just craft soda

Just Craft Soda: Pear & Vanilla

History: “You do it to yourself you do/And that’s what really hurts is/You do it to yourself just you/You and no-one else.” These are lyrics from the Radiohead song, Just. I always think of this song when I think of Just Craft Soda, not only because of the name, but because the message connects itself to the reasoning behind the company. As craft soda’s little bottlers become more popular, people often ask us why. The answer is because they’re tired of the same mass-produced, over-sweetened, high fructose-saturated soda. Just Craft Soda founder John McEachern knows this, saying “There’s very little flavor variety in the market these days.” For bigger bottlers, “that’s what really hurts is/You do it to yourself.” It’s taken the big companies years to realize this, and despite the fact that they’re starting to make inroads into craft soda, they’re well behind the smaller companies. David got a major head start on Goliath. McEachern had first-hand insight into the market place, having previously worked for PepsiCo. and General Mills, and he wanted to produce a “flavor variety” adults would enjoy. He jokes that most soda these days feels like it’s “been designed for a 13 year-old boy.” McEachern launched Just Craft Soda in early 2015. The Toronto-based company’s soda always begins with a fruit that is then paired with a spice. That’s the general formula. Each bottle of Just Craft Soda contains 60% (!!!) juice, carbonated water, natural flavors, and cane sugar. That’s it. Authenticity is important to the company. McEachern told us he didn’t want the juice content to just be a marketing pitch, jokingly mocking other companies as he exclaimed, “look, 5% juice!” He also feels a more natural-tasting fruit soda will pair well with food or alcohol. This is a soda you drink while adulting. Drink it doing your taxes. Drink it with a steak. Don’t drink it as you giggle to yourself tickling your buddy. Or do. Just don’t tell anyone. The company produces five different flavors from the more common pairing of Apple & Ginger to the slightly more exotic Lemon & Lemongrass. But Pear & Vanilla is the one that seduces your ear the most when you verbalize it, so we had to indulge. We’re told the soda’s formula is “very simple” and that “there’s nothing in the recipe that your grandma wouldn’t understand.” The company describes the pear flavor as “sweet, almost buttery” and liken it to a cream soda. What’s not to like? But we’re always cautious here at Five Star. We’ve gone on way too many bad soda dates. A soda date is basically just when we drink soda by ourselves and then tell strangers about it on the Internet. Yeah, I’m single.

Where to get: Currently, Just Craft Soda is only available in Canada. To find the retail location nearest you, look here. Americans or other nearby neighbors who are desperate to try these sodas can contact the company directly by going here. Online sales are currently being looked into, so that’s also a possibility down the road.

Nose: Light notes of fresh-cut pair and maybe just a tinge of bubblegum. Sometimes vanilla does that.

Taste: Tart; pear; apple juice; lemon juice. This is more that than you’ll probably expect it to be, but the flavors definitely stand out in the profile. There’s a bite right up front that’s briefly pear and then rapidly transitions to lemon juice. Just’s Pear and Vanilla Soda is tart, but not acidic. Pear and lemon are the main flavors you’ll usurp from this. There’s also undertones of apple juice. It’s almost as if the pear and lemon juices are the waves crashing against your palate in an ocean of apple juice. The apple is there, but the other two flavors are bolder and splash against your taste buds much more often. The vanilla in this is very, very light. It doesn’t act as a flavor enhancer as much as it helps mitigate some of the bite from the juices. Without the vanilla this would be too acidic.

Finish: Lingering lemon and apple juice tartness that takes about 10 seconds to fade. You do get a mellow note of vanilla at the very end of the tartness.

Rating: Pear and vanilla is a flavor combination that sounds like an adventure most soda drinkers would be willing to take. It seems like they could be good together, but you also know there could be issues. This is basically how I approach every relationship now. In a related story, I’m still single. Just Craft Soda is a company that swings for the fences with their sodas, pairing interesting flavors together while using at least 60% juice in every bottle. You can certainly taste the juice in this one. Pear and lemon stand out most. The pear is upfront, but the lemon punch comes quick and is tart. As a whole, there’s more of a bite than you’d probably expect before reading this review. Apple flavors linger in the background, but pear and lemon do most of the work in the flavor profile. I enjoy the apple flavors that weave in and out of every sip, but I’d like to see the pear flavor last longer in place of the lemon. Pear is, after all, the name on the label and I think it needs to be more prominent. The tartness isn’t too much, but it won’t work for some people. It doesn’t sting, but it does surprise. The sweetness in this is less than most craft sodas, but for one with this much fresh juice, it’s understandable and plays its part well. This is a natural soda that should be appealing to most. Certainly worth a try for its unique pairing of juices that surprise and satisfy the taste buds. It also apparently makes a pretty tasty maple pear bread pudding.

