cola

Nichol Kola

History: We have been waiting a long time to write this review. Not because we’re lazy, but because finding the history behind this soda was a maddeningly slow process. In the 2010 edition of Soda Spectrum, contributor Blair Matthews writes “there’s hardly a trace of what was once such a successful and lucrative cola brand.” But searching is our thing… so we searched. We consulted Eric Wideman, “the nation’s expert on Nichol Kola,” according to his boss, Orca Beverage President Mike Bourgeois. And based on the information we’ve gathered from Wideman, I believe it. I mean what an absurdly specific thing to be obsessed with: a soda that started in 1936. Personally I am obsessed with Natalie and Tonya… but they’re not talking to me anymore. Anyway, here’s what Wideman relayed to us about Nichol Cola: first there was Sun-Boc, then there was Ver-Vac, Pow! World War I – sugar problems – yadda, yadda, yadda. And now here we are years later with Orca Beverage resurrecting a forgotten brand. Got it? Good. Peace out. Jk. God, for how long it took us to write this, we are doing it in the most annoying way possible. Here’s a synopsis of the soda’s history as written in the book The House of Quality: The History of the H.R. Nicholson Company by Harry R. Nicholson. Wideman sent us excerpts from this extremely rare publication. We do know it’s a real thing though because we found it online in Australia’s National Library. Go figure. Harry R. Nicholson was a business man. Dude was savvy back in the early 1900’s. With prohibition on the rise, he created Sun-Boc an amber not-quite-beer that became a hit with people looking for something to replace their former definitely-real-beer. After Sun-Boc’s success, Nicholson invested that money into a cola he called Ver-Vac designed to compete with Coca Cola. Well Ver-Vac, despite maybe being the worst-named soda I’ve ever heard of, was a hit. Nicholson raked in $110,000 from investors to go all-in on it. And then he hit a road block called World War I, which led to sugar rationing and a spike in sugar’s price. Here’s the big problem with that; sugar is a huge part of soda and the amount of sugar businesses “were allotted was based on their usage before the rationing” and since Ver-Vac was a relatively new venture, Nicholson didn’t get anywhere close to enough of it to run a soda business. After a bad business deal on sugar and then the sudden stoppage of the war, Ver-Vac’s fizz as a company went flat. In 1926, Nicholson gave cola a shot again, this time branding it as “Nichol Kola” to compete with brands like Pepsi. He would sell the concentrate to independent bottlers who would then mix it up and sell it. Guess how much each bottle sold for?

Nichol Kola continued into the 1970’s, but as independent bottlers fell by the wayside, there were fewer and fewer businesses to which the company could sell their soda’s concentrate. The trend continued until Nichol Kola met the same fate as Ver-Vac. But in 2006 Orca Beverage revamped the brand. If you haven’t read past reviews, Orca Beverage is a large soda manufacturer and distributer based out of Mukilteo, Washington. Their “thing,” if you will, is buying up vintage brands no longer in production and putting them back on shelves. Bourgeois tells us about his company, “We do that because our specialty is vintage soda. We just want to consolidate as many in-house as we can.” The current incantation of Nichol Kola is not the original formula. When asked to describe today’s recipe, Bourgeois played it pretty close to the vest, but pointed out cinnamon and coriander as ingredients used. He also says there are ingredients in it “that typically aren’t found in colas anymore.” Alright, history lesson over. We finally got that part out of the way. Now let’s drink this damn thing.

Where to get: Nichol Kola is commonly available at Rocketfizz retailers. You can also order it online from Summit City Soda or Orca Beverage. Single bottles are available for purchase from Soda Emporium.

Nose: Rich cola scent. Prominent cinnamon and mild citrus smells.

Taste: Cinnamon; vanilla; mild spice; sugar. Nichol Kola’s defining flavor is spice. To give you an idea, imagine a soft cola with prominent cooking spice notes, most notably cinnamon. There’s also some vanilla and mild citrus flavors. Drinks very easy. If you take some time in between sips, the soda’s spices slowly reveal themselves. Coriander jumps out as well as a stronger, spicier cinnamon. It has a really nice lingering effect. It’s very smooth and not as bitter as certain colas like Pepsi. The sugar isn’t too strong either. The real flavor bang comes near the end of the sip, so take your time on this soda.

Finish: Lingering spices. Reminds me of a spice cake with added vanilla. As with the body, cinnamon is probably the most recognizable flavor on the finish.

