capt’n eli’s

Capt’n Eli’s: Root Beer [collab with TermiNatetor Kitchen]

History: In the words of company president Ed Crockett, root beer has been “the bedrock” of Capt’n Eli’s since its creation. Hell, if it wasn’t for the Eli Forsley’s thievery of root beer in the 1920’s from his father’s basement, this company might not exist. The butterfly effect, right? P.S. Before we get any further into this review, we’re honored to be doing it in collaboration with Nathan Crawford of TermiNatetor Kitchen, who cooked up a mean pulled pork dish using Capt’n Eli’s Root Beer. Nathan’s food recipes will titillate the same taste buds you use for soda. Check out that meat treat here. Back to root beer now. Anyway, we’ll spare you the company’s long backstory (which you can find in our Capt’n Eli’s Orange Pop review), but basically Eli Forsley had a son, Fred, who loved the same root beer recipe his father did. Fred tweaked the formula and began selling it on draft in 1996 at Federal Jack’s in Kennebunk, Maine, which he founded four years earlier. This continued until 2002 when demand became so high that Fred decided to start bottling it. “The local folks raved about it,” Crockett tells us. In fact, here’s where Ed makes his debut. The root beer gained such a following in the northeast that Crockett was brought on by Fred Forsley to help turn Capt’n Eli’s into a full craft soda line. Today Capt’n Eli’s has nine different flavors, none more popular than the root beer. There’s even a comic book designed to help promote the brand: The Undersea Adventures of Capt’n Eli. When you’ve got a publication in the same line of work that created Batman and Superman, that’s when you know you’re baller.

“We wouldn’t be where we are today without the root beer’s success,” Crockett says gleefully over the phone. He’s eager to speak about what he thinks makes the soda special. “They tried to make it unique and that’s why we go with 100% natural cane sugar, but also brown sugar.” The latter is an ingredient that makes sense when you think about root beers, but it’s surprisingly uncommon for the category. “Everything’s right there on the bottle,” he proudly exclaims before also noting the root beer’s prominent use of vanilla. Crockett also makes mention of the root beer’s accolades, specifically its two-time placement in the top three of the root beer category of the U.S. Open Beer Championships. Its most recent placing was 2013. But for all the hoopla surrounding the product, it’s still just a little company out of Portland, Maine making the stuff. “We still handcraft every product,” Crockett says. And that is what keeps craft soda fans coming back. Capt’n Eli’s knows it, too. “We certainly play off the nostalgia of soda.” And in 2016, it’s still a formula that continues to be the lifeblood of the craft soda movement.

Where to get: Capt’n Eli’s is sold nationally across the U.S., but it’s still most popular in the New England region. You can purchase it online directly from the company, as well as from Amazon. You can even find it for purchase in single bottles online from Straub’s Grocers. For large orders, especially if you’re a retailer hoping to sell soda in your store, contact Homer Soda Company.

Nose: Quite aromatic for a root beer. Big wafts of wintergreen and spices like anise and maybe nutmeg. Lots of vanilla as well. Lovely.

Taste: Wintergreen; cane sugar; creamy; vanilla; anise. There’s a great balance of sweet, savory, and creamy in Capt’n Eli’s Root Beer. The carbonation is flush on the tongue from the opening sip, paving the way for waves of wintergreen that provide a bite. Wintergreen and vanilla are the standout flavors. As you taste the mint, that vanilla comes through next in a very creamy fashion. You also get a little bit of spice. Definitely anise and maybe allspice or perhaps mild clove. The latter two have question marks by them, but there’s no doubt about the anise. It imparts a bit of a licorice taste, but not in an overwhelming fashion. This is sweet and creamy and full of vanilla, but with a wintergreen bite that pulls back on the sugar. Balanced. Flavorful. Excellent.

Finish: Creamy mint and vanilla swirl in your mouth and slowly fade in tandem as notes of anise seep through the cracks.

Rating: Capt’n Eli’s has no doubt created one of the best root beers on the open market. It caters to both root beer aficionados and novices. Purists will be thrilled with its old school emphasis on wintergreen and spices while more casual root beer drinkers will embrace its vanilla notes and sweet creaminess. The balance of give and take is near perfect. You get a mouthful of wintergreen that harkens back to vintage root beer recipes. There’s definitely a bite that comes with it. Yet there’s also a robust creaminess anchored by vanilla and cane sugar, a flavor combination more commonly seen in newer root beers. All of this is tied together by a handful of spices, most notably anise. It starts aggressive with mint and ends smoothy with vanilla and mild spices. It’s essentially the blueprint for how I wish all my Tinder dates went. This is highly drinkable, packed with flavor, and most importantly, enjoyable. Capt’n Eli’s has done a splendid job here. I could see how it might be just a pinch sweet for some, but I don’t mind a little sugar in my women or my root beers. Put this one on your short-list to try. It’s a root beer with a flavor stuck somewhere between the 1940’s and 2010’s, and based on our analysis, that might just be the sweet spot.

