boots beverages

Boots Beverages: Dewberry

History: Soda is one of those beverage categories that is so whimsical in nature, sometimes the flavors are ideas that could only be concocted in one’s imagination. When we sifted through the line of sodas Boots Beverages offers, we assumed their “dewberry” soda was one of those flavors. Because honestly, doesn’t a dewberry sound like something only a weird, little Pokemon would feed on? Like “oh look kids, it’s a wild Squitle gorging himself full of luscious dewberries!” So to clear up the confusion we went straight to the source and asked Boots Beverages what was up with the soda’s name. National director and PR wizard Kim Rank explains “‘dewberry’ is literally the name of the berry. It’s not a blackberry, nor is it a raspberry. It grows wild in certain zones of the Northern Hemisphere and certainly flourishes in Texas.” Turns out, she’s right. And it makes sense that the Bryan, Texas-based company would craft a soda based on a popular Texas berry. So we can check that box off. It’s an unusual flavor to say the least, but it’s nothing out of the ordinary for Boots Beverages. They take that same out-of-the-box approach every single day according to third generation owner, Mark Kristen. “I guess it’s the same insanity that’s inspired all our flavors,” he says of the idea to restart the business. That’s right. This isn’t the first incarnation of Boots Beverages. The company dates all the way back to Mark Kristen’s grandfather in 1930 who was eventually succeeded by Kristen’s father and the company’s namesake “Boots” Kristen. Due to dry spell, Boots packed up their spurs and headed back to the ranch in 1962 until Kristen decided it was time for Texas to get an infusion of flavor again in 2013. The company’s line of eclectic sodas ranges from the award-winning coconut cream to lemon meringue to caramel apple. And, of course, the mysterious dewberry.

Despite the sarcastic ignorance we’re portraying, dewberry is one of Boots Beverages’ most sought-after sodas. Rank tells us it’s typically the company’s second or third bestseller right behind their sarsaparilla root beer. It was designed to mimic the flavors of real dewberry, which Rank describes as “a cross between blackberries and raspberries, with a slight grape-like note.” She adds that the flavor didn’t take long to perfect. “When you’ve been around Dewberry Cobbler all your life, it becomes second nature to you. It’s Texas and it’s home.” There’s something so homely about that statement. It takes me back to childhood when my grandma would cook cobbler with ice cream for my grandpa and I. Grandpa was usually more occupied with Irish Whiskey and Wheel of Fortune, but I loved it. Dewberry was one of the five original flavors introduced when Boots reopened in 2013. Rank admits not a lot of people know what a dewberry is outside of Texas, but apparently that hasn’t stopped them from trying it. Don’t worry, it won’t stop us either. Last year the company introduced five more flavors, bringing their line to 10 and are currently focused on distributing their sodas as fountain drinks in addition to selling them in the traditional glass bottles.

Where to get: Boots Beverages online store • HEB • Summit City Soda

Nose: It took me a minute to figure out the scent, but I got it. Mixed Berry Fruit Snacks. I used to eat these in unhealthy quantities in middle school. There’s a very berry scent to these. Kind of like Berry Fruit Roll-Ups too. Like a mixture of blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries.

Taste: Mixed berry; blueberry; blackberry; mild tartness; raspberry sno cone. Dewberry Soda tastes a lot like it smells; there’s lots and lots of berry flavors. I think the combination of blackberry and blueberry stand out the most. The two flavors coalesce to form a swirling dark berry base flavor. I also taste some candied raspberry notes – it’s kind of like a melted black raspberry sno cone flavor. It’s a very fruity soda. It’s also very carbonated, which is something you don’t see often in fruit sodas. When you pour it, a thick head forms. Looks good, tastes great.

Finish: Slightly tart, but still sweet blueberries that linger and then fade.

