sparkling

Frïsa: Elderflower

History: “We are soda’s hipper, healthier, edgier – and of course, more delicious! – cousin,” boasts Casey Beard, Frïsa General Manager and COO. I wish my cousin was like that. Had to get a restraining order against him. Frïsa is a new sparkling soft drink out of Minneapolis, Minnesota from Kristian Regale, though this particular brand is marketed as an “ultra-premium European botanical beverage.” It joins a litany of other “sparkling” beverages that further blur the definition of what craft soda is becoming and entails. But for all intensive purposes, it’s still a carbonated soft drink made with cane sugar and premium ingredients. Sounds like craft soda to us. Frïsa is all about creating a soda made with botanicals. For those of you who aren’t aware, “botanicals” typically refer to plant or herbal flavors when it comes to beverages. “We use very unique botanical ingredients, and super surprising flavor combinations. Each ingredient and flavor profile was heavily scrutinized to ensure a delicious taste that rings true on so many different levels,” says Beard. But perhaps their sexiest ingredient is the one we all take for granted in soda: water. Frïsa sources its water from the Pyrenees Mountains. In addition to the botanicals and fancy water, each soda is also made with a modest amount of pure cane sugar. And for you health-conscious soda drinkers, every bottle of Frïsa is gluten-free, non-GMO, and Kosher certified. And every serving clocks in at under 100 calories. Makes me want to strap on a pair of yoga pants and run a casual marathon just thinking about it. Maybe chug a bottle in victory as I gallop past some 60 year-old guy at the finish line. Beard tells us the company’s most popular flavor is elderflower, which has kind of a citrusy flavor and is popular in cocktails. The flavor recently received a BevStar Award from Beverage Magazine in the category of category pioneer, so it’s already receiving some praise despite its newcomer status to the marketplace. It was simply too intriguing for us to pass up.

Where to get: Because Frïsa is still so new, it’s mostly only sold in the midwest and has a small footprint in New York City. You can find it in stores at Kowalski’s Markets and Lunds & Byerlys. As of late October 2015, Frïsa is still not sold online, though we are told online sales should begin within the next few weeks at Frïsa’s website.

Nose: Grapefruit; citrus; hops. Smells like a fruity IPA, almost identical to Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPA.

Taste: Grapefruit; floral; mild tartness; light pear. This has a really bright and vivid taste. Very floral and fairly fruity. For a beverage marketed as botanical, this is a little sweeter than you’d probably expect, though not to the level of a typical soda. You taste a subtle and frothy tartness in the beginning that’s full of pear and mild citrus notes. The carbonation is very similar to that of champagne or sparkling grape juice. As the drink settles in on each sip, the sweet, floral grapefruit flavor comes in to balance out the initial tartness. This is full-bodied for a soda with a lot of flavor characteristics and subtleties. For example, and this doesn’t happen often, you can tell the quality of water used in this is high. It’s just a very distinct crispness separate from the flavors. There’s also just a little bit of a hops taste that accompanies the grapefruit. Some drinkers might even taste subtle apple notes. We also tasted champagne grapes. This has lots of layer while maintaining a robust, natural flavor throughout.

Finish: Mild floral grapefruit that’s slightly earthy. The botanical elements come out more near the end of each sip.

Rating: Frïsa Elderflower is going to be a pleasant surprise for most soda drinkers. It’s light, but full of flavor. Definitely a more sophisticated take on soda that fits right in the “sparkling” category. This should probably sipped to enjoy all of the subtleties in the flavor profile. I’d recommend chilled with no ice. This is certainly botanical, but it’s still approachable, and that’s critical. So often botanical sodas are too savory or herbal for the majority of soda drinkers to enjoy, but there are familiar flavors in Frïsa’s Elderflower working in tandem with the botanical notes. While it is a very floral drink, you’ll also taste some general citrus, pear, and most notably, grapefruit. Maybe even subtle apple and/or grape. What’s most impressive about Frïsa Elderflower is its ability to pack so much into the flavor profile, while retaining a fresh taste that’s very drinkable. Honestly, at first glance this probably wouldn’t be in the wheelhouse of most craft soda drinkers because of its champagne bottle packaging and unfamiliar flavor. Sometimes those characteristics can be turn offs instead of intriguing elements of a liquid mystery you want to put in your mouth. But this is one you shouldn’t pass over. Sure, the citrus could probably shine more or the earthier elements could be curtailed, but these are the elements that give this soda its character. I, for one, had my doubts coming in, but I’m here to tell you that Frïsa Elderflower is one of the best off the beaten path sodas I’ve tried in a long time.

