Posted on October 16, 2015 Posted by John Scalzi 89 Comments
You may ask: Now that I have a little bit of spare cash lying around, what do I choose to spend it on? The answer: Obscure soda brands! Note the collection of soft drinks above, which I found at the local Rural King store. I may have squeed a little when I saw them on the shelf. I’m not sure I’m going to like them all — I’m not going to lie, I’m a little skeptical of the banana soda — but I’m going to try them all, just to see what they’re like. I don’t drink alcohol, so this is the closest I suspect I will come to a bender. I’ll let you all know how it goes.
I bet Jungle Jim’s has a lot of that kind of thing.
I hope you’re spacing it out, because I predict a really sore tummy otherwise.
If you haven’t before, try all of Virgil’s sodas. The root beer especially is amazing (if you like root beer). Like you I don’t drink and enjoy trying new sodas. Enjoy!
Butterscotch root beer sounds intriguing. Pineapple, peach, chocolate, and banana are just plain wrong flavors for sodas – you’re a brave man. Based on the name alone, I think you should check your blood sugar before and after imbibing something called “Kickapoo Fruit Shine”…
Oddly enough, my favorite Vietnamese sandwich place in the neighborhood carries Dang! rootbeer. The regular kind is good, I’ll occasionally treat myself to it. When I’m in the mood for something a bit sweeter, I’ll go for the butterscotch one, it’s more sweet & smooth than the ‘bite’ in a typical rootbeer. Also not as fizzy.
The spicy ginger soda is also good.
I like fake banana flavor, but I think the soda might be a bridge too far.
The Butterscotch Rootbeer has my mouth watering at the flavor possibilities though.
I love a good kick-in-the-teeth ginger beer. Too easy for them to be too sweet, though. (I know, I know, sacrilege!)
Possibly, but it’s not a convenient drive for me, alas.
I anticipate one a day.
Peach soda can be awesome, actually, especially super cold.
Fentiman’s Victorian Lemonade. You’ll thank me.
My wife LOVES the butterscotch root beer.
Be sure and check out Joseph Malozzi’s soda reviews. I won’t post the link but you can google ‘Joseph Mallozzi soda review’ and it will come up.
I will pick up an assortment of odd Polar Seltzer flavors for when you come to Arisia.
Oh, I want to try the butterscotch root beer! Where am I going to find that around here? Off to hunt.
Here’s a review of the Victorian Lemonade if I can post the link. http://www.thesodajerks.net/soda-reviews/2013/4/24/fentimans-victorian-lemonade.html
I trust there will be some sort of review post, since, as a fan of craft sodas, I’d like to know how these are (in case I stumble across these at my local Rocket Fizz).
Polar makes a “fudge” soda that’s a decent once-in-a-while beverage, but I wouldn’t make it my every day.
“You got a good sarsaparilla?”
If you can find them, I highly recommend the Jarritos brand of sodas. http://www.jarritos.com Tasty, and IIRC, made with real sugar (when they use sweeteners). And they come in all kinds of flavors.
The banana one is the only one of those I’ve had, its actually pretty nice. I can get peach locally, but not that brand. Enjoy!
If you wish to order online, I can endorse “Pop the Soda Shop” in Phoenix, AZ. http://www.popsoda.com/
They have a 14 page listing of available sodas that I have NOT made an appreciable dent in trying. Some extremely good root beers, and ginger beers that should come with a heat warning.
My husband was a rather unwilling participant in an episode involving chocolate stout. Somebody bought a six pack, drank one, decided they didn’t like it, passed it to a friend of my husband’s. Friend drank one, didn’t like it, passed the four-pack to my husband. My husband drank one, didn’t like it, tried to pass it back to the person who gave it to him. That person refused to take it back, at which point my husband passed the remainder of the six-pack to his aunt, who would drink anything. She was the only one to declare how much she “loved” the chocolate stout.
You are right to be skeptical of the banana soda. That artificial flavor is notorious for being “off”. Also, as a soda snob, I firmly believe that if you are a craft soda maker, you must use cane sugar and not corn syrup.
I concur on Pop The Soda Shop. they were able to get me a good selection of ginger beer/ale back in my quest for the hottest (It’s Blenhiem, IMO) and got a lot of great stuff.