Rating: Dewberry soda is one of Boots Beverages’ most impressive offerings. It has a crisp, refreshing, and fruity berry taste that goes down smooth. It’s sweet like a traditional glass-bottled soda while balancing the flavors of blueberry, blackberry, and raspberry excellently. It also uses Quillaja extract, a foaming agent, in the recipe so it has a high-rising frothy purple head when poured in a glass. Blackberry and blueberry are the two main take away flavors from the soda, while candy raspberry hangs in the background. The blueberry tastes most authentic, while the raspberry tastes more like how it’s typically used in sno cones. Imagine someone gave you a bottle of Berry Juicy Juice, carbonated it, and slapped a picture of a slightly evil-looking young boy with a 1950’s haircut on the bottle; this is essentially what you have in dewberry soda from Boots Beverages. It also has a really beautiful purple hue that will turn your tongue a different color, which is the most action my tongue has gotten in the past couple months. I write about soda on the Internet… the ladies don’t exactly line up at my door. If I could make one suggestion for this soda, it’d be to make it a little more tart. Perhaps up the citric acid. But all in all, this is superbly delicious and should be tried by all. This is one of the best berry sodas on the market with a perfect blend of authentic and candy fruit flavors. You may not know exactly what a dewberry is, but that shouldn’t stop you from drinking in all its glory.

Four Stars

Boots Beverages: Caramel Apple

History: Boots Beverages has a Texas-sized appetite for creating unique craft sodas rooted in comfort flavors. The Bryan, Texas-based company has been in the family since 1930 and boasts nontraditional flavors like Coconut Cream, Picture Show Red Hot, and Caramel Cola. The company tries to recreate flavors that were available back in the old picture shows of the 1950’s. In October of 2015 the Boots introduced four new flavors. The one you’re least likely to see replicated on the market is their caramel apple soda. Its biggest fan might just be the company’s Chief Operating Officer, Mark Kristen (who also runs Kristen Distributing). Kristen is the third generation of his family to run Boots Beverages. It’s a labor of love for him. He’s a sweet man with a booming baritone voice that oozes southern drawl, making him seem larger than life. After speaking with him multiple times, I wouldn’t be shocked if he occasionally just wanders off in the woods looking for bears to wrestle. He says the newly-introduced caramel apple soda is his favorite, a flavor inspired by his late grandmother, Laura Kristen. Her photo is featured on the label. In fact, you’ll find a different one of Kristen’s relatives on the label for each flavor of Boots soda. “This whole project seems to be orchestrated by all my relatives who are in heaven. It’s like they’re just handing it to me,” he says, the pride evident in his voice. Kristen was very close to his grandmother, often spending more time at her house than his own. “It’s a memory I recall from my grandma baking the apple strudel on her stove.” He wanted to replicate that flavor of apple strudel, while also getting across slightly savory notes of caramelized apple crust. He says there’s also an apple cider influence on the soda’s taste. He adds the soda is great for pairing with savory meals. Caramel apple seems tailor made for the September through December months where the air is just a little more brisk and the cold air intensifies your favorite fall flavors. One thing Kristen told me to pay attention to was the soda’s smell, something upon which most bottlers don’t focus. Unprompted, he says, “It would be a misgiving not to smell the aroma before it hitting your lips.” When asked what makes their caramel apple soda unique, Kristen was direct: “the flavor.” It’s clear the company has the utmost confidence in their newest typical offering. Time to pull this one out of grandma’s oven… err, fridge.

Where to get: Boots Beverages’ sodas can be purchased directly from the company’s website. Boots is widely available in Texas and around St. Louis, Missouri. The company is currently in the process of creating a triangle of physical distribution from New Mexico, up to New York, down to Miami, Florida, and back.

Nose: Green apples; mild cinnamon; apple pie. Lots of apple sweet treat smells.

