maple

Hooker Mountain Farm: Maple Spruce and Lime

History: In the little town of Cabot, Vermont rests Hooker Mountain Farm, a local spot that will sell you anything from live cows to maple syrup to dead post-Heaven barbecue-flavored cows (beef sticks). But they’re arguably most famous for the their maple syrup. How Vermont of them. David Thayer founded the farm in 2010 where they harvest their own maple syrup. But maple isn’t the only recognizable type of tree on the land. You’ll notice a canopy of spruces and firs staring down at you too. Thayer decided these trees also had culinary value. But what to use them on? Keeping his background in home brewing in mind, Thayer thought up a novel idea: farm-to-bottle craft soda using Hooker Mountain’s signature maple syrup as the primary sweetener. And those spruce trees? He took their needles, blended them with maple syrup, pure cane sugar, and lime and created Maple Spruce and Lime Soda. Hooker Mountain Farm has produced craft soda since 2013. Besides Maple Spruce and Lime, their two other flavors of soda are Maple Birch Beer and Maple Orange Cream. About 70% of the sodas’ maple syrup content is gathered right off the farm. Thayer’s says, “We wanted to resuscitate a more natural-tasting soda,” a reason why each bottle’s sugar content clocks in at 23 grams, about half of what a normal craft soda contains. Thayer likens this particular soda to a lemon-lime with a spruce influence. I’m an avid hiker myself who enjoys living off the land during my excursions, though I rarely trek through forests because let’s be real, the bears are waiting for you to stumble into their land like a drunk girl after bar close. But even if I did peruse through the woods, I’ve never imagined what they’d taste like in liquid form. Until now.

Where to get: Hooker Mountain Farm soda is currently only sold in Vermont. If you’re outside the area, contact the company directly via phone or email. Just know shipping may be pricey. In the near future, this should be much easier when the farm launches their line of soda syrups that will be more cost-effective to ship.

Nose: Pine tree; bold lime; eucalyptus.

Taste: Pine needles; eucalyptus; lime. Whoa, prepare your taste buds for a ride through the forest. This is tree soda with some notes of botanicals. Right away you get a wave of pine tree flavor. It won’t be for everyone. The spruce flavor is strong. There’s also some undertones of eucalyptus. Both flavors become more palatable as you continue drinking. The lime comes in late. It’s a very citrus-y lime. Also strong. It’s an acquired taste for sure. This soda is a grower. The one flavor I’m not tasting right away is the maple. You have to diligently search for it. The maple is tucked behind the lime. As opposed to other sodas from Hooker Mountain Farm, the maple in this one is very, very faint. This is not a sweet soda, but also not a bitter one. Part of that is obvious at 90 calories a bottle. It’s much closer to a botanical beverage. The spruce and lime work well to form a crisp, earthy drink. Whose taste buds it will please is another story.

Finish: Lime; faint maple; eucalyptus. Dull lime flows into the back of the throat followed at a distance by a thin layer of maple syrup. Eucalyptus is the final flavor you taste, rising off the taste buds like fog on a morning lake.

Rating: If you’ve ever wondered what a liquid Christmas tree tastes like, this is the closest I’ve come to it. Those who enjoy herbal beverages will probably be delighted by this soda. Those who desire something sweeter should probably pass on it. The spruce flavor is up front and abrupt on the first couple sips. It’s hard to prepare for its intensity. The lime you get on the back end of the soda is very refreshing and helps elevate this to a spring and summer drink. We’ve also been told it pairs well with gin. All that aside, this would probably benefit from just a little more sweetness. Perhaps some more maple syrup. I’m just not tasting enough maple for a drink that has the word on its label. It’s probably not going to taste like what you’re expecting. Remember that morning in high school you ran those two miles to kill your hangover, then you got in your car and downed a fourth of your water bottle in an instant? Only you picked the wrong one, and it was leftover vodka from the night before? This isn’t that jarring, but you won’t be prepared for this drink either unless you’re reading this review. Even then, it still may not help. The spruce and lime are solid, but the maple is nearly MIA. We’ll leave this one up to you. If you’re up for an adventure, there’s a bottle of liquid tree from Vermont ready to rock your mouth.

