Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Soda Series Round 4

We're off to Round 4 of the Soda Series! This time I went for a blend of seemingly more conventional sodas and a few odd novelty flavors. While I'm all for trying something new, it's probably best to iterate on traditional flavor profiles rather than going completely off the track.


"A swell cola" describes this drink fairly accurately. It had all the hallmarks of a generic cola drink. It tasted a bit more acidic and less sweet than Coca-Cola. Other than the retro bottle, Spiffy lacked much of its own unique identity. I couldn't pick Spiffy out of a lineup, nor would I ever care to. 

Grass Soda

Up until now, I've generally been avoiding the more niche flavors that rely more on shock than actual appeal, e.g. buffalo wing soda. However, I actually like the grass flavored jellybeans in the Harry Potter branded Bertie Botts jellybeans so I thought that grass soda would be delightful as well. Yet when I tried it, I honestly couldn't describe the flavor to you besides it was somewhat herbal with an odd aftertaste. It wasn't a huge departure from normal soda flavors. While not terribly off-putting, I felt no compelling need to revisit this flavor in the future. 

Rosa's Arroz con Leche

High hopes accompanied this soda. I'm a big fan of horchata and hoped that the arroz con leche would be similar. What I hoped would be a carbonated horchata was just extremely bland rice water and not much more. There was no creaminess of an horchata. What I, and perhaps most ambitious owners of Soda Streams, failed to realize was that adding carbonation also adds acidity, which throw off the flavors of the liquid. The result is sour rice water, a description you can probably imagine pretty easily and just as easily dismiss. 

Nichol Kola

I was drawn to the Soviet-sounding name and label design reminiscent of propaganda posters. Unlike Spiffy, this cola was much more layered in flavors than a generic cola. It was certainly spicier, with hints of coriander, cinnamon and bitter orange, but not so much like the flavors of a root or birch beer. I would gladly buy Nichol Kola again when I'm looking for a complex cola, as this is one of the better colas I've tried. 

Hank's Vanilla Cream

One of my favorite bottles due to the vintage embossed label and contoured glass molding, the vanilla cream soda was also quite enjoyable. It was bright, almost fruity, in its sweetness, though not as creamy as some of the cream sodas I've sampled. I'm eager to try Hank's root and birch beers as well. The company has only been around since 1996 though, so they are not be as vintage as the label suggests. Still, I appreciate when soda makers take new ingredients and techniques and apply them backwards looking at some classic flavors. 

Johnnie Ryan Birch Beer 

Hits all the flavors of birch beer but a bit too sweet. It wouldn't be my first choice for a birch beer, but I'd be perfectly content with a six-pack from Johnnie Ryan. If you're going for a birch beer, you might as well go for one with stronger herbal flavors like Reading Draft's or Foxon Park's White Birch.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Soda Series Round 3

This round dived into some more unique flavors than before. Find out which soda I envision drinking in Santorini and which one was so awful I actually poured it out below. 

Sprecher Orange Dream

I've never been a huge fan of orange Creamsicles. The combination of citrus and cream never held the same appeal as say strawberries and cream. I fully expected this soda to be overwhelmingly sweet and artificial tasting, but was actually quite pleasantly surprised by its relatively subtle approach. Considering the loud neon orange color, this was pleasantly drinkable and refreshing. 

With such a deft hand at such a seemingly difficult soda, I'd gladly jump on any Sprecher sodas in the future. I'll be on the lookout for its Puma Kola, among others. They actually are a beer brewery but they have an odd product line including a root beer mustard that might be worth searching out.

Zuberfizz Durango Soda Company Chocolate Cream Soda

Zuberfizz is actually a new company, bottling sodas since 2002. Trying to jump on the microbrewing trend in beer, Zuberfizz focuses on small batch gourmet sodas. They might've actually discontinued the chocolate cream soda, or renamed it their Coco Fizz, but it was absolutely awful. It tasted like a carbonated liquefied Tootsie roll. That's all I need to say about this one.

Frostop Root Beer

Frostop has been producing root beer out of Ohio since 1926. Upon opening the bottle, the first thing I noticed was a remarkable foamy head. It was refreshing and had bright sweet notes at the top. Overall it had little complexity but made a solid root beer. 

