citrus

Rogue: Citrus Cucumber

History: This is a story that ends with soda, but one that took clam chowder, nudity, and charity to get there. Now I’ve aroused your interest. Rogue is a company with gusto. “Our soda is a revolution,” they proclaim to us via email (For clerical purposes, all quotes in this article were relayed by marketing manager, Anna Abatzoglou, who made it clear these are not direct quotes from herself, but rather the company. The specific employee(s) were not specified.). Rogue began in October of 1988 in Ashland, Orgeon, but soon needed to expand. A few months later, founder Jack Joyce became stranded at a bar in Newport, Oregon due to a raging snowstorm. There he met the creator of Mo’s Clam Chowder, Mo Niemi, who told Joyce it was always her dream to live above a bar. Needing a bigger space, Joyce listened to Niemi’s conditions. There were two: 1. Give back to the community and 2. Make sure this picture of a naked Niemi in a bathtub hang inside the bar. How lucky. Dude meets a girl and instantly gets a nude photo. I can’t even get one from girls on Tinder. The company tells us to this day that photo hangs in all 10 of their pubs. Rogue also doesn’t have a marketing budget, instead putting that money toward local charities and infrastructure. Rogue has resided in Newport, Oregon since 1992.

If you’ve heard of Rogue before, you’re probably aware of their wide array of beers, from normal to straight funky. The company tells us they not only also make beer and soda, but farm a bunch of different fruits, vegetables, and grains. Today’s review, Rogue Citrus Cucumber, contains both Rogue Honey and Rogue Cucumbers from Rogue Farms in Independence, Oregon; this ad brought to you by Rogue. Says Abatzoglou of the soda’s signature fruit, “When they’re ripe, we pick them off the vine, slice them up, and add them fresh into every hand-crafted batch of Citrus Cucumber Soda. We grow cukes for our small batch spruce gin so why not go cuke to cocktail with a refreshing cucumber citrus soda?” Any excuse to get the term “cuke” into this review will do. It sounds like a combo of cute and puke. Some company specializing in cat products reading this just got a great idea, I’m sure. All Rogue sodas are brewed in small batches, using pure cane sugar and Rogue Farms Honey. “We get honey from 7,140,289 Rogue Farms honeybees that is used to sweeten all of our sodas,” the company tells us. I love that they maintain a current count on their over seven million bees. Most days I can’t even keep track of where I put my keys last. They also note the bees are “carefully kept and fed.” I conjured up an image of what I hoped this meant, and the Internet did not disappoint. But seriously, it’s apparent Rogue is a company about fun and one that takes pride and puts serious effort into its products. They’re basically internally going farm-to-table with their soda, a very interesting concept in the craft soda world. Rogue’s motto is “Dare, Risk, Dream.” I’m about to add a fourth: drink.

Where to get: Rogue sodas are available in about 30 states, according to the company. You can always purchase it online via the Rogue store.

Nose: Definitely smells like candy melon with a hint of cucumber. That sweet fruit is evident on the nose, almost like a candy kiwi. Starburst tropical fruit chews are the closest comparison I can come up with. It’s definitely a familiar childhood smell. An intriguing beginning.

Taste: Fruity melon; cucumber; mild lemon and lime; cane sugar. The flavors here hit you quickly and are unchained from harsh carbonation like most lemon-lime sodas. This is very fruity for a lemon-lime soda, but I wouldn’t call it tropical. You’ll taste these fruity flavors before the lemon-lime. Cucumber is definitely in here, but not as bold as I expected it to be for a soda that bears its name. I also taste some kiwi in here, but I think that’s more of a result of how the honey contrasts with the cucumber. There’s a variety of melon tastes here too, though subtle. Most prominent among those tastes is honeydew. There’s two types of honey in this (wildflower and Rogue Farms), so that’s probably a big reason for the melon flavor. All those melon flavors in addition to the kiwi and cucumber swirl around in your mouth and coat the back of your tongue before mild traditional lemon-lime finishes out the body of the sip. The sugar is crisp, and with the citrus elements, makes the soda even more refreshing than expected. The way the honey and cucumbers work together makes for some really interesting tasting notes.