Rating: Nichol Kola is an exceptionally smooth cola that drinks easy and maintains a nice balance of sweetness and bitterness. Any bottler that uses cinnamon in its cola is already ahead of the game and it’s the starring ingredient in Nichol Kola. This has a warming sensation to it when you drink it. It’s comfort soda. What surprises me is that the majority of the flavor comes on the soda’s finish. You really get the full-bodied flavor after you’ve already swigged the liquid down your gullet. You’ll taste bold cinnamon, similar to spice cake. Also vanilla and mild orange citrus. It also mixes really well with a vanilla-heavy rum if you’re into the spirits. Try Captain Morgan Black + Nichol Kola. We call it the Five Star Fadeout. One of our writers is passed out on the couch as I write this after having several of them. He’s the reason for the name. This is definitely a cola to try. But it’s not without faults. I wish there were more prominent flavors in the first half of each sip. I wanted to be greeted by something lovely rather than having to wait for it. But I use that same philosophy in my marriages and I’m on my third one, so I could be wrong there. If the first half of each sip was as nice the finish, this would be a five star soda. It’s still one that we believe all craft soda connoisseurs should sample and it’ ability to function well as a standalone drink and a mixer make it even more appealing. Definitely try it both ways. Just don’t be like our writer.

Four Stars

Karma Cola: Karma Cola

History: Karma Cola is quite literally putting the craft in craft soda. It is perhaps the most thought-out cola in the entire world. The beverage originated in 2012 out of Auckland, New Zealand, and is crafted with ingredients from all over the globe. There’s a wonderful story too that we’ll explain, but let’s start here. Real kola nut from the Boma village in Sierra Leone. Vanilla bean from the Forest Garden Growers Association in Sri Lanka. Organic cane sugar from Maharashtra, India. Premium ingredients are almost always the biggest selling point to potential craft soda customers, and that list probably already has half of you searching for where to buy this soda. It’s as enticing as a college cheerleader carwash to a group of lonely middle-aged men. Trust me, my uncle gets his car washed a lot. Karma cola isn’t shy about telling the public what’s in its soda. In fact, they listed out every single ingredient in their cola in an email to us. Some of the additional ingredient highlights include organic lemon juice, organic malt extract, cinnamon, nutmeg, coriander, orange oil, and lime oil. Every ingredient in Karma Cola is organic and fairly traded, and no preservatives are used. Karma Cola Sales Manager of Sydney, Mitch Donaldson, says the company tried at least thirty different versions before they got the flavor right. He says the soda was designed to taste clean and not syrupy. One of the cola’s most important ingredients is one you might not recognize: malt. Donaldson explains, “The roasted spring barley malt extract we use for both colour and flavour gives Karma Cola a completely different spectrum of taste,” adding that it provides a depth you won’t taste in other colas. Another interesting note: all of the soda’s acidity comes from the fruit juices and oils inside it as opposed to something like phosphoric acid. Simply put, this is designed to taste sophisticated, to taste better. In addition to the malt and all the spices in Karma Cola, even the organic cane sugar leaves a little something extra for your tongue. Donaldson explains to us that after the sugar’s refining process is finished, it is still left with mild tasting notes “of caramel and chocolatey flavours.” And all of this is great – we realize it’s the part you care about most, so we started with it. But what’s truly remarkable about this soda is what goes on beyond the bottle.

“We always knew we wanted to create a great tasting drink, but what makes us unique is not just our flavour or artistic bottles, it’s what we give back to cola farmers in Sierra Leone,” says Donaldson. For every bottle of Karma Cola that’s sold, a portion of the proceeds go to the kola nut farmers in the Boma village of Sierra Leone. That money helped build the Makenneh Bridge that joined the old and new portions of the village to ensure safer transport of people and goods. According to Donaldson, the village was able to “rehabilitate 12 forest farms,” send “50 young girls to school annually,” “support an educational HIV/AIDS theatre group,” and “build a rice huller” to help create additional revenue. Good stuff. Their work hasn’t gone unnoticed. In 2014 Karma Cola was named “World’s Fairest Trader” by the Fairtrade International. You might also notice the tribal art on their bottle. It stands out. Their website notes “The blue and red iconic design represents the African water spirit, Mami Wata, who embodies both good and evil.” This is a soda that has all the makings of something special, even the backstory. Hopefully we drink the good and not the evil.