Three Stars

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Just Craft Soda: Apple and Ginger

History: I’m about to introduce you to some adult soda. But hey now. Keep your pants on, buddy. Not only is this soda designed for a more mature audience; it’s also soda with a bit of an attitude. In the words of Just Craft Soda founder John McEachern, a lot of sodas today “feel like they were designed for a 13 year-old boy.” Just Craft Soda is the first offering from Peak Drive Beverages. It debuted only months ago, earlier in 2015. Every bottle is made with 60% fruit juice. Oh, and guess what else? It’s from Toronto in Ontario, CANANDA, dontchaknow! We’ve been waiting to use that photo. Thanks, guys. The idea of Just Craft Soda had been brewing in McEachern’s head for two or three years. With past job experience at PepsiCo. and General Mills, McEachern wasn’t satisfied with the state of the soft drink industry. He wanted to provide flavor variety for the adult soda drinker. “Something that could pair with a meal or alcohol,” he adds. All Just Craft Sodas begin with a familiar, real fruit juice that is then paired with a spice designed to enhance it. Apple and Ginger is probably the most common of the five flavors the company produces as opposed to the more exotic Peach and Habanero. The 60% juice is a major sticking point for these sodas. “We wanted an amount of juice in there that didn’t just feel like a marketing pitch, ala ‘look, 5% juice!’” said McEachern. Aside from fresh juice, the only other ingredients in each bottle of Just Craft Soda are carbonated water, natural flavors and pure cane sugar. At the moment the business is small, but if they have their way, it won’t stay little for long. The company hopes to expand into a Canadian national brand and eventually make inroads into some of the U.S. market. They’re hoping originality is what helps the company ascend. McEachern confidently concludes, “‘Wow, I haven’t tried that before,’ is what you’ll say.” We’re about to find out.

Where to get: Just Craft Soda is currently sold in about 50 stores and several restaurants in the Toronto area. There’s a handy link on their website to help you sort it all out. At the moment, Just Craft Soda is not sold online, though that possibility remains open down the line.

Nose: Earthy ginger; apple juice.

Taste: Tart ginger; light spice; apple; pepper. The flavors here are very balanced between mildly spicy ginger and tart apple juice. The tart elements are what stand out most. They accompany not just the apple, but the ginger as well. It helps mellow out the ginger, while allowing the apple to remain relevant in the flavor profile. The apple juice tastes authentic, though slightly acidic. The ginger sends some heat up the nostrils on the initial sip, but you’ll adjust quickly. This isn’t overly spicy like some ginger sodas, but the ginger does have a grittier flavor than what you’re probably used to drinking. Think peppery. But overall, this is easy drinking. Light and crisp.

Finish: Tart apples that quickly fade into a mild, peppered ginger.

Rating: Ginger is often an overpowering element any time it’s used in soda, but Just Craft Soda does a nice job of balancing it out with tart apple in their Apple and Ginger Soda. It really contributes to the soda’s drinkability. The tartness of the apple also often permeates its way into the ginger elements in each sip. That might sound like a bad thing, but it actually adds to the soda’s complexity, giving it a unique flavor profile. I’d argue it’s the best element of the drink. You get more of an earthy zing than a heat with this ginger. It’s refreshing, both literally and figuratively. But there will be a sector that comes into this expecting a spicy apple soda, and that’s not what’s inside this bottle. The sugar is done well, but I think the apple notes might benefit from being just a little bit sweeter and bolder to give that tartness a little more variance across each drink. I wouldn’t change the citrusy bite too much though. Some things you just can’t compromise on, like my first marriage. Canada’s newest player in the world of craft soda has concocted a fresh juice-based soft drink without losing the mouth feel and flavor of soda. That alone is an accomplishment. They also make a really solid Apple and Ginger. If you’re looking for refreshment, this answers the call.