Five Stars

Capt’n Eli’s: Orange Pop

History: If you find yourself perusing the pages of The Undersea Adventures of Captain Eli, just know the super hero comic you’re reading was ultimately created with the end goal of quenching your thirst and not satisfying your insatiable appetite for deep sea justice. Despite my pompous language, I didn’t make that up. Capt’n Eli’s Soda really does have a comic named after it, introduced in the early 2000’s for marketing purposes. But the soda’s history dates much farther back than the comic. 80 years earlier in the early 1920’s, little Eli Forsley would wander down in his father’s basement and steal some of his dad’s homemade root beer. In turn, he’d sell it to his friends for a profit. When Eli grew up, he started making root beer in his basement too. Sure enough, one of his five sons, Fred, grew up with an affinity for the root beer. Fun fact: Fred’s son (coincidentally named Eli) is the model for the comic’s lead character. Fred was an entrepreneur like his father. In 1992, he founded Federal Jack’s restaurant in Kennebunk, Maine and two years later, he and a partner started up Shipyard Brewing in Portland, Maine. You might know Shipyard for its highly popular “Pumpkinhead” pumpkin beer. In 1996, Forsley started serving the root beer on draft at Federal Jack’s. Current Capt’n Eli’s President Ed Crockett recalls how “the local folks raved about it.” The next logical step was bottling. This happened in 2002. And yadda, yadda, yadda, 15 years later the company now has eight flavors after just recently introducing a cola in June of 2015 to replace the now discontinued Parrot Punch. It’s so new, it’s not even on the website yet. But we’re not here to talk about root beer or cola or even my love life because that’s what my therapist is for. No, we are here to talk about Capt’n Eli’s Orange Pop. “When we drafted that recipe, we wanted to be different,” Crockett says. The company wanted an orange soda that felt refreshing instead of sugary and quenching instead of syrupy. Crockett tells us Capt’n Eli’s Orange Pop was directly inspired by Orangina. Like Orangina, you can see bits of pulp floating about in the soda. It also contains no caffeine, gluten or food coloring, and is made with pure cane sugar. What we’re trying to say is that Orange Pop is a classic flavor designed with a slightly different spin. Time to wade the deep orange waters Capt’n Eli patrols.

Where to get: Capt’n Eli’s Soda is distributed nationally, but is most widely available in retailers along the eastern seaboard. You can also purchase the soda online from Summit City Soda, as well as the Capt’n Eli’s online store. For large orders, and especially if you’re a retailer hoping to sell soda in your store, contact Homer Soda Company.

Nose: Fresh orange rind zest.

Taste: Orange; slight tart bite; mild tangerine. There’s a definite authentic orange flavor to this. Tastes fresher than most orange sodas. You get zesty, carbonated orange up front with a semisweet tart finish. In the background, there’s definitely a little bit of a tangerine taste – slightly sweeter than regular orange with more of an exotic flavor. The more you drink this, the more acidic it becomes. That classic orange soda zing becomes louder and louder on the palate. Overall, not quite as sweet as most orange sodas, but closely related to a classic orange with more of an authentic taste and a bit of zip.

Finish: Full-bodied orange zest flavor with a tartness that sinks into the back of the tongue.

Rating: Capt’n Eli’s Orange Pop is a close relative of your classic orange soda, but it clearly got all the better genes in the family. The orange flavor tastes real and bold. It’s not overly sweet or carbonated. The bite is zesty and slightly acidic in a way that is fitting of high-end orange soda. This really tastes like a craft soda. You can tell you’re drinking something of higher quality. The notes of tangerine add even more sophistication. All of these qualities elevate Capt’n Eli’s Orange Pop in the orange soda category. Crocket told us Orange Pop is actually the company’s lowest-selling flavor. I think that’s crazy. This is a diamond in the rough. This is an orange soda from which other orange sodas should watch and learn. Just don’t do it every day. That’s stalking. The bottom line is that this tastes like an orange soda you’re familiar with, but better. It’s comfortable, yet intriguing. It is a little more tart than a lot of orange sodas out there. I think that could either be dialed back a bit or the sugar levels could be slightly increased. That knocks it down from five stars, but overall, this is tops. Flavorful and zesty. This is a must-try orange soda.

Four Stars