green apple

Roman’s Italian Soda: Sour Apple

History: “It tastes good and it smells good.” Not a bad start if the words of Romano’s Italian Soda founder, Ken Pastega, are true. Pastega grew up in the soda business. He says his family worked for PepsiCo. for 65 years, owning as many as four franchises at a given time. A one-time marketing executive for the soda giant, Pastega was constantly exposed to new trends and flavors, and it was that sense for innovation that came in handy one day when visiting a coffee shop. He noticed the barista pouring hand-made Italian sodas for the shop’s customers and loved that each soda was slightly different. Well, Pastega is of Italian heritage himself. But you knew that, right? I mean, his last name is almost Pasta. He also already had all that Pepsi bottling equipment at his Medford, Oregon plant. So in 2005 in Corvallis, Oregon, he founded Romano’s Italian Soda, naming it after his Italian grandfather. When asked what makes it Italian soda, he quips, “’cause I’m Italian!” He also credits Jones Soda for being another inspiration for entering the craft soda game. All Romano’s Italian Sodas are made with pure cane sugar and no caffeine. Pastega recounts the company being ahead of the curve on the pure cane sugar soda boom, making the switch from corn syrup to real sugar in 2007. He adds, “I always liked Pepsi better with cane sugar than corn sugar.” The family sold its four Pepsi franchises in 2011. Romano’s started out in fountains at local 711 gas stations then gradually moved to plastic bottles and then glass. Today, the company makes six flavors. Pastega tells us that Sour Apple, our review here, is actually fairly low on the totem pole in terms of sales at fifth overall. But sometimes you just gotta give the lesser flavors some love. This same logic also applies to dating, ladies. And lucky for all beautiful women out there… I’m single AND I write really good reviews of soda on the Internet. Note: need to work on sales pitch. Speaking of sales pitches, Pastega made sure to let us know he wanted his sour apple soda to actually taste a little sour. A novel concept, I know, but one this flavor often misses in the craft soda market. Use Green Apple Jolly Ranchers as a comparison. Pastega says, “We tried to duplicate the feel of the candy in the person’s mouth, the smell of the candy, and the flavor of the candy.” And I think you’d be letting Pastega down if you didn’t try his soda on ice cream. Near the end of our interview, he did a solid five minutes on that topic alone. We’ll do you one better and put in more than five in on this tasting.

Where to get: Romano’s Italian Soda is mostly sold in the Northwest Oregon region. It’s sold nationally through Harry and David stores. You can also purchase it online via Summit City Soda.

Nose: Definitely smells exactly like the label says: sour apple. If you’ve ever tried sour apple Dum Dums, smells very similar to that.

Taste: Sour green apple; green apple Jolly Ranchers; lots of little carbonation. This tastes like sour green apple candy in liquid form. There’s a great balance of sweetness and tartness in the apple. It’s very similar to the flavor of Jolly Rancher Green Apple hard candy. The carbonation is light and frothy, but there’s a lot of it at the beginning of each sip that gives way to a flavorful sour apple taste on the palate. I have to say the apple flavor really captures the essence of Granny Smith Apples. Impressive.

Finish: Slightly acidic and tart green apple. The sour notes definitely show themselves more at the end of each drink.

Rating: Romano’s Italian Soda really captures what you’ll be expecting in a sour apple soda. It’s apple up front with a tart, sour candy bite at the end. The green apple flavor is crisp and refreshing, aided by the soda’s carbonation. The bubbles are light and frothy, and once they subside you get blasted with flavorful sour green apple. For a soda with such a high sugar level (45 grams), the tartness and authentic apple flavor help to keep the sweetness in balance. The tart green apple notes evoke memories of Green Apple Jolly Ranchers. It also tastes kind of like a non-alcoholic version of Smirnoff Ice Green Apple… not that this adult man… knows what those taste like. This really works on all levels. The only drawback we can think of is that it might be a little too tart for some drinkers. I’d curtail the acidity on the finish just slightly. But this shouldn’t be an issue for most drinkers. The soda’s bright green color just adds to the appeal. The flavor is robust, but probably isn’t something I’d recommend drinking fast. Savor and enjoy the experience. Romano’s Italian Soda is still a growing brand, but one that pleasantly surprises the taste buds with this flavor. You’d be silly not to try this sweet and sour soda. Pucker up.


