Cream soda

Virgil’s: Cream Soda

History: If you’ve ever taken a stroll through your local health food store or maybe Whole Foods, you’ve probably seen a bunch of sodas with names you’ve never heard of. Except one: Virgil’s. The company is owned by ginger beer giant Reeds, Inc. It’s about as close to an all-natural soda as you can buy. All Virgil’s sodas are made with real sugar, natural extracts, and herbs and spices. The brand spans from the eccentric Flying Cauldron Butterbeer to the revered Bavarian Nutmeg Root Beer. Founder and CEO Chris Reed says the company is “about fun and creating an endearing product to both the company and the customers.” Outside of ginger beer, root beer is king at Virgil’s, but they also feature all of the standard craft soda flavors, including the cream soda we’re reviewing here. The company goes as far as saying “We decided to make a cream soda that would rival the super premium quality of our root beer.” The cream soda has been around since 2004 and according to Reeds, Inc. Sales Operations and Marketing Manager Todd Engstrum, it was designed “to taste like a true craft soda.” The company’s website also says the soda’s recipe contains “the finest vanilla beans and unrefined cane sugar.” We know it took a year to fine tune the recipe and beyond that, Virgil’s is keeping the rest of the soda’s secrets tight-lipped. Good thing we aren’t. Let’s investigate.

Buy: Virgil’s StoreAmazon

Nose: Classic cream soda nose: deep vanilla and soft, creamy caramel. Reminiscent of an older cream soda like Shasta.

Taste: Vanilla, tangy, creamy, sugar. The first striking feature of Virgil’s Cream Soda is the sweetness. It’s upfront and bold. The cane sugar hits you first before the main flavors come in. This is a sugary-tasting soda. Once you get past that, you’ll taste big notes of vanilla extract. It’s a creamy, old fashioned vanilla taste that takes us millennials back to childhood. I think what stands out most about the flavor of this soda, more than the vanilla or the sugar, is the tanginess. I can’t quite place why it’s present. It’s a combination of tangy vanilla and sugar. When the two intersect, they seem to collide dramatically in a way you aren’t used to in cream soda. It leaves an odd taste in the mouth. This is rich, sugary, and tangy. And perhaps more than anything… puzzling.

Finish: Deep, sugary caramel notes that linger and then fade. This is the only part of the soda where the caramel from the nose reveals itself.

Rating: When your nostrils are blessed by the smells of Virgil’s Cream Soda, you’re certain that you’re in for a masterpiece, but the execution isn’t quite flawless. To be fair, this is a perfectly good cream soda. It has nice vanilla flavors and a sweet, cream caramel finish. But the development of this soda is hindered by a funky, sugary tang that’s hard to get past. This is already an excessively sweet cream soda, but when you combine the sugar levels with the strange vanilla tanginess, it raises a questionable eyebrow. Not like a Dwayne Johnson I’m-about-to-make-a-$240 million-sequel-eyebrow, but a hey-I-think-the-weird-neighbor-is-taking-a-bath-in-our-pool-again sort of eyebrow. The bottom line is that the flavor here is at first familiar, then jarring. Creamy vanilla shouldn’t be tangy. It should just be velvety smooth. Again, the vanilla flavor is great before the tang comes in, and the finish is very solid. I just wish those two elements were more present in the soda’s body. Look, there’s potential here and a lot of people are going to like this, especially young kids. It’s worth a try, I’m just not sure I’d put it in the upper echelon of cream sodas.

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Fireman’s Brew: Cream Soda

History: It seems apropos that a cream soda designed by firefighters has “definitely a hint of [campfire] marshmallow.” Those aren’t my words. They belong to Fireman’s Brew COO, David Johnson. Fireman’s Brew is a brewery that was actually founded by firefighters. Ever seen the Glendale Mountains of California? Firefighters Rob and Ed have. They saw it all day, only the surrounding forest was set ablaze throughout the treetops and smoldered into the night. After extinguishing their foe, Rob and Ed gazed into the sky, wishing for nothing more than an ice cold beer. But after you’ve gone toe to toe with Dante’s Inferno all day, your appetite extends beyond thirst. These cats needed flavor. They decided try to something new, something their own, and the rest is history. Based in Canoga Park, California, the company began in 2007 with only beer. They quickly realized active duty firefighters would only be enjoying their products off the job, so they created a line of on duty drinks including coffee and soda. To this day, the company keeps things simple: three types of beer, three types of soda. When it comes to the latter, they employ the classics: root beer, black cherry, and cream soda. “You stick to something and you do it really well. People enjoy that,” says Johnson. He adds similarly that the motto of their sodas is “simple and straightforward” when it comes to flavor. Don’t overdo it. Just make it taste good. In a competitive craft soda market, you’d be surprised how many bottlers try to reinvent the wheel as opposed to just making something familiar that’s better. The company uses all-natural flavorings in all their sodas as well as pure cane sugar, and doesn’t include preservatives in the recipe. Cream soda is as archaic a flavor as they come in soda. Fireman’s Brew wanted theirs to be creamy. No offense, but that kind of seems like a given, boys. That’s like an old man saying I’m going to sleep in until 6:00 a.m. But that’s where they started. They also wanted a strong vanilla influence, as well as a little bit of that aforementioned toasted marshmallow taste. But none of these are what the company wants to talk about when it comes to the recipe. David Johnson tells us the “One special ingredient is that we use a historical water source in the mojave desert that emits pure artesian spring water. The rest is top secret!” Annnnnnd the review comes to a screeching halt. But seriously, not only is Fireman’s Brew a brand worth trying out; when you do buy their stuff, the company “donates a portion of its profits to the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation in Emmitsburg, Maryland,” according to its website. And whether or not you think their beer or soda is worthwhile, that’s pretty dope.

