orange

Roots Soda Co.: Hoodoo

History: As soon as you hear the first chords of the Muse song “Hoodoo,” there’s an entrancing vibration that echoes your down your spine… but more importantly, there’s also a sense of dread. Like peering into an ocean blue sky before looking off in the distance and seeing a dark wave of clouds barreling forward. Middle Eastern-inspired guitar strings pluck quietly, conjuring up the image of a quiet dessert before the song quickly descends into a rapid, more folksy rendition of itself. Lead singer Matt Bellamy calmly croons about for half the song until the music then trades in its exotic flare for one that’s angrier, churning ahead with distorted guitars and sinister orchestral strings. The song shares the same name with an original creation from Roots Soda Co. in Edinburgh, Scotland. And much like the flow of the music, Roots founder Mark Pool describes Hoodoo the beverage as “Jekyll and Hyde, a split personality that would refresh and then burn.” The story is also the inspiration behind the beverage. He likens it to a fruit punch which is an interesting comparison to us after previously reviewing one of the company’s other sodas, Kaleidoscope, one we felt also tasted like a fruit punch. There’s more parallels to the Muse song too. The two share similar cultural influences. Pool says Hoodoo was “inspired by far eastern and South American drinks.” But there’s another, more important influence on the company’s creations. Roots Soda Co. prides itself on using real ingredients in their soda. They acknowledge and agree with the backlash against a majority of soda on the market. Pool is frank, saying “Soda is going to have to change and artificial sweeteners are not the answer. We started out wanting to make our sodas more healthy that what was on offer.” He hammers the point home, adding “The landscape of soda is one of ruin.” Damn, man – tell us how you really feel. Well, he did. And Hoodoo was his first answer.

“It took months” to perfect Hoodoo, a soda with a bevy of ingredients that make you wonder how the recipe will work when they’re all combined. Pool tells us the soda contains orange, lime, lemon and pink grapefruit juices in addition to pomegranate and chili peppers. That was the reason for the delay. Pool struggled with balancing citrus and heat. “I wanted the burn to come on slowly so that the soda first cooled and refreshed, and let you taste all of the ingredients before the burn started to build,” he says. He’s since mastered the level of heat he desired, but still faces battles with every batch of Hoodoo. Again, it’s the pepper that causes Pool to sweat. “The chillies come from different parts of the world throughout the year, and the heat from them can vary. Just like cooking a meal at home, we have to taste and adjust cooking times for the chillies in the syrup, in order to get the heat just right in every batch.” As with many sodas from Europe, the portion size is slightly smaller than the usual 12 ounces Americans are used to. But what the bottle lacks in size, it makes up in personality with its menacing red label and poetry inscribed on the back. It’s clear the crew at Roots Soda Co. have worked hard to make their sodas an experience from the names to the ingredients to the aesthetics. The only thing we all really care about though: the flavor. So here’s to the Jekyll and Hyde of sodas. It’s been a long time since I’ve tasted a split personality. At least three or four girlfriends ago.

Where to get: Roots Soda is only sold at physical locations in the United Kingdom. Sorry everybody else; you’ll have to travel for this one. But if you’re in the area, here’s a list of where to find the goods. The company also hinted online sales may be coming, so always be on the lookout.

Nose: Smells kind of like a fruitier version of V8 juice. Some savory vegetable and sweet fruits stirred together in a pot .

Taste: Juicy; pepper; orange; chili; lime; tangy. Each sip of Hoodoo reveals something a little different. Initially you might taste the chili, making the soda seem more savory. Then on the next sip, the orange comes through to make it seem more fruity and sweet. Try it again and you might notice the lime or pomegranate most, giving the soda a tangy characteristic. I’d say orange is the soda’s base flavor with chili and lime being tied for second most prominent. It really is kind of a split personality drink. Sometimes it’s more like a semisweet, vegetable-influenced juice cocktail. Sometimes it’s almost like a citrus fruit punch. But the reality is that Hoodoo is somewhere in the middle, both savory and sweet. Refreshing, yet atypical.

Finish: More savoy than sweet with notes of bell pepper and chili being most prominent and just a tinge of sweet and sour lemon, as well as orange.