Finish: Cucumber and lemon-lime that alternate back and forth. Lime is the most prominent of the three flavors.

Review: Rogue is perhaps best known for its unconventional beers. It’s a company with attitude and feistiness, and one not afraid to take risks. Rogue’s Citrus Cucumber is probably the wackiest offering they have on their soda side, and it’s one that displays a surprisingly wide range of flavors. Cucumber certainly has a leading role in the flavor profile, but I wouldn’t say it hogs the spotlight. There are very nice candy melon flavors that accompany the cucumber, like bold honeydew and even undertones of watermelon. Both the wildflower and Rogue Farms Honeys play a big role in the taste as well. They interact with the cucumber to form a kiwi taste that’s up front along with the honeydew. It’s so fruity for a cucumber-flavored drink. There’s a joke in there somewhere, but I just won’t. Traditional lemon-lime comes in near the end, but it’s subtle. I wouldn’t mind seeing the lemon-lime higher in the flavor profile, personally. The fruitiness is unexpected, but it takes the edge off the cucumber and that’s a nice little deal for you. Trust me, you don’t want cucumber to be exceedingly strong in a soda. I gotta admit, this is a little weird, but it’s definitely something your taste buds need to experience to fully understand. Rogue seems to be one of the best beverage companies at understanding this concept. Their creativeness is much-needed. Just remember… the quirky, creative kids from high school are the ones writing your checks now. Don’t be afraid to get a little weird.

Four Stars

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Dry Sparkling: Lavender

History: “I believe we’re creating a new category of soda,” says Dry Sparkling CEO and founder Sharelle Klaus. The Seattle, Washington-based Dry Sparkling is and has been at the forefront of the artisan, lower calorie, natural soda movement. The company began in 2005 and is about to celebrate its tenth anniversary. The bottles are sleek, modern in packaging design. Each flavor is translucent in color. There are only four ingredients in every soda: carbonated water, cane sugar, natural flavors, and phosphoric acid. No flavor contains over 100 calories. And unlike a majority of glass-bottled sodas that are created with the intention of being a nostalgia-inducing sweet treat, Dry Sparkling’s flavors were engineered with more of a culinary mindset. “I know that you can pair food with a nonalcoholic,” Klaus tells us she recalled thinking, adding she sometimes had thoughts like, “I really want a basil soda with this plate of spaghetti.” For the record, I too really want a basil soda, and also a girl who’s a 10, but will settle for a six. Dry Soda has been more successful in manifesting their vision… so far. In fact, according to Klaus, they’re the fastest growing soda company in the nation. Dry Sparkling designed each of its eight flavors so that they pair well with food. You won’t find craft soda classics like root beer or cream soda here. Instead you’ll experience flavors like Lavender, Vanilla Bean, and Juniper Berry. “It’s all about the flavor for us, honoring the flavor or ingredient,” Klaus adds. These are the New-Age warriors of soda.

Despite Dry Sparkling’s many differences from your typical sugary liquid offering, its creation was closely related to a common denominator almost all sodas shares: children. Klaus laughs as she recounts how she couldn’t drink alcohol for almost ten years of her life when she was either having children or nursing them. Like many women with finer tastes than mine, Klaus loves wine, particularly pairing wine with food. Having four kids threw a wrench in the wine part of that equation, so Klaus sought to create Dry Sparkling, a high-end nonalcoholic beverage that could be paired with a variety of cuisines. I find it ironic the brand has a close relation to kids, but wasn’t created for them. That said, it wouldn’t be the worst idea to get your young ones hooked on this instead of root beer floats unless you want them looking like my stepmom in a few years. Sorry. But not really. The company has completely embraced the crossover between the nonalcoholic crowd and the world of artisan spirits. Klaus tells us, “I was watching craft beer and I thought, ‘this is absolutely what has to happen in soda.’” They encourage drinkers to try their sodas in cocktails. There’s even a whole section on their website devoted to drink recipes. “That’s where the innovation comes from…. Soda should be opened up,” says Klaus.