Where to get: Fireman’s Brew Sodas are sold online via Garvey Nuts & Candy. You can also purchase it online from Soda Emporium.

Nose: Spun sugar, which smells like sugar with a little bit of burned caramel. And I know this is uncommon for cream soda, but I’m telling you this kind of smells like cotton candy too. Just sayin’.

Taste: Toasted marshmallow; burned sugar; slight creaminess; vanilla. You’ll taste a lot of familiar cream soda flavor profiles in Fireman’s Brew Cream Soda. Most of them blend together as opposed to coming in waves or standing out in layers. Toasted marshmallow, vanilla, and burned sugar are highest in the flavor profile. The toasted marshmallow gives this soda a little bit of an earthier flavor. Cream soda often has a reputation for being a very sweet soda, but this one is about a 6/10 on the sugar scale despite having 45 grams of sugar. Burned sugar notes are also apparent throughout the body of each drink. Vanilla is the most consistent flavor in the soda. No surprise. That’s another reason it doesn’t taste overly sweet. Real vanilla, despite what candy bars and milkshakes have led you to believe, doesn’t have a particularly sweet taste. This isn’t overly creamy like a root beer, but it’s got a decent-sized foamy head. It looks creamier than it tastes, but there’s definitely a little bit of creaminess going on. Earthy vanilla and toasted marshmallow with notes of burned sugar define the flavor profile here.

Finish: No creaminess whatsoever in the finish, but definitely a heavy dose of campfire marshmallow. Almost smoky. Sweet, but smoky with a hint of vanilla.

Rating: There are a lot of good flavors going on in Fireman’s Brew Cream Soda. I think the colder you can get this, the better. Flavors like earthy vanilla and toasted marshmallow need open air and icy temperatures to maximize their flavor potential. I’d pour this in a wide mouth glass straight out of the fridge and enjoy. Don’t let the head get too big. Drizzle it down the side of the glass. Maybe even try half the bottle with ice and let the water open up the flavors more. It sounds strange, but this soda reminds me a lot of bourbon. I’m not saying it tastes like whiskey, but it has a lot of the same tasting subtleties a nice bourbon contains. And bourbon sometimes needs coaxing with some water to release its flavors for maximum tasting potential. The vanilla is the shining star in this cream soda, followed closely by the toasted marshmallow. These two flavors combine to make Fireman’s Brew Cream Soda an earthier cream soda than most of its relatives on the market. Fans of sweeter cream sodas may be slightly disappointed in this, while fans of more subdued sodas will probably enjoy. I really like the idea of the flavors I tasted here, but like I said, I think they need some help to bring out their full potential. I’d probably dial back the toasted marshmallow notes. I think this is just one of those sodas that I feel is missing that special something, but others will probably enjoy. I’d definitely recommend it and we’d love to hear feedback on this one. I’ll say this: it’s probably the best three-star cream soda I’ve ever sampled. Try this one several ways and find the right fit for you.

