strawberry

Roots Soda Co.: Kaleidoscope

History: “The landscape of soda is one of ruin.” Bleak words from the founder of Roots Soda Co., Mark Pool. Even today in the midst of a resurgence where craft and gourmet soda are putting more and more pressure on the big boys, there is still a monopoly. But before the two mass manufactured brands put a strangle hold on the soda market, your favorite ice cold bottled beverage was made at local soda fountains and bottlers were bountiful from town to town. Ingredients were real. Flavors were unique. Competition was fun and not cutthroat. Roots Soda asks, “what if that never went away?” That’s the mentality they have when making soda. Tired of the current state of the industry, Mark Pool founded Roots Soda Co. in April 2012 in Edinburgh, Scotland. It’s an art to them. You get the sense that there’s this intense drive behind the company. This mission to bring soda back to its roots. They note on their website that they want “to make the best soda possible using and honouring only the best ingredients, and sending it off into a future yet unimagined.” I like to read that quote set to triumphant piano music. Are these guys soda jerks or power ballad writers? One thing’s for sure: they’re motivated to create. Pool notes “At Roots it’s not so much about one ingredient standing out, it’s about the ingredients coming together to make something new.” Pool initially sought to create a carbonated lemonade, a popular flavor outside of America, but felt more inspired by cola and how all of its flavors coalesce to form a signature taste. That really appealed to Roots and led to its two flavors. As you might expect, they’re well thought out, a little strange, and a lot inventive.

Hoodoo and Kaleidoscope. No, those are not the names of strippers at the dodgy club downtown. They’re the two flavors Roots Soda Co. produces. “The names for soda seemed a bit tired,” Pool adds. Hoodoo came first. Pool likens it to Jekyll and Hyde. It’s a soda that both burns and refreshes. Perhaps its no surprise then that Hoodoo took months to perfect. Kaleidoscope is the golden child of the bunch… at least it was initially. The first test batch came out perfect. According to Pool, the flavor was designed to evoke memories of childhood summers or going to a music festival for the first time. But Pool can’t take credit for the idea behind it. It was his buddy Jon Seller who “suggested a soda with strawberry, orange, basil and balsamic vinegar.” It tested off the charts at the farmers market. The problems came later and on a bigger scale. Strawberries proved to be a real bitch for Roots Soda. Basically they had to either double the amount of strawberries to maintain the soda’s optimal flavor and struggle with money or stick with the original recipe, lose a little bit of quality and hit their margins. Ultimately, Roots went with option one and had to re-arrange “everything” to make the money work. “We felt that there is too much stuff that gets made just to turn a profit. We wanted to make something we genuinely cared about,” said Pool. One thing’s for sure: these dudes have guts and they’re not afraid to screw up. They’ll have more flavors out in the future. Knowing their precision and high standards, it’ll likely take some time. Until then, we present to you: Kaleidoscope.

Where to get: In keeping with their old school vibe, currently Roots Soda is only sold at physical locations. And unfortunately, only a lucky few in the United Kingdom have access. If you’re in the area, here’s a list of where to find the goods. The company hinted online sales may be coming, so always be on the lookout.

Nose: Very tropical. Like a fruit punch. There’s a vey distinct smell of mango in this bottle. That’s interesting because there’s no mango in Kaleidoscope. It’s really pleasant though. Definitely smells like something fruity you used to drink as a kid.

Taste: Tropical juices; orange; balsamic; mild tartness. This starts out with those same tropical notes you smell when you hold Kaleidoscope under your nose. Like a fruit punch in the beginning that smoothly transitions into more natural flavors of juice. That fruit punch flavor really reminds me of Fruitopia Fruit Integration, a tropical soft drink from the 90’s. You can really taste the authentic orange juice at the end of each sip too. Orange is the most prominent of the ingredients in this you’ll taste. The natural juices render the carbonation very light, almost frothy with tiny bubbles. The tartness of the balsamic and orange provide a nice balance with the strawberry. For a soda with balsamic vinegar, this doesn’t taste like balsamic vinegar. That should make most drinkers happy. You’ll primarily taste tropical fruit punch that gets balanced out with tart, slightly acidic tasting notes.

Finish: Slightly bitter orange. This is where you can taste the basil, ever so slightly. There’s a little bit of an herbal flavor with the orange too.