Rating: So often we get asked for soda recommendations with the qualifier, “something not too sweet.” Hoodoo has shot up to the short list of sodas meeting that requirement. It’s a hybrid between a botanical and sweet soda, while getting its flavors from real fruits and vegetables. Some sips are rich, even savory with notes of bell pepper and chili. Others are sweet and juicy with a base of orange juice supported by tangy pomegranate and lime. It seems to change each time you bring the bottle to your lips. Even the degree of the flavors are different. Sometimes the pepper taste is subdued. Other times it’s vicious. Sometimes the orange flavor is juicy and upfront by itself. Other times it’s just a supporting player in the background as pomegranate and lime take over. Split personality. I’m not even talking about my exes this time. These two words define Hoodoo. And it’s clearly by design. And in that sense, Roots Soda Co. has certainly succeeded. The company is one of Europe’s best craft soda bottlers. If you’re looking for something truly out of the box, something unpredictable, give Hoodoo a try.

Four Stars

Derr’s: Orange Pineapple

History: Tucked away in the small city of Boonville, Indiana sits Derr’s Soda. This business is old. It’s old enough by comparison to make Mick Jagger seem like he isn’t disintegrating just a little bit every time he performs on stage. It’s so old that when Derr’s started making “pop,” they had to pump the water they used from a well. It’s so old, their original means of transportation were horses and wagons. Get it? Derr’s Soda was founded by John Derr under the name “John Derr & Sons” in 1889 in Boonville, Indiana and has remained in the family ever since. It’s currently in its fourth generation of ownership. Over the phone, John Derr Sr.’s great grandson, Joe Derr, Jr., begins to recount some of the company history. He pauses for a long time before revealing that Derr’s started out making flavorings, colorings, and syrups to be used on treats like snow cones. He said this naturally transitioned into soda. The company was famous for its Derr’s Dry (lemon-lime) and strawberry sodas, with orange pineapple, orange, and grape also being very popular. As with most family businesses, there’s lots of consistency at Derr’s. One thing that hasn’t remained steadfast since 1889: the business itself. Derr’s closed its doors for a number of years in 1992. Essentially what happened was that no one in the Derr family had time for the business anymore. The final owner upon closure was Charles Derr. Within the family, the question was always, “when, not if” Derr’s would re-open. Charles Derr’s nephew, Joe Derr, Jr. and Charles’s son, John Derr finally restarted Derr’s in early 2010. They are also assisted by John’s sister, Barb Byers. Finally, someone with a name that isn’t Derr.

“It’s made the old fashioned way,” says Derr Jr. He’s not kidding. Before re-opening, the Derr boys went on a multi-year search to find the original suppliers of certain oils and flavors that went to the soda’s recipes. They were also “gifted the formulas” by Charles’s widow, Pauline Hull Derr. Currently, the company only sells three of its original flavors in bottles: strawberry, cream soda, and orange pineapple. The latter is certainly the most unique in the world of craft soda. “It’s a little more pineapple than it is orange,” says Derr Jr. He adds that the company produces its own secret extract that it uses in the recipe for orange pineapple soda. Derr Jr. notes orange pineapple is designed to taste smooth, and for that reason is also a good mixer. The company is proud of the flavor in its bottles, so much so that it scaled back on one signature soda trait. Derr Jr. tells us, “It’s got less carbonation in it than some of the newer drinks because of the full flavor that you get.” In addition to the three flavors Derr’s bottles, they also produce fountain sodas, and those do include older sodas like Derr’s Dry, orange, and grape. You can tell they really care about their liquid. Also, I’m pretty sure this a record for the number of times I’ve typed one last name in a review. Don’t Derr me wrong, guys.

Where to get: Derr’s is sold in physical locations regionally in southern Indiana, parts of southern Illinois, and western Kentucky. It’s also sold online throughout the U.S. You can purchase Derr’s Soda from Summit City Soda or from the company directly via its online store.

Nose: If you’ve ever had orange-pineapple juice, this smells almost exactly like that. Pretty spot on. The pineapple scent smells a little more candied than it does in pure juice form, but that’s to be expected with soda.

