grapefruit soda

Joia: Grapefruit, Chamomile & Cardamom

History: Like many fans of craft soda, Bob Safford doesn’t drink. Unlike many fans of craft soda, Bob Safford had the money to turn his ideas into liquid for the masses. The irony is that Safford hammered home his ideas by drinking (just a sip) of an alcoholic beverage at a fancy cocktail bar. “It just kind of hit me, why couldn’t you do this with soda?” he says over the phone. A veteran of the marketing industry, Safford was no soda expert. So he assembled a team ranging from a veteran beverage entrepreneur to a Minneapolis mixologist. In an interview with CircleUp, Safford explains how they immediately got to work. “We studied cocktail menus from around the United States to see what fruit, herbal/floral and spice flavors were appearing in cocktails with the greatest frequency.” If he was going to make soda, he wanted it to be more artisinal and, frankly, more healthy than the majority of options available. To many of you, I know that’s an oxymoron. It’s kind of like saying “I ate five cream-filled donuts today, but they were made with skim milk!” as you squeeze the life force out your body to fit into those yoga pants. But healthier options in soda can be created. Typically, they’re fruit-based, which is where Safford took the direction of his team’s creations. In 2011, the group made it official, founding Joia All-Natural Soda in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The name is pronounced “Joy-a,” as an ode to the passion and joy the company feels for its products. Safford believes Joia sodas can function both on their own as more refreshing alternatives to mass-produced soda, and as mixers with alcohol. The company produces four flavors, all using natural fruit juices, spices, and herbs. We’ve previously reviewed their Pineapple, Coconut, and Nutmeg, but no flavor is more popular than the widely available Grapefruit, Chamomile, and Cardamom. The latter was picked up nationally in August of 2015 by Panera restaurants. So now you can have a Joia soda with your low-fat sour cream and onion bagel and soup. Their grapefruit flavor accounts for about 40% of the company’s soda sales, according to Safford. When it came to the creation of their grapefruit soda, Safford says they wanted it to be fruity with an herbal flavor. Interestingly, they focused on aroma first. “Who thinks of soda as having an aroma?” he asks. They wanted to create something that not only smelled authentic, but tasted fresh. “We wanted something that was grapefruit-y but didn’t have that typical tartness of the grapefruit.” So essentially the company tried to take all of grapefruit’s greatest attributes and combine them with the complimentary smoothness of chamomile and the mild savoriness of cardamom. It’s a bold strategy, Cotton. Let’s see if it pays off.

Where to get: Joia’s Grapefruit, Chamomile, & Cardamom is sold nationally at Panera restaurants. You can also purchase it from a number of online retailers, including Amazon, Soda Emporium (single bottles), and Jackeez. To find the physical retailer nearest you, use the company’s online product locator.

Nose: Fresh-cut grapefruit with some additional citrus. This smacks you in the face with authentic grapefruit scents. It couldn’t be closer to the real thing – super impressive.

Taste: Grapefruit juice; bitter spice; smooth. The grapefruit flavor is just as lush as the scent leads you to believe. It’s immediate and upfront, and it caries the soda’s flavor profile throughout. So if you don’t like grapefruit, you won’t like this. Unlike some grapefruit sodas, this one doesn’t try to hide the fruit’s bitterness. You taste real, sweet pink grapefruit upfront, but are then quickly greeted with a tart, bitterness. Some of that comes from the grapefruit itself and some comes from the cardamom. Cardamom is an interesting spice when describing its taste. It’s usually just a complimentary flavor, but in this soda, it has more of an impact and amplifies the grapefruit’s acidity and bitter notes. The chamomile comes through mostly in the aftertaste, but its main accomplishment in this beverage is helping smooth out the soda’s bitterness as it tails off. Strong grapefruit flavor that’s sweet upfront, then sour, and quietly trailing off before the next sip.

Finish: Tart pink grapefruit that transforms into more of an aromatic spiced flavor. The cardamom and chamomile work in tandem on the finish; they give the soda a slightly different flavor as the sip fades. More spiced and smooth with less grapefruit flavor. The chamomile does most of the work here, giving the bittersweet soda a soft, floral ending.

Rating: This is probably the best grapefruit soda we’ve tried thus far. Not just for the website, but life in general. It articulates its main flavor of grapefruit perfectly without hiding its true identity. Grapefruit isn’t a completely sweet fruit. If you ever try a grapefruit beverage that tastes like a trip to the candy factory, the company wasn’t being authentic in its interpretation of the flavor. Joia embraces grapefruit’s bittersweet nature and adds two other flavors that both amplify and assist it. Most of the sugar you taste comes from the fruit itself, but there’s definitely enough of it there to make you feel like you’re drinking soda and not juice. From the very first sniff of the bottle, Grapefruit, Chamomile, and Cardamom gives off the impression that it was made with real ingredients. It is. From the opening sip, the grapefruit’s sweetness is lush and flavorful, before the cardamom intensifies its bitter notes. The chamomile works as a softening agent near the finish, making this soda an extremely smooth one with mild floral notes. For a grapefruit soda, that’s damn impressive. That’s like taking a fat dude and somehow fitting him into 30×30 jeans. All praise aside, this is grapefruit through and through so if you don’t like the fruit itself, stay away from this one. For the rest of you wanting to try something excellent regardless of your fruit prejudices, Joia makes arguably the best grapefruit soda on the market. Put it in your mouth.

