maple syrup

Bec Cola

History: Regardez comment la fantaisie nous commençons la première phrase de cet examen en français. Don’t worry, the rest is in English. If you didn’t immediately go to Google Translate, that says “Look how fancy we are starting the first sentence of this review in French.” We have the humor of an eight year-old. I know. Bec Cola out of Montreal, Quebec in Canada, however, is not eight years-old. The company began recently in 2014 with humble ambitions. It was about making an organic product with human values behind it, while highlighting Quebec at the same time. Says Bec Cola founder Olivier Dionne, “We firmly believe that the organic philosophy is very important, both for the consumer and/or our land. We wanted to create a soda line free of chemical preservatives and replace refined sugars by Quebec’s wonderful resource which is maple syrup.” Cola with maple syrup. Honestly, we’re talking abooot Canada here… did you expect this soda not to have maple syrup in it?? Since we’re stereotyping Canada right now, let’s keep it going by presenting another: Canadians are nice. This is very true. I know this because when I visited Toronto, beautiful women would speak to me and there wasn’t a judge involved. Bec Cola is also very nice and apparently has nothing to hide because they told us every ingredient in their soda. They are, as follows: “water, organic maple sugar, organic vegetable sugar, citric acid (from lemon), organic caramel color and organic cola flavor.” There was even a smiley face at the end of that answer in Dionne’s email to us. Pretty friendly, eh? According to Dionne, Canadians are the eighth highest drinkers of soda in the world at roughly over 26 gallons per person a year. It’s not quite America’s numbers, but like in the 50 states, soda has a bad rep in Canada because most of it is made cheaply with ingredients that make your insides resent you. “With reason, sodas have a very bad reputation. We intend to change this, by bottling only quality organic ingredients,” Dionne adds. It seems like artisan soda is catching on with our neighbors to the north. Let’s find out what Canadian cola tastes like.

Where to get: Bec Cola is sold throughout a majority of Quebec. Check out the company’s store locator here. If you’re in Canada, you can also buy it online from Terroirs Quebec.

Nose: Nutmeg; cinnamon; cola. Definitely a nuttiness on the sniff.

Taste: Cola; nuttiness; cane sugar. There’s a classic cola flavor to this with some slightly sweet, fruity notes. What’s most prominent is the nuttiness on the second half of each sip that’s accompanied by the distinct flavor or real, crisp cane sugar. The nutty flavor has some nutmeg notes going on, but I’m guessing it’s really just the maple syrup interacting with the sugar. The carbonation in this is very soft, and unlike most colas, it comes at the end rather than blasting your mouth before you even taste anything. This is a soft cola with subtle, different flavors from the ordinary and the nuttiness is a nice touch.

Finish: Nutmeg and kola nut with lemon and undertones of sweetness. You finally get that mild lemon flavor at the end of some sips, but it isn’t consistent.

Rating: What makes Bec Cola a success is the balance of classic and atypical cola flavors. On the first half of each sip, you’ll taste traditionally bittersweet cola flavors, while the back half is anchored by subtle fruity notes and a distinct nuttiness. We can’t really taste the maple as a standalone flavor, but we assume those fruity and nutmeg flavors are created by the way the maple syrup plays out in the soda. There’s also some spice notes in this that we can’t place, but work well. Gives off kind of a fall flavor. Bec Cola would go nice with an oaky bourbon or in a cold glass full of big ice cubes. I’d like to see the maple stand out a little more distinctively to make this feel super Canadian. I want this to be so Canadian that you’re only allowed to drink it while riding a moose to Tim Horton’s. Those nutty notes are a nice change of pace. Look, at the end of the day, cola is cola. It’s the hardest flavor to make stand out from the crowd. Bec Cola isn’t completely off the beaten path, but it’s off the trail enough for you to invest in this Canadian concoction. Check back this fall for new flavors from Bec Cola.

Squamscot: Maple Cream Soda

History: At Conner Bottling Works in Newfields, New Hampshire, Squamscot Beverages has been making old-fashioned, glass-bottled sodas or “tonics,” as they used to call them, for 152 years. The business opened in 1863. They’ve been using the same bottling machine named “Dixie” since 1938. It hasn’t even moved spots in the building since then. The business has never been sold by the founding family and today is run by Dan Conner, the fifth generation of his family to operate the business. It is the last independent bottler in the state of New Hampshire. Think about all that. Whether or not you enjoy their products, Squamscot has a remarkable history. It started as a beer bottling plant. This company is so old that the beer they were bottling back in 1863 had to be brought there by horse and carriage! These days, if you see a horse and carriage, you’re either lost in Amish country or you got drunk enough downtown to think paying $20 for a pre-blackout stroll was a good idea. Despite starting with beer, soda slowly made its way into Squamscot’s repertoire. Orange soda and ginger ale started being made in the late 1800’s. The beer business was going well. Then prohibition happened. Beer business wasn’t so hot after that. So soda became the company’s main source of income with its golden ginger ale ascending to flagship beverage status. In 1926 Pepsi, then being bottled by Conner Bottling Works, pulled out of its contract. This is when soda really took off for the company with lots of flavor expansion. Today, Dan Conner says Squamscot produces 27 flavors, its golden ginger ale still being one of the most popular. “We make a quality product. We offer it how it was always made,” with recipes dating back generations, he adds. Today’s review, Maple Cream Soda, is designed to be sweeter and is made with pure cane sugar and maple extract. Let’s see how it stacks up.

