History: Josh Carnell and Frank Schiffner are soda vloggers… because that is a thing.
In talking with Carnell, he told us the two of them literally just bought some Frostie’s and Bundaberg soda, filmed themselves drinking it with commentary, and a month later became Rocket Pop Stop reviews. “We had no idea what we were doing,” he says. You’re probably not surprised these are the guys behind 164 Soda Co… because why the hell else would we be talking about two strange dudes on the Internet? It’s cool though. We like to get weird too. Carnell is a dreamer. He’s always wanted his own soda shop. Lately though, the dream has been about creating rather than just selling. “I wanted to try my hand at making my own soda,” he says. Turns out filming yourself drinking soda makes you thirsty for what your own version could be like. “Honestly, I think a lot of it had to do with the videos we had done. We really wanted to go deeper about what is special about these sodas.” But first, the St. Charles, Illinois boys needed a name for their potential new company. Carnell reminisced how the two met each other in St. Charles East High School in 2010. It was room 164. Carnell recalls his buddy “looked a little chubby.” Ouch. Regardless, room 164 became the impetus for the two’s label as a soda company. Carnell started experimenting with strawberry soda in January 2014. Fast forward to March 2015 and the two dudes began the soda creating process. Their goal is to break the mold of people who are turned off by stereotypical soda. They’ve visited several craft soda bottlers, like Canonborough Beverage Co. and Gents Ginger Ale to try to gain insight on what the cool, new bottlers are doing. After a few tries in July of 2015, they concocted what just might become their signature soda: Tree Climber. It’s a take on a German beverage called “Fassbrause,” which is essentially a nonalcoholic apple cider drink. Apple Beer was also inspired by Fassbrause. 164 Soda Co.’s version is tweaked a little from the original. Its main two flavors are apple and ginger. When asked about which one is stronger, Carnell says “we’ve found that you seek out the flavor you taste.” He adds that the duo is trying to take soda and make it sophisticated. Hmm, that sounds familiar.
Where to get: Currently 164 Soda Co. is just sold at markets around the St. Charles, Illinois area. The hope is for the company to expand into local bars and restaurants. For now, if you’re interested in what the company is brewing up, shoot them an email at email@example.com.
Nose: A bit of a sour cider smell reminiscent of alcoholic ciders. The more you waft the bottle under your nose, the more the sweet apple juice smell opens up. Definitely smells like it could be tart.
Taste: Earthy; apple; acidic; mild grape. This has a very earthy taste to it. The sweetness is minimal, almost nil. It really does kind of taste like an alcoholic cider with the ethanol stripped away. It’s strange in that it doesn’t taste alcoholic, yet definitely isn’t sweet enough to meet the definition of a traditional apple cider. It’s a dry soda. Kind of a beer flavor to this too, but it’s sweeter than beer. First thing’s first: it’s tart. The tartness comes from both the apple and ginger. You taste both flavors off the bat, apple more so, and they’re both gift-wrapped in a bow of acidity. An interesting tasting note is malt, like in beer. It’s interesting because there’s none in here, yet the flavor remains. Almost a hop taste too, but not quite. If you go searching for it, there’s a grape flavor in here as well. But what you’re going to taste strongly is an acidic, almost beer-like, earthy apple juice, devoid of sugar, with a pinch of ginger.
Finish: Savory apple with subtle notes of licorice.
Rating: Tree Climber is definitely not from a soda universe that feels familiar. No, this feels like it was imported from a far away land. You’ll taste essentially no sugar and a lot of tartness, two elements that usually don’t pair in soda in that order. The defining flavor here is raw apple juice with a zing, accompanied by mild ginger. I am wondering if the ginger absorbed all of the apple’s natural sweetness because it’s odd to taste this much authentic apple without any sort of sweet relief. Very subtle grape notes dance about near the end of each sip, as does a light licorice taste that most probably won’t even notice. This would really benefit from some added sugar. I wish I had the power to add it to the recipe because I think it would take Tree Climber to the next level. As currently constructed, Tree Climber is like all my past relationships: too bitter and not my fault. It tastes more like a carbonated juice blend to me than a soda, yet it really tastes like something else entirely. I have to hand it to 164 Soda Co. in that Tree Climber is based off of what is essentially a German apple beer, and this definitely tastes like a beer with authentic apple flavor and some added mild ginger. So I think they accomplished the basic framework of what they intended to create. I’m just not sure it’ll fly off shelves with soda enthusiasts without more cane sugar in the recipe. Tree Climber is worth a shot because you’re simply not going to find an American soda with a more foreign taste than this one. We just wonder if we’ve actually seen its final form.