While the company’s name is technically still Dry Soda, and despite Klaus referring to her products as “soda” in our interview, the business seems to be moving away from the term. “Dry Soda” recently rebranded. Their bottles are now labeled “Dry Sparkling,” as is their website (see update at bottom of page). Klaus acknowledges that she realizes soda is a negative word, but also adds she feels “sparkling” better defines the brand because of the bubbles and low sugar content. Today’s review, lavender, was one of Dry’s original four flavors and also the closest to Klaus’s heart. She tells us she worked on it herself, taking a staggering 1,300 (!!!) flavor tests to perfect the recipe in order to achieve a balance of floral and herbal tasting notes. “It’s the one I’m most proud of,” she says. She recommends pairing the soda with chocolate, so we took her recommendation up in our photos. Klaus says this can be a soda even for the less adventurous, noting she wanted to capture the comfort of vanilla in a lavender soft drink. She laughs, adding, “I have four small children under the age of seven, I needed something soothing.”

Where to get: Dry Sparkling is distributed nationwide. You can find it in stores like Whole Foods and Target, among others, but the best way to find the retailer nearest you is to use the company’s online soda locator. You can buy Dry Soda online from Soda Emporium in single bottles and Amazon in 12-packs.

Nose: I understand this is lavender, but I’m smelling ginger beer and some fruity floral notes. That ginger note is distinct. Unexpected.

Taste: Light; mild citrus; floral. This is light and refreshing. No ginger flavor like on the nose. Lavender is an unfamiliar flavor in soda, so your taste buds’ tendencies will be to look for something it knows first, and what we tasted first was a familiar friend: citrus. Particularly lemon-lime citrus. This flavor becomes less and less prominent as you get accustomed to the sweet floral notes in this soda. There’s only 70 calories in a 12 oz. bottle, but the sugar is prominent enough to satisfy the prototypical soda drinker. It’s likely supplemented by the sweet lavender floral notes on the backend of each sip. The carbonation serves as a buffer between the light citrus and lavender flavors. The bubbles are tiny, and come and go in a flash about half way through each sip. You’ll taste a familiar mild citrus up front that gives way more and more each sip to floral flavors with balanced sweetness.

Finish: Light floral notes of lavender. The lavender tastes like a sweet flower at the finish of every sip, and becomes bolder as the drink goes on.

Rating: Soda drinkers are not often the most adventurous when it comes to flavor, even when enjoying craft or artisan soft drinks. We like some sort of familiarity even when dipping our toes in the deep end. Orange and fennel? Why not, because I know at least one of those flavors. Lavender soda? You might get the insane eyes from your friends. But guess what? Dry Sparkling’s Lavender is actually a safe first step for those wanting to venture out into the unknown. There’s a familiarity to it on first sip in the form of a lemon-lime taste. It’s a nice segue into the soda’s main tasting notes that are floral and slightly sweet in nature. This is a crisp and refreshing soda. It’s light and very drinkable. You could down this in ten minutes and be fine. With a flavor this rare though, I’d suggest savoring it a little more to enlighten your taste buds. I suggest the same thing to all women I date and I’m still strongly single, so maybe just trust your instincts. For a soda with only four ingredients, this is actually quite flavorful. For anyone afraid of trying herbal or botanical sodas, I’d suggest getting your feet wet with this one first. It’s not overly bold in flavor and definitely isn’t something you’ll encounter often. It’s fun. It’s refreshing. It’s different. And it’s definitely worth trying a bottle to gauge for yourself.

