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Americana Gets Huckleberry Soda Right

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[Photograph: Jed Portman]

One of my favorite things about living in Montana was picking huckleberries in the late summer and early fall. We'd sleep in, sit for a long breakfast, then drive a little ways into the mountains looking for the fat purple berries. We'd climb steep hills, clinging to logs and loose rock, filling our plastic tubs. Then, depending on who was willing to cook, we'd work them into pies or cobblers or we'd sit on the porch and snack on them until we couldn't eat any more.

One of my least favorite things about living in Montana was the proliferation of "huckleberry"-flavored items in gas stations and airports and bookstores and anywhere else tourists might gather. Alright, maybe that situation was a long way behind springtime blizzards, back roads that popped my cheap tires, and lack of employment on my list of day-to-day issues, but it got to me.

I'm all for homemade huckleberry pies, jams, pancakes, and so on, but too many of the products in stores are artificially-flavored and made out-of-state. It breaks my heart to know that so many visitors will always think that huckleberries taste like the taffy they bought at a gas station in Missoula.

Even Flathead Lake Monster—a soda that is named after a creature purported to live in a Northwestern Montana lake, but made in New Jersey—falls flat with their huckleberry soda, a morass of corn syrup and artificial flavoring.

But Americana Huckleberry soda, made in Washington state, is flavored with honest-to-God huckleberry and elderberry extracts. The aroma is more blueberry than huckleberry, and the color is the pastel purple that chemical nightmares are made of. At 43 grams of cane sugar per bottle, it is very sweet.

Still, the tart flavor of huckleberry is unmistakable. I could tell you the main ingredient if I were blindfolded and had a cold. And isn't that a refreshing thing to be able to say about any soda, especially one made from an ingredient as scarce and frequently bastardized as the huckleberry? It's powerful, too—I left a bottle open on the kitchen counter, with just an inch or so of liquid in it, and came home to find my entire kitchen perfumed with the sweet smell of a trampled huckleberry patch. If you must get your huckleberry fix from a jar, bag, or bottle, I recommend this soda highly.

About the author: Jed Portman is blogging his way to that cabin in East Tennessee, one six-pack of soda and barbecue platter at a time. Follow him on Twitter @jdportman.

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