Three Stars

Swamp Pop: Praline Cream Soda

History: Walk around the markets of New Orleans, and it won’t take you long to smell it. Stroll by the little pop-up shops along the streets of the French Quarter, and you’ll feel the heat radiating against your face as you whiz by. And then you hear it echo from the voices of the candy makers, almost like a beer vendor at a baseball game, “They’re hawt. They’re fresh. Who wants pray-leeens?” I’m attempting and doing a horrible job of dictating a Louisiana accent, but what I’m referring to are praline pecans. Basically what happens is someone takes something healthy for you, a nut, then cooks it in a warm concoction of butter, brown sugar and milk until it becomes something that can wrangle your heart into submission and your stomach into ecstasy. You can find praline pecans all over the country, but it’s a staple sugary snack down in The Pelican State. Cajun cousins, John Petersen and Colin Cormier, decided to transform the modern cream soda into something distinctly Louisiana by infusing their take with the taste of pralines. Petersen and Courmier founded Lousiana’s best-known craft soda bottler, Swamp Pop, in 2013. The Lafayette-based company takes its name from the 1950’s music genre of the same name that was popular in the region. Give it a Google. Kind of sounds like soulful Doo-Wop meets bluesy rock. Swamp Pop produces six different flavors. Petersen says they try to create their “flavor profiles in layers.” A quick Internet search reveals the general public finds Swamp Pop Soda especially sugary. Our past reviews of Noble Cane Cola and Ponchatoula Pop Rouge confirm those notions. Speaking of sugar, Swamp Pop uses only 100% pure Louisiana cane sugar in their sodas as well as natural coloring. Out of all their flavors, Praline Cream Soda is Swamp Pop’s rainmaker. In other words, it’s the best seller. My hypothesis: people like something that’s different. Another strong possibility: the flavor. Swamp Pop Public Relations Representative Anna Whitlow tells us the flavor is “supposed to be kind of a brown butter, praline flavor” before adding that it also tastes nutty and creamy. The more she describes it, the more apparent it becomes how rich this is going to taste. Like, maybe-you-should-change-into-sweatpants-before-you-drink-it, rich. Joke’s on you Swamp Pop, I already am. Writing about soda on the Internet, living my life one elastic-waisted pair of pants at a time.

Where to get: Swamp Pop Praline Cream Soda is sold nationally at Cracker Barrel restaurants as well as Cost Plus World Market stores. You can also buy it online directly from the company in four-packs for under $10. Trust us, for buying soda on the Internet, that’s a deal. To find the closest Swamp Pop retailer near you, type your info into the company’s online locator.

Nose: Butterscotch and toffee. Very similar to the smell of Flying Cauldron Butterscotch Beer. Smells like you should grab one of these after a class at Hogwarts.

Taste: Butterscotch; butter pecan ice cream; vanilla; creamy toffee; sugar. This is a very rich, very flavorful, and v e r y sweet cream soda. It’s especially heavy and thick on the palate with strong notes of butterscotch sweetness and the creamy flavor of butter pecan ice cream. The latter tasting notes really give it that signature praline flavor you see written on the label. Definitely different from other creams. This is anchored by an intense sweetness of primarily butterscotch and toffee flavors that swirl together throughout the soda’s body. There’s a lot of sugary sweetness to this soda. Very, very, very sweet. But it’s also very creamy. I’d say maybe even a 9/10 on the creamy scale with a thick head, so it’s very strong on that front. The more you drink it, the more you adjust to the sugar and the more those butter pecan notes come through. Swamp Pop’s Praline Cream Soda is a unique one that lives up to its name and packs a an especially sweet, but flavorful punch.

Finish: Creamy vanilla with lingering butter pecan ice cream. Not as sweet as the body. Excellent. 10/10 on the finish.

Rating: It may be 2016, but it’s really only been within the past couple years that bottlers have decided to get inventive with cream soda. Swamp Pop went beyond left field. They left the ball park to create their Praline Cream Soda. It retains a thick creaminess you might in other cream sodas, but its flavors are completely foreign. Butterscotch. Butter pecan ice cream. Toffee. These are the three main flavors you’ll taste here. Butterscotch and toffee form the base of the soda’s flavor profile and are consistent throughout each sip, but it’s that creamy butter pecan taste that gives the soda its true identity. Unlike the the butterscotch and toffee notes, the butter pecan ice cream works as more an undercurrent in the soda, occasionally rising up and splashing into the main flavor profile before receding away for a few sips. That give and take makes you lust for the flavor more. It really works. Where Swamp Pop’s Praline Cream Soda raises some hesitation from me is its sweetness. This is sweeter than watching a gaggle of Golden Retriever puppies struggling to fall asleep. At times it’s just too much for me and I can generally handle sweet sodas well. So I’d recommend sipping this one. I’d also recommend putting it on ice cream. Would make a great float. Overall that meandering creamy butter pecan flavor combined with the overall thick mouth feel and frothy head on the soda make this too enticing to pass up. If you don’t have a problem with high-intensity sweet sodas, this might leave a serious lasting impression on you. Its flavor profile should do that regardless. If you happen across a bottle of this, you’d be missing a unique experience by passing it up.