Where to get: Karma Cola is sold is nine countries: New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, China, the United Kingdom, Norway, Holland, Denmark and Sweden. Future expansion areas include more of Europe, Australasia, and the United States. For all you Aussies, you can find the nearest physical retailer of Karma Cola here. For the rest of you, including all Americans wanting to get their hands on this, email the company at info@allgoodorganics.co.nz or hello@karmacola.com.au.

Nose: Spices; cinnamon; traditional cola, soft vanilla.

Taste: Spices; kola nut; sugar; cinnamon; nutmeg; mild bitterness; sugar. Spices flood the mouth and rush up into the nose on each sip. It’s the first thing you’ll taste and the biggest take away when drinking Karma Cola. It’s unlike any cola you’ve ever had in that regard. The spices are bold and varied; you’ll taste a different one at the forefront on each sip. We probably can’t identify them all by taste, but cinnamon and nutmeg are vivid. The kola nut flavor has a nice earthiness to it, but is attached at the hip to the soda’s cane sugar. So you’ll get that musky bitter taste, but it’s brief before the sugar rush hits. Definitely a sweeter cola, but not the sweetest of the bunch. Karma Cola uses malt extract for color and flavor. You’ll definitely taste this because when combined with the spices, it imparts a bit of a savory taste to the cola. The savoriness of the malt combined with the bitterness of the kola nut, the sweetness and drinkability of the cane sugar and the boldness of the spices, all converge on each other to form a cola with a most sophisticated flavor.

Finish: Bittersweet kola nut. Earthier than the body of the soda.

Rating: This is one of the best-tasting colas I’ve ever had in my life. What separates Karma Cola from your run-of-the-mill cola is its lush bounty of spices that fill the mouth upon every sip and define the soda. It’s like a symphony of flavor unleashed on your taste buds in every sip. Each drink brings a new taste. There’s lots of layers to this cola and they all meld simultaneously to form a cola that easy-drinking, yet bold in flavor. This is the hot new Russian girl with the sultry accent and porn star body you took on a date and miraculously made your girlfriend before other dudes could discover her. While Karma Cola may not be a household name in America, it has a familiar cola taste with a plethora of foreign flavors that make your mouth tingle in delight. The spices are divine. The cola taste is traditional and comfortable. The sugar is sweet and provides a nice contrast to the kola nut’s bitterness. This is drinkable, yet rich in flavor – a rare combination. I know there’s vanilla in this and I wouldn’t mind seeing it play a larger role to impart more of a creaminess. But that’s like asking Batman to take out your annoying neighbor. It’d be nice, but I’m busy doing other things. Karma Cola is an achievement in cola. In addition to its traditional cola flavors, it strays from the beaten path by adding a handful of various spices, malt extract, vanilla from Sri Lanka, and kola nut from Sierra Leone. It’s safe, yet challenging and should please both the casual soda drinker and culinary enthusiast. Karma Cola is a shooting star of a cola in galaxy full of red giants that need new discoveries like this one. And if you don’t get planet lingo, just know this is absolutely (inter)stellar and worth every penny.

Five Stars

Pig Iron Cola

History: Pig Iron Bar-B-Q is a little piece of the south stashed in the upper northwest. Michael Lucas opened Pig Iron Bar-B-Q in 2004 in Seattle, Washington after studying barbecue while living down in Texas. So you’re probably wondering how a barbecue joint ended up with its own soda. Take a seat. Your lesson is now beginning. When it came to selling soda in his restaurant, Lucas was very specific from the beginning. “When I opened, the one thing I specifically wanted was RC Cola,” he said. So by gawd, he got RC Cola. But there was a problem. Suddenly in 2006, the RC Cola was no longer available. Lucas tells us over the phone with a chuckle that Pig Iron’s RC Cola supplier wasn’t actually licensed to distribute RC Cola. Dude was a soda bootlegger. So I guess I can cross that one off the business idea list. Naturally, Lucas sought out other distributors, but none of them could grant his wish for RC Cola. Eventually one of those distributors, Orca Beverage, called Lucas back and asked what he thought about making his own soda. He was game, and for three months in 2006, Lucas and Orca Beverage experimented with flavors that mimicked RC Cola. He said he wanted something that was “undoubtedly straightforward, but different,” something that had a little bit of mystery to the flavor. He added that caramel and slightly fruity notes were both in mind when concocting the recipe. There was one element of the soda that Lucas was very specific about: carbonation. Unlike traditional colas that blast your mouth with bubbles, Lucas wanted something much less intense that felt softer in the mouth. Another thing Lucas had in mind? Pairing his cola with food. “The thing I thought about most was having the soda with the brisket,” he adds. Savory, salty meats paired with sweet, slightly fruity craft cola. It makes me shed a red, white, and blue-tinged single tear.