Taste: Pineapple; mild coconut; sugar; citrus. There’s a very, very sweet, candied pineapple flavor to this. It’s also got juuuuuuust a touch of coconut that accompanies that pineapple flavor. It’s almost an afterthought, but it’s there. The orange is also there, but it’s pretty subtle because the pineapple is so loud and sugary. The orange notes do provide a little bit of a zing, but again, very subtle. The flavor you’ll taste most besides pineapple is general citrus, and that’s something you’ll taste near the beginning and ending of each sip. The carbonation is actually what provides greatest contrast to the sweetness of the pineapple. The bubbles are little, but bountiful and make you think this tastes zestier than it really is. But bold, sweet pineapple is the dominant flavor and the unquestioned identity of this one.

Finish: Sweet, citrusy pineapple that quickly fades.

Rating: If you’d rather skip the hassle of carving up a pineapple and wasting a majority of the fruit, Derr’s Orange Pineapple has you covered. The flavor is really bright and does a very admirable job impersonating the fruit. The pineapple taste is bold, strong, and sweet. Very sweet. It’s actually surprisingly sweet when you look at the label because the bottle contains 34 grams of sugar. It tastes more like 50. For some, that’s a welcome sugar rush. For others, it’s a diabetic episode waiting to happen. In fact, the pineapple in this is so strong that it makes you love the citrus element. It provides a nice buffer near the beginning and ending to reign in the pineapple sugar storm you get for the majority of each sip. The subtle coconut flavor seems to fade as you drink it, but when it’s there, it adds a nice variance to the soda’s overall flavor profile. The finish on Derr’s Orange Pineapple is unremarkable. It really just dies near the end of the sip. I’d love to taste that tropical pineapple flavor slowly fade into the sunset, so that would be my biggest qualm with this soda. I think a slow fade out as opposed to a stark drop would help drinkers ease back in to the blast of sweet pineapple at the beginning of each drink. Now we’ve mentioned how sweet this is probably five times, and it is – but don’t get us wrong, the pineapple flavor here is really nice. This is a wonderful pineapple soda, though I do think I’d cut back on the sugar. I also wish I tasted the orange more. It would add some needed tartness. Still, this is fun. Pineapple is a fruit that is rarely attempted in soda. Kudos to Derr’s for being original. This would be a wonderful summer drink. Adding some vodka or rum to cut the sugar might not be a bad idea either. You could do a lot of things with Derr’s Orange Pineapple. And if you end up drinking a whole six-pack of it at once, let us know. We’d be happy to come visit you in the hospital.

Three Stars

Roots Soda Co.: Kaleidoscope

History: “The landscape of soda is one of ruin.” Bleak words from the founder of Roots Soda Co., Mark Pool. Even today in the midst of a resurgence where craft and gourmet soda are putting more and more pressure on the big boys, there is still a monopoly. But before the two mass manufactured brands put a strangle hold on the soda market, your favorite ice cold bottled beverage was made at local soda fountains and bottlers were bountiful from town to town. Ingredients were real. Flavors were unique. Competition was fun and not cutthroat. Roots Soda asks, “what if that never went away?” That’s the mentality they have when making soda. Tired of the current state of the industry, Mark Pool founded Roots Soda Co. in April 2012 in Edinburgh, Scotland. It’s an art to them. You get the sense that there’s this intense drive behind the company. This mission to bring soda back to its roots. They note on their website that they want “to make the best soda possible using and honouring only the best ingredients, and sending it off into a future yet unimagined.” I like to read that quote set to triumphant piano music. Are these guys soda jerks or power ballad writers? One thing’s for sure: they’re motivated to create. Pool notes “At Roots it’s not so much about one ingredient standing out, it’s about the ingredients coming together to make something new.” Pool initially sought to create a carbonated lemonade, a popular flavor outside of America, but felt more inspired by cola and how all of its flavors coalesce to form a signature taste. That really appealed to Roots and led to its two flavors. As you might expect, they’re well thought out, a little strange, and a lot inventive.