Three Stars

 

Hosmer Mountain: Cream Soda

History: Tucked away in the small city of Willimantic, Connecticut is one of the oldest, most retro soda companies in the nation. Hosmer Mountain Soda began over 100 years ago in 1912 bottling their signature high-quality spring water. It’s hardly a surprise when you find out Willimantic was called “the land of swift moving waters” by the Native Americans that hunted in the rivers there. After the success of their spring water, the company decided years later to capitalize on their greatest local resource by using it to make a cleaner-tasting soda. Today the water comes “from a deep well.” Despite going through four different owners (the current owners purchased the business in 1958), Hosmer Mountain is still going strong, producing over 30 flavors of soda a year. The company says “all of our flavors are ‘retro,'” in the sense that they strive for a sweet, but authentic flavor as opposed to something that tastes artificial. Hosmer Mountain also makes a flavor-of-the-month that rotates out, something that indeed feels like a very vintage thing to do. Reminds me of how local pie companies rotate out a monthly flavor. Mmm, pie. Another retro thing Hosmer Mountain does for its local customers? Delivery. Now if we could just come up with a fiscally manageable way to do this with craft soda nationally, our staff would quickly become very poor. But very happy. However, one very non-vintage aspect of Hosmer Mountain Soda is that they say “High fructose corn sweetener is our primary sweetener.” This will hurt a lot of craft soda fans’ feelings. Luckily, they also produce an “antique line” of four flavors: root beer, cream soda, white birch beer, and sarsaparilla. All four of these flavors are made with pure cane sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. The company believes these are the four flavors most representative of New England. Fun fact: the labels on the antique line flavors are a throw back to the company’s original soft drink logos from 1916. They add “You’re looking at the work of a pre-WWI graphic artist.” Neat, let’s put this “antique” cream soda in my mouth now.

Where to get: Outside of Connecticut, Hosmer Mountain Cream Soda is available to purchase online from Summit City Soda. If you’re a business owner looking to sell Hosmer Mountain’s Cream Soda in your store or just someone looking for a large order, get in touch with Homer Soda Company and they’ll take care of you.

Nose: Pretty standard cream soda with a little bit of toasted marshmallow.

Taste: Sweet brown sugar; caramel; marshmallow. This is definitely sweet, but it’s a different type of sweetness because of the brown sugar. It imparts more of a caramel taste, which is usually more common in root beer or cola than cream soda. Not a creamy texture on the palate, but still has a thick mouth feel because of the brown sugar and carmel flavors. A little bit syrupy. You also get sort of like an earthy bittersweetness, ala roasted campfire marshmallow. But the biggest flavor you’ll take away from this is caramel, for sure.

Finish: Sweet caramel and burned sugar. Gone almost as soon as it appears. No linger.

Rating: Hosmer Mountain Cream Soda is a unique one in that it’s not rich and creamy, nor does it taste like bubblegum. It splits between those two common cream soda flavor profiles. It’s also unusual in that it uses brown sugar. The brown sugar really gives it a different flavor, full of big waves of sweetness and mouthfuls of caramel. On certain sips it’s even a little bittersweet like a campfire marshmallow. The caramel flavor is nice. The problem is that it’s very sweet and when paired with the the brown sugar notes, it becomes overpowering at times. The slightly sweet marshmallow bite helps soften the blow, but not quite enough for us. I’d either up the bittersweet notes in the recipe or lessen the overall sugar content. Fans of caramel will instantly fall in love with this soda. Give it to Hosmer Mountain for doing something unique. I’d definitely recommend it because it is different from other cream sodas out there, but I probably wouldn’t buy a six-pack myself if I’m being honest. But hey, I’m just a dude that writes about soda on the Internet. What do I know? This definitely has good qualities too. The marshmallow undertones are really pleasant and do a great job contrasting against the soda’s powerful sweetness. The caramel flavor is a nice nuance in cream soda, a genre with lots of room for experimentation. Hosmer Mountain Cream Soda is a nice change of pace. The question is who will be able to keep up with it.

Three Stars

Fiz: Classic Cream Soda

History: After introducing myself and informing him of my intentions, Lou Petix greets me on the other end of the line with a guttural New Yorker’s, “Hey, how you doin’?” His disposition is friendly and talkative, yet his accent is deep and gritty, making him sound two stories tall. He and his brother Joe are third generation owners of College Club Beverages in Rochester, New York. “We started as kids here at 8 years-old…. It was just a natural progression” he explains. His grandpa, Luigi Petix, was an Italian immigrant who came over and started Family Bottling Works in 1922 before the business was renamed College Club Beverages after World War II. The company became famous for their refillable bottles and to this day still employs that method for their 18 flavors of College Club sodas. They’re old school. They don’t even have an official working website. Just a Facebook page. They still buy the raw materials and make their soda syrups in house, something that’s becoming more and more rare these days with the advent of flavor houses and culinary chemists. Now here’s the slightly confusing part, so follow closely. College Club has multiple brands under its company umbrella. You can only buy actual College Club soda in Rochester. The sodas you’ll see on the shelves around the greater New York area and available online are labeled “Fiz” and “Primo.” Fiz covers the 13 flavors of craft soda the company sells, while Primo is a line of two Italian sodas. You’re probably thinking… why? Why not just consolidate all of them? The answer is because while there is some overlap in flavors between College Club and Fiz (both brands have classics like cream soda and root beer, etc.), the recipes aren’t exactly the same. This is because up until the 1950’s Fiz was a totally different soda company that ran on its own. After calling it quits, the Petix brother liked their flavors, labels, and bottles so much, that they bought out the entirety of the company’s resources. Today, they use Fiz as their craft soda line. That’s the story. We promise there’s no more twists. This isn’t a review directed by M. Night Shyamalan.