Four Stars

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Sipp: Ginger Blossom

History: “Um, hi. Is this coffee organic?” I hear variations of this phrase from girls rushing to yoga or guys trapped in itchy sweaters and tight jeans endless times a week as I write these reviews in coffee shops around town. Organic. Half the time we don’t even know what it means, but we need it. It’s not just coffee or food… it even extends to alcohol. That’s how this whole thing started. Sipp Eco Beverage CEO and founder, Beth Wilson-Parentice, was a mixologist with her own catering company for organic cocktails. They were good. Glasses full of blackberry juice, lemons, limes, tequila; who says no to that? People wanted these drinks. In fact, they wanted to know how to make them on their own, but upon hearing the methods involved they’d often tell Wilson-Parentice that they weren’t competent enough or didn’t have time. People are lazy. Case in point, I almost didn’t put pants on to write this. Wilson-Parentice decided she’d do the leg work for everyone by creating a nonalcoholic sparkling beverage customers could mix with their favorite spirits. She launched Sipp Eco Beverage in Chester Springs, Pennsylvania in 2009. Company communications manager Carly Mitchell explains that at the beginning of the “organic movement” in 2008 when the idea first came about, “eco” had kind of a hippie vibe to it. Wilson-Parentice wanted to turn that feeling into one of sophistication with a beverage that was versatile with layers of flavor. She wanted to create something that be enjoyed as both a mixer and on its own. “It’s really an anti-soda,” Mitchell notes because she says the beverages are not heavy or syrupy. However, she adds “at the same time, it sort of is a soda” because of its carbonation and use of natural extracts. Five Star Soda take: it’s soda. Shocking, I know. Upon launch, the company’s first flavor was the one we’re reviewing today, Ginger Blossom. “Everyone kind of enjoys the Ginger Blossom because it doesn’t have that harsh ginger taste,” Mitchell tells us. She goes on to explain that it’s a closer relative to ginger ale, but with smoother flavors. As you might’ve guessed, all ingredients in Sipp beverages are organic, but the big takeaway from our interview with Mitchell is the use of agave instead of pure cane sugar. Sipp believes agave gives their soft drinks a more crisp and unique sweetness than sugar. It’s also more expensive. “The biggest thing that we find is different is this very crisp taste,” Mitchell notes. She admits that so often “sparkling” beverages have no flavor and that Sipp wanted to be a company that broke the trend. Take me to flavor town, baby.

Where to get: Sipp Eco Beverages are sold nationwide at a variety of locations, including Albertson’s, Schnucks, Fresh Market, and copious natural or health food stores. Take a look at the company’s online locator near the bottom of their website to find the retailer nearest you. You can also purchase it online directly from SIPP here.

Nose: Mostly a lime-ier version of lemon-lime with a little bit of a floral ginger scent.

Taste: Lime; floral ginger; vanilla bean. A rare instance in soda where the smell translates almost exactly to the taste. You’ll taste lime first. It’s a familiar lime, like in lemon-lime soda… it’s just that there’s no lemon flavor. The lime isn’t sour, but has some tartness. The tartness slowly fades into the background, but stays throughout the rest of the drink. Next come the ginger and vanilla. These two flavors seem to be tied together. You’ll taste more ginger first, but it’s a subdued ginger flavor. Nothing like ginger in a ginger beer. No, this ginger flavor is slightly sweet and floral due to the vanilla. Definitely closer to ginger ale. The longer you take between sips, the more you’ll taste the vanilla notes. It’s nice and soft and adds just a touch of transformative flavor near the end of each drink. This tastes very light with mild sweetness, but has convincing flavors.

Finish: Vanilla bean. Slightly, slightly creamy. Also a little bit of lime. Vanilla-lime, actually. Refreshing and unique.