Taste: Creamy brown sugar; caramel; mild apple; subtle cinnamon; crust. This is certainly different. The flavors are little hard to place at first. It’s got a one-two punch of brown sugar and caramel flavors. It’s not overly sweet and has brief bursts of carbonation that help accentuate the tartness of the apple flavors. The apple itself is more of a complimentary taste to the creamy brown sugar/caramel combo. It’s there, and it provides a nicely contrasting mild tartness, but it doesn’t stand out like the other flavors. The more you drink this, the more you’ll taste the savory elements. Near the end of each sip, the soda opens up more in the mouth to reveal flavors of pie crust and sweet oats (think cinnamon and brown sugar oatmeal). It takes a while to get all the tasting notes nailed down, but this actually has a pretty sophisticated flavor profile.

Finish: Sweet caramel that transitions into a more savory burned brown sugar and pie crust flavor. Long-lasting linger. Really excellent. Perhaps the best part of the soda.

Rating: Boots Beverages Caramel Apple Soda is quite the mouthful. It’s a mixture of brown sugar, cinnamon, creamy caramel, and slightly tart apple up front with savory pie crust/cinnamon oatmeal notes near the end. It’s almost like an apple cinnamon cream soda. Some will welcome the challenge, but this won’t be for everyone. This is a soda that takes about half the bottle to adjust to because its flavors are so foreign in liquid form. Not only that, but the more you drink this, the more the soda’s subtle flavors reveal themselves – and this is where Boots Beverages Caramel Apple shines. The creamy brown sugar and caramel tastes are evident from the beginning, but it isn’t until you start to get the more savory pie crust and cinnamon oatmeal flavors that you really get a clear picture of the soda’s flavor profile. They provide a nice contrast to the sweetness of the brown sugar and caramel, and impart a more sophisticated taste. The initial burst of sweet brown sugar can be overwhelming, but don’t give up too early. Caramel apple is a sipper out of the bottle. This is one soda that I feel really benefits from ice, which dials back the sweetness just a touch and gives it an even creamier, smoother flavor profile. In addition to the excellent savory flavors going on here, the brown sugar element is also very nice and compliments the mild tartness of the apple. I think if the pie crust flavor came in earlier on each sip, the audience for this flavor would be wider. I fear some may quit on this soda too early. It’s definitely a grower. [insert joke here]. But let me tell you perhaps the greatest value of this soda: as a mixer, preferably with bourbon and a splash of fresh-squeezed orange juice. It’s a perfect recipe for your upcoming holiday family get together and is sure to either put your annoying aunt to sleep or make her even more intolerable, so choose your proportions wisely. Boots Beverages Caramel Apple is a soda that seems perfect for the holiday months. Its nuanced flavor profile makes it a great sipper or a fun partner for your favorite booze. This isn’t one you’ll drink every day, but it is a beverage that successfully takes what many would consider a novelty flavor idea and turns it into a legitimate craft soda.

Four Stars

Boots Beverages: Coconut Cream Soda

History: Get your beach towel, your sunglasses and sunscreen, and throw on that swim suit. Now put it all back because we’re just drinking soda here, you freak. But hey, we’re not only sampling one of the most unique flavors on the market today, we’re also going to bring the island vibe to you as we do it. See, we’re nice. Coconut Cream Soda: it’s one of those flavors that makes your ears perk up when you hear it. Kind of like when my wife yells out my name, only this doesn’t give me nightmares. Coconut is a very divisive flavor among foodies, but those who love it are die-hards. Mark Kristen, owner of Boots Beverages realized this and decided to to take a chance. He says, “I guess it’s the same insanity that’s inspired all our flavors.” The company, started by his father Elwood “Boots” Glenn, began with seasonal flavors like strawberry, peach and lemon. Boots Beverages’ first run as a business ended in 1962 in large part due to a decline in popularity of deposit bottles. Kristen, already a third generation businessman and operator of Kristen Distributing in Bryan, Texas, decided to reintroduce the company in September of 2013 with an emphasis on 1950’s flavors infused with modern gourmet appeal.