I picked up a selection of weird sodas at World Market a while back, and have been trying some of them recently:
Jones Soda’s Peanut Butter & Jelly flavor tasted mostly of grape, with an odd undertaste that was only vaguely reminiscent of peanut butter.
I also tried old-time classic soda Moxie, which reportedly is an acquired taste. I rather liked the rootbeerish/kinda-herbal flavor in my mouth, but it left a very medicinal aftertaste like you can sometimes get from a dental appointment. (Gentian’s one of the primary ingredients, and indeed has a long history of medicinal uses.)
I haven’t worked up the courage to try the cucumber soda yet.
I have had the Dang! Butterscotch Root Beer. It’s quite good! Well, assuming that you like both butterscotch and root beer, because it tastes exactly as you would expect those two things to taste.
If you haven’t had it, I highly recommend Manhattan Special: http://www.manhattanspecial.com/homepage.html
Espresso soda? Yes please.
You need to drop by Galco’s the next time you’re in LA:
I was just about to recommend Galco’s. Such an amazing selection. Worth a side trip to Eagle Rock the next time you’re in LA..
Also, a lot of the Latino markets in Queens (and probably the rest of NYC) have Jarritos, and it’s really, really good.
As a beverage enthusiast of any kind of edible drinkable liquid I am very curious about your analysis. Will you write a ranked review of your experiences?
We DO drink alcohol, so our flavor experimentation tends to start with liqueurs. That banana soda might be good with rum … and/or vanilla ice cream.
Root beer is a fave but see above re: alcohol. The only one we’ve bought more than once is Not Your Father’s Root Beer, which of course is alcoholic. Hic.
Seconding the Blenheim’s ginger ale recommendation.
I’m a big fan of Goya Ginger Beer. It’s got a bite to it!
I had some pineapple ginger soda imported from Jamaica once. It was excellent. Unfortunately, the Jamaican restaurant stopped carrying it not long after, and I haven’t been able to get it again.
Dang! makes excellent soda. I highly recommend their root beer, butterscotch root beer, and red cream soda. All are wonderful.
If you have a Rocket Fizz shop in your vicinity, you can find a reasonable selection of this sort of thing there.
Love pineapple soda, all the rest of sound interesting too. Have fun experimenting!
There’s a specialty store here which imports Blenheim Ginger Ale from South Carolina. (At least, when they can get it. Production runs are limited and all that.) There are “gold cap” and “red cap” versions; both are good, but I far prefer the spicier “red cap” variety. It is UNBELIEVABLE.
Just don’t breathe in when you sip. Trust me on that. Or maybe do, but shoot video, because it may be hilarious.
Oh, it was already suggested, I missed it. Well, then, thirded. Get some, it’s great.
Oooooh, the Butterscotch Root Beer intrigues.I LOVE root beer floats with butterscotch ripple ice cream (Trust me, once you try it you NEVER go back to plain vanilla. The root beer makes these delicious little ice crystals that form on the butterscotch syrup and it’s SO GOOD)
I’m a big fan of Cheerwine, Sprecher sodas and root beers, and Bundaberg root beers.
Ya need some “Cherikee Red”!
The next time you are in the UK (or should you wander past a British Food shop in your travels) you should try a pop (not soda) from the UK. Dandelion and Burdock was a favorite of mine in my pre Canada youth. Also available on Amazon (who knew). http://www.amazon.com/Fentimans-Dandelion-Burdock-4-ct/dp/B000O6XSL8
You’re reminding me that I need to try the Rhubarb Soda available at my local market – I think the brand name is Dry. I had the Dry Cucumber Soda on vacation this year – very refreshing & unusual.
There’s a soda called ‘Dang!’ – only in America!
Looking at the brand names of those sodas, so many of which seem like exclamations, makes me think it would be fun to write dialog consisting of as little more than those brand names as possible.
I remember seeing MSNBC doing a filler on regional soda brands. That might be something entertaining for your next book tour (or possibly a way for fans to bribe you): sample whatever the local soda varieties are, and critique them.
Locally, not so much soda, but we do make shave ice syrups. And guri-guri.
I feel like somebody needs to get John Hodgman in on this. Obscure soda/food seems to make him very happy.
Now I’m feeling all nostalgic over the rootbeer I used to make… homemade rootbeer and homemade coffee ice cream make the best floats EVER.
I loved the idea of Cocofizz, but, sadly, it was undrinkable. Not quite as bad as the bacon soda but not worth finishing the bottle.