Rating: Sipp Ginger Blossom is definitely part of the new age of soda. It’s soda for those who are more health-conscious. It’s soda for those who still want flavor, but won’t put up with excessive calories. At only 21 grams of sugar and 100 calories a bottle, in the eyes of traditional soda drinkers, Sipp is like a cute hipster girl with fake glasses and a nose ring ordering kale at the local market – you’re not sure the two of you would work out, but you wanna try it. Ginger Blossom’s core flavors: ginger, vanilla, and lime certainly sound intriguing on paper. In my opinion, any combo of two of those flavors sound great. Combing all three sounds like a challenge. But to the company’s credit, the flavors don’t overpower each other or combine to form some sort of liquid experiment gone wrong. The lime is the boldest flavor you’ll taste, but the vanilla might just be the star of the drink – funny, for a soda called Ginger Blossom. The lime’s tartness meanders throughout each sip as the vanilla gives the ginger a soft, floral taste. I suggest waiting several seconds in between sips to get the vanilla’s full effect. To dumb it down, Sipp Ginger Blossom is like a more sophisticated version of lemon-lime soda fused with a floral ginger ale. The lime’s tartness is excellent and the vanilla pairs great with its companion flavors. I’d just like to taste the ginger more and see it emboldened in the flavor profile, especially for a drink that bears its name. Think ginger ale as a template going in instead of ginger beer and I think you’ll enjoy your stay with this beverage much more. Sipp Ginger Blossom is one of those sodas that just catches your eye based on its flavors. It’s an intriguing mixture of flavors. We can’t object to you indulging yourself in it.

Four Stars

 

Dry Sparkling: Lavender

History: “I believe we’re creating a new category of soda,” says Dry Sparkling CEO and founder Sharelle Klaus. The Seattle, Washington-based Dry Sparkling is and has been at the forefront of the artisan, lower calorie, natural soda movement. The company began in 2005 and is about to celebrate its tenth anniversary. The bottles are sleek, modern in packaging design. Each flavor is translucent in color. There are only four ingredients in every soda: carbonated water, cane sugar, natural flavors, and phosphoric acid. No flavor contains over 100 calories. And unlike a majority of glass-bottled sodas that are created with the intention of being a nostalgia-inducing sweet treat, Dry Sparkling’s flavors were engineered with more of a culinary mindset. “I know that you can pair food with a nonalcoholic,” Klaus tells us she recalled thinking, adding she sometimes had thoughts like, “I really want a basil soda with this plate of spaghetti.” For the record, I too really want a basil soda, and also a girl who’s a 10, but will settle for a six. Dry Soda has been more successful in manifesting their vision… so far. In fact, according to Klaus, they’re the fastest growing soda company in the nation. Dry Sparkling designed each of its eight flavors so that they pair well with food. You won’t find craft soda classics like root beer or cream soda here. Instead you’ll experience flavors like Lavender, Vanilla Bean, and Juniper Berry. “It’s all about the flavor for us, honoring the flavor or ingredient,” Klaus adds. These are the New-Age warriors of soda.

Despite Dry Sparkling’s many differences from your typical sugary liquid offering, its creation was closely related to a common denominator almost all sodas shares: children. Klaus laughs as she recounts how she couldn’t drink alcohol for almost ten years of her life when she was either having children or nursing them. Like many women with finer tastes than mine, Klaus loves wine, particularly pairing wine with food. Having four kids threw a wrench in the wine part of that equation, so Klaus sought to create Dry Sparkling, a high-end nonalcoholic beverage that could be paired with a variety of cuisines. I find it ironic the brand has a close relation to kids, but wasn’t created for them. That said, it wouldn’t be the worst idea to get your young ones hooked on this instead of root beer floats unless you want them looking like my stepmom in a few years. Sorry. But not really. The company has completely embraced the crossover between the nonalcoholic crowd and the world of artisan spirits. Klaus tells us, “I was watching craft beer and I thought, ‘this is absolutely what has to happen in soda.’” They encourage drinkers to try their sodas in cocktails. There’s even a whole section on their website devoted to drink recipes. “That’s where the innovation comes from…. Soda should be opened up,” says Klaus.