Where to get: Pig Iron Cola is nationally distributed. In addition to the BBQ joint in Seattle, you can purchase it online from vendors like Summit City Soda (better deal) and Amazon. If you’re a business looking to sell soda or just someone wanting to place a larger order, Homer Soda Company is your best option.

Nose: Soft cola notes reminiscent of RC Cola; faint cherry; kola nut (cola bitterness).

Taste: Cola; cherry syrup; cane sugar; mild bitterness. This is a sweeter cola with noticeable fruity notes. Cherry is what stands out, but it’s subtle. This is definitely more cola than cherry cola, but the fruity influence is there. I’ve heard the taste of Pig Iron Cola described as “brash” several times, but I disagree. It’s sweet, but not brash. Not harsh. It’s a sweeter, bolder version of RC Cola with more of a cherry note. As is standard with most cola, the carbonation is flush up front before any taste comes in and tinges the entire drink with a traditional mild bitterness. Pig Iron Cola displays a familiar cola taste with a distinct sweetness and slightly fruity influence that help it stand out.

Finish: Slightly more bitter than the body of the soda, but still sweet with faint cherry notes and soft mouth feel.

Rating: We say it all the time because it’s true: cola is the hardest flavor to make taste unique without flying off the hinges. Pig Iron Cola does a nice job of staying traditional, while adding subtle tasting notes like cherry, and turning the volume up on others, like the cane sugar. Those who have tried RC Cola will find an instant comfort with Pig Iron Cola. The two are similar, but Pig Iron is bolder and not quite as soft on the mouth. It’s a bold cola without becoming harsh. It’s like the opposite of my ex-wife. Where this really shines in my opinion is the cane sugar. It’s crisp and bold, but still has enough of a balanced mouth feel to invite copious repeat sipping. The sugar really weaves together the classic cola flavors with those cherry notes we keep mentioning. Because this is on the sweeter side, I’d recommend pairing it with savory or salty foods. This makes sense considering it’s a barbecue joint that makes the stuff. Pig Iron Cola is comfort soda. In a craft soda market that is continually trending away from cola, Pig Iron is a nice reminder that the category is still alive and well.

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.

Triple AAA Soda Company: Kola

History: When you think of Oklahoma, lots of things come to mind. OU Football, hating the Longhorns, massive tornadoes, emptiness. Soda probably doesn’t set off any light bulbs unless you know of Pop’s Soda Ranch, one of the largest craft soda retailers in America. And this story coincidentally has a connection to Pop’s. But we start in a candy store, of all places. According to Triple AAA Soda President, Justin Thomas, Bricktown Candy Company opened its doors in Oklahoma City about seven years ago. He recounts a reporter coming into the store for a story on its opening. The reporter asked, “What else are you guys going to do besides sell candy?” seemingly hinting that wouldn’t be enough for the start-up business to survive on. Thomas, an avid old soda fan, opened a large notebook revealing dozens and dozens of old soda logos. But it was the one hanging off in the distance behind him that the reporter noticed. It was Triple AAA, an old Oklahoma City soda company that started way back in 1937, but disappeared in 1974. After contacting a relative of the old company, they gave the ok and Triple AAA began its comeback via Bricktown Candy Company. Knowing that Pop’s Soda Ranch produced its own Roundbar Root Beer, Thomas knew that needed to be Triple AAA’s flagship flavor. So he purchased the original root beer recipe, but added a few tweaks. As for the other 24 flavors Triple AAA used to produce, he decided to bring back five in total. All other Triple AAA flavors are new recipes because as Thomas said, “No one really remembered the other flavors.” The goal for Triple AAA is to become a large regionally distributed soda. But at its core, Thomas says “We try to make a local product and we’re trying to bring back some of Oklahoma City’s history.” Now, after really pumping up their root beer, we’re trying the kola.

Where to get: Bricktown Candy Company sells their Triple AAA soda in their online store, though currently it looks like only root beer, cream soda and cherry are available. You can call them directly via their site and they’ll be happy to set you up. It’s also available in specialty stores and candy shops in Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, Louisiana, and Arkansas.