Where to get: Squamscot Beverages are sold widely throughout New Hampshire and sporadically across the country. The easiest way to find the Maple Cream Soda is to purchase it online via Galco’s Soda Pop Shop or from Holiday Wine Center. Don’t worry, you can trust both websites.

Nose: Maple syrup. I would say more, but this smells exactly like the flavor on the bottle. I’d take this in candle form.

Taste: Maple syrup; sugar; tartness. Tiny little bubbles flood the mouth before the tide returns to sea and you’re left with a delicious, pure maple flavor. Just the right amount of sweetness and maple syrup. But there’s also accompanying undertones of tart cane sugar throughout the body that somehow enhance the maple flavor. This is actually a soda that benefits from having a couple ice cubes. Almost like a fine bourbon, the water slowly releases more flavor, in this case, a creamier, more intense maple taste as well as some very light notes of vanilla caramel. On ice, that tartness becomes almost non-existent. So if you’re a fan of something that wrestles the tongue a little, drink this chilled in the bottle. If you prefer a creamier maple taste, a couple ice cubes will do the trick.

Finish: Mild maple syrup and caramelized sugar. Definitely some bite to the sugar here. On ice, the finish is basically the same, only less intense.

Rating: Maple is a flavor craft soda bottlers decided to elevate on a silver platter. It’s a flavor that just sounds like you can’t go wrong with in soda form. But take if from us – we’ve tried a lot of maple soda… it rarely lives up to the flavor utopia you’re expecting. But when you’ve got 152 years of soda manufacturing on your side, it’s a little easier to take on a popular flavor like maple. Squamscot has taken a flavor that often misses the mark and created a maple soda that is a standard-bearer in its realm. The flavor profile succeeds wildly. Tart cane sugar and authentic maple flavors blend to form a crisp, delicious soda that you as a maple fan have been waiting for. This is like when you ask out the hot girl who makes barbie look inadequate and she has everything in common with you, is smart and gives great massages. Expectations: met and exceeded. Well done, Squamscot. The underlying tartness might turn off a few drinkers. To those I say, try this on ice. It becomes less intense and creamier. This is the maple soda for which you’ve been waiting. Wait no more. Go live the dream.

Vermont Sweet Water: Maple Soda

History: When you think of Vermont, let’s be honest, one of the only things that comes to mind is maple syrup. And maybe cold weather. People love maple-flavored things. Donuts, bacon, ham, candy… why not soda? Vermont Sweetwater in Poultney, Vermont (we checked, it’s real) is here to answer your maple needs. These people LOVE maple syrup. Case in point, the company’s signature product, maple seltzer, was born out of an idea brothers Bob and Rich Münch had after literally just drinking sap. But honestly… what else do you do in a town of less than 2,000 people? Eventually, customers wanted a sweeter, bolder version of the maple seltzer. So in 1996, the family created maple soda. Each 12 oz. bottle contains one ounce of pure Vermont maple syrup. Not maple cream or maple root beer, just maple. This baby really relies on the maple syrup to power its flavor because the only other ingredient in it is carbonated water. Out of the nine flavors Vermont Sweetwater produces today, their maple seltzer and soda still power the business.

Where to get: You can oder any of the company’s sodas on its website in either 6-packs or cases of 24. Or if you have some weird aversion to buying outside of bigger retailers, Amazon also has the hook up.

Nose: Odd odor; funk; watered-covered pancakes.

Taste: Bitter; funk; watery syrup. Their are only two ingredients in this soda: carbonated water and maple syrup. The maple flavor comes through at the end, but it’s mostly absorbed by the carbonated water. The result is a watered-down, funky maple taste that is hard to take in. Unpleasant and abrupt. This does not taste like maple syrup. It doesn’t taste like maple cream soda. It doesn’t even taste like artificial maple flavoring. It does, however, taste like maple syrup and water. The flavor permeates the sinuses immediately and rushes to the back of the throat with a carbonated punch. This soda will KO you in the early rounds.

Finish: Harsh, watery maple; shocking.

Rating: We were tremendously excited for this, and it’s with deep regret I must say it was a steep letdown. This is that feeling you had in high school after you worked up all the guts to ask the amazing girl from calculus to prom, only to find out some douche asked her that morning. It was supposed to lead to great things. It could’ve maybe even been the best night of your life. And now you have to ask Betsy, the weird girl who sits behind you and is into anime. That’s how this feels. I don’t know if Vermont Sweetwater is into anime, but this soda is the weird cousin of cream soda that you settled for instead. Its scent is straight funky and its taste doesn’t really improve on the scent. The biggest problem is that the two ingredients put together are a disaster void of decent taste with no sophisticated flavors for the palate. There are no “notes” of flavor. The smell, taste and finish are all almost identically strange and shock the senses. This was borderline undrinkable for us, and it could REALLY use some added sugar. For a company named “Vermont Sweetwater,” the most critical aspect missing from this is sweetness. If you just truly love maple syrup or have a passion for Vermont, then try this. The concept is really noble. The company is commended for sticking to its roots, for being “natural,” but damn, this needs a little sugar to enhance the maple syrup inside. What you get instead is fizzy water-flavored maple syrup. If that sounds up your alley, then maybe you’re the reason BevMo rated this five stars. Clearly, its users didn’t feel the same. If you want to be adventurous, go for it. If you just love guzzling maple syrup… then that’s weird, but go for it. We didn’t finish the bottle. It’s debatable if it was possible.