While the company’s name is technically still Dry Soda, and despite Klaus referring to her products as “soda” in our interview, the business seems to be moving away from the term. “Dry Soda” recently rebranded. Their bottles are now labeled “Dry Sparkling,” as is their website (see update at bottom of page). Klaus acknowledges that she realizes soda is a negative word, but also adds she feels “sparkling” better defines the brand because of the bubbles and low sugar content. Today’s review, lavender, was one of Dry’s original four flavors and also the closest to Klaus’s heart. She tells us she worked on it herself, taking a staggering 1,300 (!!!) flavor tests to perfect the recipe in order to achieve a balance of floral and herbal tasting notes. “It’s the one I’m most proud of,” she says. She recommends pairing the soda with chocolate, so we took her recommendation up in our photos. Klaus says this can be a soda even for the less adventurous, noting she wanted to capture the comfort of vanilla in a lavender soft drink. She laughs, adding, “I have four small children under the age of seven, I needed something soothing.”

Where to get: Dry Sparkling is distributed nationwide. You can find it in stores like Whole Foods and Target, among others, but the best way to find the retailer nearest you is to use the company’s online soda locator. You can buy Dry Soda online from Soda Emporium in single bottles and Amazon in 12-packs.

Nose: I understand this is lavender, but I’m smelling ginger beer and some fruity floral notes. That ginger note is distinct. Unexpected.

Taste: Light; mild citrus; floral. This is light and refreshing. No ginger flavor like on the nose. Lavender is an unfamiliar flavor in soda, so your taste buds’ tendencies will be to look for something it knows first, and what we tasted first was a familiar friend: citrus. Particularly lemon-lime citrus. This flavor becomes less and less prominent as you get accustomed to the sweet floral notes in this soda. There’s only 70 calories in a 12 oz. bottle, but the sugar is prominent enough to satisfy the prototypical soda drinker. It’s likely supplemented by the sweet lavender floral notes on the backend of each sip. The carbonation serves as a buffer between the light citrus and lavender flavors. The bubbles are tiny, and come and go in a flash about half way through each sip. You’ll taste a familiar mild citrus up front that gives way more and more each sip to floral flavors with balanced sweetness.

Finish: Light floral notes of lavender. The lavender tastes like a sweet flower at the finish of every sip, and becomes bolder as the drink goes on.

Rating: Soda drinkers are not often the most adventurous when it comes to flavor, even when enjoying craft or artisan soft drinks. We like some sort of familiarity even when dipping our toes in the deep end. Orange and fennel? Why not, because I know at least one of those flavors. Lavender soda? You might get the insane eyes from your friends. But guess what? Dry Sparkling’s Lavender is actually a safe first step for those wanting to venture out into the unknown. There’s a familiarity to it on first sip in the form of a lemon-lime taste. It’s a nice segue into the soda’s main tasting notes that are floral and slightly sweet in nature. This is a crisp and refreshing soda. It’s light and very drinkable. You could down this in ten minutes and be fine. With a flavor this rare though, I’d suggest savoring it a little more to enlighten your taste buds. I suggest the same thing to all women I date and I’m still strongly single, so maybe just trust your instincts. For a soda with only four ingredients, this is actually quite flavorful. For anyone afraid of trying herbal or botanical sodas, I’d suggest getting your feet wet with this one first. It’s not overly bold in flavor and definitely isn’t something you’ll encounter often. It’s fun. It’s refreshing. It’s different. And it’s definitely worth trying a bottle to gauge for yourself.

Four Stars

Update: This review was edited to reflect the name of the company as “DRY Sparkling” instead of “DRY Soda” at the request of the company.

