Serious Eats: Drinks
Taste Test: Apple Soda
#1: Manzanita Sol
#2: Apple Beer
Despite being the fourth-largest producer of apple juice in the world, the United States is not an apple soda-drinking nation. Take a trip down to Mexico and you'll see market shelves stocked with it, but north of the border? It's a rarity.
Part of that might stem from the fear that apple soda tastes like apple-flavored hard candy. And while some brands fit that description frighteningly well, most apple sodas tend to hew closer to the wholesome source fruit than you'd expect.
For our blind taste test, we sampled 11 different apple sodas and ranked them. Do you have a favorite that we didn't manage to track down? Tell us about it in the comments section!
Each soda was sampled in a blind taste test and judged on the following criteria:
- Carbonation: No one likes flat soda, but too much fizz can sting the mouth and mask flavors. In addition to the levels of initial carbonation, we also looked at how quickly these sodas lost their bubbly effervescence once emancipated from their respective bottles.
- Sweetness: This is soda, so there should be some sweetness, but it shouldn't be so sugary as to become undrinkable. Does the sweetness taste natural, leaving your mouth feeling crisp and clean, or does it feel syrupy, coating your tongue? We rated them on a scale from "dry" to "sugar rush," and the best fell somewhere in between. Apples range from pucker-tart to honey-sweet, so we expected a similar range with the sodas.
- Overall apple flavor: Apples differ significantly from one variety to the next, so as with the sweetness factor, we didn't have one particular "apple" flavor in mind when we set out on this tasting. That said, it's obvious when the soda is mimicking candy and not fruit, so we judged each on its own merits.
Scores were up overall with this tasting, with most of the entries attracting at least one avid supporter. Unsurprisingly, the most popular sodas in this taste test were the ones that didn't try to reinvent the apple, but even the liquid candy sodas weren't universally reviled.
Every member of the test group scored each soda on a scale of 1 to 10. These numbers were then averaged for the final scores you see below.
#1. Manzanita Sol (8/10)
One of the few times in any tasting where every participant scored the same soda with consistently high marks. Manzanita Sol (Spanish for "little apple sun") is a predominantly Mexican soda, but it is owned by Pepsi, so it can be found scattered throughout the United States.
Made with high-fructose corn syrup instead of the more prevalent cane sugar, Manzanita Sol tastes like a carbonated apple cider, with just a hint of candy hiding the background. Moderately fizzy and pleasantly crisp, it's neither too sweet nor too tart. The best bet for apple soda neophytes.
#2. Apple Beer (7.6/10)
Brewed in Salt Lake City, Apple Beer is based on the German fassbrause, a nonalcoholic beverage made from fruit, spices, and malt extract. This version hit the market in the 1960s, and went all-natural in 2006.
Like Manzatina Sol, inoffensive is the name of the game here. Boasting a very light apple flavor, it finishes with a slightly vinegary tang. Every flavor is so subtle that we recommend pairing it with an equally light meal to avoid losing the complexity of the beverage.
#3. Hotlips (7.5/10)
Hotlips is pretty well known in its hometown of Portland, Oregon, primarily as a pizzeria but also for their locally-sourced, unfiltered sodas. People tend to either love them or hate them, but either way, their soda often easily tastes the closest to the fruit emblazoned on the bottle.
Sampling this soda is like drinking a high-quality, minimally carbonated, very fragrant apple cider. Some in the tasting group docked points for that very reason—because it didn't meet their expectations of a "soda." The flavor is deep and smooth, with a lovely bit of tartness to cut the sweetness. No other soda in the tasting had a stronger apple flavor; whether or not it's fizzy enough is up to you to decide.
#4. Sidral Mundet (6.8/10)
The oldest soda in the lineup, Sidral Mundet was first brewed at the turn of the twentieth century by Don Arturo Mundet. Now a popular staple of the Mexican and Hispanic American markets, you'll often see it sold at taco trucks.
Sidral Mundet comes in two varieties: red apple and green apple. We could only get our hands on the red apple. It tastes like a fizzier, slightly sweeter version of Manzanita Sol. Tasters picked up notes of candied apple, and one dubbed it "apple juice with pizazz."
#5. Reed's (6.3/10)
Ever make hot spiced apple cider? Add some carbonation and refrigerate it and that's exactly what Reed's Spiced Apple Brew tastes like. Reed's blends its tart German apple juice with fresh ginger root, cinnamon, cloves, and allspice for a soda that reminded more than one taster of apple pie.
The company is far more known for its ginger-centric products, but we actually preferred this apple brew.
#6. Jones (5.6/10)
When a cup of radioactive-looking green liquid is placed before you, chances are your first reaction isn't to drink it. And after the cotton candy-sugar-explosion Jones cream soda we previously tasted, we weren't expecting the level of tartness shown in their apple soda.
But we were actually pleasantly surprised. This soda tastes like an apple Jolly Rancher, with the same bite that candy is known for. There's definitely a sugar presence, but it's balanced with tartness.
#7. IZZE (5.5/10)
If you ever ate one of those Caramel Apple Pops as a kid, you're already familiar with the flavor of this soda. Sweet like candy, but cut with something that applies a mild bitterness, it's made with a combination of apple and grape juices.
Tasters also picked up traces of apple peel and watermelon.
#8. Flathead Lake (5/10)
Named for a fabled beast lurking in the depths of Montana's Flathead Lake, this soda sports the same scary green glow as the Jones version. And just like the Jones soda, it tastes remarkably like melted apple Jolly Ranchers, with an emphasis on the sweet instead of the tart.
The relatively low carbonation and intense sweetness—courtesy of high-fructose corn syrup—neither made much of a splash nor outright bombed with the tasting group. Most just found it a bit too artificial tasting and wished for a slight shift in the sweet/sour balance. As the newest company in the lineup (it was founded in 2005), we figure Flathead Lake has time to tinker with the formula.
#9. Tropical Manzana (4.9/10)
Not to be confused with the band with the same name, inverted, Tropical Manzana hails from Ecuador. It's a vibrant orange color—just like apples, right?
Tasters had a really difficult time pinning this one down. It gives off a flowery fragrance not unlike potpourri, and the flavor is only vaguely similar to apples. The real problem with this soda is that it's just too sweet. "I'm drinking candy," one taster commented.
#10. Postobon (4.8/10)
Postobon is a large Columbian beverage company that deals in soda, tea, fruit juice, energy drinks, and bottled water. Since 2010 it has been the official sponsor of all Columbian soccer leagues.
Tthe color of this soda strikes you before it even reaches your mouth—the bizarre pink-purple hue sends the message that what you're about to drink cannot be found in nature. Most tasters found it just too sweet and a little grapey instead of tasting like apples.
#11 Goya (4.7/10)
This brand fared decently in our grapefruit soda taste test, but their apple soda recipe needs to go back to the drawing board. While it gives off a strong apple scent, that boldness ends there.
Far and away the lightest of the sodas in terms of flavor, Goya's offering tasted like unsweetened, watered down apple juice. Add the low levels of carbonation and tasters just weren't satisfied.
Are you a fan of apple-flavored soda?
Have you tried these brands? Hit the comments below and let us know which one is the apple of your eye.