Polar offer double fudge soda, it is great with ice cream.
Polar’s orange dry is good and their cream soda is the smoothest.
In New Britain Ct, Avery soda’s offers soda’s based named after the presidential candidates Barrack O’Berry is the flavor I remember. I prefer Avery’s flavor Dog Drool over their Kitty Piddle.
Personally, I’d add vodka to these. Otherwise they’d be too sweet. Though, I know that’s not your thing.
There seems to be a Coke Zero shortage here in California. Costco didn’t have any on Wednesday and now our supermarket is out too.
One of my friends bought a couple of bottles of Bacon-flavored soda…he did a taste test and did NOT recommend that I buy it….so I’m passing that along to you as a public service…..
Well, I’d recomend Orangina but I don’t know if it travels well…
ohhhhh yesssssss I was in Fresh Market today and i was sucked into a magical land of obscure shit. I too got some fun things like elderflower lemonade….and ginger beer, and another elderflwoer lemonade with rose in it. My absolute favorite soda is readily available at our local food markets where you lock your doors and carry your keys like wolverine – Jarritos Grapefruit soda. LOVE THAT SHIT. It reminds me of what I remember Fresca being when I was a kid as opposed to that club-soda-ish crap they sell now. Fun!
I’d try the banana. Maybe if it was combined with the ginger or the chocolate? There was a diet peach soda that I used to drink but it went away, and I miss it.
I love Mexican sodas, except tamarind is a flavor that Should Not Be, at least in sweet things. Am amused at all of you telling tales of secret stores — I buy Jarritos in the regular giant chain grocery store up on the corner. It is a bit cheaper at the Mexican supermarket chain, as is the Sacred Fluid (Coke with cane sugar).
Even Target has weird-ass herbal soda flavors nowadays. Dandelion/Burdock, right there next to the cubic yards of Coke and Pepsi.
Wait, no Kickapoo Joy Juice?
I used to date a non drinker who enjoyed finding “weird drinks.” He is my husband now.
Best root beer I ever had was home brewed by a friend. I liked it because it was not very sweet.
Final comment: I want to drink Dang!, just because of the name.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the ginger soda. I’m a fan of all things ginger, especially a good ginger beer.
I enioy the Spicy Ginger. If you intend to give them all a go in one sitting I would hold that for last, the ginger should help settle your stomach after all that sugar.
Y’know, we’re about the same age, we’ve had some similar experiences, and the things you write and the way you write them gives me the distinct impression that we could probably relate to each other pretty well.
And then you say something like “I don’t drink alcohol” and I think “WHAT ALIEN CREATURE IS THIS?”
That said: if you can get your hands on Fever Tree Ginger Beer (it’s nonalcoholic) you might enjoy that. It’s like MOUNTAIN DEW EXTREME GINGER ALE, as if the ‘ale’ part of ginger ale was substituted out for some extra ginger. It’s- …pretty gingery, I guess is what I’m saying..
And for those of you who DO drink alcohol: take one of those, and into it, add a half a shot of dark rum and half a shot of Pimms to make “A Dark and Pimm’s Cup”, which is quickly becoming a local favorite.
The Bundaberg company does a range of weird and wonderful fizzy drink flavours – they have a guava, a pink grapefruit, a peach, a passionfruit, a pineapple and coconut, and a blood orange. They put out a sampler pack of them last year with one of each flavour.
The Pink Grapefruit is very nice – just enough tang to counterbalance the sweetness, and give it a nice dry after-taste. I quite enjoyed that one.
I didn’t manage to finish the Pineapple and Coconut. The problem was it was entirely too sweet, and there was entirely too much coconut in it. Steve tried a sip, and he said it tasted like something which should have been purchased in very small squares at very high prices from an expensive patisserie to have with coffee, only turned into a drink. His other comment was that the preponderance of coconut flavour made it a bit like drinking a texture. If the brewers are looking for a suggestion to improve this one, I’d suggest reducing the amount of coconut, and increasing the amount of pineapple flavour. At the moment it’s coconut with a hint of pineapple, where I think I’d prefer the reverse.
Blood Orange was sweet, but with a bit of tang in there. Not quite as dry a finish as the Pink Grapefruit, but nice all the same.