Four Stars

Update: This review was edited to reflect the name of the company as “DRY Sparkling” instead of “DRY Soda” at the request of the company.

Kickapoo Joy Juice

History: “Kickapoo embraces the idea that each day offers a new chance to find joy in the world,” says Kickapoo Joy Juice parent company Monarch Beverage. Only the first line of the review and we’re already getting philosophical. Strap in. Kickapoo Joy Juice is one of the classics in the world of craft soda. It’s a citrus-flavored caffeine soft drink with a zing. They’re even nice enough to tell you the caffeine content on the bottle at 40 milligrams. Sound familiar? Comparatively, 12 ounces of Mountain Dew has 54 milligrams. The nutritional comparisons beyond that are virtually identical, so there’s a reason why Mountain Dew is the mainstream brand most closely associated with Kickapoo Joy Juice. Despite its roots in bottled soda history, Kickapoo Joy Juice is one with which the newer generation of soda connoisseurs might not be familiar. The soda was originally introduced in 1965 by another craft soda company you probably have heard of called “NuGrape.” Monarch Beverage later purchased NuGrape and now runs all things Kickapoo Joy Juice. The soda is actually based on a comic strip called “Li’l Abner” by Al Capp that ran in U.S. newspapers from 1934-1977. The reason you may be unfamiliar with it is due to the fact that its popularity has waned in the past decade or so. It was more popular, believe it or not, in Bangladesh and other East Asian countries. You gotta keep that caffeine running through your veins over there to outrun the tigers. The name, as you might’ve guessed, is about fun. Along the same lines, Monarch Beverage has introduced multiple new fruity flavors in addition to the classic citrus to jazz up the brand’s image and reintroduce it to a new generation. The company goes on to say, “Kickapoo drinkers have a little swagger, dance like no one is watching and take pride in their self-expression.” I’m pretty sure the same thing could be said for my girlfriend after a couple Bud Light Limes. But I assure you, there’s no alcohol in this. I’ll let you know if I end up dancing by the end of the bottle.

Where to get: You can purchase Kickapoo Joy Juice online from Summit City Soda or in single bottles from Soda Emporium. It’s also sold physically at many Kum & Go gas stations.

Nose: Mild grapefruit; general citrus; lime. This smells like a milder version of Surge with some added Grapefruit. Maybe a better way of putting it is a lighter, more natural Mountain Dew. I don’t smell any potent chemicals here with my virgin nose.

Taste: Cane sugar; lemon; lime. This is definitely its own brand of citrus soda. Its flavors are light. There’s no tart bite from the citric acid. General citrus enters the mouth first. I think more than anything the cane sugar makes itself noticeable along with light, frothy carbonation. The sugar is nice and compliments the citrus well. As you drink Kickapoo Joy Juice, you taste grapefruit as well as classic lemon-lime. Lime may be the most prominent of the three flavors in the citrus profile, but not by much. No, this doesn’t taste like Mountain Dew, Mellow Yellow, Surge or anything else. Again, it’s less intense and more refreshing with a little more lime and grapefruit, and less of a bite.

Finish: The sugar and lime interact in a strange way at the end of each sip. It’s sweet, but a little funky. I’m not sure how I feel about this. Definitely not like the beginning of each drink.

Rating: Kickapoo Joy Juice is one of the classics in the world of craft soda. There’s no doubt its staying power is linked to its drinkability. This is a citrus soda that took a different path than the mainstream brands with their emphasis on acidity. I applaud the choice. Case in point: look at those dudes who a drink two-liter of Mountain Dew a day. Not only do a lot of them still live in their mom’s basement, but they’re also missing the enamel on their teeth. Kickapoo Joy Juice’s citrus profile is more of a lighter, refreshing citrus than a harsh one. This isn’t tart. It’s light, but the citrus flavor is still there. You could drink multiple bottles of this in one setting. My only complaint is that I wish the individual flavors were a little more distinguishable. I taste mild grapefruit, lemon, and lime. The lime is strongest and I believe best, but I’d like to see a little more action on that front. Still, Kickapoo Joy Juice succeeds in its simplicity and originality. This is a quality citrus soda. With origins dating all the way back to 1934, this is a brand that continues to build on its legacy. If you like to get down with the classics, drink in the history and taste the joy.