Three Stars

Thunder Beast: Black Label Root Beer

History: We may have just stumbled upon the most sophisticated-looking root beer available for human consumption. Look at this thing. A butler should serve this to you. There are over 600 brands of root beer according to research done by Thunder Beast Founder and Chief Tasting Officer, Stephen Norberg. He says he wanted to “try to give root beer a unique flavor and different packaging.” We can already confirm he’s succeeded with the latter goal. Norberg actually collects wine bottles from local restaurants in Washington, D.C., sterilizes them, and recycles them for use with his black label root beer. “I remember as a kid, I had a pocket knife with the corkscrew on it,” he says, adding that he wanted to give children a reason to whip out this otherwise useless tool. This dude is passionate about root beer. “As a small child, root beer was my favorite drink in the world… and I never grew out of that.” It only escalated from there. Norberg knew eventually he had to try his own hand at America’s most popular craft soda category. And he did try – for three years. In 2013, once he reached a point that he felt confident in, Norberg purchased some soda-making equipment. There was no turning back after that. Certainly childhood nostalgia is a good portion of the fuel that keeps Thunder Beast churning out root beer. But he wanted to offer up something more, something that targeted the craft soda crowd that could still be enjoyed by kids. And so began the creation of Thunder Beast Black Label. I feel like I gotta put on my Gucci’s just to be in the presence of this soda.

Here’s the really cool thing about Thunder Beast Black Label Root Beer: the flavor is constantly evolving. That’s right, black label’s flavor will change every several months. It’s actually never been the same twice. Norbeg says it’s “a way to try crazy, unique flavors.” He notes the current incantation is highlighted by maple and butterscotch. He adds he also uses a little bit of honey to cut down on the amount of sugar used. Thunder Beast Root Beer is made with 9-10 less grams of sugar per bottle, Norberg tells us. Additionally, all Thunder Beast Root Beers contain no caffeine or gluten. Black label is created in small batches with a flavor profile that Norberg describes as “really complex” with “bold highlights” and “botanicals.” The next batch of black label, he tells us, will focus on cinnamon and caramel. With a bottle that fancy, you’d expect some pretty big flavors. I think you’d also expect some pretty good ones. Norberg does too. He put his entire life savings into starting the business.

Where to get: Thunder Beast Black Label is sold online via the company’s online store. It’s also found in about 30 stores and restaurants in the Washington, D.C. area.

Nose: Maple syrup; wintergreen; butterscotch. Very rich in maple.

Taste: Maple syrup; butterscotch; caramel; sugar; subtle mint. Maple and butterscotch define Thunder Beast Black Label Root Beer. The maple is upfront and bold. It’s a taste very similar to maple syrup. The initial taste on the root beer is unique, almost like a quick hit of coffee flavor before the maple comes in. The maple lasts for the first half of each sip until it gives way to a smooth butterscotch taste. You’ll also get a little bit of mint on the second half as well. The carbonation on this is vey light, almost non-existent. This is a sweet root beer. Not much of a bite at all. Big maple on the front end and smooth butterscotch on the back.

Finish: Mild butterscotch with subtle notes of caramel.

Rating: Thunder Beast is a soda company with a hell of a name that makes some seriously unique root beer. In fact, if you find a fancier root beer than the company’s black label, then I know you’re a liar because that’s impossible. From the wine-inspired label and bottle to the ultra premium ingredients and name, Thunder Beast Label exudes sophistication and maybe a little bit of cockiness. It has essentially mastered the traits all men aspire to perfect in their quest for mates. It’s got big flavors, namely maple and butterscotch. To dumb it down, you’ll taste sweet maple syrup up front with smooth butterscotch on the back half of every sip. You’ll also taste subtle notes of caramel and mint. It’s sweet. Probably sweeter than most root beers. Another unique point is that Thunder Beast Black Label doesn’t really have a traditional root beer mouth feel. The carbonation is extremely light. There’s very little bite. And there are hardly any striking spice notes. It’s right on the fringes of what we all know as root beer. But, of course, with something called “Black Label,” I think we all expect something different. The maple flavor works well with the butterscotch. The transition between the two flavors is excellent. The butterscotch taste is nearly perfect. Not too strong and very smooth. One improvement I think that could be made is to the initial taste once the root beer hits your tongue. The flavors combine to create a tart coffee taste. It’s brief, yes, but it’s disjointing and it’s present at the beginning of every sip. I’d prefer to get right into the maple. I also think because this is so sweet, it would benefit from either more spices or more of a bite. But its two main flavors are executed wonderfully. This is something every craft soda fan should try for its uniqueness in flavor and presentation. Buy a bottle of this and impress your friends.

