Saranac: Shirley Temple

History: Saranac Brewery has been around a long, long time. And it’s stayed in the family, now in its fourth generation of brewers. Dating all the way back to 1888, F.X. Matt started the brewery with 4,000 barrels of beer a year under the name West End Brewing Co. How about that name? Seriously. F.X. Matt? How ominous does that sound? Brb while I go pitch ideas for super villains to Marvel and DC. Maybe we should start going by F.S. Soda. God, this review is already spiraling out of control. As with many long-lived breweries, prohibition hit this one hard. According to Saranac Assistant Brand Manager, Martha O’Leary, West End had just begun brewing root beer before prohibition hit and it’s essentially what kept them alive throughout those years. In 1985, the company produced its first craft beer called “Saranac.” The brewery later took this on as its name to honor of the anniversary of the Saranac Railroad’s inaugural trip from to Saranac to Utica, New York. Saranac began making craft sodas in the 1990’s. Currently they boast six different flavors, including today’s review, Shirley Temple. “It’s been with us for such a long time, and we continue to build on that,” says O’Leary. One thing we need to give you soda connoisseurs a heads up on is the fact that Saranac uses high fructose corn syrup in their sodas as a sweetener. When asked why, O’Leary was honest, “I think it’s because we maintain the same recipe” from the 90’s. She also added that there have been discussions to make the switch to cane sugar. But Saranac does have a strong reputation in the world of gourmet soda. Their root beer won gold in the 2014 U.S. Beer Open competition. But Shirley Temple was too fun to resist.

Where to get: Saranac is sold throughout the greater New York region as well as online at Amazon and ShopRite.

Nose: Grenadine syrup. Smells very sweet.

Taste: Cherry syrup; shirley temple; light bubblegum. So there’s two things that go into making a Shirley Temple. Grenadine/cherry syrup and lemon-lime soda. And I gotta hand it to Saranac… this tastes exactly like a Shirley Temple. Well, almost exactly. There’s a definitive hit of sweet cherry-flavored soda with a light bite. The carbonation in this is much lighter than if you mixed your own cherry syrup with something like Sprite. But the biggest difference is that this tastes much sweeter than a normal Shirley Temple. Much sweeter. And the classic citrus notes have been replaced with sweeter ones, reminiscent of bubble gum candy. The closest thing I can think of is those bubblegum cigars you got as a kid. This has a sweet cherry syrup taste with an added bubblegum flavor and a hint of citrus.

Finish: Just the tiniest bit of citrus. Maybe lime. Followed by a more mellow grenadine flavor.

Rating: If you like sweeter sodas, you’ve hit the jackpot here. If I drank of six-pack of these, I’d be Wilford Brimley before it was all over. That said, if you’re looking for a bottled Shirley Temple soda, you can’t go wrong with Saranac. I’d like to have seen some more citrus or some kind of bite to this to cut back the sweetness a little bit, but this stuff is good. You can really taste that classic Grenadine flavor present in all Shirley Temples and there’s a little bit of a mild bubblegum flavor as well. Kids will love this for its fun color, packaging and candy-like flavor. Adults will enjoy its nostalgia-inducing taste that jettisons you back in time to when all you wanted was mom to put the cherry syrup in your soda to make it taste better. I’d recommend putting this on some ice cubes and sipping it. And if you want to have some real fun, try a spiked Saranac Shirley Temple by adding vodka and a couple squeezes of fresh lime. This accomplishes what it set out to do and, despite the sugar rush, will please a lot of soda enthusiasts. Approved.


Barr: Irn-Bru

History: Put on your manliest kilt because Irn-Bru has made it to Five Star Soda. It’s the unofficial soft drink of Scotland, laddie. Invented in 1901 by Barr Soft Drinks, it contains 32 different flavors and is made with cane sugar. It does not, however, come in a glass bottle. A little part of the craft soda enthusiast in me died telling you that. According to Great Scot International Vice President James Wilson, only two people, the owner and his daughter, know the recipe. “You can’t really describe it,” he says, his voice almost puzzled searching for an answer. Good. This should be easy then. Irn-Bru has faced some challenges getting into the North American market. In Scotland, the original formula uses the coloring agent Ponceau 4R, an additive that is banned by the FDA in America and Canada. I know you’re not reading those, so what that really means is in Scotland Irn-Bru is a little bit darker with more of a reddish hue as opposed to the bright rusty orange color in the American version. Irn-Bru is the title sponsor for the Scottish Premier League. Wilson says in Scottish grocery stores Coca-Cola takes up about half of the shelf space. The rest is just Irn-Bru. They’re serious about it. The drink started as a tonic and to this day still contains Quinine, a flavoring agent typically used in tonic water and something that helps settle the stomach. It also contains .002%  Ferric Ammonium Citrate, which is where the “iron” flavor comes in. Irn-Bru is even rumored to be a hangover cure. “You either love it or you hate it,” adds Wilson. Let’s find out.

