vermont

Hooker Mountain Farm: Maple Birch Beer

History: Hooker Mountain Farm sounds like my weird next door neighbor’s fantasy come to life. But it’s much more innocent than it sounds. Hooker Mountain Farm is actually a real farm on 65 acres of land in Cabot, Vermont. Opened in 2010, the farm specializes in a variety of agricultural-based products from chicken and cattle to smoked bacon and barbecue beef sticks, to, you guessed it, soda. And it wouldn’t be Vermont if there weren’t maple syrup involved. Vermont is basically the Canada of America. It was 2013 when farm founder David Thayer decided to start brewing maple sodas based on his own home beer brewing knowledge. The farm currently produces three flavors as well as seasonal offerings year-round. They fire brew all the maple syrup that goes into their sodas. Maple is the main sweetening agent. About 70% of the maple syrup in each soda comes from Hooker Mountain Farm, while the other 30% comes from other local sources. Think of it kind of like a small batch bourbon blend, only not bourbon and all maple syrup. Cane sugar is also used, but Thayer notes the farm intentionally strives for a soda with less sugar and more of a bite. Each bottle contains only about 23 grams of sugar as opposed to other sodas that sometimes reach 60 grams of sugar. In Thayer’s own words, “We wanted to resuscitate a more natural-tasting soda” using ingredients right from the farm’s land. In the maple birch we’re sampling today, the birch ingredients and mint all came right off the farm’s 65 acres. They also wanted something that tasted fresh. In fact, no sodium benzoate (a preservative) is used inside the bottle, meaning there’s a limited shelf life for ideal flavor. You’ll want to drink this within three months of getting it. But why would you wait that long, ya dummy? Thayer actually likens their maple birch beer to a maple-flavored ginger ale. How ’bout that? We’re already dealing with a soda confused about its identity and it’s only three months-old. Call the counselor.

Where to get: Hooker Mountain Farm soda is currently only sold in Vermont. This will be one of the harder sodas to get your hands on outside of the state. Your best bet to is contact the company directly via phone or email. Just know shipping may be pricey. In the near future, this should be much easier when the farm launches their line of soda syrups that will be more cost-effective to ship.

Nose: Maple root beer; light mint.

Taste: Light maple; dates; mild wintergreen; sugar. The maple in this isn’t overpowering. Hooker Mountain Farm intentionally strives for a soft drink that’s less sweet than a normal craft soda. I get the maple first. It’s very light. It blends with the birch bark and mint to form what tastes like a date flavor. Definitely some fruity notes to go along with the maple. This definitely doesn’t taste like traditional birch beer. The mint in this is much less intense than what you’re accustomed to in a birch beer. It’s there, but if someone made you drink this without telling you what it is, you probably wouldn’t guess birch beer. Unlike other sodas that rely heavily on maple as their sweetening agent, this one also uses some cane sugar as a supplement. It really helps. Certainly maple is more prevalent on the palate, but the cane sugar fuses nicely with it for a pleasing finish on the tongue. I’d like to see a little more strength from the traditional birch flavorings in this soda. The birch beer taste quickly evaporates as the carbonation fades. The maple, however, is nicely done.

Finish: Lingering maple that’s light and fluffy; cane sugar that acts as a nice bed for the maple to float along. The maple finish in this is arguably the soda’s best trait because it holds its flavor so well.