The Peach one is basically fizzy peach nectar, and almost cloyingly sweet. The sweetness appears to be a bit of a weakness for this bunch of drinks, because all of them are almost sickeningly over-sweet. I suspect they’re adjusted for a more juvenile palate than my own.
The Guava one wasn’t as sweet as I was expecting. Guava-based drinks are usually as sweet as treacle anyway, so it’s nice this one wasn’t overwhelming in that fashion.
The Passionfruit one was pretty much as I expected, and tasted very much like every other passionfruit drink on the market.
They also do a ginger beer my partner is quite fond of, a lemon, lime and bitters version which tastes almost like the pub variety, and I think they have a fizzy lemon drink too. (Oh, and since they’re Australian they’re all sweetened with cane sugar).
Butterscotch root beer😎
My grandmother used to buy us Kickapoo Joy Juice when I was a kid. If I recall properly, it tasted like the love-child of Mountain Dew and Sundrop, and featured a hideously racist cartoon on every bottle.
You should absolutely try Cheerwine, a legendary cherry soda sold almost entirely in the Carolinas and northern Georgia (though I think they’re expanding… http://www.cheerwine.com). They also make Sun-Drop, a lemon soda which mysteriously has made it here to Massachusetts, though I would far prefer Cheerwine. Dr. Brown’s Black Cherry is the only comparable cherry soda I can think of (though I am quite fond of Cherry Coke Zero).
A former assistant of mine, a Scottish Brit, was a big fan of Irn-Bru, described as “Scotland’s other drink” (after whiskey). It’s the #1 soda in Scotland. It is bright orange in color, though not in flavor, which includes caffeine and quinine. Their motto is “Made in Scotland…from girders.” Presumably because it is sort of rust-colored. (Or should I say “rust-colored?”) Their ads, at least, are hilarious. http://www.irn-bru.co.uk/all/bru-planet
I remember liking a Silver Springs kiwi fruit flavoured pop as a kid. The only place I knew of that sold it was the factory itself, when they sold off bottles with damaged labels or whatever on the cheap. Haven’t had it since the factory closed down.
You need to try Brain Wash, if you can find it. Comes in red or blue (no difference in flavor, just color, which it has excessive amounts of.) A variety of herbal components, lots of caffeine, and it’s sort of a cherry jalapeno flavor. Made by a disfunctional family in LA, under the label Skeleteens, not always reliably available.
Here in Northern California we get the Mexican sodas (Jarritos, and sugar-based Coke, but a range of other drinks as well), hipster sodas, nostalgia-brand sodas, and also Asian grocery store drinks. Some of the Asian drinks of note have included a basil-seed drink, calamansi (a Filipino relative of lime), dalandan (a Filipino relative of orange), various Thai-iced-tea things, Suntory grapefruit drink (yum.)
I’m not sure how strongly you avoid alcohol – would a half-percent or so bother you? I think my home-brew ginger ale is usually about that strong. Take an empty 2-liter soda bottle, 1/2 cup sugar, juice of two citruses (lemon, lime, whatever), grate a couple inches of ginger on a cheese-grater. Boil the sugar and ginger in a cup of water, put it in the bottle, add water until 3 inches from the top, add the lemon and yeast. (I use an ale yeast, since I have it around, but even bread yeast will work.) Seal the bottle, wait a few days to a week until there’s enough pressure that the bottle’s hard, refrigerate a day or more, open carefully.
Strangest I ever saw — and I saw it with my own eyes and sampled it with my own palate — was Bean Soda. It was canned, a Mexican product. It tasted exactly like the water you’d pour off boiled beans, plus sugar; carbonated but very lightly. I cannot recommend it too highly.
I’ve had that basil-seed drink Bill Stewart mentioned. The basil seeds float around in an even distribution like a bunch of frog eggs. Tasted pretty good, despite my mental image of subsequently burping tadpoles and pooping small frogs.
The folks above recommending Cheerwine are on to something good!
When I lived in Georgia (the Tbilisi kind), I occasionally tried the terragon soda, which had the advantage of being radioactive green in color. The grape (named after a local varietal, Saperavi) was delicious, but seasonal. Pear is interesting, lemon is good, and peach is consistently yummy.
Moscow was full of unusual sodas! Mojito was better than one might expect, there were all kinds of oddberries, and that’s before one got into the herbal thingies. I think “Baikal” was my favorite among those.
