butterscotch

Scotty’s Butterscotch Soda

History: Times were simpler at Grandma’s house. You’d play on the swing set, run around the yard, eat whatever you wanted; life was good. Grandma always had the best candy, the sweetest lemonade, and the softest beds. If you skinned your knee, you got a piece of candy. If you didn’t, you got a piece of candy. Rocketfizz co-founder Ryan Morgan wanted to bring that sense of wonder into the lives of kids and adults alike, saying “The sense of exploration and fun you used to have as a kid; those are the things we try to bring into our store.” In 2007 Morgan and his business partner Rob Powells opened their first Rocketfizz store. Rocketfizz sells a variety of craft soda, including many under their own label, as well as “over 15,000 different types of candy.” I can already see one of those click bait Buzzfeed headlines about the company: Dentists LOVE them! 15,000 reasons why Rocketfizz is bad for your child!” Somebody probably read this, made that, and is making money off it now. You’re welcome. But the whole thing almost didn’t happen. Rocketfizz got off to a rocky (looks around for approval, sees none) start. Their first contractor took their money “and bolted,” according to Morgan, and it only became more complicated from there. After an initial uphill battle, Rocketfizz is in peak growth mode, now in 30 different states and just opening its 82nd store as of April 2016. Perhaps most surprising about all the success is that the company doesn’t even have official offices. It’s all done at houses, on road trips, or just hanging out with one another. Having a background in the restaurant business since 2000, Morgan wanted a platform to take soda to the next level. He also had an intense passion for design and admits “We originally just wanted to do fun labels.” Rocketfizz allowed him to do both. If you see an novelty soda flavor on the shelves with an interesting label, chances are it’s made by Rocketfizz. The popular novelty soda line, Lester’s Fixins? Rocketfizz. Bacon soda? Rocketfizz. Hot Wing Soda? Yeah, all that stuff is made by these guys. “I don’t look at it any different than a restaurant with a menu. The more we push the limits on flavors, the more we see where people are willing to go,” Morgan tells us. I’ll be the first to tell you, not all of those novelty flavors are good. Some are wretched, liquid gastrointestinal torture. But others, like Scotty’s Butterscotch are more approachable and fun.

Just like the stores themselves, the inspiration behind Scotty’s Butterscotch Soda harkens back to the more nostalgic times of grandma’s home. Remember those yellow round candies she always had in the jar that you never ate? Those are what this soda is designed to taste like. “We wanted it to taste like a basic butterscotch wheel,” Morgan says. Admittedly, it’s more of an adult soda flavor. Morgan also has no problem admitting it’s not a huge seller. One thing it definitely is? Unique. I can name you several butterscotch cream sodas and root beers, but go find me another strictly butterscotch-flavored soda in America. You can’t. This has the market cornered in that regard. What the duo like most about the soda is the label. A Scotsman wearing a kilt next to a stick of butter. It’s a wee-bit strange, but it does catch the eye. Will it please the tummy?

Where to get: A sure-fire bet for purchasing Scotty’s Butterscotch soda in person is to stop by your local Rocketfizz store. Check out the company’s online locator to find the store nearest you. You can also purchase it online from Soda Emporium in single bottles or 4-packs.

Nose: Man, this is butterscotch alright. If you’ve ever poured warm butterscotch syrup over your ice cream, that’s what this smells like. Strong and sweet.

Taste: Butterscotch; vanilla; toasted toffee. The butterscotch flavor is immediate. It’s initially sweet, but not as sweet as the scent would lead you to believe. The taste of the butterscotch is unmistakable. It’s a very candy butterscotch flavor. Picture those little yellow-wrapped candies your grandma kept in the candy jar, but no one touched. These things (We always write the tasting portion of the review first before the history – so they really hit the mark here). You’ll also definitely taste vanilla on some sips, giving the soda a slightly creamy, but still overwhelmingly butterscotch characteristic. I think the most interesting flavor in Scotty’s Butterscotch Soda is a toasted toffee taste. P.S. that’s some nice unintentional alliteration. Those toasted notes provide a nice variance to the butterscotch’s sweetness. I have say this becomes sweeter as you drink it, though. But if you’re looking for butterscotch soda, look no further. The signature flavor here is unmistakable.

Finish: Lightly toasted butterscotch with mild notes of caramel that fades, leaving only butterscotch. Transitions from sophisticated to plain fairly quickly. Not much of a linger.

