History: Ask anybody plugged into the craft soda world and they’ll tell you Fentimans has a sterling reputation as a beverage-maker. And none of the UK-based company’s sodas earn higher marks than Curiosity Cola. Galco’s Soda Pop Shop owner, John Nese, who we affectionately call the “Godfather of soda” says the New York Times labeled Curiosity Cola as the best in its category… in the world. You’ll hear that rumor a lot online. We’ve extensively looked for the evidence and cannot back up his claims, but the point is that this is a cola with some serious fanfare. Fentimans was founded in 1905 in Cleckheaton, England when an iron puddler named Thomas Fentiman “was approached by a fellow tradesman for a loan. A deal was struck and a recipe for botanically brewed ginger beer was provided as security. The loan was never repaid so Thomas became the owner of the unique recipe.” Fentimans’ claim to fame is that they infuse their sodas with botanicals. Think herbs, spices, oils, etc. Ginger is a staple ingredient in Fentimans’ sodas, including Curiosity Cola. The company actually brews their sodas like a beer using fermented ginger root extract. According to Fentimans North America Sales and Marketing Coordinator Karyssa Veltri, “The multi-stage process involves mashing and infusion of the ginger root, fermentation, chilling and centrifugation.” In total, she says it takes “seven full days” to brew one of their sodas. Allegedly, it took God six to create the universe. Does that make this soda… heavenly? I’ll see myself out.
Fentimans North America sells eight different flavors of soda, none with more name recognition than Curiosity Cola. In addition to fermented ginger root extract, Veltri tells us the recipe also contains brewer’s yeast, pure cane sugar, and spring water. The rest of the soda’s herbs and spices were not disclosed. Veltri adds that as with all Fenitmans soda, the goal for Curiosity Cola is to have a “distinctive depth of flavour, complex mouthfeel and full body.” She goes further, adding that Curiosity cola is designed to have a “pleasing background of citrus notes and an authentic spiciness, and a warmth to the finish.” As you can see, this isn’t some cola you just pull off the shelf and guzzle. It’s intended to be more sophisticated. And as such, you’ll pay a more sophisticated price. A recent trip to the supermarket netted me nearly $10 for a four-pack. Oh, and the name. You wanna know about the name, right? Veltri tells us Curiosity Cola is named after an 1840’s English novel called The Old Curiosity Shop. Spoilers: a lot of people die and it does not have a happy ending. Do I still want to drink this now?? Yes. Yes, I do. From the name to the flavor profile to the cute little 9.3 oz. bottle, everything about Curiosity Cola passes the eye test. Now for the oral exam. That sounds gross. Sorry.
Where to get: Fentimans is most popular in the United Kingdom, but is quickly gaining popularity in North America. In the UK, check out the company online locator to find your nearest stockist. For you North Americans, find your closest local retailer here. You can also purchase Fentimans online at the company’s personal recommendation from MyBrands. It’s also available from Soda Emporium online in single bottles and four-packs.
Nose: General cola; cloves; vanilla; Christmas spice; cinnamon. This smells like a spiced cola. Reminds me of walking into the kitchen on Christmas afternoon. Rustic. Herbal. Yet familiar.
Taste: Cloves; cinnamon; cola; cane sugar; vanilla; ginger; birch. This is quite a flavorful experience for you mouth. There’s so many different herbs and spices in here, there’s no way we’ll be able to identify them all. And yet, despite all the ingredients, everything flows seamlessly in Fentimans Curiosity Cola. There’s a good, old school, slightly bittersweet cola flavor as a base, but it’s supplemented by so many other tasting notes. Cloves and cinnamon seem to stand out most for us. They add some savoriness to the body of the drink and give it a legitimate spiced cola flavor. You also prominently taste ginger. But instead of being spicy like in so many other sodas, here the ginger gives the cola more of a tanginess. Vanilla also floats about in the background, giving the cola a mildly soft, sweet character. We also taste maybe a little birch or mint in here. Whatever it is, it’s very mild, but it gives the cola almost a little bit of a root beer flavor on certain sips. Curiosity Cola is complicated when analyzing the flavor, but the good news is that when the liquid hits your lips, it’s so good you won’t want to do any thinking.
Finish: I think this is where that fermented ginger comes in the most. It gives the drink a little zip in addition to the tanginess in the body. This fades in place of soft vanilla and mellow spices.
Rating: Fentimans Curiosity Cola may very well be the best cola in the world. Coca-Cola may be the most popular mass-produced soft drink, but when it comes to craft soda, colas are often pushed into the background behind root beer and cream soda. If there was ever an inspiration for bottlers to make a cola so great that it commands center stage, Curiosity Cola is the one. It has undeniably spectacular, sophisticated, and most importantly, balanced flavor. This soda is a pantheon of herbs, spices, and flavors that should seemingly overwhelm the palate; yet they provide a level of pleasure rarely achieved in non-alcoholic beverages. From the sweet savoriness of the cinnamon and cloves, and the tanginess of the ginger, all the way to the signature bittersweet vintage cola body – Fentimans Curiosity Cola earns itself a place on craft soda’s Mount Rushmore. Everything in this bottle works. Each tasting note flows seamlessly into the next. From the initial sip to the lingering finish, it’s exquisite. It’s full-bodied, but not overpowering. Sweet and also savory. And it pairs alarmingly well with bourbon. One of our writers learned this lesson the hard way and was too hungover to attend one of our photo sessions the next morning. Embarrassing, yet inspiring. Worth it. And that is the point I leave you with. Everything about Curiosity Cola is worth it. I won’t talk to you for weeks if you don’t buy this as soon as you possibly can. This is a feat in craft cola. Enjoy it.