Four Stars

Frïsa: Black Currant Rosehip

History: You want some of that fancy soda? That stuff that makes you wanna throw on a robe and a crown and just do the Vince McMahon strut down the street as you drink it? Boy, do we have a beverage for you. Frïsa touts itself as “an ultra-premium European botanical beverage,” according to company general manager and COO Casey Beard. Do you already not feel a little more regal just having read that? Beard continues saying, “all of our ingredients are all natural, gluten free, non-GMO and Kosher certified. We made sure we used the best of the best when crafting FRÏSA… even our water is sourced from the Pyrenes.” Hold on. What? That’s right. Mountain water. European mountain water from the Iberian Peninsula is in every cute, stubby bottle. Ironically, Frïsa is not produced in Europe, but rather the cold tundra of Minneapolis, Minnesota and it was founded in early 2015. Each drink is also under 100 calories per serving. But what separates Frïsa from other sodas is the botanicals it uses. Botanicals usually refer to ingredients like herbs, spices, or floral notes that impart a unique flavor not often found in most soda. And Beard doesn’t hide the fact that his company is trying to be different. “We saw the need and opportunity for an alternative to the Cokes and Pepsis of the world but needed to put a spin on it,” he tells us. Frïsa’s most popular flavor is Elderflower, but its most interesting flavor in our opinion is black currant rosehip. Here’s the thing: we don’t know what black currant is, much less how it tastes. Beard lets us know we aren’t crazy, saying that black currant is a “more common ingredient in Europe where it is widely cultivated and consumed,” before adding that its best American comparison is the blackberry or marionberry. He calls the drink “refined and sophisticated,” yet “light and refreshing.” Listen, I’m already on my high horse so you don’t have to sell me on drinking it or the aesthetics. I just hope my taste buds get treated with a similar royal experience.

Buy: Frïsa Store

Nose: Strong grape juice smells, though a little bit more of a sophisticated grape/berry scent, ala wine.

Taste: Tart; berry; grape; light cherry; tangy; frothy. The standouts in this soda are the frothy carbonation combined with a strong tartness. The two contrast one another nicely. The flavor is something along the lines of a tangy grape and black cherry hybrid floating on a cloud of thick, but soft carbonation. The tartness comes from the use of lemon juice, but you don’t really taste lemon, per se. That tart and tangy flavor manifests itself in the form of a berry taste. There’s also just the faintest hint of floral notes. Like a grown up carbonated grape juice with an infusion of cherry.

Finish: Berry tartness that slowly fades in favor of light floral notes.

Rating: Frïsa continues to cement itself as an artisan soda brand of the future. The company walks a fine line of soda vs. carbonated juice, but that’s only because the flavors they use taste so fresh. Black currant rosehip is no exception. If there was ever such a thing as fresh-squeezed soda, this is it. The flavors are bold and bright. You’ll taste a hybrid grape and dark berry flavor with an accompanying cherry kick. But what stands out most is the tartness. It’s the shining star of the soda. It intensifies all of the flavors in the bottle in a positive way. It’s tangy, but not sour. For some, this may be a little too acidic, but I think for most it’ll be a refreshing new take on berry soda. The one area I’d like to see improved is the floral taste on the soda’s finish. I need to taste that a little bit more in the soda’s body before I can give this five stars. If you didn’t tell people there was rosehip natural extract in this soda, most wouldn’t even notice it. Beyond that, Frïsa’s black currant rosehip is fruity, sophisticated, and bold. It’s like simultaneously visiting the vineyards of California and the beaches of Miami at the same time, yet not coming back with an overpriced bottle you’ll never drink or a tattoo you’ll always regret. The bottom line is that this young company makes good stuff and black currant rosehip continues the trend.

Four Stars

Bec: Cranberry

History: We always appreciate when someone tries something different, so kudos to Bec for making a cranberry soda. I think that needs to be said from the beginning. For those of you unaware with Bec, it’s a soft drink company out of Montreal, Quebec in Canada. They make a pretty dope cola… but cranberry? As a soda… really? Cranberry is the fruit that people only remember exists during November and December. Pretty bold move to make it a permanent flavor. I mean, I keep my Christmas lights up year-round, but I’m not sure all my neighbors appreciate that my front porch looks like it’s on drugs when it’s May. I’m just saying, this needs to be good to be justified twelve months out of the year. Now that said, we did our journalistic soda diligence and asked Bec why they landed on cranberry. Turns out the company had been working on two new, unusual flavors – lime and cranberry – for over a year, according to Bec Associate Gwendal Creurer. She continued explaining the decision by saying “We decided to use cranberry for its amazing taste and its health benefits (diuretic, antioxidant, vitamin). In Quebec, we have the world biggest production of organic cranberries, so it’s a kind of ‘big up’ to our land and it’s great products.” Bec is a brand very focused on organics. Yes, they want their soda to taste good, but they’re also very careful about where their ingredients are sourced. Speaking of ingredients, it wouldn’t be a Canadian soda if there wasn’t maple syrup in this, right? Well, you can sleep easy tonight because Bec Cranberry does indeed contain maple syrup and its inclusion is critical in the recipe. Says Creurer, “It was a long process to deal with the astringency of the fruit and not make it too aggressive; with maple syrup, we found the right balance between acidity and sweetness.” Oh, and for all you health nuts out there, Bec Cranberry contains no chemical ingredients. The sodas’s crimson color is completely natural from the cranberry juice. “It deserves to be known!” is the company’s philosophy behind their new cranberry soda. Five Star Soda is here to answer the call for you, Bec. We’ll see how long we stay on the line.