Rating: For a soda with only a handful of natural ingredients, Roots Soda Co.’s Kaleidoscope tastes surprisingly like a more mature version of fruit punch. The orange juice is the most prominent element in the soda, interacting with the strawberry to impart a sweetness and the balsamic to provide some bitterness. This is sweet, then tart. The amount of sugar isn’t overpowering. In fact, it works really nicely. The flavors here are really dynamite. Balsamic is an ingredient that might scare some people because of its strong bittersweet flavor, but it’s not strong enough in the flavor profile here to make you notice it. This doesn’t have any sort of vinegar taste. What the balsamic does is help provide some tartness with the orange to balance out the sugar levels. The balsamic here is like the last kid in a big family. It’s there. It has an effect. You’ll probably even like it. But most of you will forget about it. And one day it’ll end up writing soda reviews on the Internet *cries*. This is a modern-day gourmet fruit punch-esque artisanal soda that touches all the right fruity notes with an impressively small list of ingredients. I wouldn’t mind tasting the strawberry profile a little bit more, but the use of orange is exquisite. This is truly one of the most inventive and flavorful fruit sodas out there. We can’t recommend it enough. Roots Soda Co. is currently a two-soda business in Edinburgh, Scotland. If they keep making flavors as good as Kaleidoscope, new creations will be inevitable. We hope they’re just getting started.

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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

Norka Beverage: Cherry-Strawberry

History: You’ve probably heard of Akron, Ohio… because that’s the hometown of LeBron James. But it’s also the home of Norka Beverage, a soda brand of which the city was proud. Note the past tense. Norka dates all the way back to 1924 and operated up until 1962 when it was liquidated. So how did we get here? Enter Michael Considine, a proud Akron resident with a history in the beverage industry. One day while at lunch with his father, Considine noticed an old bottle with its original label. He enjoyed his current job, but started thinking… what if. With the popularity of craft soda on the rise, the appeal of bringing an old classic back into the modern age was too much to turn down. “I had no idea Akron had its own soft drink,” he said. “It was a cool opportunity to bring something back in the beverage industry.” Considine started researching. He eventually tracked down the old ingredients lists and updated them for the current consumer market. Norka Beverage made its return to the world of glass-bottled soda in early 2015 with Considine as its new founder and president. The company uses only natural flavors and cane sugar while prohibiting caffeine and gluten from their sodas. Norka brought back four of the company’s original flavors: root beer, orange soda, ginger ale, and cherry-strawberry. And it’s the latter flavor that the company was founded on, the one we review today. According to Considine, Norka worked tirelessly to get it as close to the original as possible. They even conducted focus groups with people 70+ years-old who still remembered the original taste. And beyond all the details, no one really makes a cherry-strawberry soda hybrid. We couldn’t pass that up. Norka’s tagline is “Tastes better.” We’re about to find out how true that is.

Where to get: Norka Beverage sodas are sold throughout the Akron regional area and sporadically on the west coast in addition to high-volume craft soda retailers like Antiqology and Pop’s Soda Ranch. You can get your fix online via the Norka website or Amazon.

Nose: Absolute dead-ringer for Kool-Aid Bursts Tropical Punch. We used to call them “squeeze-its.” 90’s me is freaking out right now. Also a faint strawberry scent at the very end.

Taste: Cherry popsicles; mild tartness; cherry snow cone; Luden’s Wild Cherry Cough Drops (don’t tell me you didn’t love those as a kid. If you didn’t, I’ll fight you). This is more cherry than strawberry, for the better I’d say. The cherry flavor is very old fashioned, reminiscent of sucking out the cherry juice from a popsicle or a snow cone. It’s also a little tart and acidic, just enough to where the bite is enjoyable. This has a distinctive crispness, both in flavor and carbonation. Very drinkable. There is a mild strawberry flavor to this soda that floats about the flavor profile, but it mostly hangs in the background. One flavor that is very distinctive to me is the Luden’s Cherry Cough Drops I previously mentioned. That might seem like a weird reference, but I mean it in the best way. I ate those even when I wasn’t sick. If I had some, I would right now. Actually, is Walgreen’s still open?

Finish: Sweet candy cherry with a note of mild strawberry that’s very delayed. You won’t get it unless you wait about 10-15 seconds until the next sip.

Rating: This is straight-up delicious. One of the driving forces behind craft soda is nostalgia. It’s a term that gets thrown around often, usually referencing the glass bottle the liquid comes in or a retro label. But this is a soda that tastes old fashioned. This tastes like soda you used to drink as a kid, that your parents used to drink as kids. There’s a rich, old school candy cherry soda flavor with a little bit of acidity. That tartness is critical to the soda’s nostalgic flavor and gives it not only a really pleasing taste, but also a fun mouth feel. It also imparts a refreshing crispness to the soda that adds to its drinkability. This is a soda with which you’d have no problem rampaging through. Kind of like when my wife gets a hold of my credit card. The only knock on this, and it’s a minor one, is the strawberry. It doesn’t really come through that much. Personally, I like it that way, but consumers may be expecting a balance of the two flavors, and this is heavily on the cherry side. However, you could argue the strawberry flavor is part of the reason for the soda’s mild tartness. This is one of the more drinkable sodas we’ve come across in some time. Light, refreshing, crisp and full of old school cherry flavor. Norka Beverage is a blast from the past repackaged into the present, and what’s most important: they’ve preserved the authenticity of the brand’s flavors. You can taste it. This is one in which you should invest.