indian wells

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.

Indian Wells Brewing: Special Reserve Vanilla Cream Soda

History: Welcome to the upper echelon of soda, ladies and gentlemen. It looks like a beer, pours like a cream ale, and smells like a confectionary kitchen. Indian Wells is certainly swinging for the fences with their Special Reserve Vanilla Cream Soda. As you might imagine, with a name this fancy, the brewers have gone to great lengths to ensure quality ingredients inside the bottle. Let’s start with the most interesting part: vanilla barrels. Indian Wells actually purchases chestnut barrels of vanilla bean extract from a tropical island and then adds their soda to the barrels and the one or two inches of leftover vanilla extract. This provides color. The soda isn’t actually its dark caramel hue before entering the barrel. And most importantly, it imparts the soda’s signature rich vanilla flavor profile. Next, the soda’s main ingredient: water. The company uses natural spring water from, well, Indian Wells Spring. Indian Wells is a California historical landmark and the water they use in their sodas and beer is filtered through millions of feet of granite. As with all their sodas, this one is sweetened with pure cane sugar. Finally, Indian Wells is also proud of what’s not in their line of Special Reserve sodas. No sodium benzoate or sorbate preservatives and no high fructose corn syrup. The brewery keeps these sodas shelf-stable by flash pasteurizing them. A couple fun facts: the intended flavor of this cream soda isn’t actually vanilla… it’s roasted campfire marshmallow. The last time I had a roasted marshmallow, I was on a camping date. She ran away in the middle of the night. Another? According Indian Wells Master Brewer, Rick Lovett, the brewery actually sells more soda than beer these days, thus prompting Lovett to test the market’s reaction to a super premium soft drink. It projects regality with its golden wax-coated bottle top staring at you like you need a password to open it. But spoiler alert, you don’t. And we did. Let’s see how it stacks up.

Where to get: Part of this soda’s appeal is its rarity. Special Reserve Vanilla Cream Soda is exclusively sold at Indian Wells Brewery and Rocketfizz retailers. It is not sold online.

Nose: Vanilla frosting; sugar; angel food cake. This smells like a trip to the bakery.

Taste: Marshmallow; sweet vanilla; sugar. This is a cream soda made with vanilla aged in chestnut barrels. As you might expect, its taste is different from the norm. There’s a deeply rich, sweet vanilla that enters the palate first. It’s very sweet, almost akin to vanilla buttercream frosting. But as the liquid sits in your mouth, the flavor slightly changes and there’s some woody notes that lift off the tongue. This is, of course, due to the chestnut barrels. It’s very interesting and something you’re unlikely to taste in any other cream soda. Then comes a very unique flavor to cream soda: marshmallow. This is by design. Indian Wells sought to recreate a campfire marshmallow taste and they’ve accomplished the task. Again, it’s a very sweet taste. It’s definitely a foamy cream soda with a thick head. The soda is anchored by a rich vanilla flavor that subtlety transforms into marshmallow with some slightly bitter notes from the chestnut barrels. Truly unique.

Finish: Slightly bitter vanilla; charred marshmallow. This is what I find to be the most interesting part of the soda. It’s not like the initial sip or the main flavor profile. As the vanilla and marshmallow flavors fade, you’re left with the chestnut barrel influence. It lingers slightly bitter on the back of the tongue and it turns that sweet, sugary marshmallow taste into more of a charred or roasted flavor. It’s like the marshmallow taste truly undergoes the campfire process with each sip. The longer you take in between drinks, the more prominent the effect. Exquisite.