Hoodoo and Kaleidoscope. No, those are not the names of strippers at the dodgy club downtown. They’re the two flavors Roots Soda Co. produces. “The names for soda seemed a bit tired,” Pool adds. Hoodoo came first. Pool likens it to Jekyll and Hyde. It’s a soda that both burns and refreshes. Perhaps its no surprise then that Hoodoo took months to perfect. Kaleidoscope is the golden child of the bunch… at least it was initially. The first test batch came out perfect. According to Pool, the flavor was designed to evoke memories of childhood summers or going to a music festival for the first time. But Pool can’t take credit for the idea behind it. It was his buddy Jon Seller who “suggested a soda with strawberry, orange, basil and balsamic vinegar.” It tested off the charts at the farmers market. The problems came later and on a bigger scale. Strawberries proved to be a real bitch for Roots Soda. Basically they had to either double the amount of strawberries to maintain the soda’s optimal flavor and struggle with money or stick with the original recipe, lose a little bit of quality and hit their margins. Ultimately, Roots went with option one and had to re-arrange “everything” to make the money work. “We felt that there is too much stuff that gets made just to turn a profit. We wanted to make something we genuinely cared about,” said Pool. One thing’s for sure: these dudes have guts and they’re not afraid to screw up. They’ll have more flavors out in the future. Knowing their precision and high standards, it’ll likely take some time. Until then, we present to you: Kaleidoscope.

Where to get: In keeping with their old school vibe, currently Roots Soda is only sold at physical locations. And unfortunately, only a lucky few in the United Kingdom have access. If you’re in the area, here’s a list of where to find the goods. The company hinted online sales may be coming, so always be on the lookout.

Nose: Very tropical. Like a fruit punch. There’s a vey distinct smell of mango in this bottle. That’s interesting because there’s no mango in Kaleidoscope. It’s really pleasant though. Definitely smells like something fruity you used to drink as a kid.

Taste: Tropical juices; orange; balsamic; mild tartness. This starts out with those same tropical notes you smell when you hold Kaleidoscope under your nose. Like a fruit punch in the beginning that smoothly transitions into more natural flavors of juice. That fruit punch flavor really reminds me of Fruitopia Fruit Integration, a tropical soft drink from the 90’s. You can really taste the authentic orange juice at the end of each sip too. Orange is the most prominent of the ingredients in this you’ll taste. The natural juices render the carbonation very light, almost frothy with tiny bubbles. The tartness of the balsamic and orange provide a nice balance with the strawberry. For a soda with balsamic vinegar, this doesn’t taste like balsamic vinegar. That should make most drinkers happy. You’ll primarily taste tropical fruit punch that gets balanced out with tart, slightly acidic tasting notes.

Finish: Slightly bitter orange. This is where you can taste the basil, ever so slightly. There’s a little bit of an herbal flavor with the orange too.

Rating: For a soda with only a handful of natural ingredients, Roots Soda Co.’s Kaleidoscope tastes surprisingly like a more mature version of fruit punch. The orange juice is the most prominent element in the soda, interacting with the strawberry to impart a sweetness and the balsamic to provide some bitterness. This is sweet, then tart. The amount of sugar isn’t overpowering. In fact, it works really nicely. The flavors here are really dynamite. Balsamic is an ingredient that might scare some people because of its strong bittersweet flavor, but it’s not strong enough in the flavor profile here to make you notice it. This doesn’t have any sort of vinegar taste. What the balsamic does is help provide some tartness with the orange to balance out the sugar levels. The balsamic here is like the last kid in a big family. It’s there. It has an effect. You’ll probably even like it. But most of you will forget about it. And one day it’ll end up writing soda reviews on the Internet *cries*. This is a modern-day gourmet fruit punch-esque artisanal soda that touches all the right fruity notes with an impressively small list of ingredients. I wouldn’t mind tasting the strawberry profile a little bit more, but the use of orange is exquisite. This is truly one of the most inventive and flavorful fruit sodas out there. We can’t recommend it enough. Roots Soda Co. is currently a two-soda business in Edinburgh, Scotland. If they keep making flavors as good as Kaleidoscope, new creations will be inevitable. We hope they’re just getting started.

Route 66: Orange Soda

History: Route 66 is arguably the most iconic stretch of road in the history of America. Officially replaced in totality by the current interstate system in 1985, its legacy lives on in many forms, from song to soda. “I know nothing about running a soda business, but I’m running it,” Alan Bruggeman says comically over the phone. Bruggeman, a lawyer, is the current owner of Route 66 Soda, based out of Wilmington, Illinois. Bruggeman purchased the business with a group of investors in 2006 from his friend Larry. The brand originated in 1996 after Larry consulted with Bruggeman’s mutual friend Scott Cameron. Cameron was an agent for several older blues musicians who remembered the nostalgia of glass-bottled soda working on the road along Route 66. Long story short, the two sought to recapture both the old-time feel of soda from the 20’s and 30’s while honoring the historic landmark highway. Cameron passed away in February of 2015, so Bruggeman took over the operation.