Four Stars

Lakefront Brewery: Golden Maple Root Beer

History: We all remember the intense rivalries with had with our siblings. I mean, to this day, my little brother has to call me king at all family gatherings because of the backlog of blackmail I have against him. But those are the memories you’d never trade. Well, the Klisch brothers did decide to trade their sibling rivalry… for a partnership in craft beer making. They call it Lakefront Brewery. The brewery’s tour administrator and manager of environmental programs, Chris Ranson, tells us the the story. It’s a simple one. Jim Klisch decided he wanted to see what home brewing was all about. Humored by his brother’s interest, Russ Klisch bought him a book on the subject. Jim did his homework. Turns out, Jim could brew a mighty fine ale. And Russ was like aw, hell nah. So Russ, too, made his own beer. After going back and forth on tasting trials with friends and family, the two became convinced they had a talent for beer brewing. In 1987, they founded Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. To give you an idea of its success, consider this: in 1988 the brewery turned out 72 barrels of beer; in 2012, that number had grown to 33,368 barrels. After several years in the business, Ranson says the brothers came to the realization that “people need an alternative to alcohol.” Root beer, as is often the case in breweries, was the logical choice to them. But they wanted to make theirs a little different. Ranson tells us how big maple syrup is in Wisconsin. We weren’t aware, but apparently Wisconsin is the fourth-largest producer of maple syrup in the U.S. behind Vermont, New York, and Connecticut. So in 1995 Lakefront Brewery decided to make a maple root beer using locally-sourced maple syrup. The root beer is made with pure cane sugar and does not use artificial coloring. This results in the root beer’s signature “golden” hue. Ranson tells us it’s “very sweet” and “definitely root beer,” but adds the maple flavor gives it a taste “somewhere between a root beer and a cream soda.” We’re not sure what to expect. This is either going to have a flavor identity crisis or it’s going to be something pretty special.

Where to get: In addition to being sold at the brewery, Golden Maple Root Beer is sold sporadically at Wisconsin Whole Foods, and is a big player at Milwaukee state fairs and farmer’s markets. If you aren’t in the area and want to try it, the company does do custom orders. Just know the shipping will be pricey. Contact Lakefront Brewery directly here.

Nose: Sarsaparilla root; mint; vanilla; spice. All in all, it’s a pretty standard root beer smell with maybe a little more emphasis on the spices. You can smell the maple a little bit, but I assume that’ll come through more in the taste.

Taste: Sugar; sweet bite; maple; wintergreen. What you taste immediately is sugar. This is sweet. Despite that, there’s actually a pretty decent bite to this – but again, it’s a sweeter bite than in most root beers. What’s strange about this is the initial flavor you get when sipping. It’s probably just how the maple interacts with the rest of the ingredients, but I swear this tastes kind of like ginger ale when it first hits your lips. The maple flavor comes through more after you drink the root beer. You’ve gotta get through a few sips of sugar-coated spices before you taste what this root beer is all about. Don’t think maple syrup. No, it’s more like a spiced root beer with added maple flavor, yet the spices don’t let the maple completely overtake the flavor profile. What I’m saying is you can taste the maple in this, but it isn’t overpowering. If this didn’t have maple syrup in it, I think this would be a particularly robust-flavored root beer rich in spices, so the maple acts as kind of a mellowing agent. This has decent balance between the maple, spices, and wintergreen mint flavors, but it retains an above average sweetness.

Finish: Slightly creamy vanilla and maple. The best part of the root beer.

Rating: Lakefront Brewery’s Golden Maple Root Beer is an oddball. But being weird isn’t always bad. I’m weird. I’m also still single, but there’s not necessarily a correlation there. Right? Right, guys? This isn’t going to overpower you with traditional root beer spices and extracts. You taste some sarsaparilla. You taste some wintergreen. But this root beer isn’t about being traditional; it’s about showcasing its maple flavor. After wading through a sea of liquid sugar on the first few sips, you’ll taste that maple influence. When mixed with the spices that are in here, it’s noticeable, but not particularly bold. If you go into this wanting a strongly maple syrup-flavored root beer, you’re in for disappointment. This is just a fun soda to try because there really aren’t that many maple root beers out there, and there are even fewer with a pale yellow color like this one. The biggest shortcoming of this root beer is its sugariness. Generally in root beer, sugar isn’t something that is so striking because of all the spices that counter the sweetness. But when the two most noticeable ingredients you taste are sugar and maple syrup, I mean, it’s a lot to handle. This needs more of a traditional root beer bite to balance out all that sugar. I’d suggest more of a mint flavor too. Nothing that would drastically change its identity, just little tweaks to help reign in my impending diabetes. That said, if you like sweet root beers, you might just find a favorite here. Bottom line: Lakefront Brewery’s Golden Maple Root Beer probably isn’t one you’ll drink all the time, but it’s a fun change of pace for the craft soda enthusiast.

