fireman’s brew

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

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Fireman’s Brew: Black Cherry

History: Despite their well-earned status as heroes, firefighters are average dudes and dudettes just like you and I. They want the same things most of us do at the end of a long day, namely, beer. Firefighters Rob and Ed spent a full day in December of 2000 fighting a raging brushfire in the Glendale Mountains of California. The battle took them into the midnight hours. Exhausted, they just wanted an ice cold beer, something that really said, “you earned me, pal,” something a cut above the rest. I often felt the same way after my ex came back from a trip to the mall with her friends. As you might’ve guessed by now, they eventually decided to make their own under the name Fireman’s Brew in Canoga Park of Los Angeles, California. Company COO, David Johnson, remembers starting out in 2007 selling beer out of the back of his car. Over the phone, Johnson is extremely laid back. He and his fireman buddies enjoy the simple things. They just wanted to make a great beer for firemen. To this day, the company makes only three beers that they call “off duty drinks“: blonde, brunette, and redhead. “You stick to something and you do it really well… people enjoy that,” Johnson philosophizes to us. However, the guys at Fireman’s Brew quickly realized something… it’s hard to market beer to on-duty firefighters.

In 2008 they introduced a line of “on duty drinks,” starting with coffee and quickly followed up by soda. Just like their beer, Fireman’s Brew makes three flavors of soda: root beer, cream, and black cherry. “It’s the same thing we do with our beers. We try to keep the flavor profiles simple and straightforward,” says Johnson. He adds that the company’s sodas are all-natural, using pure cane sugar in every bottle, and devoid of preservatives. Johnson doesn’t care to get too specific about his flavors, not because he’s keeping a secret; he’s just a a chill guy. “We weren’t sticking our nose in it and smelling it” he says about the soda flavors. With the black cherry, he does note the company sought out a retro cherry flavor that had a bit of a deeper taste to it. What’s really nice to see about this company though is their commitment to the cause. Johnson tells us there are “over 100 firefighter shareholders in the company.” But more importantly, Fireman’s Brew donates a portion of the profits from every product sold to the “National Fallen Firefighters Foundation in Emmitsburg, Maryland” to help out families in need. Whether you enjoy their soda or not, that deserves a tip of the hat and squirt of the hose.

Where to get: Fireman’s Brew sodas can be found at most Rocketfizz retailers. Use the company’s online locator to find the store nearest you. Garvey Nut & Candy is also another option (we assure you we looked – they have it). Online, you can buy Fireman’s Brew Black Cherry from Soda Emporium in single bottles or in 4-packs.

Nose: Mmm. A little maraschino cherry, a little traditional black cherry. Even a mild cherry cola smell in the background.

Taste: Maraschino cherry; Bing cherries; classic black cherry soda; vanilla. This is very lush, very smooth. You’re greeted with a deep, deep, sweet cherry flavor that’s more of a candied maraschino cherry than black. Definitely a little bit of a grenadine thing going on too. The flavor is big and permeates the mouth with mild bubbles that glide to the back of the tongue. As the taste settles in and the initial boldness wears off, the black cherry becomes more apparent, but it’s definitely subtle compared to the maraschino notes. You’ll also taste mild vanilla that floats about on each sip. Sometimes it accompanies the front end of the sip, sometimes it attaches itself to the black cherry notes. This is definitely a sweet beverage, more sweet than most black cherry sodas. But the main takeaway is the maraschino cherry taste with subtle black cherry notes. This tastes luxurious and bright on the palate.

Finish: Definitely a little tartness with a mellow black cherry flavor that slowly fades. A little bit of vanilla on the tongue, too. Mild.

Rating: Fireman’s Brew Black Cherry is 12 ounces of power in a bottle. The flavor rocks your taste buds. In my opinion, this is more of a sweet cherry soda with subtleties of black cherry and vanilla. Still, there’s nothing subtle about this soda. It’s got lots of personality and other sodas know when it walks in a room. Just like my ex. Please come back. The maraschino cherry and grenadine flavors are apparent before anything else. On some sips, there’s additional vanilla notes that accompany these flavors. The black cherry taste is more reserved on the back half of each drink. There’s just enough to make you feel ok with calling this a black cherry soda. Fireman’s Brew Black Cherry has a huge flavor that seems customized to work in a cocktail. Alcohol would dial back the sweetness, while the soda would still have ample flavor to transform the liquor into something fun for your mouth and bad for your liver. This has such a big, sweet flavor that a whole bottle may overwhelm some drinkers. It contains 45 grams of sugar per bottle. I’d probably either cut that down to 35-40 or add more tartness for balance. In the end though, what matters is flavor, and Fireman’s Brew Black Cherry soda has enough flavor to put out a forest fire. That doesn’t make any sense, but you get it. If you like maraschino cherries or Cherry Coke made with grenadine, you’ll love this soda. It’s one your taste buds need to try. Just mentally buckle up before you indulge. As their catch phrase says, extinguish your thirst.

Four Stars