Five Stars

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Bundaberg: Pink Grapefruit

History: Perched along the northeastern coast of Queensland, Australia sits the city of Bundaberg. The name itself is hard not to say in an Aussie accent. It’s ok, we’ll pause so you can do it. You good now? Right, then. But you might know the name from arguably its greatest export, Bunderberg Brewed Drinks. The company, founded in 1960 and named after the city, is most famous for its ginger beer. Today, the company brews around 12 different flavors at a time with new ideas for sodas always being kicked around. Bundaberg ships its sodas across 46 different counties. Most of their flavors can be found around the world, though Australia and New Zealand are probably the only places you can be guaranteed to find the entire collection. For example, you won’t find Creaming Soda or Pineapple and Coconut in America. And let me tell you, we were given some of the latter just to sample and not review… and it is delightful. I may not have a girlfriend, but I do get sent rare sodas from time to time. I digress. I also mentioned that Bundaberg “brews” its sodas. This word is very important because it really is the best way to describe how their beverages are produced. Ashleigh Gray, Bundaberg’s Brand Manager, says “We pour our heart and soul into every brewed drink.” And I know that warms your heart, but the most important ingredients are actually yeast and fruit. Using yeast to ferment the fruit allows Bundaberg “to extract real flavor,” giving the sodas their signature, authentic fruity taste. According to Gray, the process can take “up to seven days.” Trust me, for a soda, that is intense. The company branched out from ginger beer in 2010, introducing its sparkling line that included pink grapefruit, guava, and blood orange. Even though it can be a divisive fruit, we’ve always felt like grapefruit could really translate to soda if the bottler could actually pull out the real essence of the fruit. Bundaberg’s Peach Soda does exactly that, so it was time to see how they tackled something a little more challenging to a wider audience’s palate. When we asked how the company designed the soda’s flavor profile, we were given an encouraging answer. Gray told us that “the grapefruit juice and the locally sourced sugarcane used in our beverages means that we don’t need to design the taste of our beverages, the taste comes through the use of real, quality ingredients.” We’re more than convinced our audience deserves to know more about Bundaberg’s Pink Grapefruit soda. Yet, as with any grapefruit soda or new relationship, we’re guarded.

Where to get: Bundaberg is the largest nonalcoholic craft beverage distributor in Australia and their sodas can be found all over the world. To find your nearest retailer, enter your info in their online product locator. You can also buy it online from Soda Emporium in single bottles or on Amazon in 12-packs.

Nose: Smells exactly like a fresh-sliced pink grapefruit. You can’t get a more authentic grapefruit scent.

Taste: Grapefruit; mild sweetness; mild acidity. For as lush as this smells, the grapefruit taste is more pulled back than I’d expect. Pink grapefruit is definitely the dominating flavor here; it’s just not as bold as your nose leads you to believes. It’s a mild, but authentic grapefruit taste with reasonable sweetness and a slight, slight tartness. Solid grapefruit flavor, but doesn’t have the same punch or acidity that a real grapefruit slice contains. Refreshing and easy to drink. A summer soda, no doubt.

Finish: Medium tartness that flows outward on the tongue with the same grapefruit flavor from the body of the soda. The only difference on the finish is that the acidity is a little more noticeable.

Rating: Bundaberg is one of the best mass-produced craft soda brands at taking a fruit and transforming it into a sugary carbonated beverage while maintaining its authentic flavor. Their take on pink grapefruit is no different. It actually does taste like real grapefruit, just more mild in every way. Bundaberg Pink Grapefruit Soda takes everything about the fruit – namely the flavor and the acidity – and dials it back. Even the sugar levels aren’t as high as in other craft sodas. All of this, I assume, is intentional since grapefruit’s flavor is pretty divisive to the general population. Unlike drinking fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice, this is much more approachable. This is a grapefruit soda that’s light and refreshing while still tasting like the real thing. It’s like the opposite of when my sister makes meatloaf – I’m not really sure what’s in there, and God knows it’s better if I don’t ask. Bundaberg seems to have made a grapefruit soda for both fans and non-fans of grapefruit. Even if the fruit itself makes you a little hesitant, I’d still suggest trying the soda. My only qualm is the fact that it’s so approachable. For me, I’d enjoy a little more punch from the flavor. Bolder grapefruit and more of a bite. Admittedly, I’m probably in the minority, but I just need a little more oomph. I think Bundaberg’s Pink Grapefruit Soda would be best enjoyed on a hot day, perhaps by the pool or on a boat, maybe with some rum or vodka. Just make sure you’re not the driver. Grapefruit sodas are quietly becoming more popular in craft soda and many of today’s bottlers could learn a lesson from Bundaberg’s take on the category.