Silk Road Cucumber

Given the labeling and flavors such as cucumber, pear and pomegranate, I suspected that Silk Road was aiming for the adult soda drinking market, similar to Boylan's Mash line or GuS. While this cucumber soda was still plenty sweet, it also had a pronounced mint taste that made me immediately think Greek salad. After a few more sips, it tastes too herbal, like a full meal for me. 

Americana Huckleberry

The light purple soda has the color of pale grape but the flavor of a tart berry. It is like an adult version of grape soda (besides sparkling wine, clearly). I advocate it as an alternative when you don't want the heavy sweetness of most grape sodas. 


 NuGrape is a vintage 1906 formula, which may explain why it is possibly the most generic grape soda I have ever had. It is a prototypical grape soda and not at all remarkable.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Soda Series Round 2

Last month I started my soda reviews with Round 1. I followed a similar process of randomly selecting bottles around the store. For Round 2, I picked Columbia Soda Works Sarsaparilla, Jackson Hole Snake River Sarsaparilla, Nesbitt's of California Honey Lemonade, Green River, Faygo Rock N' Rye and MacFuddy's Pepper Elixir. 

Columbia Soda Works Sarsparilla

I grew up drinking Hey Song Sarsparilla from Taiwan. As such, it has always been the standard marker for me for these types of sodas. As polarizing as root beer typically is, I've often found sarsaparilla to be even more off-putting to those who don't like it. Columbia Soda Works' sarsaparilla was exceedingly bland, tasting like a weak root beer with some little flecks of liquorice. Maybe this was an old bottle, since it also tasted a bit flat, but it was completely underwhelming. 

Jackson Hole Soda Snake River Sarsaparilla

Fortunately, the Jackson Hole sarsaparilla made up for Columbia Soda Works' failing. This one was complex and varied in flavor. I got much anise on the tongue. It's merely decent at first but grows on you over time. I found myself wishing I had more the deeper into the bottle I got. Jackson Hole Soda produces a variety of "old West" type sodas that I'd be eager to try. 

Nesbitt's of California Honey Lemonade

I picked this honey lemonade to break up the dark sodas I've been drinking thus far, but this raised an interesting question--how is soda defined? At its most basic, a soda is carbonated water with sweetener and flavoring. So this honey lemonade fits that definition, though most people would hesitate to call it a soda. It's really a sparkling lemonade. Funnier yet, it's bottle in Texas, not California, and its main sweetener is sugar, not honey. This bottle of contradictions had little appeal flavorwise. I would've preferred a better quality lemonade; adding carbonation did little to improve it. 

Nesbitt's of California was initially out of Los Angeles and was a leading orange soda producer in the 1940s and 1950s. After changing hands several times, the brand landed in the hands of Big Red.

Green River

Green River grew out of Prohibition by yet another brewery pivoting to stay in business. It has a vividly bright green color, which makes it more of a nostalgia or St. Patrick's Day prop than an actual drink. The lime flavor is unremarkable, though the flavor was not as artificial as the color might suggest. 

Faygo Rock N' Rye

Encouraged by the suggestion of one of my law school friends from Michigan, I tried Faygo's Rock N' Rye flavor. The grape Faygo I had gotten in the last round was awful, but this vanilla cherry cream soda had a spicy tang that kept it interesting. Still a tad on the sweet side, but I'd certainly seek this out in the future as it kept my taste buds engaged. Great for fans of cream sodas. I've also been told that Redpop Faygo is worth checking out. 

