wisconsin

Wisco Pop!: Cherry

History: It took a lot of beer to get here. A lot. And I’m not referencing the ugly girl I went home with last night. No, I’m talking about one of Wisconsin’s freshest exports: Wisco Pop! Soda. Founder Austin Ashley is a lover of food and beverage. In 2003, he was ahead of the craft beer scene, sampling as many as he could ingest. He even bought equipment to brew his own beer. But before he got that far, he burned himself out on the stuff, both mentally and financially. With a curious mind and bunch of brewing equipment just sitting around, Ashley turned his attention to making ginger beer and root beer, the latter of which wasn’t quite as palatable. “That was pretty disgusting,” he admits. After trying out various recipes and flavors on families, the Wisco Pop! team of Ashley, his wife Hallie, and his friend Zac decided to hit the farmers market in July of 2012. When I think of farmers markets, I think of words like “local,” “fresh,” and “natural.” If you’re like me, you hit the nail on the head when describing the soda Wisco Pop! brews. “We’re 100% committed to using, real, fresh, natural ingredients. Everything comes from something in nature,” Ashely explains. Naturally, it was a hit at famers markets, so the trio launched a Kickstarter in December of 2013 to buy bottling equipment. Fast forward to late 2015 and the Viroqua, Wisconsin company is now selling their soda nationally online. Currently, Wisco Pop! produces three flavors: Ginger, Cherry, and Root Beer. “The natural food market is the consumer I’m after,” Ashley tells us, before adding that no soda from the company will ever be associated with a flavor house or any sort of outside recipe manipulation. Translation: you want fresh, you get fresh. No preservatives. Local ingredients. Real fruit, sugar, honey, and spices. Ashley actually gets frustrated occasionally with how fresh his company’s soda is because not every batch turns out the same. So you might buy Wisco Pop! Cherry in the summer and have it taste slightly different than a batch from the fall.

If you can’t read big headlines, Cherry is the flavor we’re reviewing today. Wisco Pop! Cherry is perhaps the most localized flavor in the company’s line. The stars of the show are the Door County Cherries used. Ashley describes the cherries as tart and often used in Wisconsin cherry pies. So you probably won’t be surprised to hear Ashley say he wanted the soda “to taste like cherry pie a little bit.” In talking to Ashley on the phone, you get the sense he’s a pretty chill dude. It wasn’t much more of a surprise then to hear him admit that he didn’t put a whole lot of thought into the recipe as a whole. In addition to the cherries, the soda’s recipe also contains vanilla bean, Wisconsin honey, cinnamon, and lemon. Currently, Wisco Pop! is working on a 100% organic soda line with grapefruit hibiscus the likely first flavor.

Where to get: Wisco Pop! soda is available at 105 retailers mainly in Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Madison and surrounding towns. You can find your nearest retailer at the company’s online locator. You can also purchase the company’s soda online from anywhere in the U.S. via their web store.

Nose: Big vanilla bean scent. Smells like the inside of a cherry pie with a heavy vanilla influence.

Taste: Tart cherries; lemon; smooth vanilla bean; mild honey. This has really good, authentic flavor of cherry and vanilla. The vanilla bean tastes so pure that it gives the soda an earthy aspect. The cherries are flavorful and taste slightly tart; this is enhanced by the carbonation. There’s also some lemon notes in here that add to the tartness. I want to emphasize that this is tart and not sour. Back to the vanilla – the more you drink this, the smoother it gets and the creamier the vanilla becomes. The longer this soda goes on, the more and more the flavors meld with one another to create the taste of the inside of a cherry pie. It’s really pleasant and shows the sophistication of the recipe. Great authentic cherry and vanilla bean flavors.

Finish: Still fairly tart cherry flavor with subtle vanilla also still present. The one flavor you taste on the finish and not as much in the soda’s body is honey. Overall, pretty similar to the flavors you taste near the beginning and middle of the soda with the exception of some mild honey notes.

Rating: Wisco Pop’s Cherry is probably one of the easiest drinking cherry sodas you’ll come across. With its tart cherry notes and smooth, slightly creamy vanilla flavors, it’s an excellent fruit soda that demands more than one bottle be enjoyed. This only gets better as it goes on. The tartness of the cherries and lemon and the creamy, earthy notes of vanilla are a perfect contrast of flavors and provide a wonderful mouth feel. This soda makes me smile. I do wish I could taste the honey more because it’s advertised as local “Wisconsin Honey” and the brand is of course called “Wisco Pop!” But that’s really my only criticism. Cherry by Wisco Pop! is like a loving girlfriend. She’ll always take care of you and never let you down. You’d be silly not to invest in Wisco Pop’s Cherry. She’ll treat you well.

