Serious Eats: Drinks

Soda: Taylor's Tonics Holiday Fizz

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[Photograph: Jed Portman]

Last week, I tried Taylor's Tonics. Impressed, I went back to Cost Plus World Market last night to buy the brand's Holiday Fizz four-pack, which includes sodas called "Gingerbread House," "Eggnog Fizz," "Candy Cane Shake" and "Cranberry Dream." Risky propositions all, save maybe the cranberry. Or so you'd think, before you see that the cranberry soda is flavored with pine needles, to create the impression of "holiday berries strung along an evergreen garland."

On paper, the flavors brought to mind Jones Soda's Thanksgiving Holiday Pack, a noble concept that prioritized novelty over taste (and that's hardly criticism—I don't think that Turkey & Gravy soda can be done well, but appreciate Jones for giving it a shot).

While Taylor's Tonics specializes in novel drinks—see last week's review of the Chai Cola and Maté Mojito sodas for evidence—it is also a company rooted in sophisticated flavor and quality ingredients. According to the press release that accompanied the first roll-out of Holiday Fizz sodas, in 2011, the four flavors were chosen from a roster of thirty through a careful testing process.

Some soda companies take license with their inspirations. We drink "orange" soda that doesn't taste a thing like oranges, "lemon-lime" soda that's just a step away from sugar-water, and murky colas with no clear precedents in food or beverage.

The Gingerbread House, by contrast, tastes exactly like gingerbread, heavy with sweet molasses, clove, and cinnamon. Were you to puree gingerbread, soak it in water, and strain the mix, you might arrive at a reasonable facsimile. The same can be said for the Candy Cane Shake. The smell is unmistakably that of candy cane, as is the taste—a strong pink peppermint, bolstered by vanilla, medicinal at room temperature but light and wintry when chilled.

The most exciting thing about the Cranberry Dream is the heavy dose of pine, from a sparkling-water base infused with balsam fir needles and an added dash of Douglas fir flavoring. You feel, first, like you're drinking cleaning fluid, then adjust to the pine flavor, and enjoy it. Sip-by-sip, the pine begins to overpower the cranberry, and you don't mind. If there is a better way to capture holiday spirit than the scent of fresh-cut pine, I have yet to see it. This drink takes that one step further, into flavor, with tasty—if intense—results.

The Eggnog Fizz is the only forgettable soda of the bunch. Considering its name, maybe we should count our blessings. What could have been a truly bizarre soda tastes instead like cream soda with a heavy dose of nutmeg.

All in all, this is collection is both highly novel and decently drinkable—a rare combination sure to impress folks at your holiday-season get-togethers.

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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