strawberry soda

Reading Draft: Strawberry Cream Soda

History: Reading Draft is one of the older soda bottlers in America, concocting their own flavors using pure cane sugar since 1921. But there’s a new sheriff in town, baby. Er… sort of. The company had been under the ownership of Martin Radvani and his wife since 2004, but was purchased by the Hiester family in November of 2015. But don’t worry, they aren’t making any sweeping changes just yet and seem to retain the old school mentality the brand has had since its creation. Reading Draft Marketing Director Jared Hiester says “Drinking a great soda is something that’s both nostalgic and tradition, no matter what age you are…. Being born and raised in this area, this brand of soda had a great reputation, and we all loved the idea of continuing a tradition of handcrafted soda.” Hiester says the family plans to retain the “Pennsylvania Dutch” style of the company as well as all of Reading Draft’s current 13 flavors and is planning to add peach cream in the near future. They also gave the company web page a much-needed update. He added that previously, the company was successful with minimal advertising, so the new website of one of the first steps the Hiester family is taking to revamp the scope of the brand. Reading Draft is known for its variety of birch beers, but arguably, their most unique flavor is strawberry cream. There’s a bit of mystery to every Reading Draft flavor because of the amber bottles and tan labels. You can’t see the liquid inside. Strawberry cream is bright red, almost pinkish. It’s primed to give your tongue a nice painting. Hiester says his family describes the flavor as “liquid strawberry sundae” and that his nieces enjoy it on top of vanilla ice cream. He goes to say that he believes it’s a balanced soda with “just enough creaminess to give it a bit of extra sweet.” I wish when my girlfriend was um, “out of balance” around the middle of the month, I could just give her a bit of sweet and make her go back to normal. Don’t worry, she doesn’t know this website exists. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have a girlfriend. Speaking of balance, there’s one other element about Reading Draft Soda that contributes to it. Hiester explains “What makes the soda unique is that it is one of the select few on the market that is made with a pinpoint carbonation technique. Carbonation is introduced and absorbed slowly into the soda, which leads to smaller bubbles that have a smooth taste and longer persistence.” Another company famous for this method that’s worth checking out is Natrona Bottling. But we’re here for Reading Draft and its strawberry cream, and review it we shall.

Where to get: Reading Draft Soda is mostly sold locally throughout Pennsylvania. For those of us not living the Pennsylvania Dutch lifestyle, Amazon has the hook up online in 12-packs.

Nose: Has a very artificial strawberry scent. Think like Strawberry Sour Punch Straws mixed with mild bubble gum. Definitely reminds me of going to the candy store and opening the bin to some strawberry-flavored sugary treat.

Taste: Tangy strawberry candy; sugar; flush carbonation. This is more straightforward than we expected. The strawberry flavor is rooted in old fashioned strawberry soda flavor, but Reading Draft has added a mild tanginess to their version. It’s definitely a strawberry flavor you’d taste in candy as opposed to eating the real fruit. A little bit of an artificial taste, to be honest. It’s a sweet soda, but the tangy notes help balance it in the mouth. One thing we aren’t tasting here – creaminess. No vanilla. No frothy or velvety texture in the mouth. It might have something to do with the fact that this soda’s carbonation definitely plays a part in the flavor. The bubbles amplify the tanginess, and perhaps take away from the intended strawberry cream flavor. Despite what’s on the label, I’d call this more of a regular strawberry soda.

Finish: I’m not getting much of a cream sensation unless I wait for a long time after the sip. It’s mostly a lighter, more floral version of the strawberry from the soda’s body. Pleasant, but again, reminds me more of regular strawberry soda than strawberry cream.

Rating: Reading Draft Strawberry Cream Soda has the classic liquid strawberry candy flavor many of us in our 20’s, 30’s and 40’s used to drink as children. A good comparison soda would be Fanta Strawberry, though Reading Draft’s flavor is way less syrupy. The soda is mildly tart, sweet and slightly artificial with nice levels of carbonation. A really nice strawberry soda. Thing is… this isn’t supposed to be a regular strawberry soda. It’s supposed to be strawberry cream soda. The only part of this soda that’s creamy is the finish, and you have to really wait before that sensation comes through. There’s no vanilla or strawberry-vanilla hybrid flavor. Just strawberry. In a few words, this isn’t bad; it’s just not what I expected. Kind of like my sister’s baby. Don’t tell her I said that. I didn’t know babies could have heads that big. Back to this. I think a lot of the people who will wish to try this soda will want to on the basis that strawberry cream is an unusual flavor. I’m afraid a lot of those people may be let down because this just tastes like normal strawberry soda. On the other hand, for strawberry soda, this is good. So are you a glass half empty or half full kind of person? If I’m making changes to the recipe, I’d throw in vanilla or more(?) vanilla to make the flavor match the label. Until this happens, Reading Draft Strawberry Cream is a fine soda for a hot day in the sun.