Rating: For a natural maple soda, this really nails the main ingredient. Using maple as your main sweetening agent can be a difficult task to make taste good. Trust us, we found out the hard way. The maple in this introduces itself to your palate right away and is accompanied by some fruity notes. We taste dates or even dried prunes. The maple’s flavor lasts throughout the body of the soda and into the finish, increasing in sweetness as it goes along. But… this is maple birch beer. Our biggest complaint is that it doesn’t really taste like a birch beer with maple added. We’re not sure if the maple syrup dilutes the birch flavors too much or if there isn’t enough traditional earthy, mint notes in here with which to begin. Regardless, I think this would benefit from some bolder birch flavorings. This has been described by the folks at Hooker Mountain Farm as tasting like a maple ginger ale. At times, I definitely thought to myself that it tasted like a version of maple 7-Up. In a good way. If this just generally called itself maple soda, I’d give it four stars. Even in the craft soda world where ingredients are typically of a much higher quality, we’re used to something sexy – sweet, sugary beverages. We always desire the cover models. This is more like your friend’s hot mom. It’s natural, not quite as sweet, but still worth a try if you can attain it. Very non-traditional. Its flavors may be too foreign or too much of an acquired taste for some. If you’re looking for a bold birch beer with sweet maple, you’ll come out of this experience potentially dissatisfied. Instead, expect a more maple-rich soda with a tinge of bark and mint flavors. Getting your hands on this may be tough, but if you can, it’s worth the experience.

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Vermont Sweet Water: Maple Soda

History: When you think of Vermont, let’s be honest, one of the only things that comes to mind is maple syrup. And maybe cold weather. People love maple-flavored things. Donuts, bacon, ham, candy… why not soda? Vermont Sweetwater in Poultney, Vermont (we checked, it’s real) is here to answer your maple needs. These people LOVE maple syrup. Case in point, the company’s signature product, maple seltzer, was born out of an idea brothers Bob and Rich Münch had after literally just drinking sap. But honestly… what else do you do in a town of less than 2,000 people? Eventually, customers wanted a sweeter, bolder version of the maple seltzer. So in 1996, the family created maple soda. Each 12 oz. bottle contains one ounce of pure Vermont maple syrup. Not maple cream or maple root beer, just maple. This baby really relies on the maple syrup to power its flavor because the only other ingredient in it is carbonated water. Out of the nine flavors Vermont Sweetwater produces today, their maple seltzer and soda still power the business.

Where to get: You can oder any of the company’s sodas on its website in either 6-packs or cases of 24. Or if you have some weird aversion to buying outside of bigger retailers, Amazon also has the hook up.

Nose: Odd odor; funk; watered-covered pancakes.

Taste: Bitter; funk; watery syrup. Their are only two ingredients in this soda: carbonated water and maple syrup. The maple flavor comes through at the end, but it’s mostly absorbed by the carbonated water. The result is a watered-down, funky maple taste that is hard to take in. Unpleasant and abrupt. This does not taste like maple syrup. It doesn’t taste like maple cream soda. It doesn’t even taste like artificial maple flavoring. It does, however, taste like maple syrup and water. The flavor permeates the sinuses immediately and rushes to the back of the throat with a carbonated punch. This soda will KO you in the early rounds.

Finish: Harsh, watery maple; shocking.

Rating: We were tremendously excited for this, and it’s with deep regret I must say it was a steep letdown. This is that feeling you had in high school after you worked up all the guts to ask the amazing girl from calculus to prom, only to find out some douche asked her that morning. It was supposed to lead to great things. It could’ve maybe even been the best night of your life. And now you have to ask Betsy, the weird girl who sits behind you and is into anime. That’s how this feels. I don’t know if Vermont Sweetwater is into anime, but this soda is the weird cousin of cream soda that you settled for instead. Its scent is straight funky and its taste doesn’t really improve on the scent. The biggest problem is that the two ingredients put together are a disaster void of decent taste with no sophisticated flavors for the palate. There are no “notes” of flavor. The smell, taste and finish are all almost identically strange and shock the senses. This was borderline undrinkable for us, and it could REALLY use some added sugar. For a company named “Vermont Sweetwater,” the most critical aspect missing from this is sweetness. If you just truly love maple syrup or have a passion for Vermont, then try this. The concept is really noble. The company is commended for sticking to its roots, for being “natural,” but damn, this needs a little sugar to enhance the maple syrup inside. What you get instead is fizzy water-flavored maple syrup. If that sounds up your alley, then maybe you’re the reason BevMo rated this five stars. Clearly, its users didn’t feel the same. If you want to be adventurous, go for it. If you just love guzzling maple syrup… then that’s weird, but go for it. We didn’t finish the bottle. It’s debatable if it was possible.