canada

Bec Cola

History: Regardez comment la fantaisie nous commençons la première phrase de cet examen en français. Don’t worry, the rest is in English. If you didn’t immediately go to Google Translate, that says “Look how fancy we are starting the first sentence of this review in French.” We have the humor of an eight year-old. I know. Bec Cola out of Montreal, Quebec in Canada, however, is not eight years-old. The company began recently in 2014 with humble ambitions. It was about making an organic product with human values behind it, while highlighting Quebec at the same time. Says Bec Cola founder Olivier Dionne, “We firmly believe that the organic philosophy is very important, both for the consumer and/or our land. We wanted to create a soda line free of chemical preservatives and replace refined sugars by Quebec’s wonderful resource which is maple syrup.” Cola with maple syrup. Honestly, we’re talking abooot Canada here… did you expect this soda not to have maple syrup in it?? Since we’re stereotyping Canada right now, let’s keep it going by presenting another: Canadians are nice. This is very true. I know this because when I visited Toronto, beautiful women would speak to me and there wasn’t a judge involved. Bec Cola is also very nice and apparently has nothing to hide because they told us every ingredient in their soda. They are, as follows: “water, organic maple sugar, organic vegetable sugar, citric acid (from lemon), organic caramel color and organic cola flavor.” There was even a smiley face at the end of that answer in Dionne’s email to us. Pretty friendly, eh? According to Dionne, Canadians are the eighth highest drinkers of soda in the world at roughly over 26 gallons per person a year. It’s not quite America’s numbers, but like in the 50 states, soda has a bad rep in Canada because most of it is made cheaply with ingredients that make your insides resent you. “With reason, sodas have a very bad reputation. We intend to change this, by bottling only quality organic ingredients,” Dionne adds. It seems like artisan soda is catching on with our neighbors to the north. Let’s find out what Canadian cola tastes like.

Where to get: Bec Cola is sold throughout a majority of Quebec. Check out the company’s store locator here. If you’re in Canada, you can also buy it online from Terroirs Quebec.

Nose: Nutmeg; cinnamon; cola. Definitely a nuttiness on the sniff.

Taste: Cola; nuttiness; cane sugar. There’s a classic cola flavor to this with some slightly sweet, fruity notes. What’s most prominent is the nuttiness on the second half of each sip that’s accompanied by the distinct flavor or real, crisp cane sugar. The nutty flavor has some nutmeg notes going on, but I’m guessing it’s really just the maple syrup interacting with the sugar. The carbonation in this is very soft, and unlike most colas, it comes at the end rather than blasting your mouth before you even taste anything. This is a soft cola with subtle, different flavors from the ordinary and the nuttiness is a nice touch.

Finish: Nutmeg and kola nut with lemon and undertones of sweetness. You finally get that mild lemon flavor at the end of some sips, but it isn’t consistent.

Rating: What makes Bec Cola a success is the balance of classic and atypical cola flavors. On the first half of each sip, you’ll taste traditionally bittersweet cola flavors, while the back half is anchored by subtle fruity notes and a distinct nuttiness. We can’t really taste the maple as a standalone flavor, but we assume those fruity and nutmeg flavors are created by the way the maple syrup plays out in the soda. There’s also some spice notes in this that we can’t place, but work well. Gives off kind of a fall flavor. Bec Cola would go nice with an oaky bourbon or in a cold glass full of big ice cubes. I’d like to see the maple stand out a little more distinctively to make this feel super Canadian. I want this to be so Canadian that you’re only allowed to drink it while riding a moose to Tim Horton’s. Those nutty notes are a nice change of pace. Look, at the end of the day, cola is cola. It’s the hardest flavor to make stand out from the crowd. Bec Cola isn’t completely off the beaten path, but it’s off the trail enough for you to invest in this Canadian concoction. Check back this fall for new flavors from Bec Cola.

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1642 Cola

History: “Canadian people must have their own cola.” The thought kept running through the mind of 1642 Cola founder, Bastien Poulain. He admits the inspiration behind his creation stemmed from the fact that “there wasn’t a real Canadian coke.” A born Frenchman, Poulain now resonates most with Montreal and thus, wanted a cola that truly represented the city. This is the reason for the name 1642 Cola. For all you non-Canadians, 1642 was the year de Maisonneuve discovered Montreal. Poulain studied the business model of Breizh Cola in France, another soda with a strong regional identity that now commands 20% of the cola market share there. Armed with some knowledge, he really committed to the concept of being true to Montreal with his soda. Poulain notes “the ingredients are all made in Québec” (the province Montreal is located in). Another interesting note: instead of cane sugar, 1642 Cola has “Québec beet sugar” in it. 1642 Cola has some competition with Bec Cola for the king of Cola in Montreal. As the company looks to the future, Poulain says they’re working on a tonic and stevia cola. 1642 Cola is allegedly “a taste of Montreal.” I heard the same thing from a young lady I met there a couple years ago. Hope I don’t end up at the doctor’s office after this experience, too.

