History: Ahoy, mateys – batten down the hatches because shiver me timbers, it’s our 100th review! There, got all the pirate references out first sentence. Walk the plank with us as we tell the story of Branson, Missouri’s hidden treasure: Ozark Mountain Bottleworks. I’ll stop. Eventually. Maybe. Doubt it. “Craft soda kind of chose us,” says OZMB co-founder, Tina King. She humorously notes she prefers the term “bottle washer” as her title, noting “someone has to do it.” Ironically, the company’s inception isn’t linked to soda at all, but lemonade. King recalls the summer of 2009 in St. Louis when she started making homemade lemonade as a wine spritzer. “My kids wanted that drink,” she added. So King removed the alcohol to create a carbonated lemonade that eventually morphed into Ozark Mountain Lemonade, a pink lemonade-esque soda with a hint of lemon-lime. From that point, King says she and her husband just fell into the craft soda industry based on the success of the lemonade. “It never crossed my mind to go into beverage,” she says. When the couple started introducing other flavors, the first thing on their minds was color. They added a red cream, purple grape and orange cream soda in addition to the pink lemonade. I get the sense they were still strongly influenced by children’s interests at that point. From there, King and her husband decided to delve into root beet. They delved deep. She says it took two-and-a-half years before they found the right recipe for their signature OZMB Root Beer. I too have been searching years for my signature flavor… in my love life. I’m still single. To this day, root beer is still their best seller. Since its first five sodas, OZMB has branched out into seasonal flavors. One caught our attention and caused us to compile a list of pirate lingo: Smuggler’s Run. “It’s our summer brew,” King tells us before adding it was so popular this summer that it was ordered for an extended run. Its mellow blue color is eye-catching and the label’s font conjures up images of 20th century bootleggers and swindlers. The soda’s name is a nod to the Branson High School Pirates.
Smuggler’s Run is a seasonal tropical soda. “We love to vacation in the keys,” King tells us, something that inspired both the taste and color of the soda. It was a pet project of King’s, intended to mimic a non-alcoholic version of a rum runner. Certainly an intriguing idea and one that further displays the link between craft soda and craft cocktails. Smuggler’s Run contains a bounty of fruit flavors with King noting that coconut is intended to be highest in the flavor profile. In addition to coconut, notes of pineapple, banana, mango, cherry, and orange were also designed to be tasted. King tells us what she believes sets OZMB soda apart is the “amazing richness… There’s nothing like it,” she says cheerfully. All OZMB sodas are made with pure cane sugar and materials that are as eco-friendly as possible, including Missouri-made bottles. The company works closely with recycling efforts in Branson. We here at Five Star are all about charity too: case in point, I’m about to recycle this into my mouth.
Where to get: Ozark Mountain Bottleworks soda is sold nationwide. Traditionally, OZMB Smuggler’s Run ends in late summer, though King notes it will have a slightly extended run in 2015 due to its increased popularity. You may have to do a little work to find this one as it is not sold online due to its seasonal nature. You can find Smuggler’s Run in Rocketfizz retailers. Use the company’s online locator to find the store nearest you. Or you can contact OZMB directly. Once Smuggler’s Run ends, OZMB’s next seasonal flavor is Butter Beer. As of this review in mid-September 2015, Butter Beer is already being sold.
Nose: Very, very tropical. Reminds me of being back on the beach in the Bahamas sipping on rum punch, only without alcohol. Kool-Aid Bursts Tropical Punch wouldn’t be an unfair comparison, but this really smells like a fruity cocktail minus the booze.
Taste: Slightly creamy coconut; mango; pineapple; cherry; orange. You’ll taste coconut first. It’s probably the boldest of the bunch, but only slightly. The flavors in this are lush and varied. The taste is undoubtedly tropical fruit punch with several fruits the tongue recognizes. First, the coconut comes in all by itself. It’s slightly creamy, but mostly tropical, like in an island cocktail. It’s not quiiiiiite pina colada. The coconut flavor is more fruity than creamy and is quickly met on the palate by a combination of pineapple, orange and most notably, mango. The three flavors in tandem with the coconut interact to give the soda its signature flavor in each sip. The citrus taste is, again, fruity. You can really taste the flesh of the citrus fruit in your mouth, which was a flavorful surprise. It’s crisp and provides just the slightest amount of bitterness. There might even be a tinge of lime in here. Vivid tastes. Smuggler’s Run also has a little bit of a maraschino cherry flavor that floats about in the background, sometimes coming to the forefront depending on the sip. The same could be said with very mild banana, but you really have to search for it. A lot of flavors going on. Rich, sweet tropical citrus finds a great companion flavor in coconut with the rest being more subtle.
Finish: Pineapple-orange with faint creamy coconut lingering in the background.
Rating: Smuggler’s Run is fun, fruity and full of flavor. The fruit flavors taste ripe. They taste sweet, but they taste real. Yet it goes deeper. This is a soda about feeling. It places you on the beach, the waves crashing in at sunset. You sit there in your sun chair, hat tipped over your head, a cold tropical drink in hand. It really does dig up memories and blast you with nostalgia. Some might taste the fruity cocktail sans alcohol we’ve been preaching about. Others might be reminded of fruit punch from their childhood. This is a glass-bottled soda that hits home. It also doesn’t hurt that the flavors are bountiful, yet don’t overpower each other. They intermingle so well that it’s really hard to isolate them in detail, but I’d describe the taste as tropical citrus punch spun in a cocoon of coconut, and infused with droplets of cherry syrup; maybe a couple banana slices in the glass too. The coconut flavor probably plays the leading role with excellent support from the notes of mango, orange, and pineapple. If you’ve ever had mango, you’ll recognize this flavor immediately since it’s such a rare find in soda. The meandering cherry syrup taste is, no pun intended, the cherry on top. Smuggler’s Run is a whale of a fruit soda. Paired with rum, it’s a tropical cocktail in itself. This is a soda that maximizes its potential and delights the taste buds. Drink it chilled without ice from the bottle. We wouldn’t change a thing. The only drawback we can find is that it’s limited edition. Get it before the season ends, throw on a pineapple shirt, and start jammin ‘mon.