When trying to decide which flavor of Fiz to review, we consulted Lou. He suggested the root beer or ginger beer (Fiz’s most popular flavor) before mentioning in passing an interesting tidbit about the cream soda. There’s a secret ingredient in it atypical to cream soda. “There’s a little trick to it that my father taught me,” he teased, noting it’s mild, but there. My reaction anytime someone tells me there’s a secret ingredient is to immediately crack the case. What could it be? Something New York-y? Petix did say “we try to access our raw materials as locally as possible,” while also adding they prefer natural flavors. Intrigued, I prodded him further about the cream soda. “This is what we call our classic cream soda,” saying it was very heavy on vanilla flavor. So in the end, he didn’t budge. But that makes it more fun for us, and for you.

Where to get: These aren’t the easiest sodas to get a hold of if you’re outside of the New York area. You can, however, order Fiz soda online from New York Style Deli. I know the website looks a little amateur, but we called and checked it out; it’s legit. Your best option might just be to call the company at (585) 328-6665. They take orders over the phone and will ship anywhere in the continental U.S.

Nose: Almond; cherry; pound cake. There’s a faint cream soda smell here, but it’s infused with chocolate, cherry and almond scents. Interesting and intriguing.

Taste: Fizzy; chocolate-covered cherry; vanilla; mild nuttiness; sugar. There’s elements of traditional cream soda here, and then there’s the part that gives the soda its flavor identity. You notice an initial burst of carbonation immediately, more so than an average soda, and then the unique flavors come out that separate Fiz Cream Soda from the crowd. You get all of the soda’s flavors up front spun together in a cocoon of sugary uncertainty. There’s definitely a fruity element to this that tastes like it’s paired with chocolate. After repeated tasting, I’m thinking it’s cherry. Almost like a Cherry Mash candy flavor. This is paired with vanilla and a corresponding mild almond nuttiness, but not like biting into the nut itself; more like how almond syrup tastes in pound cake. This isn’t a creamy soda, but that almond flavor gives the soda’s body a richness, something that’s pretty unusual for cream sodas that don’t have a particularly creamy mouth feel, and/or aren’t made with honey. I’m also getting some undertones of brown sugar and maybe a little bit of caramel. But the soda comes down to three flavors: vanilla, cherry-chocolate, and almond.

Finish: Vanilla sugar with notes of creamy cherry that linger for a few seconds and slowly fade. Excellent.

Rating: Fiz Classic Cream Soda by College Club Beverages ascends beyond the category’s normal realm into a distant plane of flavor even we can’t fully comprehend. But it’s good. It’s damn good. No… no, this is great. I am fanboy-ing out over how exquisite this is and I don’t even care. And it’s all about the taste. There’s a mystery flavor to this cream soda – sure you taste the vanilla and maybe a little caramel, but WHAT IS IT? It’s like a combination of chocolate and cherries with mild almond extract and maybe a little creamy brown sugar. Whatever it is exactly, it makes the soda. You won’t taste another cream soda like this one. Guessing the secret ingredient in Fiz Cream Soda is like being an 18 year-old boy and trying to hit on a 27 year-old woman: it’s fun to try, but you’ll never figure it out. Our best guess at the signature flavor is similar to what a Cherry Mash candy tastes like – a creamy cherry-chocolate flavor with notes of vanilla and nuttiness. To be clear, this is definitely more vanilla than cherry, chocolate, or almond – but the accompanying tasting notes are so unprecedented in cream soda that they stand out with noticeable contrast. We always try to find a few points to critique in sodas, but I’ve gotta admit I would change nothing about this. It’s so unique, flavorful, and delicious that it rises to the top of the cream soda category. It’s a little on the sweeter side at 46 grams of sugar per bottle, but those aforementioned flavors will keep your mind preoccupied until the last sip. Try the first half chilled straight out of the bottle for a crisper cream soda and the other half on ice for a creamier transformation. You’ll want more of this. I know we do. Fiz Cream Soda’s greatest trait isn’t even how good the soda tastes; it’s that it keeps you guessing long after you’ve finished it. There’s something special about this one. Go out of your way to taste the mystery.