The company’s top-seller is its Sarsaparilla, with Coconut Cream not far behind it. The tropical paradise you thought you were in for at the beginning of this review may yet reveal itself in the form of this soda. And according to Kristen, it’s by design. “We envisioned someone going to the trouble of splitting the coconut and getting the juice out.” He also notes they are going for additional tasting notes of coconut cream pie and its crust. You’ll see the tropical inspiration on the bottle. You’ll also notice a picture of a woman. That’s Kristen’s late aunt Katy. “That tugs at my heart strings,” he says after a pause. Never married, Katy worked for Kristen’s father during Boots Beverages’ initial run. Often he couldn’t even afford to pay her, so she ran a small ice cream parlor. Kristen frequented it. “I ate so many of her dreamsicles that there’s no way she could’ve made any money,” he jokes. Her photo on the label is a small tribute. As for the future, Boots Beverages has been in the lab cooking up five new flavors. Two of them could be here as early as September. If early reports are any indication, they may be on to something. Kristen notes his buddy’s six year-old daughter offered up a serious barter. “I’d like to trade you a pony for those new flavors,” she said. We can’t legally offer a pony, but we’ll assemble the team, test the black market and see what offers we at Five Star came come up with. Nothing to see here, government.

Where to get: You can currently buy Boots Beverages Coconut Cream Soda in Texas and St. Louis, Missouri. The company is currently working on expanding distribution, but hasn’t announced future channels yet. In the meantime, the Internet has you covered. Hit up the company’s website for 12-packs, Crown Valley for 6-packs, and Soda Emporium for single bottles.

Nose: You ever had coconut cake? No? You’re weird then, but that’s what this smells like to a tee. It’s got a sweet coconut frosting olfactory thing going on.

Taste: Coconut cream; sugar; mild piña colada. Whoa, coconut. Hey girl. The coconut cream flavor is immediate, bold, and sweet. This is intensely sweet coming in at 43 grams of sugar per bottle. The coconut has a very tropical taste to it, reminiscent of the coconut portion of a piña colada. This does not taste like coconut pie to us, for those wondering. Think more along the lines of clear cream sodas infused with tropical coconut flavor.

Finish: Coconut piña colada. The finish on Boots Coconut Cream Soda is long-lasting and thick. The drink ends with a little bit more of a tropical note than the main body and coats the tongue for 10-20 seconds. While the body of the soda doesn’t taste like pie, there is a little bit of a pie crust taste at the very end.

Rating: Coconut is one of those flavors that gets people excited when it’s in a supporting role, but as the centerpiece of a soda, bottlers shy away. Perhaps they’re worried it’ll come off too much like carbonated suntan lotion. Whatever the case may be, there isn’t a lot with which to compare Boots Beverages Coconut Cream Soda. Its flavor doesn’t hold anything back and knows itself. It’s coconut cream soda, and dammitt it wants you to know that. This is a sugar storm of creamy, candy coconut that is bold and has flavor staying power. There are also some really nice tropical notes that float about in the background of each drink. Cream soda connoisseurs: put this on your list because there’s nothing like it out there. For the rest of you, there are some factors to consider. First, this is sweet. Very sweet. But it does really capture that tropical island coconut flavor and manifest it in soda form. I’d suggest treating this like a first date and taking it slow. Unless you’re my ex, in which case, chug as fast as you can and use a lot of tongue. Sorry, PTSD. As a sipper, this is a wonderfully unique cream soda to be enjoyed. Second, the flavor. Not everyone likes coconut and this is not only strong in sweetness, but also flavor. It might even benefit from some ancillary tasting notes, like key lime. If you don’t like coconut, do not pop the top. In our opinion, this is too original not to try. If you like coconut or tropical sodas, keep your pants on and buy like 24 of these. The flavors are simple, but work well. Paired with a little rum, you’ll be in paradise in no time.