Rating: Let’s be real here, how many of you expect butterscotch soda with a dude playing bagpipes and a stick of butter on the label to be good? Sometimes the label is all you need to see to know a soda is going to be terrible, but Scotty’s Butterscotch Soda is one on which you should not form assumptions. And I’m not saying the label is bad, but it does lead me to believe I’m about to drink carbonated liquid butter. And for the right price, yeah I’d do it. But I’d drink Scotty’s for free and I think a lot of you would too because it has a sweet, candied butterscotch flavor with a supporting cast of vanilla and toasted toffee notes. The vanilla and toffee flavors are crucial because this is a soda that starts sweet and only gets sweeter as you drink it. And that is the soda’s main problem. The initial sweetness is right where this needs to stay, but instead it becomes overwhelming at times. Kids will probably love this because of its sugariness, but adults and craft soda fans may need to take their time with it. If you’re a big butterscotch fan, Scotty’s should be near the top of your wish list. The butterscotch flavor is on point. The vanilla provides a slight creaminess. And the toasted toffee notes give it some needed flavor contrast and slightly pull back the sweetness of the butterscotch. Scotty’s is a Rocketfizz-produced soda, and if I’m being honest, I haven’t heard a lot positive things about their in-house brands; this bucks the trend. Scotty’s Butterscotch Soda won’t be for everyone because of its intense sweetness and due to the fact that many people are averse to caramel’s less popular cousin. But if you’re up for an adventure and have an open mind, look for the bottle with the stick of butter and lad playing the bagpipes on it. You might just be surprised.

Three Stars

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Thunder Beast: Black Label Root Beer

History: We may have just stumbled upon the most sophisticated-looking root beer available for human consumption. Look at this thing. A butler should serve this to you. There are over 600 brands of root beer according to research done by Thunder Beast Founder and Chief Tasting Officer, Stephen Norberg. He says he wanted to “try to give root beer a unique flavor and different packaging.” We can already confirm he’s succeeded with the latter goal. Norberg actually collects wine bottles from local restaurants in Washington, D.C., sterilizes them, and recycles them for use with his black label root beer. “I remember as a kid, I had a pocket knife with the corkscrew on it,” he says, adding that he wanted to give children a reason to whip out this otherwise useless tool. This dude is passionate about root beer. “As a small child, root beer was my favorite drink in the world… and I never grew out of that.” It only escalated from there. Norberg knew eventually he had to try his own hand at America’s most popular craft soda category. And he did try – for three years. In 2013, once he reached a point that he felt confident in, Norberg purchased some soda-making equipment. There was no turning back after that. Certainly childhood nostalgia is a good portion of the fuel that keeps Thunder Beast churning out root beer. But he wanted to offer up something more, something that targeted the craft soda crowd that could still be enjoyed by kids. And so began the creation of Thunder Beast Black Label. I feel like I gotta put on my Gucci’s just to be in the presence of this soda.

Here’s the really cool thing about Thunder Beast Black Label Root Beer: the flavor is constantly evolving. That’s right, black label’s flavor will change every several months. It’s actually never been the same twice. Norbeg says it’s “a way to try crazy, unique flavors.” He notes the current incantation is highlighted by maple and butterscotch. He adds he also uses a little bit of honey to cut down on the amount of sugar used. Thunder Beast Root Beer is made with 9-10 less grams of sugar per bottle, Norberg tells us. Additionally, all Thunder Beast Root Beers contain no caffeine or gluten. Black label is created in small batches with a flavor profile that Norberg describes as “really complex” with “bold highlights” and “botanicals.” The next batch of black label, he tells us, will focus on cinnamon and caramel. With a bottle that fancy, you’d expect some pretty big flavors. I think you’d also expect some pretty good ones. Norberg does too. He put his entire life savings into starting the business.

Where to get: Thunder Beast Black Label is sold online via the company’s online store. It’s also found in about 30 stores and restaurants in the Washington, D.C. area.

Nose: Maple syrup; wintergreen; butterscotch. Very rich in maple.

Taste: Maple syrup; butterscotch; caramel; sugar; subtle mint. Maple and butterscotch define Thunder Beast Black Label Root Beer. The maple is upfront and bold. It’s a taste very similar to maple syrup. The initial taste on the root beer is unique, almost like a quick hit of coffee flavor before the maple comes in. The maple lasts for the first half of each sip until it gives way to a smooth butterscotch taste. You’ll also get a little bit of mint on the second half as well. The carbonation on this is vey light, almost non-existent. This is a sweet root beer. Not much of a bite at all. Big maple on the front end and smooth butterscotch on the back.

Finish: Mild butterscotch with subtle notes of caramel.

