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.