Buy: Bec sodas are sold throughout a majority of Quebec, Canada and scattered across parts of France. To see if there’s a retailer near you, check out the Bec product locator here. You can also purchase Bec Cranberry from Terroirs in Quebec.

Nose: Like a sweeter version of cranberry Ocean Spray with maybe just a dash of cherry. Fruity and lovely.

Taste: Tart; authentic cranberries; lots of light, but frothy carbonation. This is spot on to what actual cranberries taste like. It’s almost like juicing a real cranberry and then carbonating it. What’s most surprising about this soda and also what makes it taste authentic to the flavor is the tartness. It’s not sour, but it is very tart, something that is a signature of cranberries. There’s also lots of brisk, frothy carbonation that adds to the tartness. This is a rare soda where the tartness and flavor of the fruit stand out more than the taste of the sugar.

Finish: Tangy cranberry sauce that slowly fades. Like having the holidays in your mouth.

Rating: I wasn’t sure what to expect from a cranberry soda and Bec has pleasantly surprised me. It’s about as authentic to the flavor as it can be without being a juice. But make no mistake – this is heavily carbonated and very much a soda. In fact, the carbonation is really my only criticism here. There’s a little too much of it, making an already tart soda at times too tart. Luckily, Bec’s Cranberry soda is so flavorful that this doesn’t present much of an issue. This is really the definition of a craft soda. It nails the flavor. It uses real ingredients like cranberry juice and Canadian maple syrup. And it’s not too sweet, so it should appeal to more of an adult crowd. The biggest takeaway from Bec Cranberry is what it should be: the flavor is excellent. This probably won’t be a soda you drink all the time, but around the holidays it makes for a fantastic beverage. Also a great mixer, if you’re into that sort of thing. And around the holidays, I’m always looking for good mixers to help me tolerate my uncles.

Four Stars

Cariboo Brewing: Root Beer

History: We’ve been gone awhile and we know we’ve left many of you parched for craft soda reviews. Well after accumulating many frequent flyer miles, we’re back baby. One of the places we zoomed through? Canada, eh. And though we didn’t see any moose, we did come across a root beer we felt fit for review from Cariboo Brewing out of Prince George, British Columbia. For perspective for our U.S. readers, Prince George is about a four and a half hour flight north from Seattle. Several things stood out to us about Cariboo’s take on root beer. Most noticeably is the 0.5% alcohol/volume label on the front of the can… yes, it comes in a can and not a glass bottle. But don’t fret, this isn’t a hard root beer. It’s nonalcoholic. Fun fact: even nonalcoholic beers are typically 0.5% alcohol/volume. Some of your favorite root beers from other breweries likely contain trace amounts of alcohol as well. Cariboo Brewing is also known for their environmental efforts, so if you’re a vegan, keep your pants on here for the next sentence. According to the company, “For every case of Cariboo, we will plant a tree to aid in the effort to save B.C. forests from pine beetle devastation and restore areas struck by forest fires.” The brewery “has partnered with the BC Ministry of Forests and Range to Refresh & Reforest BC with over 1 million trees by 2020.” Cariboo Brewing Root Beer is made with pure spring water and cane sugar and the company describes its taste as “smooth and creamy” with “sassafras on the palate.” The brewery’s creation was made with American taste buds in mind, where the drink is most popular. So while our elections are a disaster at the moment, at least our beverages are keeping our neighbors to the north happy. And guys, save some more for us and we’ll let you know in November if we’re moving there.

Where to get: For this one, your best bet is to live near Prince George, British Columbia, Canada or contact the brewery to place an order for a 6-pack.

Nose: Standard root beer smell, similar to A&W. Some nostril hits of birch oil and mint.

Taste: Mild vanilla; subtle wintergreen; birch bark; sugar; light creaminess. There’s a really pleasant synergy of all the flavors in Cariboo’s Root Beer. No ingredient overpowers its companions. In terms of mouth feel, it’s crisp up front, but the back half is creamy. You’ll taste traditional root beer flavors like vanilla, wintergreen mint, and birch bark, along with crisp sugar. Everything is balanced. No weird aftertaste either. If I had to pick a couple elements that stand out most, I’d go with the birch oil and the vanilla – but you’ll probably have your own opinions here. Pairs well with ice too, making this root beer slightly more creamy.

Finish: The finish is short, but slightly more earthy. After the creaminess of the body fades, you’re left with the birch and wintergreen flavors that briefly linger for a couple seconds.

Rating: With a cornucopia of craft root beers on the market, so often we just need one that doesn’t let us down or try to shove as many weird flavors in a bottle as it can. Cariboo Root Beer is here to satisfy your need for a traditional, tasty mug of soda brew. It’s one of the few craft root beers out there that comes in a can instead of a bottle. Purists may scoff at this, but we can attest there’s no metallic or weird aftertaste. The British Columbia, Canada brewing company achieves great balance in its root beer with vanilla, sugar, wintergreen, and birch oil all evident in the flavor profile. It’s crisp, but also creamy – a trait that scores big points with us. It’s consistent, has strong flavor, and doesn’t try to be something it’s not. This is the dad of root beers (no offense to Dad’s Root Beer): you can depend on it to do the right things when others let you down. One element I’d like to see brought out more is the vanilla. You get bits and pieces of it and can taste how Cariboo has done a great job with that flavor, but I think it needs to shine more. Overall, this is delicious. I’d have a hard time seeing any root beer purist or novice not enjoying this. If you’re all aboot (Canada pun? √) root beer, do yourself a favor and get in touch with your Canadian brethren for a tasty north of the border treat.

Four Stars