This post has been a long time coming. Most gastronomes have their strong points: for some it is cheese, for others cuts of meat, but for me it’s soda. Yes, gourmet sodas were some of the earliest interesting food products I can remember really taking an interest in. My aunt is responsible for getting me into gourmet soda (she’s also responsible for my love of pot-stickers at age 2). From that first sip of Reeds Ginger Beer, I was hooked. Every time I go to the grocery store, I linger by the interesting soda section for a few minutes, and more often than not I’ll buy something. I must have tried hundreds of sodas in my lifetime, and I’ve developed quite a taste for good soda. Unfortunately, the Food Emporium, which had an entire aisle devoted to interesting soda, closed about a year ago. My go-to source of gourmet soda was gone. But fortunately, gourmet soda has been catching on in most grocery stores. Even Fred Meyer has a section of premium sodas.
Having been a gourmet soda aficionado for quite a while, I have developed a few favorites. They range widely in flavor, but rest assured, they are all executed expertly. Some are very sugary, others not at all. This is my run-down of my favorite gourmet sodas. By the way, if you’ve never tried gourmet soda, go to a grocery store right now and get some. Seriously, it helps so much to be able to decipher all the nuances of flavor from a bottle of soda simply because its more challenging to distinguish certain flavors in sodas than in other drinks, due mostly to carbonation. It exercises your palette, and it tastes so satisfying. And do me a favor: drink the soda straight from the bottle. There’s something unique about the flavor of a soda when drank directly from the bottle that you just don’t get when its poured in a glass over ice. Of course, there are a few exceptions to this rule, but most soda lovers drink it straight from the bottle.
The Dry Series (Specifically Juniper Berry and Cucumber)
Possibly one of my favorite sodas of all time. Dry Cucumber has all the elements of cucumber, with just a hint of sweetness to balance it out. It’s a refreshing, light drink that is more crisp and carbonated than most sodas. This soda made me realize just how complex of a flavor cucumber can be. When I went to the International District this past week, I stopped by the Dry Soda HQ and bought a box of these sodas.
Juniper Berry has a very distinct flavor, crisp and piney, but also very smooth and subtle. It’s very much like drinking a gin and tonic, for it even incorporates some of the acidity and natural sweetness you would get from the lime in a gin and tonic. Again, it’s a perfectly crafted soda that hits all the right notes. The really delightful thing about the dry series is the calorie count: all dry sodas have no more than 70 calories per bottle, which is about 100 calories less than most other bottles of soda, gourmet and generic.
Cock ‘n Bull Ginger Beer
Of all the ginger beers I’ve tried in my life, this one is high on my list of favorites. It’s got a really rich ginger flavor, with a nice kick of spice and more mellow herbal notes. This is the sort of soda I would have on a hot day to relax or a cold day to work up. Either way, this ginger ale is sure to please with the unapologetic gingeryness that kicks you in the face, in a pleasant way of course. If you want something spicier, try Jamaican style Ginger Beer; I personally prefer a little less spice and a bit more complexity.
Okay okay, I know this is a fairly generic soda, but so what? It’s delicious! Yes, there’s probably enough sugar in it to tranquilize a small dog, but it also tastes like they squeezed the juiciest part of the pineapple into the bottle of soda. Jarritos Pineapple is also a bit nostalgic, as my aunt shared this soda with me during our summer vacations. It’s more of a guilty pleasure, but still a very formidable one. I love pineapple sodas in general (Waialua is another good one, much milder and more acidic).
Sioux City Sarsaparilla
Remember in The Big Lebowski when the stranger comes up to the bar and asks for “a good sarsaparilla”? This is that sarsaparilla, and it is a very good sarsaparilla. It’s an iconic sarsaparilla in fact, and I’ve always loved the very old school taste of it. It’s a little heavier than most sodas, like a porter amongst pilsners. Sioux City Sasparilla is definitely a soda to sip, something to relax with. It’s like root beer’s older brother, with less pure sugar and a more complex, grown-up flavor.
Hotlips is one of my favorite brands for fruit sodas. It’s a bit more expensive than a normal soda, but that’s simply because its made with real fruit. The raspberry is a wonderful example of how good a real fruit soda can be: it has plenty of pulp and packs a big, bold raspberry flavor. This is one of the few sodas that I prefer to drink out of the bottle, in a glass with ice, almost as if I’m drinking a smoothie. Again, this is a thicker soda, which I really enjoy.
This one feels like a cop-out, but I assure you it’s not. Yes, it’s a generic soda, but it’s also an iconic soda. As a drinker of soda, it is important to know the origins, and this is about as close as you can get. The first big soda giant was Coca-Cola, and the Mexican Coca-Cola still sold in glass bottles today is very similar to the original recipe. There’s a much smoother taste to this cola, and a few features that really separate it from an American Coca-Cola, such as the richness of it’s caramel taste. Mexican Coca-Cola is really the King when it comes to classic Soda.