Boots Beverages: Caramel Cola

History: Mark Kristen has been around the block. He’s a veteran of the liquid business. Talking with him over the phone, his southern Texas drawl is grizzled, yet soothing. I get the sense that before talking to me, he just got done changing the tires on his tractor. Probably for fun. But Mark Kristen also runs a third generation family business called Kristen Distributing down in Bryan, Texas. His grandpa started the company in 1930 and ran it up until after World War II, at which point his father, “Boots” Kristin, took the reigns. It was “Boots” who started Boots Beverages, making seasonal sodas like strawberry, lemon and peach in glass bottles. Back then, the soda business depended on refillable bottles. But customers weren’t returning bottles for deposits. Instead, they littered the streets with them. In 1962, Boots Beverages closed down. Mark Kristen had no plans to revisit it… until a client made a suggestion.

You see, Kristen Distributing already delivered sodas, but they didn’t have the rights to distribute in the area of this specific client. “You’ve got the background,” they told Kristen. In 2013, Boots Beverages made its return with five flavors including atypical offerings like coconut cream, dewberry and caramel cola. They wanted flavors that were available back in the old picture shows of the 1950’s. According to Kristen, his company moves roughly 2 million cases of beer/alcohol and 1 million cases of non-alcoholic beverages a year. The revenue from that business creates an advantage for Boots Beverages. They can take risks. Kristen says, “I see the movement in craft as opportunity and not competition.” They make soda for fun. For the people. But they’re serious about taste. Every single flavor the company produces is signed off on by an expert sommelier. Today, we review caramel cola. Giddy up, partner.

Where to get: You can buy soda from Boots Beverages directly online from the company’s website. Their sodas are distributed in Texas and St. Louis, Missouri. Random, but true. The company is currently looking for distributors and has aspirations of eventually becoming distributed nation-wide.

Nose: Cane sugar juice with the aroma of sweet maple syrup. Unmistakable.

Taste: Maple syrup; sweet, mild caramel; smooth milk chocolate. The flavor profiles in Caramel Cola by Boots Beverages are distinct. Perhaps the biggest surprise is on the initial sip, something that doesn’t taste like the rest of the soda. Once your lips meet the liquid, you’re greeted with a sweet, fruity note. It’s somewhere between fig and sweet prune. It makes you think, but before the thought is complete, the rest of the soda’s flavors come through after a buffer of crisp carbonation. The body of the soda is sweet, yet defined. Like a mixture of mellow maple syrup infused with hand-pulled caramel. Purists may expect a more defined caramel flavor, but the maple notes work as a nice compliment, whether or not it’s intended. The more you drink the soda, the richer the flavors become and the more the caramel takes over. You’ll also notice undertones of milk chocolate as your mouth gets down with this thing.

Finish: Creamy maple syrup that lingers for a few seconds and transitions into a sweeter caramel than in the body of the soda. Cocoa nibs enter the picture and become more prominent than the maple as the bottle draws to a close.

Rating: Mark Kristen made it clear that Boots Beverages produces their sodas for fun. So why not swing for the fences with their flavors? Caramel cola is a rare breed in the craft soda game. I’m hard-pressed to name another. Boots has cornered the market for now, and they’ve set a high standard. This is a soda with almost two totally different flavor components for me: the initial candied fruitiness and the richer caramel/maple flavors that form the soda’s overall body. I have to say the soda’s biggest success is the unexpected deliciousness you get at the beginning of every sip with notes of fig and prune. There’s even a brief tart, carbonated bite right before the caramel and maple take over. And then it hit me: that’s the cola aspect of this craft soda. You get a fresh, fruity cola taste up front and then a milkier, richer flavor profile of caramel, maple and cocoa nibs at the back. Mystery solved. Case closed. I feel like I just completed a 24,000 piece puzzle and then immediately beat the Cracker Barrel game on the first try. Yeah, I’m single. Some may be turned off by the sweetness of this soda, but its rich flavors help distract from the sugar. Notify me if you find another caramel soda on the market. When you don’t, that should be reason enough to buy a ticket and get on this flavor train. Keep your eye out for Boots Beverages as a company on the rise in the coming years. The Texas craft soda jerks will even be introducing four new flavors in early 2016. We can’t tell you the details, but in the words of Kristen, “they’ll blow your mind.”