Most people are familiar with the sweet sap of the agave plant as the ingredient that gives tequila its kick, but natural foods fans and picky eaters have also known it for many years as a sweet alternative to processed sugar. When Denver native Estaban Anson decided to create his own bottled and fountain alternative to what he calls the "evil empire" sodas, it was agave nectar he used as a sweetener—and as the basis for his new product's whimsical name, Oogavé.
Bottled since 2005, when it was introduced at Anson's own natural food store, Oogavé has since gone nationwide, rolling out an expanded line with plenty of traditional and unusual flavors. Committed to being the solid citizen of the soda world, Oogavé features as its selling points not only the use of of agave nectar, but also a full range of socially responsible feel-good enhancements. The company is dedicated to transparency in its manufacturing processes; they donate heavily to charities, their product is all-natural, organic, and caffeine-free, and they hype the use of Colorado's clean mountain water with the pride of a micro-brewed beer.
Of course, we here at Serious Eats know that the road to crummy taste is paved with good intentions. Many 'all-natural' sodas are a let-down, either tasting overtly medicinal, standoffish in their evocation of specific tastes, or just boringly indistinguishable from a cheaper, better-known mainstream brand. We headed to Central Market to buy up as many flavors of Oogavé we could find, and see if they'd put their money where our mouth is.
The first two flavors we tried didn't put our mind at ease. Oogavé's Root Beer and Vanilla Cream flavors were perfectly acceptable—nothing to take issue with, other than a perhaps too ambitious melange of spices in the former&mmdash;but they also didn't stand out enough to make us want to give up our normal brands. Oogavé Ginger Ale made us much more hopeful; its flavor was centrally positioned between the crisp sweetness of a mainstream golden ginger ale and the robust, spicy strength of a Reed's. It was a step in the right direction, with a unique flavor that compromised two extremes without offending. The obligatory Cola is good if not great; at the very least, it continues the argument for agave nectar by virtue of providing a sweetness that's not weak or off-tasting, and still manages to make room for familiar flavors.
The real breakthrough came with our next sample of the Oogavé line, Watermelon Cream. Watermelon is a refreshing flavor, well-suited to lighter sodas, but it's also easy to mess up because of the temptation to go sticky-sweet. Here the result so smooth and delicious, not heavy or syrupy, and the taste is remarkably accurate: this is the closest you'll ever come to drinking carbonated juice straight from a melon. The Grapefruit flavor is also done extremely well by Oogavé; it's direct and refreshing, with just a minimum of sweetness to cut into the tartness of the strong citrus flavor, leaving it almost like a summery seltzer.
Mandarin Key Lime is a nice combination of flavors, and one that provides a palatable alternative to the dissipated lemon-lime norm; but Strawberry Rhubarb is another knockout punch from Oogavé—strongly but not overwhelmingly sweet, brightly fruity, and with the rhubarb adding a distinct taste but not overriding the sunny juiciness of the strawberry flavor.
Oogavé has managed to formulate interesting and successful flavor combos in an overcrowded natural soda marketplace, and that's an accomplishment that deserves some recognition of its own. We're just glad the results are delicious.