Four Stars

Gazosa La Fiorenzana: Pompelmo

History: Hailing from the Alps of Switzlerand comes a soda that’s been brewed the same way since 1921, a hidden gem tucked away in the little village of Grono located in the Grisons canton. It’s been traveling over 4,900 miles and longer than 14.5 hours to reach America, and now it’s here… for the first time ever. That’s right, Five Star Soda is the first American media outlet to get its hands on Gazosa La Fiorenzana. Francesco Tonna started Gazosa with four original flavors: Pompelmo (grapegruit), Limone (lemon), Mandarino (mandarin orange), and  Lampone (raspberry). Today there are a total of eight. It was in 2002 when ex-footballer (soccer) and Polpenzisch founder Stephan Keller descended from the Netherlands to a bar in Zurich during his time playing for FC Zurich. It was there he sampled Gazosa for the first time. He and his immaculate beard realized immediately he couldn’t let this tasting be his last and decided to begin importing the Swiss soda to the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. Meanwhile, I didn’t put pants on until noon today. His description of Gazosa paints the company as the epitome of little mom and pop productions. He jokes, “Swiss small is different to U.S. small.” First of all, the business has stayed in the Ponzio-Tonna family and is currently in its fourth generation. According to the Keller, the soda’s label remains unchanged. The company still uses refillable swing-top bottles, a reason, Keller adds, that Gazosa will probably never be available in America. People in America definitely probably don’t have the patience for refillable bottles. The company also has no marketing budget and relies soley on word-of-mouth. But what we all care about is taste. To that, Keller added, “Our flavors are pure and old fashioned, please don’t expect any mixes or addition of vanilla or anything.” Like many soda bottlers outside of America, a majority (six) of Gazosa’s flavors are citrus, including all four original flavors. There’s a simple reason for this. You ready? Keller explains the secret, saying, “Francesco Tonna just used what he had available, experimented and tested the flavors amongst his loyal drinkers.” Mind blowing, right? What we’re getting at is this little, independent Swiss family business has been making soda the old fashioned way with real ingredients for a long time. They might just be one of the soda universe’s best kept secrets.

We wanted our first Gazosa review to remain true to the original four flavors, but also to be a little adventurous. We went with Pompelmo. We figured if you can make a divisive flavor like grapefruit taste good in soda form, then you probably know what you’re doing. Turns out Pompelmo was the second flavor Tonna cooked up and Keller notes it’s actually the original Limone with real grapefruit added to the recipe for some added bitterness. You can actually see bits of pulp in the bottle. If you’re curious (even if you’re not), Pompelmo means “grapefruit” in Italian. As with all Gazosa citrus flavors, the fruit comes “from Italian traders to the south of Switzerland,” says Keller. The flavor is the company’s international best-seller.

Where to get: Gazosa La Fiorenzana is available at many fine Swiss restaurants and cafes. It’s currently distributed only in Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany.

Nose: Grapefruit. Real grapefruit. It’s like cutting open a grapefruit and holding the peel up to your nose. It’s actually pretty remarkable. There’s also some lemon on the nose as well.

Taste: Sweet lemon; tartness; grapefruit; bitter carbonation. There’s a bittersweet element to this soda that authentically ties the whole drink together. The lemon is more prominent in the flavor profile than the nose, but the bitterness of real lemon shines through in combination with the tart sweetness of a grapefruit. The carbonation is a rush of intensity at the beginning of each sip that amplifies the bitter lemon notes. This gradually fades into a sweeter lemon-grapefruit hybrid. The lemon at this point becomes more candied akin to a traditional lemon-lime soda, but the grapefruit really does taste like real grapefruit juice. It’s bitter, then it’s sweet and ends with a mild tartness. An authentic citrus soda.

Finish: Tart grapefruit with a light dusting of sugar that gradually fades. The linger on this is perfect.

Rating: The best grapefruit soda in the world may very well hail from Switzerland. Gazosa has taken one of America’s most divisive fruits and presented it in a soda with juice to taste fresh, enough tartness to remain true to the lemon and grapefruit, and enough sweetness to keep soda purists happy. It’s very rich in citrus. The juices are very prominent. The grapefruit juice really holds its flavor. If you don’t like grapefruit, you wouldn’t like this. But why would you be drinking grapefruit soda to begin with, you weirdo? The lemon goes through more of a transformation, at one point bitter, and at another much sweeter. Americans aren’t used to sodas that garner a large portion of their sweetness from the natural sugars in the juices. Compared to American soda, even some of the artisinal fruit ones, this probably tastes more like a carbonated juice than soda if I had to choose. But then there’s that distinctive soda fizz and sugar rush on some sips. It’s a nice mixture. The Swiss have beautiful women and make beautiful soda. That’s already two reasons for me to find a new girlfriend in Switzerland. This is a rare treat for us at Five Star to review something from so far away. The only sad thing is that unless you’re heading to Switzerland, this will be out of your reach. The one that got away. Maybe you should go chase after it. Just maybe. Fünf sterne.

lemon