Henry Weinhart’s Root Beer (and their Orange Cream Soda) are some of my favorites.
You should check out Rocket Fizz, if you’re into obscure sodas. There’s a few in pretty much every state.
Sounds like you should check out the Homer Soda Festival next year: http://www.homersodafestival.com/
Dude, you need to pop into Rocket Fizz the next time you’re in downtown Indy. You’d die and float right up to heaven.
If you are ever so inclined I would love to read a post from you on how you find it being a non-drinker in a significantly alcohol focused culture. I also am a non-drinker and find it sometimes awkward to navigate socially even as a homebody but it seems that you might have a extra set of challenges given how a significant portion of con-culture revolves around room parties and get togethers at bars.
Just curious: did you just buy one bottle of each or a couple? Sometimes it takes more than one try to develop a taste for something.
Also: a friend of mine is into making root beer and ginger ale from 18th/19th century recipes (or “receipts” as they called them back then). I’ve been a taster for her and some are quite excellent. If you like I can find a couple of recipes you can make at home.
I’m also a non-drinker. I just drink water or soda when I’m with friends who want to drink alcohol. Usually nobody is put out by this. Sometimes the bar gives out the sodas for free if you’re a designated driver.
I am particularly fond of the Coco Fizz. It tastes like Tootsie Rolls. :D I can find it at World Market, if you’re ever looking for new sources of obscure sodas. Sadly I can’t drink it anymore because a side effect of the migraine preventative I take makes anything carbonated taste flat. (Not a bad thing, I guess. When I stopped drinking soda, I dropped 10 pounds in 2 weeks. My doc was thrilled.)
Wendy, consider yourself fortunate on the fizz. ANY chocolate triggers migraines for me. And I love chocolate.
Irn-Bru (used to be advertised as “Made in Scotland! From girders!” but they made them stop saying that) doesn’t taste good, but it has the best ad ever: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4yZOab5gl-4
My favorite obscure sodas are Birch Beer and Blenheim’s ginger ale (the hot kind). Seconding the advice to avoid inhaling as you sip.
A big fan of obscure sodas (they say ‘pop,’ I say ‘soda’). One of my favorites is MacFuddy Pepper Elixer. First made in ’41 in Michigan and now located our in the Pacific Northwest. Tastes like Dr. Pepper but with a punch!
I’d describe the flavor of Irn-Bru as cream soda with a bitter medicinal finish. When I was in college in Glasgow, it was common (and may still be, for all i know) to mix it with whiskey.
My husband and I squeed when we found the wall of sodas at our local liquor store. Every few weeks we’ll each have one or two and see what we like.
So far, winners have been: a chai soda, a huckleberry soda, a very rich chocolate, one called “Lenin-ade,” and a locally brewed rootbeer
We must go: http://www.yelp.com/biz/rocket-fizz-los-angeles
“Jamaica’s Finest” is the best, most intense Ginger Beer I’ve found. You have to search it out, in all likelihood. Natrona Bottling Co. I favor the “hot hot hot” version, knock yer socks off!
Well, esoteric beverages are certainly a noble goal to champion.
Ever tried Kinnie? The national soft drink of Malta.
I quite like it, although everyone else I know who has tried it thinks it’s horrible.
We held a soft-drink-tasting party a few years ago, picking up the oddest brands we could find in our neighbourhood, and my boyfriend wrote an article about it. Coffee soda, pretty good. Yoghurt soda, pretty awful. Also, there’s a grapefruit soda called Ting! which is just a great name.
Those soda’s look fun! I’d love to hear how you like them. Even better, I’d love to see a list of your top 4 soda’s, with fun and witty explanations as to why and how they made it to the top.
I recently tried a Kutztown White Birch Beer (completely non-alcoholic), and I am in awe of how good it is. No other soda I have ever had in my life even comes close to being as satisfying, delicious and tasty.
I think the strangest soda I ever had was a Vermont Switchel. The taste offended me, and, for some strange reason reminded me of the book Dune. Each sip was an unholy concoction of mysterious tastes that I desperately needed to figure out.
Even more recently I have tried Doctor D’s Kefir drinks. Technically not even a soda, my taste buds where pleasantly surprised while my bowels harmonized in glorious rapture.
Things I have learnt today: Craft fizzy drink (soda), it’s a Thing.
*Tips hat if fond childhood memory of “The Pop Shoppe”