You’ll notice several famous Route 66 landmarks scattered across the bottles, including Dead Man’s Curve, Chain of Rocks Bridge, and the Wigwam Village Motel. The soda’s popularity is certainly on the rise. According to Bruggeman, Route 66 Soda is looking to double its production this year in addition to expanding its market reach. The company is currently in negotiations with a large national chain whose name was kept secret from us of over 300 stores. There’s even international interest. Bruggeman notes Route 66 soda is distributed in both Canada and Cyprus, with South Korea interested. The power of American culture, ladies and gentlemen. For the real sugar purists, fear not, Route 66 switched their recipes to pure cane sugar in 2011. Their etched glass bottles stand out amongst the crowded craft soda market place. Route 66 actually won the 2010 Clear Choice Award by the Glass Bottle Institute. Yes, that’s a real thing. The company produces five flavors: Route 66 Route Beer, Cream Soda, Black Cherry, Lime and Orange in order of popularity. I always got picked last in kickball in elementary school, so we went with their orange soda. Bruggeman adds, “The flavors are old fashioned like they used to be. I haven’t had anyone taste our sodas and say they didn’t like it.” Take that for what it’s worth7. We valued the opinion enough to give it a shot.

Where to get: Route 66 Sodas are distributed sporadically throughout the country with a majority of availability in the midwest. I know that does nothing for you, so order it online in your underwear at Summit City Soda or Soda Emporium.

Nose: Orange Lifesavers; bold candy orange.

Taste: Orange Lifesavers; tangerine; mild orange. This has a very distinctive flavor, but that flavor is more tangerine than orange. This is a bold soda. It has a distinctive rich, sweet tangerine flavors with subtle notes of orange hard candies. Not tart at all. The carbonation is very light and small. The sugar is distinct and coats the edges of the tongue as the tangerine citrus flows down the middle. Definitely not what you’ll probably be expecting. Not a traditional orange soda.

Finish: Mild acidic tangerine notes. Not much a difference from the soda’s body.

Rating: For a line of soda’s named after a highway in the middle of good ole America, Route 66’s Orange Soda tastes slightly exotic. In our opinion, it’s flavor is distinctively tangerine rather than orange. There are some subtle candy orange flavors that float about, but the richness and sweetness of the tangerine really come through in the flavor profile. Tangerines are generally bolder and sweeter in flavor than orange, which are sweet, yet tart. This soda possesses no tartness. To some, that will be an immediate draw. Others like an orange soda that bites back. You won’t find that here. This is surprisingly nontraditional. There’s certainly some familiar orange soda flavor in here, but if you’re familiar with the taste of a tangerine, you’ll understand this review much better. If this was called tangerine soda, it’d be four stars. If you’re up for an orange soda that’s off the beaten path, this is worth a try. We’re certainly intrigued by this offering from Route 66. It’s a brand that seems to be worth investigating. We’ll report back when we know more.

Tommy Knocker: Orange Creme

History: “We’re into anything craft,” from food to beer to soda. Those are the words of Tommy Knocker Brewery Director of Operation, Steve Indrehus. Steve already sounds like one of us. We can’t wait to hang out, Steve. Hailing from Idaho Spring, Colorado, Tommy Knocker is one of a growing number of bottlers that use only organic ingredients in their sodas. Like many breweries, they started with draft root beer as a non-alcoholic option. And that led to more flavors. Currently, the brewery makes four sodas. The root beer still moves the most, selling over 6,000 cases a year. I move about 6,000 a year too… further into debt. What’s really unique about Tommy Knocker sodas is the water they use. It’s a flow of snow melt and rain water that trickles down from the 14,000 foot peak of Mount Bierstadt. It’s described by Indrehus as a very soft water. I don’t know what that means, but it sounds delightful. Their orange cream soda is made with 100% pure Madagascar vanilla in addition to pure cane sugar. It contains no caffeine and is GMO-free. And if you’re a beer snob, take solace. Tommy Knocker brews their sodas just like they brew their brews. Let’s get to it.

