joia

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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Joia: Pineapple Coconut Nutmeg

History: There is an undeniable link between the craft beer and craft soda movements. No one would debate you if you argued micro-brewed IPA’s, stouts, and lagers led to the renaissance of soda and sparked the craft and gourmet trend in soft drinks. But what about cocktails? One could argue there’s more creative wiggle room in that atmosphere and more flavors for mixologists to morph. Former Kraft and General Mills marketing executive Bob Safford certainly thought so. Now Bob Safford doesn’t drink. Still, he saw all these herbs and spices and flavors going in to unique, artisan-based cocktails and thought, “why not soda?” Well, if you want something done right… you know the rest. Not an expert an soda, Safford connected with Joe Heron, who did have a background in carbonated beverages. And in 2010, Safford founded Boundary Water Brands as a starting point to refine his ideas for a sophisticated craft soda with, in his words, “complex, adult-oriented flavors.” “For Mark, it was highly personal,” said Joia co-founder and mixologist Carleton Johnson. A year later, Joia All Natural Soda was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The name, pronounced “Joy-a,” was created with the intent of expressing the company’s passion and joy for their products inside each bottle. Joia launched with four flavors that were whittled down from over 100(!) recipes. Today there are six and all of them incorporate combinations of fruits and spices and are void of “preservatives or stabilizers. Nor are there any artificial ingredients or flavors.” According to Safford, the sodas are complicated to keep stable during production because they contain so many different elements. Sounds a lot my wife at the end of every month. According to the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal, in 2011, BevNet named Joia the soda of the year. We chose to review their Pineapple Coconut Nutmeg because who doesn’t like to get a little tropical when it’s hot out? One thing we like about Joia is their commitment to quality. “I believe that the majority of beverages that are consumed will always be about taste and refreshment… and that’s where Joia excels,” says Safford. It’s a good start; now let’s see what our mouths think.

Where to get: To find the nearest physical outlet to you where Joia is sold, use the store’s online locator. For the rest of us, Amazon and Soda Emporium have the hook up online.

Nose: Pina Colada; pineapple juice; coconut oil.

Taste: Pineapple; coconut; citric acid. This tastes like a liquid piña colada. The pineapple-coconut combo that forms the basis of most piña coladas is definitely prominent. Pineapple is up front. There’s a little bit of a bitter bite to it that I’m guessing is the nutmeg’s influence. Coconut comes next, infusing itself into the pineapple and creating that signature tropical flavor. The coconut stays long after the tart pineapple colada flavor fades and has some creamy notes attached to it. The carbonation is full of petite, little bubbles that help intensify the soda’s citric acid. The nutmeg is subtle, but you’ll take away the pineapple-coconut flavor most from Joia’s tropical elixir.

Finish: Tart pineapple-coconut that fades into a creamy, sweet piña colada flavor.

Rating: I often find myself fantasizing of lounging on the beach, staring at models, sipping on piña coladas, not worrying about my diet and letting the beads of sweat drip off me, forming a puddle of satisfaction in the sand. Then I remember it’s Monday and my 350 pound boss waddles in and pushes my deadlines up because that’s life when you aren’t on the beach. Joia must know these things. They’ve created a soda that transports you to a tropical paradise from any average setting. Pineapple Coconut Nutmeg exhibits a bold, tart pineapple flavor before transitioning into traditional piña colada and finally fading out with creamy coconut. The nutmeg is a minor player, but it adds a tartness to the pineapple and some nuttiness to the coconut. Fans of pineapple, coconut or piña colada flavors will love this little slice of bottled paradise. One area we think there could be improvement in is that tartness I mentioned. The citric acid in this is strong at some points. I think if that was toned down, the tropical flavors would shine more and the subtle flavors would be more apparent in the profile. Not everyone will be a fan of its tropical fruit flavors, but those who like fruity soda aren’t likely to be disappointed. Coconut and pineapple are both underutilized flavors in the world of craft soda, and as more and more natural sodas continue to pop up, companies will be looking to Joia as a blueprint. Drink this over ice with a straw or chilled straight out of the bottle. Hot weather is also an ideal pairing. And if you’ve had a Monday like me, throw some rum in there. Enough of those and you’ll be daydreaming of beaches and models again in no time.