Nose: Kola nut; vanilla.

Taste: Kola nut; vanilla; cane sugar. This is pretty straight forward and simple. But it’s solid. Soft kola nut washes over the palate as the taste buds get introduced to this take on cola. The cane sugar in this is the most noticeable element. A very nice use of it, reminiscent of Mexican Coke. Definitely on the sweeter side. There’s some vanilla undertones in this, but not as prominent as they are when sniffing. It’s a soft cola with traditional tiny bubbles you typically find in this variety, though in this case the carbonation isn’t as flush in the mouth. The bubbles quickly fade. This has a classic old fashion, glass bottled soda taste.

Finish: Cane sugar and kola with some very light notes of cinnamon.

Rating: This is simple, but well done. It’s a company that began in 1937, and though its recipe has since changed, this soda definitely harkens back to the old days when glass bottle sodas were purchased after school at the ice cream store on the way home. I’d say it’s something like a cross between RC Cola and Mexican Coke. It’s a soft cola. Very drinkable, though it’s a little sweet. I think it’s probably missing something small that could take it over the top. Maybe cinnamon or some fruit notes. But this is something you should drink. Little bottlers like Triple AAA are what make the craft soda game fun. What a name too. Who actually calls themselves triple letter… and then promptly spells out the letter three times as if you needed guidance? I’ll tell you who else. This guy. I bet this probably goes great with booze too. I’m going on a blind date after this, so I’m definitely about to find out. Get a bottle, crack it open, and in the immortal words of Triple HHH (who should really sponsor this)… time to play the game.

Faygo: Rock N’ Rye

History: Remember that girl from middle school whose hair was a different color seemingly every week? The one who was cool with being weird? The one you work for now? We’re all a little different. The ones who truly stand out are the people that embrace it. And in the world of soda, being different is so hot right now. Faygo has always been a little weird. And they’re not afraid of it. Marketing Specialist Dawn Burch says enthusiastically, “We offer flavors that other companies are scared to try…. We’ve become this cult classic somehow.” Indeed, Faygo is known for their variety. Currently, they boast over 60 different flavors, from the Rock and Rye we’ll be reviewing today to their newest creation, cotton candy. How do they do it? “We have a really talented team of scientists,” Burch says. I get the flavor giggles just thinking about it. But you might know the Detroit-based company for a slightly more insane *looks around for approval* reason. Insane Clown Posse. Juggalos. The dudes who paint their faces and rap… I guess that’s what you call it. A quick Google Image search on Faygo doesn’t disappoint. Juggalos often spray each other and get drenched with Faygo soda at concerts. Why? Who knows. Maybe that face paint has some strong chemicals in it. Burch mentions how Juggalos will often call the company for wedding orders so they can ensure a proper soda shower. I’ll save this idea for my first wedding. It should free up that weekend for me.

Back to the soda. Ben and Perry Feigenson founded Faygo in 1907 and began basing their flavors on desserts. They’re been in the same manufacturing facility since the 1930’s. Today, Faygo is famous for its Red Pop and Rock and Rye. Both of these are part of the retro glass-bottle soda line Faygo produces that also includes four other flavors: cream soda, grape, orange, and root beer. These six sodas are all made with cane sugar. The rest of Faygo’s sodas do not contain cane sugar. The company is good for about one new flavor a year. We can’t tell you what their next one is… but it’s something you wouldn’t traditionally think of as a beverage flavor. Today, we sample Rock and Rye. Introduced in the 1920’s, it was named after the vintage rock candy and rye whiskey cocktail. We’re told this one doesn’t contain whiskey. We can’t guarantee it won’t by the time we’re done.

Where to get: Faygo has one of the oldest online soda stores in the world. It opened in 1998, right about when Al Gore invented the Internet! Not really. But maybe. If you’re beholden to Amazon, they’ve also got your back. Faygo is nationally distributed. If you can’t find it, I’d be surprised. If not, call the company. They’re nice people who want their soda to go in your body.

 

Nose: Classic pink bubble gum strips; cream soda.