Three Stars

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Swamp Pop: Ponchatoula Rouge

History: Ponchatoula, Louisiana is allegedly the “strawberry capital” of the world. And for the Lousiana boys down at Swamp Pop, c’mon, that’s a lob pass. A quick history lesson: Swamp Pop is a double entendre as both the name of the company and a classic Louisiana style of music. It sort of sounds like the blues meets honky-tonk meets 50’s rock. It was a no-brainer for cousins John Petersen and Colin Cormier to introduce America to a little cajun hospitality, and bottle the state fruit in soda form. They call their strawberry soda Ponchatoula Pop Rouge. But the inspiration is a little more sentimental than the obvious. Petersen explains, “Our grandmother would call all ‘red pops’ pop rouge,” so there’s a nostalgia factor involved too. One of Swamp Pop’s two seasonal sodas, it’s designed to be enjoyed in the heat. It isn’t engineered to be your typical strawberry soda, either. This is supposed to be a lighter, more natural tasting take on strawberry. Petersen goes on to explain Pop Rouge was introduced in 2014 and “features a variety of different natural strawberry flavors. Some lend sweetness, some a slight sourness, some help to create just the right aroma, and they all work together to create a very fresh, true-to-the-fruit flavor.” What he’s trying to say is that this is sophisticated strawberry soda. This is the strawberry soda you hide from your friends and the strawberry soda you cheat on the others with. And for those who can’t stay off the other bottle for too long, Petersen has you covered, adding Pop Rogue “makes an awesome mimosa when you add it to Champagne.”

Where to get: Swamp Pop is mostly sold along the gulf coast region and is national to some extent. Cost Plus World Market carries their sodas. You can also buy it directly from their web site. To find the nearest retail location near you, use the company’s online locator. Remember, this one’s seasonal, so get on it!

Nose: Strawberry sour punch straws; strawberries. Fruity. As Peterson puts it, this is an “olfactory experience.” I’ll be honest, I only included that so I could get the word “olfactory” in. Great vernacular. Some of you will need a dictionary.

Taste: Tart carbonation; sweet strawberries. Pop Rouge is anchored by a refreshing, crisp strawberry flavor. There’s just the right amount of sweetness to tartness, I’d say it’s about 80:20. A flood of tiny little bubbles enter the mouth first. The carbonation is intense but brief and accompanied by a little bit of acidity that peaks and then transitions into a sweet strawberry flavor. The strawberry flavor profile is simple, yet rich. It’s not exactly like biting into a fresh strawberry. As you’d expect with soda, it’s a little sweeter, but the most noticeable tasting elements to the strawberry flavor are the mild undertones of sour citrus. Bite into a real strawberry and you’ll taste the same thing. This is a strawberry soda that leans much more toward a real, sweet strawberry than a strawberry candy of some type. Its flavor lingers on the tongue longer than most sodas in a pleasing way.

Finish: Tart strawberries sprinkled with sugar.

Rating: Ponchatoula Pop Rouge is one of the best strawberry sodas on the craft soda market today. I’m hard-pressed to name a better one. In fact, I’ll go ahead and say Pop Rouge is in the top tier of fruit sodas in general. Why? It’s simple, light, and flavorful. That’s all you can ask of a fruit soda. It’s a strawberry soda with a fancy name and it tastes like a strawberry soda with a fancy flavor. You can taste that real Ponchatoula Strawberry flavor, tartness and all. It has a nice balance of mostly sweet with a little sour and a nice flavor that lingers pleasantly. No syrupy, fake strawberry taste. It just works. It’s true to its roots. This is like your friend’s good-looking dad who has a beard and wears flannel, except he actually plays the part and and cuts down trees down instead of my dad who has a beard and wears flannel who looks like he wants to lure you to his van. According to Swamp Pop’s website, Ponchatoula Strawberries are the official fruit of Louisiana. They even have a festival for them down there. When you drink Swamp Pop’s seasonal strawberry soda, you’ll be celebrating too. Just don’t wait too long. This one’s only around in the Spring and Summer