five star soda

Simpson Spring: Coffee Soda

History: Let me tell you about a company whose namesake dates back to 6000 BC. Gives a whole new meaning to the word “retro,’ huh? “We’re the oldest bottling plant in the country,” says Simpson Spring co-owner and marketing head Chris Bertarelli. The spring itself is what’s ancient. The South Easton, Massachusetts company actually started up in 1878. The bottling plant is built around the spring, meaning the spring is literally in the building. After Sam Simpson acquired and farmed the land where the spring is located for 50 years, he was convinced by his grandson, Fred Howard, to sell him five acres around his property. According to Bertarelli, Howard was a bit… uhh, weird. But if it was for his eccentricities, Simpson Spring Soda might not exist. It was Howard who started experimenting with carbonating the spring water and adding flavor to it. The coffee soda we review today is still the original recipe made with real coffee and was one of the first flavors in company history. Bertarelli was uncertain about the exact date of when the company began producing soda, but notes the year on the recipe book is dated 1919. The only difference between the original sodas of now and then is that today’s versions contain pure cane sugar instead of syrup. The first incantation of Simpson Spring Coffee Soda was called “Spar Coffee.’ People would add cream and sugar… and scotch. Because nothing says starting your morning like getting hammered and stumbling through bacon and eggs. Another fun fact about the coffee soda: in 1930 it was sent down to Manhattan and sold in Macy’s department stores. Eventually, Fred Howard left the company to pursue the “dustless duster.” Bertarelli and her husband took the business over in 1988 and continue to run the historic, yet small operation. At the end of the day, it’s all about the spring. Says Bertarelli, “Soda is a 90% water and we’re using a spring water that has no chemicals added to the water and it’s in glass.” We’ve heard this is a love-it or hate-it soda, and it’s our job to tell you which side to believe.

Where to get: You can purchase Simpson Spring Coffee Soda online at Summit City Soda.

Nose: Light Starbucks Frappuccino; cinnamon bread. Not a particularly strong smell for a coffee-related beverage.

Taste: Dark roast; tartness; cane sugar. The coffee taste is immediate followed by an acidic bite. The bite is a little harsh and takes time to adjust to throughout the drink. The coffee flavor tastes a little watered down. You can really taste the water. The cane sugar helps supplant it a little but, but the tartness in this soda really cuts the sugar. The flavors are simple, but not in balance.

Finish: Dark roast with the volume turned down along with some caramel notes and tartness. Pretty similar to the body of the soda.

Rating: Coffee sodas are their own animal because of the wide variety of flavor options available. Do you want mocha java? Maybe Irish Cream? How about some wild Columbian blend infused with spices? This is what makes some of the great coffee sodas some of the best craft sodas, period. But this is still soda we’re talking about, and soda has three main elements: carbonated water, a sweetener, and the ingredients used to impart the soda’s intended flavor. With Simpson Spring’s Coffee Soda, the company has blended these three elements in a way that leaves an imbalanced flavor profile. The flavor of dark roasted coffee is nice, but it’s a ghost of what it could be and is too watered down and not sweet enough. There’s also a tartness to this that seems out of place. Coffee is an acidic drink in general, but especially so in this soda. It’s a sensation that makes your face wrinkle. It’s like every time I remember the guy my sister married. What a dumbass great stepbrother. I’d prefer to have seen the coffee flavor shine more boldy with less water used. Fans of coffee drinks should certainly still give this a try. But if you’re on the fence about it, unless you’re cool with acidic coffee, you’re better served to try another coffee soda. I wanted to like this, and I know it has a fan base, but our team isn’t sold.


Jackson Hole Soda: High Mountain Huckleberry

History: Yee haw, partner! Put on your boots and let’s go down to the saloon for the next few minutes. Or actually, let’s go north to Wyoming. The year was 2002 when Jackson Hole Soda Company popped up in Jackson, Wyoming. Don’t worry; it’s 2.5 hours away from Yellowstone National Park, so you should be safe for a visit. Don’t even tell me if they live in Jackson too. Anyway, the folks in Jackson really liked their rootin’ tootin’ soda jerks. So much so that the company outgrew itself and moved into western Colorado. And then it happened again. Now the soda is produced in Montebello, California. Typically expansion means success and success means good soda. And good soda is what you want in your fridge. Jackson Hole Soda Company produces eight different flavors, including traditional fan favorites like root beer and sarsaparilla and the more unusual High Mountain Huckleberry. The company changed ownership in 2011 when Bill Leary and his family saddled up and bought it. “Part of me always wanted to be in a fun business,” he says in a calm, joyful tone on the phone. Many of the company’s flavors have been tweaked slightly since the sale, but are all still similar to the original recipes. Leary says customers typically tell him they’re drawn in by the wild west-themed packaging and keep coming back for the flavors. Indeed we were drawn to High Mountain Huckleberry, among other reasons, for the label. Let’s see if we come back for what’s inside.

History: Jackson Hole Soda is distributed in pockets all over the United States. Check your local retro soda stores. They’re also available at many Rocketfizz retailers. But for those of us who live life with more of a pizza delivery philosophy, you can also buy Jackson Hole Soda on Amazon.

Nose: Strong black raspberry, the kind that used to grow at grandma’s house; intense berry; sugar-covered blackberries. There’s a lot going on here for your flavor snout. Definitely lots of berry scents.

Taste: Soft berry flavor; not quite blueberry; not quite raspberry. The carbonation on this is really noticeable right off the bat in a way that adds to the flavor profiles in this soda. Very light, frothy bubbles push a sweet black raspberry flavor to the forefront of your taste buds that quickly evaporates into a soft blueberry taste. The raspberry and blueberry flavors almost begin to meld into a… blue raspberry taste. Yeah, I know. Never saw that one coming. Very smooth for a fruit soda with a carbonation feel in the mouth much closer to cream than citrus or berry sodas. The bubbles are fun and different than most carbonation. The sugar in this isn’t overbearing, but is just a pinch on the sweeter side. That said, no harsh syrupy taste. The blueberry and raspberry flavors interchange back and forth. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle in your mouth.

Finish: Delicious blue raspberry ICEE. This is a no-brainer. If you’ve had a blue raspberry diabetes in a cup ICEE before at the movies or in the mall, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you’re unfamiliar with this beverage, then I’m sorry you didn’t have a childhood.

Rating: This is certainly one of the most interesting fruit sodas on the market today. Its multiple berry flavors, unique carbonation, and smoothness make this one of the more fun sodas sold on shelves. It’s definitely an experience that both confuses and pleases the drinker. There’s a lot of complicated flavor profiles occurring in this bottle. Making sodas with layers of taste is a difficult task, and Jackson Hole has done a very nice job of accomplishing that with High Mountain Huckleberry. It’s especially impressive considering no one really knows what a huckleberry is or where it naturally grows. Half of you just went to Google huckleberries, so welcome back. All in all, this is really fun and tasty. You may not be able to place the berry flavors exactly, but that makes it a mystery worth trying to solve until the last sip. The sugar can be a bit intense at times and really ramps up at the end of each drink. I wouldn’t advise guzzling this. Not just because of the sugar, but because this should be enjoyed for its intricate blend of flavors. This is a beverage passionate craft soda drinkers should invest in for its layered flavor profile and one younger drinkers can enjoy for its sweetness and drinkability. You can go back to Googling berries now if you want. We’ll be drinking this instead.