pear

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

Sioux City: Prickly Pear

History: Sioux City is a soda brand all about havin’ a rootin’ tootin’ good time. The company really wants you to drink in that nostalgic feel. That’s why they put a heavy emphasis on the old west on their bottles. They’re proud of their packaging. They use embossing, with raised ceramic lettering directly on the bottle’s glass as opposed to paper labels. This won’t make the soda taste better, but it’s kind of like your girlfriend walking around in lingerie as opposed to mom jeans. The look matters. Sioux City is a brand of White Rock Beverages, a company that also produces Olde Brooklyn. The company produces seven flavors, none more exotic than the one we’re reviewing right here – prickly pear. Prickly pears are the red fruits that grow from the Opuntia cactus and can be found from Mexico to Texas to southern California. It’s one of the rarer soda flavors out there. It’s also the newest flavor in the Sioux City line. An interesting fact about Sioux City’s Prickly Pear soda: it’s naturally flavored by using cabbage. Don’t ask us how.

Where to get: Sioux City is widely distributed throughout the Midwest, but if ya kick your cowboy boots together and head to Amazon, you can get ‘yer fix too.

Nose: Jolly ranchers; candied watermelon.

Taste: This has a very pronounced, bold flavor. If you’ve ever had cherry Jolly Ranchers, this is almost a dead ringer for the same flavor. Prickly pear traditionally has a sweet flavor, with undertones of kiwi citrus. This is more of a candied, tart cherry flavor with some notes of watermelon. It’s very sweet, but in this soda, the sweetness really works with the flavor profiles. That tart crispness helps to distract from the sugar, yet balances perfectly with it. It could probably use a little more carbonation to bring out the watermelon and tart flavors, but this is a sweet, refreshing soda that delights the taste buds.

Finish: Light watermelon, faint kiwi that trails off back into a more mellow cherry Jolly Rancher flavor.

Rating: Unless you’re a weirdo an avid eater of prickly pear, this is something that’ll be new for you. It’s bold and flavorful, has a wonderful color, and doggone it, I like it. It’s cherry Jolly Rancher, candied watermelon taste pairs deliciously with subtle undertones of kiwi in the finish. This is a fun take on fruit soda that many companies won’t have the desire or resources to a take a risk on. We’re glad Sioux City did. Still, it’s a very sweet soda. Very sweet. If you drank a six pack of these in one night, you’d probably need an IV afterward. The watermelon flavor gives the soda a mild bite that helps undercut the sugariness, but it does taste a little syrupy at times. A little more carbonation would help cut that back. One or two of these will go a long way, but it’s certainly a road you should travel down at some point. Also pairs really well with vodka or rum and lemon juice. Have enough of those and you’ll forget all about the sugar.