hank’s

Hank’s: Orange Cream

History: Innnnnn West Philadelphia, born and raised, Hank’s Gourmet Soda is callin’ your name. Hank’s is one of those interesting sodas that came well after the old-school vintage stuff, but well before the craft soda renaissance of the mid-2010’s. The company was founded in (do we really have to tell you?) Philadelphia in 1995 by Bill Dunman and his business partners. The group came from a background in beer distribution, handling popular east coast brands like Yuengling and Sam Adams. But it wasn’t always smooth sailing in the beer industry. Dunman calls Pennsylvania’s beer distribution laws as “archaic,” and after years of fighting the system, the friends decided to try their hands at something a little less regulated: soda. “We all kind of knew the potential of brown-bottled root beer,” Dunman says. It was also a little bit about local pride. He notes that “We really felt like we needed a gourmet soda, specifically root beer, for Philadelphia.” As you can imagine, Hank’s started with root beer in ’95 before adding diet root beer, vanilla cream and Wishniak black cherry a year later. And can we just talk about how damn beautiful the bottle is? Look at that thing. It’s more attractive than my sister’s kid. Cheryl, if you’re reading this… he still has time to grow out of it. Dunman says whether it comes to flavors, packaging, or marketing, “we always try to make the highest quality product we can.” Today’s review, orange cream, was released around 1998. Predictably, the company designed it to taste like an old fashioned orange creamsicle. Just a side note: basically every bottler names that as the goal, but not everyone achieves it. The struggle is real in the craft soda game too, dawg. Dunman wouldn’t reveal many secrets about the ingredients, but did say they strive for big vanilla and orange flavors, before adding that Hank’s doesn’t carbonate its soda as much as other bottlers in order to achieve a more “full-bodied flavor.” And when you buy the soda via the Hank’s website, a portion of the proceeds go toward Spark Philadelphia, an organization that lists as part of its mission statement, “Helping underserved youth become motivated learners and connected community members, and by encouraging adults to nurture the next generation through mentoring and volunteerism.” Tip of the cap, Hank’s. Now for a pop of the cap.

Where to get: You can buy Hank’s Orange Cream Soda directly from the company’s website in 12-packs. It’s also available to purchase online in single bottles from Soda Emporium. Amazon has the hook up for 6-packs.

Nose: Vanilla; orange; creamy. Smells exactly how an orange cream soda should.

Taste: Bold orange; mild zest; frothy carbonation; vanilla cream. This is full of flavor. You’re initially hit with a wave of crisp carbonation that abruptly transforms into small, frothy bubbles. The body of Hank’s Orange Cream is an even mixture of slightly zesty orange and creamy candy vanilla. The two go hand-in-hand. It retains strong orange flavor while having enough vanilla cream flavor to make an impression on the taste buds. It’s not overly complicated in terms of a flavor profile – just two main tastes – but the two have great balance to make for an extremely smooth soda with great flavor.

Finish: Swirling orange and vanilla cream flavors. The zesty notes from the orange aren’t as prevalent in the finish, but the vanilla is slightly creamier.

Rating: The most important thing about Hank’s Orange Cream Soda is that it doesn’t make any mistakes when it comes to taste and gets better as you drink it. It’s hard to ask more from a soda. I think the same thing could be said about me, but that doesn’t stop my soon-to-be ex girlfriend from critiquing every single thing I do. You also have to commend this soda for what it’s not. It’s not funky-tasting. It’s not too creamy or heavy. It’s not too orange-y. Hank’s Orange Cream Soda is a perfect example of the Goldilocks Principle: it’s just right. Simply put, if I had to give a recommendation for an orange cream soda, Hank’s would be the one. It has great classic orange soda flavor with added zesty notes that provide some nice acidity in contrast with the creamy vanilla flavors. There’s great balance between the orange and vanilla, perhaps the soda’s greatest quality. This creates an enjoyable mouth feel along with the soda’s frothy carbonation. I wouldn’t mind if the orange was even more zesty to create more contrast, but that’s being pretty nitpicky at this point. The only way I could see someone not liking this is if they just don’t like orange. Here at Five Star Soda, we try so many sodas that we rarely finish the bottle when doing tastings. Hank’s sent us two bottles of this flavor and they were both gone within 20 minutes after taking the photos. If we haven’t convinced you this is in an elite tier yet, then I don’t know if we’re friends anymore.

Five Stars

Hank’s: Wishniak Black Cherry

History: Hank’s has one of the most recognizable bottles on the craft soda market with its name emblazoned in bold, raised metallic letters. They prefer the language “gourmet” as opposed to “craft,” but we don’t have to tell them they’re the same thing *w;)nk face*. As for its history, despite several attempts, we were unable to reach the folks at Hank’s Gourmet Sodas in time to talk to them for this review, so we relied heavily on their website and an article from Beverage Industry. So we’ll keep it relatively simple this time. Back to that unmistakable bottle. It sticks out, kind of like my old neighbor who leaves the bathroom blinds open. Only this instance is by design. “We just tried to make the bottle as unique, upscale and premium as we could,” co-founder Bill Dunman says. In 2007 the Glass Packaging Institute, an actual thing, awarded Hank’s the Clear Choice Award for best Carbonated Beverage. Hank’s began in 1995 in the Philadelphia area as a distribution business. A year later, they abandoned distribution entirely in favor of manufacturing and began adding flavors starting with root beer. At one point the company reached as many as 10, but today has scaled that number back to six. As with most soda companies, Hank’s profits the most from its root beer, with cream soda, black cherry and orange cream coming in second at about equal market shares. Hank’s is made using pure cane sugar and also produces a line of all natural teas. You can drink a black cherry soda and chase it with their Watermelon Cucumber Black Tea. What a time to be alive.

Where to get: Straight from their website, Hank’s Gourmet Sodas are “sold in over 40 states in every region of the nation.” For the ten unlucky states and the majority of us who prefer conducting our business in our underwear, you can order Hank’s soda in 12-packs directly from their site, 6-packs via Amazon, or single bottles from Soda Emporium.

Nose: Fresh cherry juice; Juicy Juice Cherry.

Taste: Sweet black cherries; mild tartness. This definitely tastes like real cherries. It has a deep, rich taste to it. Imagine blending fresh cherries into juice, adding some sugar and maybe a little vanilla extract and then drinking it. This tastes like that. Simple, yet refreshing and flavorful. Definitely a sweeter soda, clocking in at 40 grams of sugar per bottle. There’s also just the slightest amount of tartness to this on the backend of each drink embedded in the carbonation. This is a rare instance where you can taste the flavor of the citric acid used. It isn’t syrupy, but does leave a filmy feeling on the teeth on some sips. Overall though, the rich black cherry flavor is wonderful.

Finish: Tart black cherry that fades into sweet cherry juice.

Rating: A really nice take on black cherry soda that tastes refreshing and real. Hank’s could probably stand to dial back the sugar in each bottle by a few grams because the sweetness really piles on top of itself with each continuous drink. It’s kind of like speed dating. It’s great at first, but by the end you’re disoriented, need a nap and crying. Sorry, that last part is just a personal problem. Most black cherry sodas are fairly simple. It’s all about nailing that main flavor, and Hank’s does a nice job in that regard. There’s also a faint tartness to this soda. It helps to balance out the sweetness a little bit. I actually really enjoyed that aspect and wouldn’t mind seeing the mild sour notes turned up ever so slightly. Despite the intensity of its sweetness, the black cherry flavor profile shines bright. Definitely in the upper tier of craft black cherry sodas. Sip this one slowly out by the pool.