blueberry

Gazosa La Fiorenzana: Mirtillo

History: What if I told you there is a little soda bottler out there still making its concoctions in refillable bottles like the old days? What if I told you it’s a family business in its fourth generation? What if I told you they use real ingredients and don’t even have a marketing budget, relying only on word-of-mouth publicity? Are you getting the nostalgia tingles yet? Is your small business radar blinging like a Drake song? Gazosa La Fiorenzana is a small, family-owned Swiss soda bottler located in the Grono village of the Grisons canton that’s been making their products the same way since 1921. Five Star Soda was the first American media outlet to review one of its beverages back in August of 2015. Stephen Keller is an ex-fútbol player formerly of FC Zurich and founder of Plopenzisch, “the official dealer of Gazosa in the Benelux and parts of Germany.” After trying Gazosa for the first time in a Zurich bar in 2002, Keller began importing the Swiss soda to the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. “Our flavors are pure and old fashioned, please don’t expect any mixes or addition of vanilla or anything,” he says. The company was started by Francesco Tonna, who introduced four original flavors: Pompelmo (grapefruit), Limone (lemon), Mandarino (mandarin orange), and Lampone (raspberry). Keller tells us four more flavors were added between the years of 1940 and 1964 by Tonna’s daughter Matilda Tonna and his son Gianni Ponzio. One of those flavors includes today’s review, mirtillo, which is Italian for blueberry. Keller describes it to us as “Alpine blueberry soda,” which sounds fancy and makes us all like it more. The wild alpine blueberry is about a quarter of the size of an average blueberry. According to Keller, mirtillo is a popular regional flavor in Switzerland and is used in gelato, cakes, jams, and syrups. Kind of sounds like the equivalent of grape or strawberry in America. While mirtillo may be popular in Switzerland, most soda flavors outside of America contain some sort of citrus element, as do a majority of Gazosa’s – so this is certainly a unique international treat. It’s always refreshing to see a company that still does things the same way after decades and decades – probably a good sign for the customer. Also, this is perhaps the most beautiful hue of blue we’ve ever seen in a soda. It looks like it could give you magical powers. We’ll let you know if we land a superhero movie deal after sampling.

Where to get: Sorry, Americans – Gazosa sodas are distributed only in Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany where they are available in many cafes and restaurants.

Nose: Fresh blueberry bushes; crisp snow melt. Ever smelled freshly melted snow in the woods and how clean it smells? There’s a crispness on the nose of this. Delightful.

Taste: Fresh blueberries; brisk carbonation; tartness. There’s a very natural, rich floral blueberry taste to this with a carbonation that is very distinct. The bubbles are light, but immense. Definitely an old-fashioned soda trick and a very fun mouth feel. The blueberry here is layered. Sometimes it’s sweet. Sometimes it’s a little sour. Kind of like eating a bowl of blueberries, honestly. This is bold enough to satisfy the taste buds, yet light enough to encourage finishing the entire bottle. I taste a little bite of a wildcard flavor accompanying some sips: mint, almost like a wintergreen. It’s definitely a blueberry mint taste, but it’s there. Maybe we can agree to just calling it an earthy note. Wouldn’t mind seeing that scaled back a little. Gazosa’s Mirtillo tastes natural, refreshing, and tart.

Finish: Tart blueberry with the slightest undertones of sugar. Imagine biting into a more sour blueberry and then following it up with a mildly sweet one.

Rating: Made with blueberries from the Alps, Gazosa’s Mirtillo Soda is the most natural-tasting blueberry soda we’ve come across thus far. Just like the fruit, some sips are refreshingly sweet, while others are earthy and sour. This is a soda with all parts working in tandem. The flavor is as delightful and the packaging. Gazosa has engineered their swing-top bottles in a way that dates back hundreds of years. One crucial design element I found was this: the mouth of the bottle is made with extra thick glass that reduces the amount of liquid per sip. With less soda per drink, I found myself inspecting the flavors more instead of just instinctually slurping down the liquid that filled my mouth. I’m not sure if this is by design, but it really allows the drinker to think about the flavor profile. Outside of the soda’s pleasant blueberry flavor, its biggest achievement is maintaining a tart flavor without being acidic. That’s a hard line to tow for most soda bottlers. Also a hard line to tow for most women… in my experience. Blueberry is a flavor that is finally starting to see the light of day in the craft soda world, and Gazosa out of Switzlerand is already ahead of the game on this one. To that we say, gut gemacht, Gazosa.