Five Stars

Waynesville Soda Jerks: Raspberry Cream Soda

History: If the farmer’s market had an all-star team, these two would be its captains. Chris Allen and Megan Brown are the founders and owners of Waynesville Soda Jerks in Waynesville, North Carolina – and they’re about as farm-to-bottle as you can get. The two launched their full eight-flavor line of handcrafted sodas in May of 2015, and they’re so serious about going local with their ingredients that they literally list where they came from on the bottle. These days “handcrafted” is becoming kind of a cliche in craft soda, but for this duo the word seems appropriate. “We really like to highlight the local agriculture around western North Carolina,” says Allen. The two started by picking local wine berries from outside their home and using a Soda Stream to see if they could create something worth drinking. In April of 2013, they launched a Kickstarter, and two-and-a-half years later, they’re one of the fastest-growing small bottlers in the nation. The highlight ingredient in all Waynesville Soda Jerk Sodas is the fruit, which Brown notes “is always local,” with the exception of citrus and vanilla. Allen and Brown had been focusing solely on going the route of fruit or fruit and herb sodas until the requests for traditional flavors finally struck a chord with the two.

“People were always asking for cream soda,” Allen admits. So the jerks went to work and put their own unconventional twist on the flavor: raspberry. As a soda fan, the marriage of these two flavors is exciting. Imagine taking something that people already love and adore and making it even more stunning. On paper, this is like combining all the best parts of Beyoncé and Taylor Swift… in soda form. Who doesn’t want to look at that? Who wouldn’t want to drink that? Who wouldn’t want to just… let’s get back to the point before this gets weirder. The decision on which fruit to choose for their newest flavor was easy. Brown tells us that the two “had an outstanding source for raspberries this season,” in Wright Way Nursery. The duo fresh presses the juice from the raspberries themselves and it goes right into the soda. We weren’t told exact proportions, but when asked about how much real juice went into each bottle of raspberry cream soda, Allen responded in a serious tone with “a significant amount.” Allen and Brown made it very clear there were two distinct tasting elements to this soda: the raspberry flavor and the cream flavor. For the fruit, Allen says they went for a “very clean and pure raspberry flavor.” As for the creaminess, it was really the first “traditional” non-fruit soda flavor the two decided to bottle. So in order to achieve the taste they wanted, the duo used real vanilla beans and caramelized the cane sugar for a creaminess that balanced out the sharpness of the raspberry. They also added a little lemon juice and a pinch of sea salt for what they called “soda seasonings,” adding that they brought acidity and richness to the flavor profile. We aren’t sure exactly how they put it all together, but I’ll take $200, Alex, for funnel this in my mouth. The pair is also working on another new, more traditional flavor – but we’d hate to spoil it for you.

Where to get: You can purchase raspberry cream soda and the rest of the Waynesville Soda Jerk flavors at the company’s new online store or from Summit City Soda. And if you’re from the Waynesville area, check out these spots to pick up a bottle.

Nose: Fresh raspberries just run through the water. On first smell, you’d swear this was raspberry soda. Not much in the way of vanilla or any sort of creaminess.

Taste: Fresh raspberries; soft vanilla; mild tartness; sugar. You’re greeted with a very authentic, but not overwhelming raspberry flavor. Reminds me of eating raspberries with sugar on top, but in liquid form. Very light and refreshing on the palate. Definitely more crisp than creamy. The initial raspberry flavor is joined by noticeable vanilla notes about half way through the sip. There’s also just a little bit of tartness from the lemon in this that adds contrast to the sweetness of the raspberry and sugar; you feel it on the edges of your jaw. A nice jolt of unexpected flavor. Before the drink begins to fade, the raspberry and vanilla meld to really create that raspberry cream flavor. Reminds me of raspberries with creme fraiche.

Finish: Vanilla sugar with subtle raspberry notes that linger, then slowly fade.

Rating: Waynesville Soda Jerks pride themselves on using fresh fruit in every hand-made batch of soda they produce. They even tell you where the fruit comes from on every bottle. You can taste their dedication. The raspberries in their raspberry cream soda taste real, not like candy. It’s like drinking raspberries with sugar on them with a dash of lemon and a dusting of vanilla bean. Typically when you think of cream soda, you think something that feels heavy on the palate, thick and frothy in texture. This is much lighter than you’ll probably be expecting. It’s more crisp than it is creamy. I’d probably call this raspberry-vanilla soda to my friends as opposed to raspberry cream, but it just doesn’t sound the same. Then again, I don’t call my stepmom Michelle to my friends either, but I don’t even think the Internet is ready for the words I do use. Bottomline, the flavors work. The raspberries taste fresh and delicious. The lemon provides an unexpected burst of tartness that contrasts nicely with the sweetness of the raspberries. And the vanilla adds a nice layer of sophistication to the raspberry taste near the end of each sip. It’s easily the unsung hero of the soda. I actually think the vanilla could be emboldened even more in the flavor profile and only good would come from it. This is the most subtle of any fruit cream soda I’ve tried, but also easily the freshest. Waynesville Soda Jerks continue to be one of the best local soda bottlers in the country. You should go out of your way to try their stuff, including the raspberry cream soda.