Where to get: Tommy Knocker sodas are sold directly via the company’s website. You can also find it in single bottles at this random Boulder, Colorado liquor store website. You can also buy them at most Rocketfizz retailers. It’s available throughout Colorado, and with the exception of Rocketfizz stores, sporadically throughout the U.S. in 18 states.

Nose: Fresh, organic oranges.

Taste: Fresh citrus; tart vanilla; lightly burned sugar. Tommy Knocker’s take on orange cream soda tastes distinctly more orange than cream. Sugar and citrus are up front. This is a brand that uses completely organic ingredients and that’s very evident on the taste buds. This is probably just a little bit less sweet than you’d expect for an orange cream soda. Not much of the traditional orange creamsicle flavor. There’s much more of a botanical citrus taste. This is made with organic orange zest and that’s probably the most identifiable flavor in this bottle. It’s zesty. It’s citrusy. But as far as tasting like sweet orange, it’s not quite as obvious as I’d like to see in an orange cream. There’s noticeable vanilla in this, but it isn’t creamy. The vanilla notes flutter around on the backend of each drink, almost in a tart way. The organic ingredients in this soda work with the cane sugar to form a light, burned sugar or caramel taste. But overall, earthy citrus is the predominant flavor.

Finish: Mild oranges that progressively taste fresher throughout the finish. Citrus and sugar round out each sip.

Rating: This is what I’d consider a nontraditional take on orange cream soda. Perhaps it’s the organic ingredients. Perhaps it’s just the way this was designed. But it’s missing that flagship creaminess we all desire in this particular flavor. When you think orange cream soda, you think dreamsicle or creamsicle. This is more like biting into an orange rind. You taste a very pure, zesty orange oil flavor. It’s not bitter and it’s not bad. It’s just not what we were expecting. The orange flavor in this isn’t exactly crisp like juice or smooth like other cream sodas. The vanilla notes are nice and work, but probably need to be more prominent to see this soda live up to the label on the bottle. If you’re a fan of citrus sodas, I’d suggest a bottle. If you prefer sweeter, creamier orange creams, this may be a let down for you. It does get better as you continue drinking it, but then again, my neighbor says that all the time and I just passed him on the way to his AA meeting. This is a game time decision. Worth a try, but it’s replay value is in question.

 

Barr: Irn-Bru

History: Put on your manliest kilt because Irn-Bru has made it to Five Star Soda. It’s the unofficial soft drink of Scotland, laddie. Invented in 1901 by Barr Soft Drinks, it contains 32 different flavors and is made with cane sugar. It does not, however, come in a glass bottle. A little part of the craft soda enthusiast in me died telling you that. According to Great Scot International Vice President James Wilson, only two people, the owner and his daughter, know the recipe. “You can’t really describe it,” he says, his voice almost puzzled searching for an answer. Good. This should be easy then. Irn-Bru has faced some challenges getting into the North American market. In Scotland, the original formula uses the coloring agent Ponceau 4R, an additive that is banned by the FDA in America and Canada. I know you’re not reading those, so what that really means is in Scotland Irn-Bru is a little bit darker with more of a reddish hue as opposed to the bright rusty orange color in the American version. Irn-Bru is the title sponsor for the Scottish Premier League. Wilson says in Scottish grocery stores Coca-Cola takes up about half of the shelf space. The rest is just Irn-Bru. They’re serious about it. The drink started as a tonic and to this day still contains Quinine, a flavoring agent typically used in tonic water and something that helps settle the stomach. It also contains .002%  Ferric Ammonium Citrate, which is where the “iron” flavor comes in. Irn-Bru is even rumored to be a hangover cure. “You either love it or you hate it,” adds Wilson. Let’s find out.

Where to get: You can purchase Irn-Bru on Amazon or The Scottish Grocer. Irn-Bru is also distributed nation-wide in the United States by Great Scot International in Charlotte, North Carolina. According to Wilson, pretty much any grocer with a British or UK section should likely carry it.

Nose: Bubble gum; smells very reminiscent of bubble gum cream sodas.