Taste: Vanilla; cherry cream; tartness; frothy carbonation. The carbonation in this soda really accentuates its flavors. It’s also the first noticeable element you taste. Tiny, frothy bubbles flood the mouth before a distinct creamy vanilla-cherry flavor enters the picture. That said, carbonation this noticeable may be a turn off for some. For a deep burgundy craft soda, Faygo’s Rock and Rye is rich with creamy vanilla as opposed to intense bubblegum as is often found in red creams. The bubblegum flavor in this soda is discreet, like a mirage in a desert of tiny, creamy vanilla bubbles. It’s there, but only as a complimentary flavor component. We were told that Detroit natives think of this as a strawberry cream soda, and the strawberry is there, but it’s really old-school cherry notes that we taste. This has the richness of a cream soda with the carbonation and mild fruitiness of a cherry cola. Not overly complex, but highly drinkable and a delight on the taste buds.

Finish: Cherries and cream; deep and rich. The longer the drinker lets the flavors linger, they’re joined by creamy, mild vanilla undertones.

Rating: We’ve written before that cream sodas can basically boil down to two flavor profiles: vanilla and/or bubblegum. Faygo’s Rock and Rye straddles the line between cola and cream soda and has the best execution of bubblegum I’ve ever tasted in a soda. It’s light, creamy, and rolled in a bed of sweet vanilla and mild cherry. Not too overpowering, but has enough flavor to delight the taste buds, while being undercut by a semi-tart cherry cola taste. It’s truly an achievement in soda flavor engineering. Easily one of the most drinkable sodas I’ve had in years. I’m delighted to say this truly exceeded my expectations. Unfortunately, I don’t think my date last night said the same to her friends about me. If you’re reading this, please return my texts. This probably leans more toward the cream soda side of things, though its carbonation is distinctly that of a cola. While the frothy little bubbles in this bottle serve to highlight its excellent flavors, they may also be its only downside. The bubbles can be intense and always greet the tongue before the flavors develop. It is a necessary buffer. But this is a minor complaint, and one I’m not personally making here. After all these years, what could be called Faygo’s most original flavor is arguably its greatest. Its staying power is undeniable and its deliciousness is unquestionable. It’s cream cola. If you love craft soda, just the thought that this combination is even possible to bottle should give you the tingles. We all need some soda tingles every now and then, right? Put this in your regular rotation.

Swamp Pop: Noble Cane Cola

History: You sit on your front porch. Fog rises off the lake. You see eyes peak above the surface before descending again into the grassy marsh. Sweat drips from your forehead and spills on to your half buttoned-up shirt. The humidity is smoldering. A love-torn voice echoes in the background from your record player as you reach for your mason jar that’s consumed by condensation. This is Louisiana. And Swamp Pop, started in 2013 by cousins John Petersen and Collin Cormier, is all about creating old school glass-bottle sodas with a distinctly cajun identity. Says Petersen, “We wanted to take soda profiles people were more broadly familiar with, and then twist them with a Lousiana flavor.” In fact, Swamp Pop is a double entendre as both the name of the company and a classic Louisiana style of music. It sort of sounds like the blues meets honky-tonk meets 50’s rock. The cousins knew the cajun influence had a wide appeal across the country, but they wanted to stay authentic. All of their sodas contain 100% pure Louisiana cane sugar from Louisiana farmers, natural flavors and natural color. Petersen says they wanted to make their soda flavors “in layers,” in order to create something a little more sophisticated for the drinker. The company produces six different flavors. Today, we try Noble Cane Cola, Swamp Pop’s twist on traditional cola made with Louisiana Brown Turkey Figs. They also wanted it it taste more herbal than the average cola while still maintaining sweetness. Petersen adds confidently, “The cola is a cola for grown-ups.”

Where to get: Swamp Pop is mostly sold in the gulf coast region and is national to some extent. Cost Plus World Market carries their sodas. You can also buy it directly from their web site. To find the nearest retail location near you, use the company’s online locator.

Nose: Sweet sugar; fig blossoms; candied plums.

Taste: Sweetness; cinnamon; candied fig; mild brown sugar. This tastes unique. Swamp Pop boasts about the Brown Turkey Figs they use in their cola and that must be what I’m tasting here. It’s sweet, but not syrupy. It’s crisp, yet not overbearing. Right away you get a flash of sweetness that flows into a creamy candied fig taste which glides across the tongue. Next comes a wave of carbonation that brings with it robust cinnamon sugar to pair with that unique fig flavor. The closest thing I can compare the fig flavor to is a very rich, sweet, fruity cherry. But that’s still not quite right. It’s just so original. You almost get a little bit of brown sugar too. Incredibly drinkable. The flavors all work here. The Louisiana cane sugar really brings out the fruity fig notes in this truly original cola. Notes of cinnamon and brown sugar undercut the main body of the soda. There’s also the slightest hint of an herbal taste to this, but that’s really an afterthought. All around brilliantly executed.