Four Stars

Cicero Beverage Co.: Candied Bacon Cream Soda

History: You’ve probably heard of bacon soda by now. Take a look at reviews on YouTube. The results are… unsavory. “Vegetable mixed with gasoline” and “made my eyes water” were some of the comments made in just the first two videos we watched. Simply put, bacon soda is usually a gag gift. It’s a gimmick. Cicero Beverage Co. out of Chicago, Illinois wanted to break the mold. See, this is a company that actually makes real flavors. You’ll find the usual root beer, cream soda, and orange cream flavors scattered amongst the bunch. But we’d be lying if we told you they were known for their “normal” flavors. It was the company’s salted caramel root beer that put it on the map. Cicero Beverage Co. President Desiree Alonzo says after the launch of the salted caramel root beer at the end of 2013, the company “took off as a full time business.” To this day, it’s the company’s most popular flavor. But it’s followed closely by another unique offering. Bacon? Bacon. Yes, Cicero decided to tackle craft soda’s court jester flavor by putting their own spin on it. Instead of doing a strictly bacon-flavored soda, the company introduced a candied bacon cream soda. “It’s not just a novelty…. It’s not bacon forward,” says Alonzo. It is admittedly hard to trust her words because I’ve had my taste buds abused so many times by the bacon sodas of samplings past. There are more and more bacon sodas popping up all over the world now. Each one is like going on a new date with the same broken promise. “No, no. I’m not like her. You can trust me. We’ll have fun ;).” It always ends in a broken heart and a battered stomach. But here’s a bit of information that might ease your fears about this one. Alonzo tells us “I try not to get ideas from beverages because they’re probably already out there.” Phew. Cicero sodas are usually inspired by candies or desserts, rather than soft drinks. Along those lines, she goes on to describe the company’s candied bacon cream soda as “vanilla-forward” with notes of smokey brown sugar bacon and a little bit of maple. “It’s very much a cream soda with a bacon finish,” she explains. Everyone loves a good cream soda. And she does a good job selling it. Maybe I’m a sucker, but I guess I’ll put myself out there one more time.

Where to get: You can find Cicero Beverage’s Candied Bacon Cream Soda at Cost Plus World Market locations around the U.S. If you’re not near a physical retailer, you can also find it online at Summit City Soda or Amazon.

Nose: Caramel; vanilla; sugar; milk chocolate. This smells the same as creamy caramel rich in vanilla and coated in a thin layer of chocolate, like a confectionary treat.

Taste: Vanilla; pork salt; hickory flavor. Definitely a blend of sweet and savory. Sugar and vanilla are immediate on the tongue, quickly followed by a smoked pork flavor. I taste more of a BBQ pork flavor than bacon. The smokiness has notes of hickory chips and salted meat. The sweet and savory elements have a surprisingly good balance due to the fact that this has a very, very, very high sugar content at 58 grams a bottle. The savory flavors are initially strong, but mellow over time after continual sips.

Finish: Smokey bacon with sugar… so candied bacon. The truest part of the soda and the only portion that actually tastes like bacon.

Rating: If there’s one thing the world has an abundance of, it’s bacon-flavored things. A quick Google search gives you some pretty eye-opening results, several of which are NSFW. Cicero Beverage Co.’s Candied Bacon Cream Soda is safe for work, but not everyone will allow it safe passage to their taste buds. This was always going to be a divisive soda simply due to the fact that soda is a prototypical sweet beverage, and Cicero is merging that flavor profile with savory and salty elements. The basic question most will ask is, “does it actually taste like bacon?” Answer: sometimes. The soda definitely has a candied bacon finish with a dash of smokiness. But I think the savory elements taste more of smoked pork and hickory chips than bacon. There’s definitely still a pig influence on this soda. Oink, Oink. Still, this is a cream soda rooted in sugar and vanilla – like most of them, but this one has a smokiness that sets it apart in terms of the overall flavor experience. That smokey flavor can be disjointing on the first couple sips, even when you’re expecting it. The pork flavor is bold, but mellows over time and becomes more of a smoked hickory taste that supplements the sugary vanilla notes. The balance of sweet and savory helps justify why the soda’s sugar content is so high (a third higher than most craft sodas). The vanilla and sugar in this are really nice – they make me want to try just a normal cream soda from Cicero. Despite the taste bud whip flash the soda’s bacon elements might give you in the beginning, the smokey flavor is a fun change of pace. Personally, I’d probably mellow them even more so they had just the slightest influence on the flavor profile. If you’re into cream soda or simply adventurous beverages, Cicero’s Candied Bacon Cream Soda should be on your radar. It probably isn’t something you’ll regularly drink, but it’s a fun one to add to your list.