Death Valley Soda: Sour Green Apple

History: “We’ve been brewing beers for 20 years, but I’ve been brewing soda for 25 years,” says Rick Lovett, beer and soda brewmaster of Indian Wells Brewing Company. Lovett probably makes more soda than any independent bottler in the world. He’s currently trying to get up to 200 flavors spread out over various brands. He even wants to make the Guinness Book of World Records for it. But among all the concoctions, his signature line is the six-flavor deep, Death Valley Soda. Indian Wells Brewery is located in Inyokern, California, a small city tucked away in the hot, dessert climate of rural California, thus the name Death Valley Soda and the cowboy-influenced label. “It wasn’t any master plan. It just made sense,” Lovett jokes. The most unique flavor in the Death Valley Soda line? Sour Green Apple. Over the phone, Lovett recalls a story of his young grandson playing outside and sucking on a Green Apple Jolly Rancher. He reached his little hand up to his mouth, pulled out the candy, looked at his grandpa and said, “Popa, can you make this into soda?” Turns out he could. Death Valley Sour Green Apple is made with pure cane sugar and real Granny Smith Apples, as well as McIntoch and Pink Lady. As with all Indian Wells products, the soda’s most unique element is the water used in making it. The Indian Wells Spring is actually owned by the brewery. Its water is filtered through million of feet of granite; according to Lovett, thousands of gallons spill out to the surface every day. But the soda’s most noticeable feature is undoubtedly its bright green color that is remarkably 100% natural with no food dye used. If you think that’s hard to believe, you aren’t the only one. In order for Whole Foods to carry the soda, the natural goods supermarket made Indian Wells Brewing hire professionals to provide an independent chemical analysis on the product to prove the color was authentic. Wild stuff. “All of America is waking up,” Lovett says of the rise in popularity of soda made with quality ingredients. “I wouldn’t have produced a soda pumped up with additives and then given it to my grandson.” I understand, Rick. Now I’m about to pump this soda into me.

Where to get: Death Valley Soda is available for purchase at Rocketfizz retailers. You can get your fix online at Amazon for 12-packs. There are also online retailers selling individual bottles, but at the time of this review all were sold out. Give it a Google.

Nose: Green apple Jolly Ranchers; fresh-sliced Granny Smith Apples.

Taste: Green Apple Airheads; cane sugar. This is light. It certainly tastes like candy green apple. But the sour flavor that the label advocates is not present. A little bit of bitterness near the end that may come from the spices Death Valley uses, but no sour notes. The carbonation is soft. You can taste the cane sugar, but you can also taste some of the water’s influence in this drink. This is definitely very light, both in flavor and mouth feel.

Finish: Slightly bitter green apple. Definitely more of a bitter than sour sensation on the tongue.

Rating: Your nose and eyes always set the expectation for any soda. It shouldn’t just taste delicious; it should smell good. Whatever’s written on that label will also inevitably sway you. This smelled like Jolly Ranchers, and the word “sour” on the label would indicate there’s going to be some tartness. I anticipated this tasting like liquid sour green apple candy, hopefully with some fresh apple notes. That’s not what you get. The sour, tartness, bite – whatever you want to call it; it’s not there. You get some bitter notes on the finish, but there’s no punch to this. It’s light. A little too light. You definitely get a nice candy green apple taste in the flavor profile, but I was promised sour and did not get it. This is a beautiful green color. One of the prettier sodas in hue I’ve come across. But I feel like I got lied to here. If this was labeled “green apple” as opposed to “sour green apple,” I’d maybe rate this higher. If you enjoy apple-flavored things or are just a big proponent of fruit sodas, this is worth a shot. If you’re looking for something that makes the sour detectors on the back of your tongue flash red, you won’t find it here. Death Valley has made a fine apple soda, but the name on the label needs a little work.