seattle

Soda Jerk Soda: Lemon Lavender

History: Seattle, Washington is continually churning out some of the most inventive and artisanal craft sodas on the market. But some of these effervescent elixirs are hidden gems that not everyone knows about. We believe they deserve their day in the sun. Enter Soda Jerk Soda, some of the most creative craft soda on the west coast. Owner Cory Clark had been a cosmetic chemist with a couple stores in Texas, but he was looking for his next project. Something different, he thought. Something cool. “I’m kind of a person that has to be creating something to be happy,” he says. He told us initially he wanted to start an ice cream and soda fountain, but after seeing the success of the Soda Stream, Clark changed his mind and started exploring soda syrups. He quickly changed course again after he realized he preferred fresh ingredients to syrup. It’s hard to disagree there. But before we tell you about the liquid, here’s an example of Clark’s creativeness. Dude sells his soda out of what is essentially a cute-ass baby truck on wheels. He bought it online and customized it himself after being inspired by a Cushman Truckster… aka the next thing I’m drunk buying online. Back to the soda. You won’t find anything traditional on the Soda Jerk Soda truck. It features three taps with two rotating flavors. Strawberry Rhubarb. Lime Cilantro Jalapeno. Lemon Lavender. These are some of the flavors you’ll find in place of classics like root beer or cola. “I try to pair an herb or spice with the ingredient,” Clark notes. Soda Jerk Soda also always uses organic cane sugar and fresh ingredients with as many sourced locally from Washington as possible. Clark adds he uses organic ingredients whenever he can. There are also no preservatives in Soda Jerk Soda. Hipsters everywhere should be lining up for this stuff.

Lemon Lavender is one of the first flavors Clark created and to this day it’s the company’s best seller. It’s also the only flavor consistently available on tap. Fresh lavender flowers from Washington are used in the soda instead of lavender extracts in order to make the soda taste as authentic as possible. What’s really interesting about Clark’s process is that he doesn’t cook down his ingredients. He just uses hot water for steeping the herbs and melting down the sugar. He says he does this to ensure “the flavors are very bright and strong.” The Lemon Lavender soda contains 12.5 % juice. Time to ingest the freshness.

Where to get: Soda Jerk Soda is one of those local-only craft sodas, so you’ve gotta be in the Seattle area or going to the city to get a taste. Clark told us he’s looking into shipping methods, but as of fall 2015, it was still quite a ways off due to high costs for both parties. Here’s a list of where to find Soda Jerk Soda in Seattle.

Nose: Strong lavender. Mild lemon-lime tucked behind the lavender. The scent wavers between sweet, floral, and savory. A big nose on this soda.

Taste: Tart; sweet lavender; lemon. Definitely a floral/botanical soda, but uncharacteristically sweet for a soda in that flavor zone. The flavors here are big and bold. This looks like pink lemonade, but is defined by the lavender taste that permeates each sip. There’s a quick rush of light carbonation at the beginning of the drink, quickly followed up by tart lemon and sweet lavender. This is initially more tart than sweet, which makes it very crisp. The lavender does give the soda a bit of an herbal taste, but it’s a sweet one. While lavender really shines in the first half of the drink, lemon takes over the second half of each sip. It’s interesting; the lemon becomes sweeter, while the lavender begins packing a bit of zing and tasting more savory, along the lines of a tart lavender tea. The lemon and lavender taste fresh and don’t make your taste buds over think. Overall, it’s a pretty even mix of sweet to sour, though I’d give the nod to the former. There’s a lot going on for just two main flavors, but luckily, this artisanal soda isn’t overly complicated.

Finish: Herbal lavender, almost like a tea with subtle tart lemon in the background.

Rating: What makes this soda interesting is the Jekyll and Hyde personalities of its two flavors, lavender and lemon. Initially the lavender is sweet and the lemon is tart, but on the back half of each sip, the roles are reversed. I’ve never tasted that before in a soda that relies so heavily on just two ingredients. Really takes your taste buds for a ride. Reminds me of that one night last year in Vegas… never mind. The standout flavor of the two is lavender. It’s very bold and very floral. Again, at times it’s very sweet, almost a little fruity. Near the finish, it becomes more tart and savory, imparting a botanical flavor. What I want to stress is this: the lavender taste in this soda is not a candied flavor. You can really taste the lavender flowers. Super, super authentic and flavorful. Lemon was a great companion flavor to pair with the boldness of the lavender. It helps reign in the soda’s overall flavor profile and adds a nice zing. For some, this won’t work because they simply can’t adjust to lavender in liquid form. For others, this might be a little too tart or herbal. Personally, I enjoy how the tartness lingers throughout each sip. I actually wouldn’t mind seeing the sweet lemon flavor enhanced in addition to that tartness. Soda Jerk Lemon Lavender is also really wonderful with dark rum for a simple, balanced, and flavorful night cap. Lavender is, of course, known for its sleep properties. The bottom line about Soda Jerk Lemon Lavender soda is that it tastes remarkably fresh and crisp. The two flavors work well in tandem and are bold on the palate. You’d be missing out if you didn’t indulge your taste buds in this unique, split personality of an artisan soda.