Rating: Thunder Beast is a soda company with a hell of a name that makes some seriously unique root beer. In fact, if you find a fancier root beer than the company’s black label, then I know you’re a liar because that’s impossible. From the wine-inspired label and bottle to the ultra premium ingredients and name, Thunder Beast Label exudes sophistication and maybe a little bit of cockiness. It has essentially mastered the traits all men aspire to perfect in their quest for mates. It’s got big flavors, namely maple and butterscotch. To dumb it down, you’ll taste sweet maple syrup up front with smooth butterscotch on the back half of every sip. You’ll also taste subtle notes of caramel and mint. It’s sweet. Probably sweeter than most root beers. Another unique point is that Thunder Beast Black Label doesn’t really have a traditional root beer mouth feel. The carbonation is extremely light. There’s very little bite. And there are hardly any striking spice notes. It’s right on the fringes of what we all know as root beer. But, of course, with something called “Black Label,” I think we all expect something different. The maple flavor works well with the butterscotch. The transition between the two flavors is excellent. The butterscotch taste is nearly perfect. Not too strong and very smooth. One improvement I think that could be made is to the initial taste once the root beer hits your tongue. The flavors combine to create a tart coffee taste. It’s brief, yes, but it’s disjointing and it’s present at the beginning of every sip. I’d prefer to get right into the maple. I also think because this is so sweet, it would benefit from either more spices or more of a bite. But its two main flavors are executed wonderfully. This is something every craft soda fan should try for its uniqueness in flavor and presentation. Buy a bottle of this and impress your friends.

Four Stars

Dang! That’s Good: Butterscotch Root Beer

History: “It was always his dream to do a bottled root beer,” Glen Schott says of his father. And it was Schott’s father, Jack Pettigrew, who started Imperial Flavors back in 1964. To this day, the Wisconsin-based company is still a family business. Imperial Flavors has two functions: making juice concentrates to be sold to bars and restaurants throughout Wisconsin, and of course, making soda. The story goes something like this… Pettigrew had an old A&W-like root beer formula from many, many years ago. After making his own tweaks, upon having others try it, their response was “Dang! That’s good.” And the rest is history. History in your mouth. The company produces four different flavors (six if you count diet versions), but they’re most famous for their butterscotch root beer. Schott, who is the general manager of Imperial Flavors, estimates the butterscotch root beer outsells all of their other sodas by a margin of three-to-one. It was partly inspired by Werther’s Original butterscotch candies. Imperial Flavors comes up with their own soda formulas and they source as many local ingredients as possible. Cane sugar is perhaps the most important. Schott adds, “You have to use cane sugar to get that old fashioned flavor.” Even their methods are old fashioned. Members of the company will often take home products and give them to relatives, friends and neighbors to taste test. And if that doesn’t give you the warm and fuzzies, then I don’t know if we can be friends.

Where to get: Dang! That’s Good sodas are nationally distributed. Online, Amazon and Soda Emporium are your sources. You can also find them at most Rocketfizz craft soda and candy retailers. Cost Plus World Market is another familiar retailer where their products are sold.

Nose: Werther’s Original candies; creamy vanilla; sugary, earthy tones.

Taste: Creamy butterscotch; vanilla; mild carbonation; cane sugar. This is definitely more butterscotch than root beer. It’s sweet, but the butterscotch flavor is incredibly smooth. It glides across the palate like a creamy tidal wave of melted butter, sugar and vanilla. Dang! That’s Good Butterscotch Root Beer is almost like a candy root beer, really emphasizing the sweet butterscotch flavors as opposed to earthier sassafras and licorice found in more traditional root beers. This will be too sweet for some. Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing some added earthy notes in addition to the sweetness. But this really nails the butterscotch flavor, while weaving in a nice creamy vanilla body to compliment it. There’s also some caramel undertones. The carbonation is crisp, but light and helps cut a little bit of that sweetness. Extremely drinkable and pleasant.

Finish: Deep, rich notes of toffee that fade into smooth vanilla across the tongue and into the back of the throat. The sensation is pleasant and lingers for a few seconds.

Rating: Butterscotch is a hard flavor to accurately portray as a liquid, but Dang! That’s Good Butterscotch Root Beer not only pleases the taste buds with its signature flavor; it simultaneously mixes in creamy vanilla, and sweet cream caramel flavors. It’s a wonderfully done alternative root beer. And we’re pro alternative root beer rights. Just because you’re different, doesn’t mean you’re weird. I could keep this joke going, but it’d eventually end up with people picketing outside my house. Back to the bottle. This is a sweet root beer. It’ll be too much for some people. If you enjoy sweeter sodas or root beers, this is a must-try. Imperial Beverages should be commended for nailing a tough flavor from which many shy away. Butterscotch as a flavor is ripe for a renaissance, much like maple has enjoyed the past couple years. Dang! That’s Good may be the reason other bottlers don’t even make an attempt. If you can’t beat the best… uh, do something else I guess? This is an original that’s quickly becoming a craft soda classic. Try it before others start flooding the market. This should go in your regular rotation. Excellent.