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.

Ski Cherry

History: Ski is one of the most well-known names in the retro soda business. It’s been the flagship citrus beverage of Chattanooga, Tennessee’s Double Cola Company since 1956. But unlike most citrus sodas, this one is lemon and orange instead of lime. The company actually uses real lemon and orange juice in each soda, something fairly uncommon for larger brands. It was 1996 when Ski Cherry made its debut. Unlike most craft sodas, this one does contain caffeine. Now here’s an important distinction to make: Double Cola markets a majority of Ski in cans and plastic bottles with more modern labels. That version of Ski is made with high fructose corn syrup. However, their “nostalgic packages” in glass bottles are made with pure cane sugar. Ski Cherry (the bottle we’re reviewing) is made with pure cane sugar. The high fructose version of Ski Cherry is actually called Ski InfraRed. Confused yet? Think of it this way: Ski Cherry is your cute neighbor who is au naturale. Ski InfraRed is your new, cute neighbor who’s nice to look at because she’s full of silicone… err, corn syrup. Get it? If you don’t, you could just get drunk because according to the St. Louis Post Dispatch, Ski has a reputation has a hangover cure.

Where to get: Ski Cherry can be found at many Rocketfizz retailers across the nation. You can also purchase it online at Soda Emporium.

Nose: Like when you were a kid and poured every soda in your fridge into a cup. In my day we called them suicides. This is like that: swampy smelling. There’s definitely a cleaning fluid smell to this. Hopefully it’s deceiving.

Taste: It wasn’t deceiving. Bitter; pungent; old citrus. Ski soda is known for its mixture of lemon and orange, but this really tastes more like lime than anything else with some cherry flavoring added. Tastes very artificial. Usually cane sugar sodas are sweeter. This could use some sweetness. It could use anything, really. This is supposed to be an alternative to Mountain Dew. The two don’t taste all that similar. Whereas Mountain Dew has a crisp citrus taste, this is more of a dull citrus flavor with a pinch of cherry at the end. The cherry isn’t too bad, but isn’t prominent enough to stand out on its own. Ski Cherry shocks the taste buds not with a tangy burst, but with a lack of refreshing flavor so often found in citrus drinks. If you’re sensitive to caffeine, be warned, this is a soda that contains a caffeine punch. Most craft sodas do not contain caffeine. This one gave us a headache.

Finish: Lingering lime with a hint of orange. Not as harsh as the body of the soda. Probably this bottle’s only redeeming quality.

Rating: Ski’s tagline is “Real lemon. Real Orange. Real Good.” Coulda’ fooled me. Nothing about this tastes authentic in the slightest, nor do I taste any lemon in this soda. It’s more like a dull lime taste with faint artificial cherry and orange. It smells like chemicals and tastes only slightly better. Listen, I’m not trying to blatantly trash this. There are people out there who like it. Thirsty Dudes gave this four bottles out of five. They must’ve been really thirsty. It does have a decent finish and the cherry flavor near the end of each sip is fine. Citrus soda drinkers, yeah, go ahead and give it a shot if you wish. Maybe you’ll find its redeeming qualities. Maybe we got a bad bottle. But more likely, this just isn’t our thing. If you don’t like citrus, you can skip Ski Cherry and it’s fake brother Ski InfraRed. The name doesn’t exactly have me volunteering to put it inside my body. “Sir, would you like to drink this infrared liquid?” “Why yes! I’ve been wanting to go to the hospital!” I think this would be a wonderfully-scented toilet cleaner, but it comes up short as a soda.