dry soda

Dry Sparkling: Malali Watermelon

History: It wouldn’t be summer without watermelon… soda? At least it wouldn’t be according to Dry Sparkling. Founder Sharelle Klaus says it’s “such a nostalgic flavor that is synonymous with this time of year.” The Seattle, Washington-based company boasts nine different flavors and decided to add Malali Watermelon and Serrano Pepper as seasonal offerings that run through August of 2016. Dry Sparkling is one of those companies not afraid to be different. Every soda they make is under 100 calories, containing only four ingredients. Basically none of their flavors are traditional. And they’re all designed to be paired with food. It’s soda for the artisan crowd. Klaus says, “I believe we’re creating a new category of soda.” But back to this particular flavor. Straight up, what is Malali Watermelon? It sounds like something you go on a quest for. Stranded deep in the rainforest for seven nights, the young boy returns to his village a hero, carrying in tow the legendary Malali Watermelon as the elders weep with joy. Just kidding, it’s actually a real fruit. Klaus tells us “Malali Watermelon is a smallish watermelon with sweet ruby red flesh and a bright green skin. They mature best in warm, dry climates and are often grown in home gardens.” So I guess we won’t be writing that epic watermelon novel after all. She did say they’re thought to have started growing first in Africa… so we kinda got that part right. According to Klaus, Malali Watermelon is currently the company’s fastest-selling soda. She says people’s first reactions are typically ones of “surprise that it tastes true-to-nature” before adding that another popular review is that it tastes like “summer in a bottle.” Oh, and if you’re looking for a food pairing to go with Malali Watermelon, try sweet shellfish like shrimp or lobster, or savory meats like lamb or grilled kebabs.

Where to get: Dry Sparkling is distributed across the U.S. 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. For a full list of stores that carry Dry Malali Watermelon, click here. But remember, it’s only here through August 2016.

Nose: Sort a mash-up of a variety of melons, including honeydew, cantaloupe, and of course, watermelon.

Taste: Watermelon; tangy; soft; light. A light and refreshing take on watermelon soda. Not as sweet as other watermelon sodas, but still contains a noticeable amount of sugar and nice watermelon taste. A summer soda, for sure. One you could drink quickly. It’s very tangy up front – more of a tangy generic melon flavor than specifically watermelon. This segues into a more direct taste of watermelon that lasts for the finals two-thirds of the sip. The mouthfeel is also noteworthy. It’s soft. There’s noticeable carbonation, but it doesn’t sting the inside of your cheeks and adds to the soda’s drinkability. Not too strong, but still enough flavor there to satisfy watermelon enthusiasts. Very light and summery.

Finish: Softer than the initial tanginess. This is where you’ll really taste the watermelon. It lingers in the background for quite some time with the volume turned down.

Rating: Admittedly I’m not much of a watermelon fan, yet this soda is so light and mild I find myself continuing to sip it. It’s a quintessential summer beverage to be enjoyed by the pool or while grilling. I imagine it pairing well with food. As for the flavor, it’s tangy and full of subtle watermelon notes that show themselves more in the second half of each sip. The good thing about this soda is it’s not too melon-y, to use a technical term. Watermelon seems to be a divisive flavor among fruits. It’s not like cherry, which nearly everyone loves. So it’s nice to see Dry Sparkling not going over the top here. I think it could use just a littttttle more sweetness. Maybe up it from 19 to 26 grams. Other than that, this is a solid offering from Dry. The transition from tangy to fruit is excellently executed. You also don’t see a ton of watermelon sodas, so it’s nice to see one of America’s hippest craft soda bottlers tackle the flavor.