Four Stars

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Blumers: Blueberry Cream

History: Minhas (pronounced Men-hahz) Craft Brewery has a history dating all the way back to 1845. It’s changed ownership and names numerous times before being completely purchased by the Minhas family in 2006. They’re from Wisconsin (Monroe), so you know they either make beer or cheese and I’ve already spoiled the surprise for you. According to Minhas Brewery Operations President, Gary Olson, the brewery introduced a root beer in the mid-90’s to offer a non-alcoholic selection in its taproom. They called it Blumers Root Beer, a throwback to one of the brewery’s former owners in the early 1900’s. Today, Minhas still serves their root beer on draft and in kegs, in addition to bottles. The rest of their soda flavors were introduced in 2003. The brewery uses the same equipment to produce its sodas as it does for its beer. Blumers sodas use only pure cane sugar as a sweetener and all ingredients are sourced from either Wisconsin or Illinois. Monroe is only about 20 miles north of the Illinois border. We decided we’d start with their blueberry cream, certainly a rare flavor. “Blueberry’s hard,” Olson says with a laugh over the phone. If you look through the Blumers soda line, you’ll see gorgeous bright blues and oranges to deep, rustic reds. “We wanted to be colorful and fun,” Olson adds. Let’s see if this soda is as beautiful in your mouth as it is on your eyes.

Where to get: Blumers Soda is sold throughout Wisconsin and also at a sister brewery in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. If you think you want a sampler pack of Blumers, you can order 16 bottles from Wisconsinmade.com. If you’re only looking for a few bottles, Olson encourages everyone to contact the brewery where they can put together a custom order for you. (I know contact forms suck, but they’re good about responding.)

Nose: Old school Lifesavers blueberry vanilla swirl lollipops from childhood, also the kind with the weird loop grip; soft blueberry; creamy vanilla ice cream.

Taste: Blueberry; cane sugar; vanilla; tartness. There’s an upfront kiss of mellow blueberry that isn’t overly artificial or overpowering. Just right for a blueberry-flavored soda. Blueberry is one of those flavors that tends to get blasted at your tongue, so a less intense version of that to begin with is welcome. Next you taste the cane sugar. Definitely a sweeter soda, but again, not overpowering if ingested in moderation. Once you’re introduced to the blueberry and sugar, there a wave of crisp, tartness, due in part to the carbonation that cascades across the sides of your tongue to cut through the initial sweetness. The wave of flavors and sensations is stimulating and very nice on the palate. The creaminess comes in last, but you really get most of that in lingering flavor. The undertones of vanilla in this bottle need some time to breath, so the longer you take in between sips, the more you’ll see that develop. The sugar can be a bit intense if you drink this fast, so be advised.

Finish: Mellow blueberry that fades into rich vanilla with supreme creaminess. Divine.

Rating: Gary Olson is right. Blueberry is a tough flavor to do. It tends to almost always taste too artificial, but Minhas Brewery has managed to take the essence of blueberry and let it dance around a symphony of cane sugar and creamy vanilla in a way that delights the drinker. The blueberry notes in this are mild, but present enough to still hold throughout the body of the soda. The sugar in Blumers Blueberry Cream can be potent, particularly if you don’t take time in between sips to let it settle. Otherwise, the sweetness builds up on top of itself with every sip and can be a bit harsh to digest. Another reason to take your time with this bottle is to let the creamy vanilla finish really permeate your taste buds. We found this to be the best part of the soda. This isn’t quite a sipper, but also isn’t a beverage I’d recommend buzzsawing through. It has a beautiful color that will catch your eye and a flavor that may surprise you for the better. I don’t think a lot of people typically expect something good out of blue sodas, but this one does the trick. It’s pretty, won’t let you down, and gets better as you get to know it more. If you know of any single women with the same qualities, please contact me. You won’t find a lot of blueberry cream sodas out there. Unless you don’t like the fruit itself, I have a hard time seeing why you shouldn’t pop the top on one of these little Wisconsin blueberry bombers. Fizz on.