Where to get: To check out where 1642 Cola is sold in Québec, check out the company’s online locator. Canadians and Europeans can also buy the stuff online. Americans… as with many fun international sodas, your best bet is to contact the company and beg… at least for now.

Nose: Smells like classic cola, a little reminiscent of Coca-Cola, actually.

Taste: Crisp carbonation; classic cola flavor. The flavor here is pretty standard in terms of what you’re used to with cola. I’d say Coca-Cola is a pretty fair comparison. We’re not tasting the maple syrup influence. If anything, there’s a little bit of nuttiness on the back end, but it’s very minor. Some slightly fruity notes emerge in the body of each sip the more you drink it, but not enough to convince you this is drastically different from classic cola. This is straightforward in terms of cola: big, fizzy carbonation with classic cola taste.

Finish: Classic cola with a little bit of acidity from the bubbles.

Rating: 1642 Cola wanted to make a Canadian Cola because America had its own and their country didn’t. Poulain noted “there wasn’t a real Canadian coke,” and it seems he’s drawn heavily off classic American Coca-Cola. The flavors are as close to each other as we’ve come across in two unrelated brands. It really does taste like Canadian Coke in the most literal sense. There’s a classic crisp, slightly bitter head of carbonation in the beginning, followed up by traditional cola flavor. There’s some nutty notes near the end of each sip, but you have to really search for them. For a cola made with maple, we’re not tasting it. It must be very, very subtle… like my third marriage. If you’re in Canada and pining for something different that still reminds you of America, 1642 Cola should be your go-to. If you’re really wanting to taste that maple influence, you’ll have to have better maple senses than we did. 1642 is solid and works well as a mixer. A bottle here and there should tide you over.

Just Craft Soda: Apple and Ginger

History: I’m about to introduce you to some adult soda. But hey now. Keep your pants on, buddy. Not only is this soda designed for a more mature audience; it’s also soda with a bit of an attitude. In the words of Just Craft Soda founder John McEachern, a lot of sodas today “feel like they were designed for a 13 year-old boy.” Just Craft Soda is the first offering from Peak Drive Beverages. It debuted only months ago, earlier in 2015. Every bottle is made with 60% fruit juice. Oh, and guess what else? It’s from Toronto in Ontario, CANANDA, dontchaknow! We’ve been waiting to use that photo. Thanks, guys. The idea of Just Craft Soda had been brewing in McEachern’s head for two or three years. With past job experience at PepsiCo. and General Mills, McEachern wasn’t satisfied with the state of the soft drink industry. He wanted to provide flavor variety for the adult soda drinker. “Something that could pair with a meal or alcohol,” he adds. All Just Craft Sodas begin with a familiar, real fruit juice that is then paired with a spice designed to enhance it. Apple and Ginger is probably the most common of the five flavors the company produces as opposed to the more exotic Peach and Habanero. The 60% juice is a major sticking point for these sodas. “We wanted an amount of juice in there that didn’t just feel like a marketing pitch, ala ‘look, 5% juice!’” said McEachern. Aside from fresh juice, the only other ingredients in each bottle of Just Craft Soda are carbonated water, natural flavors and pure cane sugar. At the moment the business is small, but if they have their way, it won’t stay little for long. The company hopes to expand into a Canadian national brand and eventually make inroads into some of the U.S. market. They’re hoping originality is what helps the company ascend. McEachern confidently concludes, “‘Wow, I haven’t tried that before,’ is what you’ll say.” We’re about to find out.

Where to get: Just Craft Soda is currently sold in about 50 stores and several restaurants in the Toronto area. There’s a handy link on their website to help you sort it all out. At the moment, Just Craft Soda is not sold online, though that possibility remains open down the line.

Nose: Earthy ginger; apple juice.

Taste: Tart ginger; light spice; apple; pepper. The flavors here are very balanced between mildly spicy ginger and tart apple juice. The tart elements are what stand out most. They accompany not just the apple, but the ginger as well. It helps mellow out the ginger, while allowing the apple to remain relevant in the flavor profile. The apple juice tastes authentic, though slightly acidic. The ginger sends some heat up the nostrils on the initial sip, but you’ll adjust quickly. This isn’t overly spicy like some ginger sodas, but the ginger does have a grittier flavor than what you’re probably used to drinking. Think peppery. But overall, this is easy drinking. Light and crisp.

Finish: Tart apples that quickly fade into a mild, peppered ginger.

Rating: Ginger is often an overpowering element any time it’s used in soda, but Just Craft Soda does a nice job of balancing it out with tart apple in their Apple and Ginger Soda. It really contributes to the soda’s drinkability. The tartness of the apple also often permeates its way into the ginger elements in each sip. That might sound like a bad thing, but it actually adds to the soda’s complexity, giving it a unique flavor profile. I’d argue it’s the best element of the drink. You get more of an earthy zing than a heat with this ginger. It’s refreshing, both literally and figuratively. But there will be a sector that comes into this expecting a spicy apple soda, and that’s not what’s inside this bottle. The sugar is done well, but I think the apple notes might benefit from being just a little bit sweeter and bolder to give that tartness a little more variance across each drink. I wouldn’t change the citrusy bite too much though. Some things you just can’t compromise on, like my first marriage. Canada’s newest player in the world of craft soda has concocted a fresh juice-based soft drink without losing the mouth feel and flavor of soda. That alone is an accomplishment. They also make a really solid Apple and Ginger. If you’re looking for refreshment, this answers the call.