Where to get: You can purchase Irn-Bru on Amazon or The Scottish Grocer. Irn-Bru is also distributed nation-wide in the United States by Great Scot International in Charlotte, North Carolina. According to Wilson, pretty much any grocer with a British or UK section should likely carry it.

Nose: Bubble gum; smells very reminiscent of bubble gum cream sodas.

Taste: Bubble gum; citrus; bitterness. Though this smells and even tastes a bit like bubblegum, Irn-Bru definitely isn’t a cream soda. It’s a wave of citrus with a bite from across the pond. The flavor profile here is in three parts. First you get an orange-infused bubble gum taste that quickly evaporates and is followed by a lighter, slightly creamy orange citrus. What comes in last is bitterness. It likely has something to do with that Ferric Ammonium Citrate. That sounds good for you, doesn’t it? The sharp, bitter citrus stays on the back of your tongue a little too long for me. It’s fairly acidic, even for a citrus soda. The lads and lassies from Scotland apparently love this. It’s certainly different than American sodas.

Finish: A tart citrus that sinks itself into the back of your tongue. Leaves a little bit of an acidic taste in the back of the throat. Could be harsh for first-time drinkers of Irn-Bru.

Rating: It’s hard to nail down a rating for this soda. Its taste can be overly harsh on the first few sips, especially on the finish. It’s true. This is a love it or hate it beverage. So naturally, we’re somewhere in the middle. Sharp, acidic citrus stays in the mouth too long to make this a top-tier soda. Could just be a cultural thing. I’ve been told Americans definitely love their sweets and sugars more than the rest of the world. The initial orange bubblegum citrus flavor is fairly unique and pretty palatable. It just doesn’t last nearly as long as the tart acidity and bitter citrus undertones you get near the end. Some of that probably comes from the Quinine. How can I describe this in a way you’ll understand? Hmmm. This is like when you go on a date with that really hot dude who’s got those alluring exotic eyes, but then you start dating and realize he smells kind of like a donkey. He’s fun for a little bit, but even after he goes home, he lingers. In all seriousness, this is pretty interesting. With flavors not typically found in North America, I’d recommend giving Irn-Bru a shot simply because it’s incredibly popular in Scotland, and you should ingest some of that culture to keep yourself well-rounded. Just be careful, looks can be deceiving.

Bickford’s Creamy Soda

History: G’day mate! Bickford’s is an Australian company famous for producing cordials and craft sodas, among several other beverage-related products. After migrating from England in 1839, William Bickford and his wife Anne Margaret opened a pharmacy. Pharmacies, for those of you who don’t know, were the beginnings of soda. Pharmacists would use carbonated flavorings to disguise the horrid taste of medicine. After William Bickford’s sudden death just 11 years later, Anne Margaret took over the pharmacy business and in 1863, formed A.M. Bickford and Sons with her two boys. And so it began. In 1874, the company began producing cordials, the product it’s most famous for to this day. Craft soda came along later for Bickford’s with Lemon and Lime Bitters being its most famous flavor, followed by their cream soda and their version of sarsaparilla.

Where to get: Available widely in Australia throughout grocers and online, this means nothing to Americans. As a stone cold USA review site, wtf mate? Where can we get it? Lemme be real with you… it isn’t readily available here. BUT… but that doesn’t mean you can’t get it. Bickford’s is a large company that employs very nice people. They’ll be more than willing to be accommodating for orders. Contact them directly and they’ll work with you in getting an order out to you. And starting in June/July of 2015, the company will be doing a slow roll out in America, starting in California.

Nose: Intense bubblegum; fruity and floral notes

Taste: Definitely bubblegum up front, though not as strong as it smells. Then there’s a very hard-to-place flavor that follows. It makes you think. If you didn’t notice it from the photo… it’s raspberry. And it’s damn good. The carbonation is intense very briefly when you take a swig and then fades into a creamy bubblegum-raspberry twist. The raspberry comes in first and hits the back of your mouth with a nice tartness that compliments the soda’s overall smoothness. Raspberry, while not a common flavor in cream sodas, is much more common outside the U.S. So if you get your hands on this in America, you’re likely in for something new. Bubble gum, raspberry and light vanilla highlight this elixir from down unda’.

Finish: Slightly acidic raspberry that quickly fades into a vanilla-bubblegum creamy flavor and lingers on the tongue.

Rating: With its cute-as-hell 9.3 ounce bottle and its unique take on an old classic, Bickford’s Creamy Soda is a must-try. Red cream sodas are often packed with intense bubblegum flavor and loaded with enough sugar to make a diabetic pass out after just reading the label, but Bickford’s does a really nice job using their cane sugar to accentuate and not overload the flavors they want to get across. Bubblegum is a very love-hate flavor in the cream soda world and Bickford’s navigates around that by adding touches of raspberry and vanilla cream to balance it out. The result is something you don’t see often, one you’ll want to put in your mouth. Throw this on some ice and kick back. Cheers, mates.