Taste: Bubble gum; citrus; bitterness. Though this smells and even tastes a bit like bubblegum, Irn-Bru definitely isn’t a cream soda. It’s a wave of citrus with a bite from across the pond. The flavor profile here is in three parts. First you get an orange-infused bubble gum taste that quickly evaporates and is followed by a lighter, slightly creamy orange citrus. What comes in last is bitterness. It likely has something to do with that Ferric Ammonium Citrate. That sounds good for you, doesn’t it? The sharp, bitter citrus stays on the back of your tongue a little too long for me. It’s fairly acidic, even for a citrus soda. The lads and lassies from Scotland apparently love this. It’s certainly different than American sodas.

Finish: A tart citrus that sinks itself into the back of your tongue. Leaves a little bit of an acidic taste in the back of the throat. Could be harsh for first-time drinkers of Irn-Bru.

Rating: It’s hard to nail down a rating for this soda. Its taste can be overly harsh on the first few sips, especially on the finish. It’s true. This is a love it or hate it beverage. So naturally, we’re somewhere in the middle. Sharp, acidic citrus stays in the mouth too long to make this a top-tier soda. Could just be a cultural thing. I’ve been told Americans definitely love their sweets and sugars more than the rest of the world. The initial orange bubblegum citrus flavor is fairly unique and pretty palatable. It just doesn’t last nearly as long as the tart acidity and bitter citrus undertones you get near the end. Some of that probably comes from the Quinine. How can I describe this in a way you’ll understand? Hmmm. This is like when you go on a date with that really hot dude who’s got those alluring exotic eyes, but then you start dating and realize he smells kind of like a donkey. He’s fun for a little bit, but even after he goes home, he lingers. In all seriousness, this is pretty interesting. With flavors not typically found in North America, I’d recommend giving Irn-Bru a shot simply because it’s incredibly popular in Scotland, and you should ingest some of that culture to keep yourself well-rounded. Just be careful, looks can be deceiving.

Ski Cherry

History: Ski is one of the most well-known names in the retro soda business. It’s been the flagship citrus beverage of Chattanooga, Tennessee’s Double Cola Company since 1956. But unlike most citrus sodas, this one is lemon and orange instead of lime. The company actually uses real lemon and orange juice in each soda, something fairly uncommon for larger brands. It was 1996 when Ski Cherry made its debut. Unlike most craft sodas, this one does contain caffeine. Now here’s an important distinction to make: Double Cola markets a majority of Ski in cans and plastic bottles with more modern labels. That version of Ski is made with high fructose corn syrup. However, their “nostalgic packages” in glass bottles are made with pure cane sugar. Ski Cherry (the bottle we’re reviewing) is made with pure cane sugar. The high fructose version of Ski Cherry is actually called Ski InfraRed. Confused yet? Think of it this way: Ski Cherry is your cute neighbor who is au naturale. Ski InfraRed is your new, cute neighbor who’s nice to look at because she’s full of silicone… err, corn syrup. Get it? If you don’t, you could just get drunk because according to the St. Louis Post Dispatch, Ski has a reputation has a hangover cure.

Where to get: Ski Cherry can be found at many Rocketfizz retailers across the nation. You can also purchase it online at Soda Emporium.

Nose: Like when you were a kid and poured every soda in your fridge into a cup. In my day we called them suicides. This is like that: swampy smelling. There’s definitely a cleaning fluid smell to this. Hopefully it’s deceiving.

Taste: It wasn’t deceiving. Bitter; pungent; old citrus. Ski soda is known for its mixture of lemon and orange, but this really tastes more like lime than anything else with some cherry flavoring added. Tastes very artificial. Usually cane sugar sodas are sweeter. This could use some sweetness. It could use anything, really. This is supposed to be an alternative to Mountain Dew. The two don’t taste all that similar. Whereas Mountain Dew has a crisp citrus taste, this is more of a dull citrus flavor with a pinch of cherry at the end. The cherry isn’t too bad, but isn’t prominent enough to stand out on its own. Ski Cherry shocks the taste buds not with a tangy burst, but with a lack of refreshing flavor so often found in citrus drinks. If you’re sensitive to caffeine, be warned, this is a soda that contains a caffeine punch. Most craft sodas do not contain caffeine. This one gave us a headache.