Spindrift: Cranberry Raspberry

History: Remember when you were young and you’d make mom really mad? Remember that motherly rage? The kind of anger you wouldn’t even unleash on prison inmates? Well, Bill Creelman didn’t have a monster mom. But he did have one who did not care for soda. He hardly ever drank it. Bummer, I know. She was more of a farm-to-table gal. Creelman couldn’t enjoy all the little treasures you and I did. That might be why later in life, for six years, he became addicted to Diet Coke. Then with kids of his own, they took notice. Not so healthy, dad. So in 2010, the dude made his own soda… with a twist. It all started in a little studio-sized office in Charlestown, Massachusetts. Creelman felt the market was stagnant. He wanted to make a soda that was healthy enough to impress his mom and delicious enough to satisfy his kids. That’s why Spindrift soda is all about the ingredients, specifically the fresh-pressed juices in every bottle. The company isn’t afraid to spend more as long as what they put inside the bottle is of a higher quality. “That’s what sets Spindrift apart,” says company brand manager, Caitlin Burke. For example, in each bottle of Cranberry Raspberry, there’s 16 raspberries. Even for people who don’t wear plaid or shop exclusively at Whole Foods, that’s eye-raising. According to Burke, Spindrift tries “to remain faithful to the fruit.” They claim to be the first widely distributed soda to use fresh juice as the second main ingredient behind carbonated water. And listen, if you aren’t a soda manufacturer, you’re probably not aware how difficult it is to bottle soda with fresh juice. It’s essentially a chemistry nightmare. In Creelman’s own words, “It turned out to be a disaster…. I ended up spending 5x what I budgeted.” Sounds like every girl I’ve ever dated. Eventually, they got it right. Today the Boston, Massachusetts-based (they moved) company produces seven flavors of soda, if you include their new ginger beer. Even their name was chosen to evoke thoughts of freshness. Creelman used to work down on the docks and sailboats. That fine, refreshing mist you feel when out on the ocean; it’s called Spindrift. That’s a pretty solid pitch, so we decided to put it in our mouths.

Where to get: Spindrift is most popular around the Boston metro and surrounding area. But it’s also distributed nationally. To find the nearest retail location, use the Spindrift store locator. If you’re out of luck there, you can buy it online via Famous Foods.

Nose: Smells exactly like someone put a bowl of blue raspberry jolly ranchers down in front of your nose and then drizzled some raspberry jam on top. Definitely brings back childhood memories. I’ve got the tingles – we’re off to a good start.

Taste: Raspberry; tart carbonation; mellow cranberry; light sugar. Very light and refreshing. As expected with these two fruits, this is more tart than an average fruit soda, but it’s a mild tartness that doesn’t hinder the flavor profile. It actually adds to the taste. The two fruits really do shine through in the soda. Raspberry is upfront, initially sweet and then quickly retracting into a more reserved form. If you’ve ever blended raspberries for a smoothie and tried them before mixing with the other ingredients, that’s what the raspberry flavor in this is like. In short: fresh. As a whole, this is soda with noticeably less sugar. Looking at the label confirms this at only 16 grams a bottle. Normally, most sodas contain somewhere between 30-45 grams. The cranberry lingers on the back of the tongue after the initial raspberry blast. It’s much more subtle, yet noticeable. Raspberry is the flavor you’ll remember from this soda.

Finish: Ground raspberries with no sugar and a lingering tartness that comes from the cranberries.

Rating: As people become more self-aware of what they put in their bodies, the beverage industry continues to shift… or spin. Ahem, sorry. People want fresh ingredients. They want real ingredients. They want less sugar. But they don’t want to compromise flavor. This is a continuous challenge for bottlers to evolve with the times. Spindrift is at the forefront of this new natural movement when it comes to soda. While many new bottlers are popping up with these same aspirations, Spindrift is already doing it on a national level. I don’t often shop at Whole Foods and I’m not sure if they carry Spindrift, but you gotta think these sodas would be like porn to those people. You can taste the fruit in Spindrift’s Cranberry Raspberry soda. Hell, you can see it if you just shake up the bottle. Cranberry Raspberry is highlighted by a fresh, crushed raspberry base with mild tartness and followed up by cranberry with its own variety of tongue tingles. Some may long for more cranberry flavor and others may not love the amount of acidity in this, but we’re talking about two fairly tart fruits. What’d you expect, ya weirdo? I thought this would be more like a spritzer or a fresh fruit-infused sparkling water, but I was wrong. I’ll break it down. It’s tart, but not sour. Light, but has enough sugar to keep you comfortable with calling it a soda. And natural, but not too pompous. This is perfect for the hot summer months out by the pool and crisp enough to compliment a hefty meal. If you’re into good fruit sodas, you’ll enjoy this. If you’re not into fruit, you won’t, and I also wouldn’t recommend vacationing in the tropics. Raspberry is often used as a secondary flavor in soda. It’s nice to see someone pull it off in a staring role.