Five Stars

Oogave: Horchata

History: Oogave’s Horchata is a interesting bottle of flavor to welcome us back to the craft soda game after nearly a year-long sabbatical. To our knowledge, they’re the only company in the world besides Rocketfizz (and let’s be real, Rocketfizz… actually never mind, we don’t want to get in trouble) that has converted this milky, cinnamon and vanilla-forward drink into an effervescent carbonated form. For those not in the know, horchata is a beverage that originated in Spain made using cinnamon, vanilla, and tiger nuts, which look like what you’d expect if peanuts and cranberries got together and had an ugly kid. In America, where tiger nuts aren’t as popular, rice is often used as a substitute. Oogave is a brand owned by Rocky Mountain Soda Co. out of Denver, Colorado and as one might guess, they use agave syrup instead of cane sugar to sweeten their sodas. Fun fact: according to co-founder and flavor creator Drew Fulton, the company specifically uses organic Blue Weber light premium agave, the same type of agave used in high-end tequila, to create their syrup. It takes seven years(!!!) to age the agave until its ready to to use in Oogave soda. Dawg, the age of the agave used in this soda is older than most small children. Agave syrup is also actually sweeter than cane sugar, so it takes less of it to make Oogave sodas, meaning they’re lower in calories than most craft sodas. All Oogave sodas are also organic and vegan-friendly.

Oogave Horchata was introduced in 2017 and its inspiration is directly linked to food, according to Fulton. He goes on, saying “Denver has a really great Mexican and hispanic food scene” and that the first thing he does after getting back in town from a road trip is hit up his favorite taco stand where he noshes on green chiles and tacos al pastor. We won’t divulge his secret spot, but he gushes that they make “dank” horchata and that’s he had the idea to turn it into a soda for “three of four years.” Fulton says he wanted to balance the crisp and refreshing elements of a lighter craft soda with the “darker cinnamon, spice flavor and some caramel notes” that are present in horchata. We’ll give him credit. He’s swinging for the fences here. Usually these types of offbeat flavors are love-it or hate-it with no in between. I’m skeptical. But I can’t help myself.

Where to get: Rocky Mountain Soda StoreAmazon • Or find your local retailer here.

Nose: Earthy – not as much sweetness as I’d expect from a drink based on cinnamon and vanilla. Mild vanilla and caramel. Oaerall kind of like a very mild cream soda scent.

Taste: Creamy cinnamon, tangy vanilla that lingers, mild red hots, caramel, soft carbonation. The taste is so much different from the smell and it’s delicious. The first flavor of Oogave Horchata you notice is this creamy cinnamon that evolves as you drink it from almost like a cinnamon cream soda into an earthier, but mild red hot flavor. The backbone of the soda though, is a light, tangy vanilla flavor. It’s hard to describe another soda I’ve tasted it in; it’s a different vanilla flavor than one you find in cream sodas or root beers. More pulled back in terms of boldness, but there’s a zip to it that makes it stand out. A signature tangy taste that when combined with the cinnamon and mild caramel notes, really plays well. This is light and refreshing i.e. lemon lime, but with flavors foreign to that style of soda. It combines elements from different genres of craft soda into a whole new drinking experience.

Finish: The finish is light and crisp with subdued cinnamon and vanilla flavors. The carbonation really stands out here. It’s light and frothy and doesn’t overpower the flavors like some sodas. It’s such a hard experience to wrap my head around because the main flavors – vanilla and cinnamon – are typically associated with sodas that sit heavy in the mouth and the stomach. That’s not the case here. This is refreshing and inviting.

Rating: I gotta be honest – I was pretty hesitant about this at first. Not even based on the flavor, but because of the agave. To me, the backbone of craft soda is pure cane sugar, so to go in a totally different direction raised flags. But Oogave Horchata is proof that great craft soda is not bound by traditional ingredients or flavors. “Organic has the connotation of being good for you, but not good-tasting. We want to dispel that,” says Fulton. This is master craft at its finest, a rare feat of taking an unknown flavor from one sector of the culinary world and infusing it into another seamlessly. It’s crisp, refreshing, yet also sweet and comforting. Even if you’re not a horchata drinker or haven’t even heard of it, these flavors are familiar. Warm vanilla and lush cinnamon dance along the tongue and are pulled back from the shore by a final wave of crisp carbonation. It’s nicely carbonated and the flavors aren’t overbearing. Nothing gets in the way or overpowers anything else in this soda. The agave, dare I say, makes this even smoother? This is best served ice cold out of the bottle or with finely chopped ice in a glass. If you’re into the cocktail scene, try it with a dark rum floater, per the soda’s creator. I’m telling you, take a risk on this thing. It won’t let you down. It’s one of the best sodas we’ve had in the last year. Easily.

