I'll get this out of the way: I am not a soda drinker. I stopped drinking Coke in high school when I was getting a lot of headaches, in an attempt to eliminate excess sugar from my diet, and not only did it help, but I never cared to revisit the habit. Of course, there are always exceptions and certainly I have tasted a number of worthy sodas over the years. Here are two of the best producers out there.
Almost savory, spicy, herbal, Taylor’s Tonics are newer, local sodas, and ones that truly stand out. I love the traveling sideshow, Vaudeville-like spirit to the website and packaging, which reflects the passion for performance art and flair of founder, Taylor Peck, who once even worked as ringmaster for small circuses in San Francisco and New York City. His tonics evoke an old fashioned, American medicine show vibe. Healing powers seem possible in the spicing. They also thankfully uphold a trend away from too-sweet or cloying.
Chai Cola has elements of a traditional chai but a soda effervescence and strong, pleasant bitterness. Mate Mojito is a brilliant refresher that takes the tart of lime and balances it with hints of vanilla, spearmint and Yerba Mate tea. Cola Azteca is a bold, spicy mix of coffee, cocoa and cinnamon bark. I recommend the entire line. Check out Imbibe magazine’s story of these unique sodas and their creator.
Another yesteryear presentation comes with Fentimans botanically brewed beverages, around since 1905. Fentimans covers a range of sodas from a Victorian Lemonade or Mandarin & Seville Orange Jigger (jigger being an old English word for "good measure"), the latter balancing various orange juices with fermented ginger and juniper. There's a shandy, ginger beer, and popular Curiosity Cola, a more herbal, apothecary-style soda. I find Dandelion & Burdock flavor an intriguing, traditionally English soda, infused with dandelion leaves, burdock root, pear juice and a hint of ginger and anise.
Fentiman's gains rogue status when you find out it were banned in the state of Maine to minors (read more on the company's blog). Why? Because the sodas are just under 0.5% alcohol by volume, which even the FDA considers “non-alcoholic,” but apparently not Maine, which won't allow minors to purchase a Curiosity Cola.
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