MacFuddy Pepper Elixir

T'was MacFuddy's Miracle Elixir, that's what did the trick, sir; true, yes, true. I'll admit that the labeling attracted me to this bottle. I was hooked by the "distinctively strong" description and the throwback label design. It reminded me of a potion that snake oil sellers would hock or a video game item that would give a temporary stat boost. It does give 24 hours of luck, after all. The flavor is black cherry but with a strong ginger spicy kick. Think a cross between Dr. Pepper and a potent ginger beer. 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Soda Series Round 1

I recently explored San Jose suburb Campbell for the first time. The downtown has a charming small town throwback feel. And look, there's even an independent bookstore! After a delightful cocktail at newly opened The Vesper (and yes, I did order the Vesper and it held up), I wandered into the Rocket Fizz Soda Pop and Candy Shop

Rocket Fizz is a national franchise chain, though you might not suspect as much given the character of the store. Though the chain started in 2007, the shop in Campbell felt more personable like a mom and pop shop. I suppose that's their corporate theme, but it worked for what they were selling. I picked the six sodas below--Moxie, Boylan's Birch Beer, Reading Draft White Birch, Faygo Grape, Rocky Mountain Soda Co. Evergreen Elderberry and Cheerwine. 


Last year, I read Stephen King's novel 11/22/63, now made into a Hulu miniseries staring James Franco. The book was long and tedious, but the brief mentions of this Maine mainstay stuck in my mind. One of the oldest mass-produced sodas in this country, Moxie is branded as an elixir, an echo to the drugstore days of fountains and jerks. Taking a sip, I immediately recalled medicinal qualities. Moxie is flavored with gentian root extract, which is an extremely bitter component. Although there are cola flavors, the root gives it a bitterness not unlike the Campari you might find in a Negroni. It's not so bitter to be unpleasant, but you certainly feel more like you're drinking a soda for adults. 

Boylan Birch Beer

Boylan Bottling Company has carved itself a solid niche in cane sugar sodas. It has never used corn syrup as a sweetener and you might find it in some fast casual restaurant chains with its own fountain. 

I often seek out birch beer, the rarer cousin of root beer, wherever I can find it. It's much more popular in the Atlantic northeast; Philadelphia and New Haven come to mind. Think root beer but with an initial blast of spearmint. Boylan's first soda was its birch beer. I could see the appeal but its flavors are two-noted--crisp mint followed by lingering sweetness. 

Reading Draft White Birch

On the other hand, the Reading Draft White Birch Beer had much more subtlety and complexity in its flavor profile. There's less of that overwhelming mint upon first sip and much more calm balance. Granted, this bottle was white birch, compared to the black birch for Boylan's so this isn't a one-to-one comparison. This is a refreshing sipping soda that would feel terrific on a hot and humid day.

Reading Draft & Universal Carbolic Gas claims to use a low pressure slow carbonation process that keeps smaller bubbles in the sodas longer. I couldn't say I could tell the difference, but it did make for a smooth drink.

Faygo Original Grape

I first heard of Faygo as the beverage associated most with juggalos, the fan culture of the Insane Clown Posse. While I know next to nothing about juggalos or ICP, I did remember the name of the soda and reached for it when I had the opportunity. The quick verdict is that it is reminiscent of a liquid purple Otter Pop. It left my mouth cloying and dyed a dreadful shade of vampire purple.

Faygo calls the Midwest its fan base and home. Although the grape is one of its original flavors, the root beer has drawn rave reviews so maybe I'll give it a shot.

Rocky Mountain Soda Co. Evergreen Elderberry

I'm a big fan of St. Germain and elderflower. To me, the herb flavors make balanced and refreshing cocktails. Rocket Fizz actually had a variety of elderflower or elderberry sodas, so I picked one at random. This was one of my favorites of the batch. It was very drinkable by itself, not needing food to cut the sugar. It wasn't too sweet and tasted of slightly woody raspberry. 

Rocky Mountain Soda Co. prides itself on its natural, vegan, GMO-free and kosher ingredients. While none of those designations matter to me in soda selection, I do appreciate that they, like all the other soda makers on this list, use real cane sugar. According to their website, they also offer a prickly pear flavor that intrigues me. 


While many people in this part of the country probably aren't familiar with Cheerwine, this is a North Carolina mainstay. Whenever I meet people from North Carolina, I often ask for their opinion on Cheerwine and Bojangles', the chicken place, not the entertainer. Cheerwine is a cherry soda. It has a deep burgundy color and none of the cola flavors you'd get in a cherry Coke or Pepsi. It's too sweet for me, no surprising considering it also comes the same general geographical area as sweet tea.

Do not confuse Cheerwine with Big Red, another Southern soda that while sharing the same color, has a completely different flavor.