Harvey and Vern’s: Ginger Beer

History: It’s refreshing when a company understands itself and its purpose. “It’s authentic. We know what we want. It’s about the good old days,” says Paul Meeks, owner of Kichesippi Beer Company. Paul and I have a 15-minute conversation about his soda business, Harvey and Vern’s. Paul’s voice is soft, friendly, and always understanding. I too understand myself and my purpose, and I’d now like to get a few words out of my system: Moose. Maple Syrup. Poutine. Hockey. Friendly. Eh. Tim Horton’s. Paul will appreciate this show of authenticity, even if it does reveal I’m secretly nine years-old. Because if you haven’t guessed, Paul and his company are from Canada… Ottawa, to be exact. After the success of their brewery, it was was Meeks’ wife, Kelly, who decided they were versed enough in beer to branch out and try soda. Harvey and Vern’s is all about harkening back to simpler times. Harvey was Meeks’ grandfather, a farmer; Vern is Kelly’s father; a doctor – both traditional, hard-working jobs that suited the nature of what Meeks and his wife wanted in their small business soda brand. As a child Meeks would go from his family farm to the river and back to the farm, but not before stopping in to buy some vintage glass bottle sodas on the way home. The company tries to capture that childhood nostalgia and bottle it in the form of three flavors: root beer, cream soda, and ginger beer. Everything is all-natural: no sodium benzoate, no added colors and only cane sugar as a sweetener. Today, we try our first Canadian soda – Harvey and Vern’s Ginger Beer. Fun fact: Paul was born in Jamaica and chose the ginger beer’s flavor. While he wasn’t trying to enter the cocktail market, he says “The number of Dark and Stormy’s poured in Ottawa has definitely increased.” The company will be introducing a fourth flavor to its soda line in April of 2015.

Where to get: Harvey and Vern’s is distributed throughout Quebec and Ontario, reaching somewhere between 250 grocery stores, cafes, and food trucks. But what about the Americans, eh? The company is currently talking to distributers in the states and hope to have an online store set up by sometime in May of 2015. If you need to get your little paws on it before then, contact the company directly and they’ll work with you on an order. Just be prepared to pay shipping… the only downside of glass bottles.

Nose: Pure, ground ginger. Buckle up.

Taste: Strong ginger; heat in the nostrils; light sugar. Pops bottle cap, tilts bottle at 45 degree angle, down the throat…

Gear up  for this Canadian concoction because ginger and ginseng root are upfront on the palate and they are handsy. We coughed on the first couple sips. The fire shoots up your nose for a sinister initial sizzle. But honestly, after a few sips, you adjust. And then you realize: this is tasty. You get a hot, earthy ginger flavor right up front that mellows into more of a candied ginger. This doesn’t taste like anything artificial has been added. It tastes like pure, unadulterated, natural ginger. There’s definitely heat to this. The cane sugar is noticeable, flavorful and does a nice job cutting the spice on the backend. But make no mistake, this is spicy. On a 1-10 spicy meter, I’d give this a solid 7.5. It’s an upfront heat. There’s no lingering. In fact, it’s a little sweet near the end. The previously mentioned ginseng in this gives Harvey and Vern’s’ Ginger Beer an extra bite.

Finish: Candied ginger with notes of soft spice that fade into crisp sugar accompanied by a final note of sweet ginger. Best part of the soda.

Rating: Our neighbors from the north weren’t messing around when they made their ginger beer. Canadians are often regarded as overtly friendly, but this ginger elixir is your naughty neighbor you crave. There’s something about it. It’s spicy up front, yet sweet and flavorful on the backend to keep you coming back. So it’s like the opposite of my ex-wife. I’ll make this simple. This is ginger beer. It tastes like ginger. Seems like a no-brainer, but so often this category of soda is dressed up to be something it’s not. There’s no games here. This is 12 ounces (355 ml, eh) of sinus-clearing, ginger-infused, taste bud-rocking soda. Novices might not be ready for its initial spiciness. There’s no denying it’s potent. The more you drink it, the easier it gets and the more delectable it becomes. And honestly, ginger beer as a whole isn’t for everyone. It’s more of an acquired taste. But if you like ginger beer, then I assure you that you’ll enjoy this. Paired with rum, the ginger beer becomes much sweeter, more of a candied ginger with airier citrus flavors. Careful, I’ve already had one just writing this review. For most, it’ll be a sipper on its own and when paired with alcohol, it’ll be a nightmare the next morning. That’s a compliment, Harvey and Vern’s. We approve, go get your ginger juice on.