Rating: This is the most unique cream soda I’ve ever had that I’ve actually enjoyed. Its wax-coated bottle and “Special Reserve” label put this into the top tier of premium sodas. Looking at it, you’d think it was craft beer. Its flavors are rich and change as you drink it, almost like a bourbon. Its frothy pour is distinctly cream soda, but its flavors of rich vanilla with notes of chestnut and campfire marshmallow set it apart. Indian Wells Brewing’s Special Reserve Vanilla Cream Soda is a spectacle of awe in an ever-changing craft soda world where originality is becoming a requirement to play the game. The sweetness can be intense at times, particularly on the first few sips. The taste buds acclimate over time as the chestnut notes become more prevalent, but this frosting-like sweetness might cut the bottle short early for some drinkers. For those who stick with it, your taste buds shall be rewarded with rich vanilla and roasted campfire marshmallow. Paired with a nice bourbon, this is one of the best things to ever happen to your mouth. I’d divorce my first wife several more times if I could have both of those items stocked around the clock. Go out of your way to try this. It’s a 22 oz. bottle, meaning you can do this once the sober way and the rest the fun way. It’s a touch pricey at $5 a bottle outside the brewery ($3 at Indian Wells), but Abe Lincoln doesn’t want to live in your pocket all day anyway. You’ll thank me later.

Gross Gus’s: Pirate Piss

History: The last time we tried a novelty soda, it didn’t go so well. Here’s hoping this turns out better. Gross Gus’s soda comes from the Indian Wells Brewery. They’re the same people behind Death Valley Soda. “We’re gonna make something that’s really disgusting,” Indian Wells Master Brewer, Rick Lovett, says to me over the phone. They’ve succeeded. Today’s review, Pirate Piss, is one of the milder sodas in this line. Pimple Pop is the most popular. We have that one too, I just wanted to keep what’s left of my dignity for now. Lovett is a man of many flavors, 151 and counting to be exact. Many of these are top shelf sodas. As such, I asked him if Indian Wells put as much stock into the taste of these novelty sodas. His response? All of our soda pops… we believe them to be premium.” If you look past the name and label, most of these Gross Gus’s sodas have at least a somewhat normal flavor you wouldn’t be opposed to trying. For example, Pirate Piss is actually banana and Pimple Pop is actually marshmallow. Why banana? ‘Cuz it looks like piss,” Lovett says without hesitation. Alrighty, then. As you might imagine, these sodas are kept alive by little boys who bug their moms to buy them. And they do. All the time. There’s no special ingredients in Gross Gus’s Soda. Lovett says they just make them big and bold, though Indian Wells does use some preservatives in these sodas for shelf life stability that they don’t use in their higher end lines. However, as with all Indian Wells sodas, the company uses natural spring water from, well, Indian Wells Spring. Indian Wells is a California historical landmark and the water is filtered through millions of feet of granite. Now that the history is out of the way, here we are: urine-esque banana soda. Who’s thirsty?

Where to get: Gross Gus’s sodas are most commonly purchased at Rocketfizz retailers. Check here to find the nearest one to you. There’s also Amazon for 12-packs and Soda Emporium for individual bottles.

Nose: Runts banana hard candies; aromas of banana popsicles.

Taste: Banana hard candies; frothiness; watered down earthiness. You definitely get that sweet childhood banana candy taste right up front, but it’s fleeting and doesn’t last long enough. It gets replaced by a frothy, funky taste that unfortunately forms the body of the soda’s flavor. It’s just strange. It’s kind of like old fruit and it doesn’t really taste like banana. Harsh on the taste buds. Perhaps it’s literal pirate piss. I hope not. I’ll sue.

Finish: Earthy banana funkiness. I had to take too many sips to come to this conclusion.

Rating: Novelty soda rarely aims for taste and almost always attempts to convince the buyer of its worthiness with a funny name or outrageous label. How many annoying ten year-olds beg their mom to try *giggle* Pirate Piss? That alone makes this soda a success. Unfortunately, in the world of the craft soda, the drinker’s needs are more sophisticated. Gross Gus’s Pirate Piss is another banana soda that misses the mark. The initial banana taste is promising, but disappears before its potential gets realized. The soda’s main flavor is like squeezing old fruit you forgot about into your mouth. The aftertaste isn’t any better. But it’s not totally horrible. The idea is fun. It could serve as a fun novelty piece for your soda collection. People who enjoy banana soda… you might like this? I’ve yet to have a good banana soda, so if you’re one of these people, please email me. Just don’t be weird. The last time I asked someone to email me about banana-related things, I had to get a lawyer.