Finish: Lingering lime with a hint of orange. Not as harsh as the body of the soda. Probably this bottle’s only redeeming quality.

Rating: Ski’s tagline is “Real lemon. Real Orange. Real Good.” Coulda’ fooled me. Nothing about this tastes authentic in the slightest, nor do I taste any lemon in this soda. It’s more like a dull lime taste with faint artificial cherry and orange. It smells like chemicals and tastes only slightly better. Listen, I’m not trying to blatantly trash this. There are people out there who like it. Thirsty Dudes gave this four bottles out of five. They must’ve been really thirsty. It does have a decent finish and the cherry flavor near the end of each sip is fine. Citrus soda drinkers, yeah, go ahead and give it a shot if you wish. Maybe you’ll find its redeeming qualities. Maybe we got a bad bottle. But more likely, this just isn’t our thing. If you don’t like citrus, you can skip Ski Cherry and it’s fake brother Ski InfraRed. The name doesn’t exactly have me volunteering to put it inside my body. “Sir, would you like to drink this infrared liquid?” “Why yes! I’ve been wanting to go to the hospital!” I think this would be a wonderfully-scented toilet cleaner, but it comes up short as a soda.

Avery’s Beverages: Toxic Slime

History: Avery’s Beverages is a stalwart in the craft soda community. These dudes have been making the stuff for over 100 years out of New Britain, CT. They’re known for variety. They produce almost 50 different flavors from root beer to mint seltzer to black raspberry. They also utilize artisan well water in their sodas. I see you nodding your head in approval, even though you don’t really know what it means. Avery’s credits a “great local following” and the resurgence of craft soda to their maintained success. But there’s also another reason. A more disgusting reason. In fact, it’s why we’re here today. But first a lesson: Avery’s runs a “Make Your Own Soda” program on Saturdays where kids, by appointment, are allowed to create sodas based on six stock flavors. As you can probably guess, with a child’s excitement and mind running 1,000 mph, a lot of the early versions came out sludge brown. The kicker was… some of them tasted good. Eventually they worked with the kids to perfect a flavor called “Swamp Juice.” Out of this, Avery’s “Totally Gross Soda” line was born, featuring names like “Zombie Brain Juice,” “Kitty Piddle,” and today’s soda for review, “Toxic Slime.” As Avery’s Beverages General Manager, Rob Metz say, “They appeal to the 10 year-old in all of us.” Ah, nostalgia. According to Metz, 80% of the soda Avery’s ships is this weird stuff. Be on the look out for future flavors like “Alien Snot” and “Worm Slime.” You hungry? Or is it just me?

Where to get: Avery’s ships all over the country. You can probably find it at your nearest retro soda shop or at RocketFizz outlets. Some of their biggest distributors include Homer Soda in the midwest, Bay’s Best Beverages on the east coast, and Real Soda (don’t mind the Web site; he’s legit) on the west coast. Or you can always contact Avery’s directly and they’d be happy to make an order for you.

Nose: That blue sunny delight you sometimes drank as a kid; dull citrus cleaning fluid.

Taste: Artificial blue raspberry that crawls up the back of your sinuses. This tastes like something to which you’d have an allergic reaction. As with most craft sodas, Toxic Slime only contains a handful of ingredients, including pure cane sugar, but it reeks and tastes of chemicals. With a name like Toxic Slime, maybe Avery’s accomplished what they wanted. It’s supposed to be blue raspberry-orange, but it comes off more like sweetened Windex. The orange doesn’t really come through and the blue raspberry isn’t crisp or palatable enough to make you want to drink this repeatedly. Nothing complicated here, just the taste of sugary, watery, artificial flavorings.

Finish: Sugary; fake blue raspberry that leaves you feeling unsure about yourself.

Rating: This soda will turn your tongue blue and your organs into sadness. The color is fun. The name is fun. The flavor combo in theory is even fun, but this doesn’t work. This is a novelty soda along the lines of Lester’s Fixins, though admittedly, it’s better than most of those. Parents, pick up a bottle of this for your kids. Let them turn their tongues blue. If you’re into novelty soda, give it a go. If you’re in it for the flavor, pass on it. If you’re in it for a go round at the hospital, get a six-pack. I fear what color my insides are now.