Four Stars

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Dry Sparkling: Serrano Pepper

History: “Dear spice lovers – this one’s for you” is the message you’re greeted with on Dry Sparkling’s four-pack of Serrano Pepper soda. I know what you’re thinking. How did we get here? Is craft soda really heading this direction? Pepper soda? I can’t say we disagree with you. So we had to ask Dry Sparkling a few questions about their seasonal Serrano Pepper soda. Founder and CEO Sharell Klaus says “We really wanted to create something unexpectedly delicious! No other beverages out there specifically celebrate the taste of spicy peppers, so we set out to do just that.” Not only was this beverage created to be a refreshing take on pepper (it’s hard to even write that and understand it), it was formulated to pair with summer foods like BBQ and Cuban sandwiches. Klaus and her company have always been different. She says “I believe we’re creating a new category of soda.” Founded in 2005 in Seattle, Washington, the company boasts atypical flavors like Juniper Berry, Lavender, and Fuji Apple. That’s not the only unique aspect of Dry Sparkling. Each flavor contains less than 100 calories. Every bottle of soda is clear. And every recipe is made with only four ingredients: carbonated water, cane sugar, natural flavors, and phosphoric acid. For the summer of 2016, they cranked out two seasonal flavors: the one this review is about (if you’re like my girlfriend and just skimming this as I look over your shoulder for approval, it’s Serrano Pepper) and Malali Watermelon. Klaus expands on the former, saying “With Serrano Pepper DRY, you get these very intriguing savory and green, yet balanced notes, plus a touch of spice. We aimed for it to have a kick, but still be refreshing. Like spicy peppers themselves, some bottles of Serrano Pepper DRY are hotter than others due to the natural pepper emulsion that flavors each batch.” I think it’s safe to say, this is a soda for the adventurous. It’s a soda designed to appeal to the more culinary-inclined, a demographic to which Dry Sparkling caters. Klaus says the tastes of Dry’s target audience are more “artisan” in nature and that their drinks are “more of an elevated experience.” Translation: we make fancy shit. And if you’re here, you’re probably a part of the demographic who appreciates that. In her own words, Klaus sums up her company as “The new age warriors of soda.”

Where to get: Dry Sparkling is distributed across the U.S. 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. For a full list of stores that carry Dry Serrano Pepper, click here.

Nose: A subdued pepper smell. Imagine pulling a pepper out of the fridge and then cutting it open. The cold from the refrigerator will slightly dull the pepper’s strong aromas. That’s what I’m getting here. Definitely Serrano/green pepper, just subtle.

Taste: Refreshing; green pepper; brisk carbonation; crisp. For a soda that bases its flavor on a pepper, this is surprisingly very drinkable. Not overwhelming at all. It’s kind of like drinking a flavored tonic, infused with the crisp carbonation of a lemon-lime soda (without the lemon-lime flavor). The pepper really comes through. It’s nice and mild. Not particularly spicy. Anyone should be able to handle this. The initial sip has a savory characteristic from the pepper, and as it fades you taste just a hint of sweetness near the end. I think you’ll be surprised just how brisk and light this drinks.

Finish: Definitely not as strong as the initial sip. Bubbles continue to dance along your tongue as the soda’s sugar briefly reveals itself before going back into hiding.

Rating: Dry Sparkling Serrano Pepper is one of the most surprising sodas you’ll drink. Coming in, I expected something harsh and abrasive. I mean, it says on the label “spicy” and “savory.” Those aren’t exactly typical qualities of a soda. But I wouldn’t call this a spicy soda, rather it’s more refreshing and crisp than anything else. The pepper flavor is strongest on the initial sip before quickly fading in favor of mild sweetness. It drinks like a pepper-flavored tonic. Savory, then slightly sweet. Like my ex. But overall, this is very mild and drinkable, and these are the two characteristics that make Dry Serrano Pepper work as a beverage. I hesitate to say this is a soda for only the adventurous because I really do think more than just a fraction of soda drinker would like this. That said, it’s still pepper soda. The idea alone will be enough to scare many away. And if you’re not a pepper fan, I wouldn’t travel down this road. When I first started drinking this, I thought I’d rate this three stars, but by the end it’s clear that would be too low. Just the fact that I could get through an entire pepper soda and enjoy it says something about the craftsmanship of Dry Sparkling. Get Serrano Pepper while it lasts. It’s only here until August 2016.

Four Stars

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.