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[Photo: Robyn Lee]

There is a magical sandwich shop in Philadelphia called Paesano's; I can't drive through Philly without stopping by. But almost as much as those sandwiches (the Arista is my go-to), I look forward to Hank's Gourmet Soda, a brand local to the Philadelphia area that is starting to make inroads elsewhere.

Hank's, best known for its root beer, also has a line of other beverages: Black Cherry, Vanilla Cream, and Orange Cream. Ed Levine is more than a little opinionated about root beer, so I sought his opinion. The first words out of Ed's mouth after tasting the diet soda were: "Well, it's not Barq's Diet"—his gold standard. (Maybe I should have picked some one a little less opinionated for this one.) "You know what it is, the front of the sip is okay. But in the back it trails off."

I agree with Ed: Hank's is kind of weak on root beer flavor; it gives you a lot up front, but then falls off in the back of the sip. Their Vanilla Cream has a very balanced flavor, strong on genuine vanilla flavor, more of a "vanilla" soda than a "cream" one; their Orange Cream favors orange over cream—not too acidic, the cream evening out the crisp. And not too sweet, though it smells like an orange creamsicle.

The star of the show, though, is their Black Cherry. I think this is my favorite soda of the year, and one of my favorites of all time. Hank's brews a deep black cherry, not a light, "red" cherry. It's sweet, but not too sweet, cherry, but not too cherry; mellow, like its cream counterparts. But it's got a thick and rich body, almost like an elixir. It's Black Cherry the way it should be.

Overall, I think Hank's soda mirrors the Philadelphia region itself: full of interesting flavors with a good balance, mellow and substantial instead of flashy or brash. Any one of their flavors is going to be a good, refreshing complement to a burger or Paesano's sandwich. But the Black Cherry is the real can't-miss.

About the author: John M. Edwards, resident parasite at Serious Eats World Headquarters, can eat tall Double Downs in a single bite. Follow him on Twitter.

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