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Capt’n Eli’s: Root Beer [collab with TermiNatetor Kitchen]

History: In the words of company president Ed Crockett, root beer has been “the bedrock” of Capt’n Eli’s since its creation. Hell, if it wasn’t for the Eli Forsley’s thievery of root beer in the 1920’s from his father’s basement, this company might not exist. The butterfly effect, right? P.S. Before we get any further into this review, we’re honored to be doing it in collaboration with Nathan Crawford of TermiNatetor Kitchen, who cooked up a mean pulled pork dish using Capt’n Eli’s Root Beer. Nathan’s food recipes will titillate the same taste buds you use for soda. Check out that meat treat here. Back to root beer now. Anyway, we’ll spare you the company’s long backstory (which you can find in our Capt’n Eli’s Orange Pop review), but basically Eli Forsley had a son, Fred, who loved the same root beer recipe his father did. Fred tweaked the formula and began selling it on draft in 1996 at Federal Jack’s in Kennebunk, Maine, which he founded four years earlier. This continued until 2002 when demand became so high that Fred decided to start bottling it. “The local folks raved about it,” Crockett tells us. In fact, here’s where Ed makes his debut. The root beer gained such a following in the northeast that Crockett was brought on by Fred Forsley to help turn Capt’n Eli’s into a full craft soda line. Today Capt’n Eli’s has nine different flavors, none more popular than the root beer. There’s even a comic book designed to help promote the brand: The Undersea Adventures of Capt’n Eli. When you’ve got a publication in the same line of work that created Batman and Superman, that’s when you know you’re baller.

“We wouldn’t be where we are today without the root beer’s success,” Crockett says gleefully over the phone. He’s eager to speak about what he thinks makes the soda special. “They tried to make it unique and that’s why we go with 100% natural cane sugar, but also brown sugar.” The latter is an ingredient that makes sense when you think about root beers, but it’s surprisingly uncommon for the category. “Everything’s right there on the bottle,” he proudly exclaims before also noting the root beer’s prominent use of vanilla. Crockett also makes mention of the root beer’s accolades, specifically its two-time placement in the top three of the root beer category of the U.S. Open Beer Championships. Its most recent placing was 2013. But for all the hoopla surrounding the product, it’s still just a little company out of Portland, Maine making the stuff. “We still handcraft every product,” Crockett says. And that is what keeps craft soda fans coming back. Capt’n Eli’s knows it, too. “We certainly play off the nostalgia of soda.” And in 2016, it’s still a formula that continues to be the lifeblood of the craft soda movement.

Where to get: Capt’n Eli’s is sold nationally across the U.S., but it’s still most popular in the New England region. You can purchase it online directly from the company, as well as from Amazon. You can even find it for purchase in single bottles online from Straub’s Grocers. For large orders, especially if you’re a retailer hoping to sell soda in your store, contact Homer Soda Company.

Nose: Quite aromatic for a root beer. Big wafts of wintergreen and spices like anise and maybe nutmeg. Lots of vanilla as well. Lovely.

Taste: Wintergreen; cane sugar; creamy; vanilla; anise. There’s a great balance of sweet, savory, and creamy in Capt’n Eli’s Root Beer. The carbonation is flush on the tongue from the opening sip, paving the way for waves of wintergreen that provide a bite. Wintergreen and vanilla are the standout flavors. As you taste the mint, that vanilla comes through next in a very creamy fashion. You also get a little bit of spice. Definitely anise and maybe allspice or perhaps mild clove. The latter two have question marks by them, but there’s no doubt about the anise. It imparts a bit of a licorice taste, but not in an overwhelming fashion. This is sweet and creamy and full of vanilla, but with a wintergreen bite that pulls back on the sugar. Balanced. Flavorful. Excellent.

Finish: Creamy mint and vanilla swirl in your mouth and slowly fade in tandem as notes of anise seep through the cracks.

Rating: Capt’n Eli’s has no doubt created one of the best root beers on the open market. It caters to both root beer aficionados and novices. Purists will be thrilled with its old school emphasis on wintergreen and spices while more casual root beer drinkers will embrace its vanilla notes and sweet creaminess. The balance of give and take is near perfect. You get a mouthful of wintergreen that harkens back to vintage root beer recipes. There’s definitely a bite that comes with it. Yet there’s also a robust creaminess anchored by vanilla and cane sugar, a flavor combination more commonly seen in newer root beers. All of this is tied together by a handful of spices, most notably anise. It starts aggressive with mint and ends smoothy with vanilla and mild spices. It’s essentially the blueprint for how I wish all my Tinder dates went. This is highly drinkable, packed with flavor, and most importantly, enjoyable. Capt’n Eli’s has done a splendid job here. I could see how it might be just a pinch sweet for some, but I don’t mind a little sugar in my women or my root beers. Put this one on your short-list to try. It’s a root beer with a flavor stuck somewhere between the 1940’s and 2010’s, and based on our analysis, that might just be the sweet spot.

Five Stars