Four Stars

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Timber City Ginger: White Peach Ginger Beer

History: “I’m sick of being in kitchens,” Kyle McKnight told Kara Patt in 2014 inside a Seattle bar. He was explaining his homemade ginger beer recipe to her that he came up with two-and-a-half years prior and hinting that maybe they could do something with it. Back then, McKnight was selling the ginger beer in a restaurant and it was going faster than the food. Patt also came from the food industry. She had 18 years of experience and received a masters from NYU in food studies. She wanted something new as well. She told us over the phone, “I wanted to start my own business and do it in the right way…. This ginger beer tasted like the right ticket.” Shortly after their encounter, they both quit their jobs to devote themselves to Timber City Ginger. The independent bottlers started in Seattle farmer’s markets, growing from two to seven and then to online sales. This is a sassy ginger beer, one with attitude, defiant even. The company proclaims on its website, “This is not a soda – This is a tonic: an elixir.” Hmm. Sometimes I put on a Kobe Bryant jersey, go to the Y, and get hot from the 3-point line. But at the end of the day, I’m still just an un-athletic white dude who writes about soda on the Internet. Point is, we think it’s still safe to call this soda. But we understand why they prefer the term “tonic.” Timber City Ginger produces a ginger beer that is noticeably less sweet, made with local Washington produce and herbs. Sage and thyme are used in every batch, and according to Patt, “The herbs are what really make it stand out.” The ginger itself does not come from Washington, as it’s not grown there. But don’t worry, you’ll get your money’s worth; there’s almost a pound of fresh ginger in every gallon of ginger beer. As you might imagine with a beverage this artisanal, there’s no preservatives or artificial flavors used. The use of local ingredients also leads to lots of seasonal favor variations on their signature ginger beer, including today’s review, white peach. They call the majority of ginger beers on the market today “formulaic” and “sugar saturated.” They’re certainly proud of their more botanical approach. “People will come in a cold rainstorm and buy the ginger beer,” says Patt. That’s a lot confidence to drink in. Let’s see how it tastes.

Where to get: If you aren’t in the Seattle area, you can buy Timber City Ginger Beer in 32 oz. cans, swing top bottles, or in syrup concentrate at the company’s website. Eventually, Patt and McKnight would like to expand Timber City Ginger down the west coast and perhaps open a branch in Colorado, where Patt is from.

Nose: Lemon; pink lemonade; earthy ginger. This is a beautiful desaturated pink hue and has the matching pink lemonade smell. Olfactory heaven.

Taste: Bitter lemon; crisp ginger; faint peach; mild sugar. This is definitely an earthier ginger beer, tinged with a mild peachy sweetness. Everything here tastes very authentic. You’ll taste the lemon first. Very fresh and definitely bringing a bitterness. The ginger has light savory notes on its own and gives off a little bit of a pickled ginger (the stuff you get with sushi) taste when combined with the peach. That savory aspect tastes familiar. It’s unquestionably sage, an herb Timber City Ginger uses in every batch. The sweetness in this ginger beer really comes from the peach. It elevates the sugar in the flavor profile and gives the ginger beer a signature flavor. It’s not too sweet, but enough to make this easily drinkable without rum or vodka. I’d say a 5/10 on the sugar scale. The peach also imparts a little bit of a floral taste when combined with the botanical ginger flavor. This gets mildly sweeter as you continue to drink it, and the peach flavor really elevates to the top of the flavor profile.

Finish: Bitter lemon notes with peppery ginger that lingers until the next sip. The ginger sticks around long after the peach flavor has faded to remind you just who owns this soda tonic soda.

Rating: Ginger beers are a dime-a-dozen these days, but what separates Timber City Ginger’s concoctions from the rest of the market is the signature freshness they capture in each giant silver can of ginger beer. The ginger tastes like you chopped off a fresh piece and ate it. The peach flavor is real and not from a candy store. Together, the two work well. Now, in addition to being extremely popular, ginger is a flavor that can really vary in character from soda to soda. Timber City Ginger went with an earthier, slightly floral take with mild sweetness. If you’re someone who likes a lot of sweetness in their moscow mule, this probably isn’t the ginger beer for you. Sugar isn’t where this ginger beer shines, but there are some sweeter elements. The peach notes blend with the sugar to create sweet, floral flavors. These contrast with the peppery, savory ginger notes to form a little bit of a pickled ginger taste. This is probably the best flavor in the entire drink. You’ve seen pickled ginger on those sushi dates you overpaid for and didn’t take the girl home on. Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing the cane sugar upped just a little bit to open up those peach notes more. I also think if the ginger had more heat, both the ginger and peach flavors would stand out more on the palate. Lovers of earthier, more natural sodas will almost certainly enjoy this take on ginger beer. Its versatility allows it to be enjoyed on its own as a sipper or as a great peach-infused dark and stormy. Start with the first, pass out with the latter.