Three Stars

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.

Hooker Mountain Farm: Maple Birch Beer

History: Hooker Mountain Farm sounds like my weird next door neighbor’s fantasy come to life. But it’s much more innocent than it sounds. Hooker Mountain Farm is actually a real farm on 65 acres of land in Cabot, Vermont. Opened in 2010, the farm specializes in a variety of agricultural-based products from chicken and cattle to smoked bacon and barbecue beef sticks, to, you guessed it, soda. And it wouldn’t be Vermont if there weren’t maple syrup involved. Vermont is basically the Canada of America. It was 2013 when farm founder David Thayer decided to start brewing maple sodas based on his own home beer brewing knowledge. The farm currently produces three flavors as well as seasonal offerings year-round. They fire brew all the maple syrup that goes into their sodas. Maple is the main sweetening agent. About 70% of the maple syrup in each soda comes from Hooker Mountain Farm, while the other 30% comes from other local sources. Think of it kind of like a small batch bourbon blend, only not bourbon and all maple syrup. Cane sugar is also used, but Thayer notes the farm intentionally strives for a soda with less sugar and more of a bite. Each bottle contains only about 23 grams of sugar as opposed to other sodas that sometimes reach 60 grams of sugar. In Thayer’s own words, “We wanted to resuscitate a more natural-tasting soda” using ingredients right from the farm’s land. In the maple birch we’re sampling today, the birch ingredients and mint all came right off the farm’s 65 acres. They also wanted something that tasted fresh. In fact, no sodium benzoate (a preservative) is used inside the bottle, meaning there’s a limited shelf life for ideal flavor. You’ll want to drink this within three months of getting it. But why would you wait that long, ya dummy? Thayer actually likens their maple birch beer to a maple-flavored ginger ale. How ’bout that? We’re already dealing with a soda confused about its identity and it’s only three months-old. Call the counselor.

Where to get: Hooker Mountain Farm soda is currently only sold in Vermont. This will be one of the harder sodas to get your hands on outside of the state. Your best bet to is contact the company directly via phone or email. Just know shipping may be pricey. In the near future, this should be much easier when the farm launches their line of soda syrups that will be more cost-effective to ship.

Nose: Maple root beer; light mint.

Taste: Light maple; dates; mild wintergreen; sugar. The maple in this isn’t overpowering. Hooker Mountain Farm intentionally strives for a soft drink that’s less sweet than a normal craft soda. I get the maple first. It’s very light. It blends with the birch bark and mint to form what tastes like a date flavor. Definitely some fruity notes to go along with the maple. This definitely doesn’t taste like traditional birch beer. The mint in this is much less intense than what you’re accustomed to in a birch beer. It’s there, but if someone made you drink this without telling you what it is, you probably wouldn’t guess birch beer. Unlike other sodas that rely heavily on maple as their sweetening agent, this one also uses some cane sugar as a supplement. It really helps. Certainly maple is more prevalent on the palate, but the cane sugar fuses nicely with it for a pleasing finish on the tongue. I’d like to see a little more strength from the traditional birch flavorings in this soda. The birch beer taste quickly evaporates as the carbonation fades. The maple, however, is nicely done.

Finish: Lingering maple that’s light and fluffy; cane sugar that acts as a nice bed for the maple to float along. The maple finish in this is arguably the soda’s best trait because it holds its flavor so well.