Four Stars

Blumers: Blueberry Cream

History: Minhas (pronounced Men-hahz) Craft Brewery has a history dating all the way back to 1845. It’s changed ownership and names numerous times before being completely purchased by the Minhas family in 2006. They’re from Wisconsin (Monroe), so you know they either make beer or cheese and I’ve already spoiled the surprise for you. According to Minhas Brewery Operations President, Gary Olson, the brewery introduced a root beer in the mid-90’s to offer a non-alcoholic selection in its taproom. They called it Blumers Root Beer, a throwback to one of the brewery’s former owners in the early 1900’s. Today, Minhas still serves their root beer on draft and in kegs, in addition to bottles. The rest of their soda flavors were introduced in 2003. The brewery uses the same equipment to produce its sodas as it does for its beer. Blumers sodas use only pure cane sugar as a sweetener and all ingredients are sourced from either Wisconsin or Illinois. Monroe is only about 20 miles north of the Illinois border. We decided we’d start with their blueberry cream, certainly a rare flavor. “Blueberry’s hard,” Olson says with a laugh over the phone. If you look through the Blumers soda line, you’ll see gorgeous bright blues and oranges to deep, rustic reds. “We wanted to be colorful and fun,” Olson adds. Let’s see if this soda is as beautiful in your mouth as it is on your eyes.

Where to get: Blumers Soda is sold throughout Wisconsin and also at a sister brewery in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. If you think you want a sampler pack of Blumers, you can order 16 bottles from Wisconsinmade.com. If you’re only looking for a few bottles, Olson encourages everyone to contact the brewery where they can put together a custom order for you. (I know contact forms suck, but they’re good about responding.)

Nose: Old school Lifesavers blueberry vanilla swirl lollipops from childhood, also the kind with the weird loop grip; soft blueberry; creamy vanilla ice cream.

Taste: Blueberry; cane sugar; vanilla; tartness. There’s an upfront kiss of mellow blueberry that isn’t overly artificial or overpowering. Just right for a blueberry-flavored soda. Blueberry is one of those flavors that tends to get blasted at your tongue, so a less intense version of that to begin with is welcome. Next you taste the cane sugar. Definitely a sweeter soda, but again, not overpowering if ingested in moderation. Once you’re introduced to the blueberry and sugar, there a wave of crisp, tartness, due in part to the carbonation that cascades across the sides of your tongue to cut through the initial sweetness. The wave of flavors and sensations is stimulating and very nice on the palate. The creaminess comes in last, but you really get most of that in lingering flavor. The undertones of vanilla in this bottle need some time to breath, so the longer you take in between sips, the more you’ll see that develop. The sugar can be a bit intense if you drink this fast, so be advised.

Finish: Mellow blueberry that fades into rich vanilla with supreme creaminess. Divine.

Rating: Gary Olson is right. Blueberry is a tough flavor to do. It tends to almost always taste too artificial, but Minhas Brewery has managed to take the essence of blueberry and let it dance around a symphony of cane sugar and creamy vanilla in a way that delights the drinker. The blueberry notes in this are mild, but present enough to still hold throughout the body of the soda. The sugar in Blumers Blueberry Cream can be potent, particularly if you don’t take time in between sips to let it settle. Otherwise, the sweetness builds up on top of itself with every sip and can be a bit harsh to digest. Another reason to take your time with this bottle is to let the creamy vanilla finish really permeate your taste buds. We found this to be the best part of the soda. This isn’t quite a sipper, but also isn’t a beverage I’d recommend buzzsawing through. It has a beautiful color that will catch your eye and a flavor that may surprise you for the better. I don’t think a lot of people typically expect something good out of blue sodas, but this one does the trick. It’s pretty, won’t let you down, and gets better as you get to know it more. If you know of any single women with the same qualities, please contact me. You won’t find a lot of blueberry cream sodas out there. Unless you don’t like the fruit itself, I have a hard time seeing why you shouldn’t pop the top on one of these little Wisconsin blueberry bombers. Fizz on.