Finish: Creamy cinnamon and ripe fig that linger briefly before your mouth is ready for another sip.

Rating: Immaculate. Swamp Pop has taken an old favorite, infused it with vintage Louisiana flavors, and yet somehow brought it into the 21st century. Wonderfully original. The Brown Turkey Figs form the base of Noble Cane Cola’s flavor. It’s sweet, different, and even a little fruity. The underlying notes of cinnamon reign in some of the sweetness and make this an easy-drinking soda. It’s even got a nice foamy head due to the company’s use of quillaia, an ingredient more often found in root beers and cream sodas. Enjoy a couple bottles in a sitting or just sip on it to savor the flavors. This works both ways. It’s a cola like you’ve never had, and one your mouth just has to experience. Have you ever made out with someone who was like definitely a couple levels above you, and your mouth didn’t even know things like that could happen inside of it? Me neither. But I imagine the level of joy and surprise in that situation would be comparable. Put on your finest Bayou wear, grab a Noble Cane Cola and watch the gators swim into the sunset. Most of us will have to settle for a YouTube substitute *shudders*, but the point is: this is more than worth your time and money. Louisiana is killing the soda game right now. We endorse this with five stars.

Maine Root Mexicane Cola

History: Maine Root is a well-known craft soda brand. It’s nationally distributed, but despite its widespread availability, the company’s reputation is still darling. Sometimes the bigger a brand is, the harder the craft soda connoisseur will push back against it. Not so here. It still feels genuine. Maybe it’s because Maine Root is still a family business. Maybe it’s because they place a major emphasis on “organic” and “fair trade.” Or maybe people just love Maine. It is just kind of hanging out up there, all cutesy in the northeast. But it’s probably something you don’t see: the owners. Mark Seiler was working in a pizza place that sold a root beer he loved. Pepsi bought it out. Aw HELL NAH! That led to Maine Root and the creation of its root beer by brothers Mark and Matt Seiler. Today’s review, Mexicane Cola, is the company’s newest regular soda and came out about three years ago due to customer demand. What the owners will repeatedly emphasize to you is that Maine Root is the first and only company to use fair trade, organic cane sugar juice. They source it from Paraguay. This is in contrast to cane sugar. It’s also “incredibly expensive,” according to Matt Seiler. Let’s drink it in.

Where to get: Maine Root is a nationally distributed soda. You probably already knew about it. It can be found in well-known stores like Whole Foods and O’Naturals. And if you can’t find it in your city, order it online.

Nose: Not much of a scent on this, but sugar is what hits the nose most.

Taste: Cane sugar; soft kola nut; nutty; light cinnamon. Right away the kola nut is upfront. You’ll want to compare this to Mexican Coca Cola based on the name, but the two aren’t that similar in flavor. Coke is more bitter due to its use of high fructose corn syrup, while Mexicane Cola’s organic cane sugar juice gives it a sweeter, earthier taste. Maine Root keeps the spice in this a secret, but you can taste them swirling around after the kola nut wears off. Cinnamon is identifiable, but it’s very faint. The cane sugar flavor is constant throughout, which is the staple of a mexican cola. Definitely more a rustic flavor than most colas. The sugar permeates the mouth. It’s the soda’s defining trait, but at times it overpowers the spices.

Finish: Cane sugar juice that trails off into spices.

Rating: A new take on an old classic, Mexicane Cola is anchored by its use of fair trade cane sugar juice and secret spices. The cane sugar powers this soda from beginning to end. It’s a natural sweetness not found in many other sodas. The spices help mellow the intensity of the sugar’s flavor, but it still packs quite a punch. If you’re not a fan of sweeter sodas, then I’d keep looking for your dream cola. The use of kola nut in this soda plays nicely with the rest of the spices to help create a nuanced flavor profile. Unfortunately, the sugar limits the opportunity for more of those flavors to come through in the mouth. This is solid as is, but could really go to the next level without as much sweetness. Our suggestion? Try it on ice to help limit some of the sugar’s effect. If you see this in a coffee shop or grocery store, it’s worth a shot. It’s an adventurous take on a soda that’s often so dull, and the craft soda world needs more adventurers.