Rating: For a natural maple soda, this really nails the main ingredient. Using maple as your main sweetening agent can be a difficult task to make taste good. Trust us, we found out the hard way. The maple in this introduces itself to your palate right away and is accompanied by some fruity notes. We taste dates or even dried prunes. The maple’s flavor lasts throughout the body of the soda and into the finish, increasing in sweetness as it goes along. But… this is maple birch beer. Our biggest complaint is that it doesn’t really taste like a birch beer with maple added. We’re not sure if the maple syrup dilutes the birch flavors too much or if there isn’t enough traditional earthy, mint notes in here with which to begin. Regardless, I think this would benefit from some bolder birch flavorings. This has been described by the folks at Hooker Mountain Farm as tasting like a maple ginger ale. At times, I definitely thought to myself that it tasted like a version of maple 7-Up. In a good way. If this just generally called itself maple soda, I’d give it four stars. Even in the craft soda world where ingredients are typically of a much higher quality, we’re used to something sexy – sweet, sugary beverages. We always desire the cover models. This is more like your friend’s hot mom. It’s natural, not quite as sweet, but still worth a try if you can attain it. Very non-traditional. Its flavors may be too foreign or too much of an acquired taste for some. If you’re looking for a bold birch beer with sweet maple, you’ll come out of this experience potentially dissatisfied. Instead, expect a more maple-rich soda with a tinge of bark and mint flavors. Getting your hands on this may be tough, but if you can, it’s worth the experience.

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.

Homer Soda Co. Maple Root Beer

History: Warning: nostalgic and heart-warming story incoming. Homer, Illinois is a town of about 1,000 people. It’s a small, farm town. Life is simple there. In the early 2000’s, an antique shop popped up in the city’s Historic Main Street Building and made vintage sodas available. The public reception was so strong, the soda selection began expanding. And expanding. And expanding. Until they had over 500 sodas. If you do the math, the amount of people in Homer, Illinois only outweigh the number of unique sodas in the city by a ratio of 2:1. It’s small. Eventually, the owner was forced to close the shop due to personal health reasons. Kate Boyer didn’t want to see it go and stepped in to run it. Eventually, she bought it. Boyer’s love of local community eventually led her to gear her company’s business model towards wholesaling, so other small communities could get these cool, vintage sodas too. Today, Home Soda Company is one of the most recognizable retro soda distributors in the nation. Every year the company puts on the Homer Soda Festival where people can try up to 100 craft sodas from across the nation. The event attracts upwards of 10,000 people and de-cuples (10x) the city’s actual population. Picture a bunch of soda geeks drinking shot glasses of craft deliciousness and eating BBQ as bluegrass music blasts their ears until they forget how much sugar they’ve ingested. ‘Merica. It wasn’t until January of 2015 that Homer Soda decided they wanted to actually make their own soda. Inspired by a 400-tree maple grove about three miles from their town in Homer Lake, Boyer and her co-workers settled on Maple Root Beer. A portion of the proceeds from every bottle goes back to an interactive program at Homer Lake designed to educate children about maple syrup. The kids also get to run around and tap the trees for their pancake-topping magic. The company’s maple root beer uses a natural maple syrup extract and is GMO-free. A fun aside: the original founder of the antique shop is now the mayor of Homer, IL. The more you know…

Where to get: The best way for you to find Homer Soda Company’s Maple Root Beer, among a boat load of other sodas, is to go online to their Web site where you can purchase it directly. It should also be available within a couple months on Amazon.

 

Nose: Sugary root beer; syrupy maple that fades into light butterscotch

Taste: Initially very sweet. Classic root beer bite that fades within seconds, giving way to sweet maple. Homer uses an all-natural maple extract in this baby and the flavor holds for several seconds before a sweet, caramel butterscotch flavor takes over and really coats the palate. If you swirl it around in your mouth, the root beer flavor lingers longer. Not much in the way of carbonation. This isn’t one of those foamy root beers you see in commercials. I’d say if this had more bubbles, the classic root beer notes would shine more as carbonation typically enhances flavors with a bite.

Finish: Butterscotch that morphs back into classic root beer. The more you drink, the more the root beer flavor eventually comes through, but butterscotch really seems to dominate the overall flavor profile and finish.

Rating: If you enjoy sweeter root beers, this is probably up your alley. If you’re into more of an earthy, sarsaparilla sort of thing, this will probably overwhelm you. A little too syrupy for me without enough of a crisp, bite. More butterscotch than maple in my opinion. Kids and root beer enthusiasts are likely to be more receptive to its flavors. Here’s the deal: I would have a one-night stand with this and then call it back four months later when I wanted to feel young again. Tip: Mix this with a mid-tier bourbon and pour over ice cream for a sweet, spicy treat.