The realm of fancy craft beverages is not limited to beers and spirits. Everything from coffee to soda has something going in the craft or artisanal arena. Brands such as Q drinks, Fever Tree and Fentimans have all stepped up to make non-alcoholic mixers to step up the cocktail game beyond the mainstays of Coke, Canada Dry and Schweppes. On a recent trip to the home-brew store, their cooler section, drew my eye and I picked up a smattering of interesting bottles to try. My tasting panel includes myself, The TruantMuse (my photographer), and 2ndTinyestBear (Muse’s girl child age 5). Despite being fermented beverages, these are all alcohol free. They lack even the warning label that might be required if you have at least 0.01% possible alcohol that you might see on a bottle of raw kombucha.
All three of these drinks are built on a base of fermented ginger extract. (Ginger, water, yeast) The process of fermentation seems to divorce most of the ginger flavor from the brew as none of them have anything like the sharp flavor you might find from a ginger beer. Each was a unique experience without any similar flavors. Additionally because the drinks are naturally fermented they have their own carbonation which is much softer than something mechanically carbonated with CO2.
Cola is a beverage with a long history and a number of fierce fans and detractors on all sides. There are expectations here that can’t really be met without a blindfold. Flavors in this drink were more complex than you might think at first, there were flavors on the front and back of the palette with some lingering elements of licorice in the aftertaste. Not tart or acidic, like some others, but it did have some similar elements to Pepsi noted by at least 2 of us. Displacing either of the big two colas is a tall order because they are both consistent, and ubiquitous. This cola didn’t knock anything out of the park and lacking a soda gun option or the cost savings of a larger size I doubt you’ll see this in anything but a specialist venue. If I did cola on a regular enough basis to need some handy I would likely select this over Mexican Coca-cola but both have their difficulties in buying any in quantity.
Mandarin and Seville Orange Jigger
Possibly the best of the three bottles. Unlike any other orange soda you might have had this is almost more like fizzy orange juice than fountain orange soda. Even the 5 year old could identify the Mandarin flavors in the soda, she called it good and finished her drink. The complex orange flavors were excellent and had a lot of potential as both a soda and a mixer for any citrus cocktail. I think a lot of what drew me to it is the lack of a syrupy consistency common to things like Orange Crush or Fanta. The second thing is perhaps a bartender’s love for citrus of any stripe. We have become inured to the flavor of the artificial orange and generally lack an appreciation for how diverse the citrus family can be. Seeing something that wasn’t just artificial blood orange flavoring as an alternative was an experience.
The only loser of the bunch. With a 1/3 rating, this drink was not well received by anyone except myself. Comments included “Metallic”, “No Lemon”, “Too Lemony”. Personally I found the drink tart and dry, which was in keeping with my expectation of lemonade in most cases. I think the second round of sweetener might have something to do with the distaste. All other drinks had only cane sugar. I’m not entirely sure what the intent was here with the term Victorian. I’m sure the story is long and involves ingredients common to the day but honestly if the drink wasn’t good there is probably a reason it’s not the kind of lemonade we make now.
This is only 3 of the 10 plus flavors that Fentiman’s offers. If the rest are anything like what we tasted I think you’re in for a treat no matter what you select.