Three Stars

Yacht Club: Cream Soda

History: Three-hundred years after the pilgrims made their way to New England in the early 17th century, the British made their contribution to modern American craft soda in what would become Yacht Club Bottling Works. Current Yacht Club President John Sgambato tells us over the phone that Yacht Club originated in 1915 and was brought over from England to Providence, Rhode Island by the Sharp family. It was a “roll your sleeves up” and go to work type business. Sgambato says the family found a well to source water for the soda and went from there. To this day, the company still uses its own water supply, which Sgambato says has great characteristics for carbonation. Their website expands on this idea a bit, saying “Its natural temperature is 45 degrees, which allows carbonation without the use of cooling towers that can be bad for the environment.” If I’m being honest, I don’t really know what that means… but it sounds nice. Sgambato’s grandfather, also named John Sgambato, started working for Yacht Club in 1935 and the Sgambato’s have owned the business since 1960. “We were doing it long before people called it craft or artisanal or gourmet,” he says. And he’s not lying. Yacht Club has always used pure cane sugar in its soda, even when others began switching to corn syrup for a period of time when its price became vastly cheaper. Good on them because when it comes to soda, the sweetening agent is one of those things you just can’t skimp on. Drinking corn syrup soda is like sleeping on a lumpy bed: the clients or women you’re trying to impress will never come back. Ahem. The Sgambato family has introduced many flavors to the Yacht Club line since they took over in 1935, but we felt like our first Yacht Club review needed to be one of the originals. Cream soda was one of a handful of flavors the Sharp family brought over. Sgambato notes that old cream sodas used to be made with condensed milk and vanilla. Because of shelf life issues, bottled cream sodas can’t be made that way today, but Yacht Club still tries to replicate that style of flavor. Sgambato tells us, “We wanted something that was more true to form to what it (cream soda) used to taste like.” The company’s not-so-secret ingredient? Pure alcohol extract of vanilla. Sgambato believes this gives the soda a pure, high-quality vanilla flavor. And don’t worry – there’s no alcohol in Yacht Club Cream Soda. When it comes to taste, Yacht club Cream was was designed to be “smooth almost like a vanilla ice cream.” The company also makes all of its syrups in-house, a task many businesses source out to flavor houses. Sgambato closes our conversation, simply saying “There’s not many places in the country that make soda the way we do.”

Where to get: Yacht Club soda is sold mostly in the southern New England region. To our knowledge it is not sold online through any outlets, though the company is considering creating an online store. Yacht Club is currently only willing to ship orders in bulk.

Nose: Mild caramel. Honestly not much of a scent.

Taste: Big carbonation; mild vanilla; caramel; burned sugar. The carbonation in Yacht Club Cream Soda is big and bold, and it’s immediate before any flavor comes in. Once the bubbles pass, you’ll taste mild vanilla and caramel. The caramel is the stronger of the two flavors. The vanilla is subtle, but nice, and it lingers for pretty much the duration of each sip. Interestingly, the body of the soda is dry, but the end of each sip is kind of creamy. It’s an odd mouth feel for a cream soda. The carbonation in this is borderline harsh on some sips and cuts into the flavor profile. When combined with the caramel notes, the two combine to give off a burned sugar taste.

Finish: Slightly creamy vanilla-caramel. By far the best part of the soda.

Rating: Yacht Club Cream Soda is powered by its subtleties of vanilla and caramel, but it’ll probably be remembered for its intense carbonation. Caramel is the soda’s biggest flavor, followed closely by mild vanilla. The two work very well together, particularly in the soda’s finish. At 28 grams, this isn’t an overly sweet cream soda. I’d say the sugar is just right. The problem is the carbonation. It’s a little too overbearing right from the get-go, just like my stepsister. About half way through the bottle it starts to subside a little more, but some drinkers may have abandoned ship at that point. The bubbles mask the really pleasant notes of caramel and vanilla. I think if that carbonation was pulled back some, the flavors in this cream soda would really open up more and take it to another level. Still, if you stick with this, the caramel and vanilla come through more as the soda progresses. The vanilla actually kind of becomes stronger as you drink it and has a vanilla ice cream taste. This is more of a crisp, sweet soda than a creamy one. It would be a really good mixer with an oaky bourbon or maybe even just an orange slice to add a little extra something. Is it worth your time? I think so. It’s a grower. There’s a number of joke opportunities here, but it seems like a safer option to end the review now.

Three Stars