and cocktails. Soda is still searching for its banana unicorn. Until then, Filbert’s does a serviceable job filling the void.

P.S. We now reserve the right to start a nightclub called “Banana Unicorn” in the future. Dibs.

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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.