This past week my wife and I celebrated our 10th anniversary. We managed to align the planets enough that we could take off for one night away from the kids. This was LONG overdue. Our journey took us on a bit of a drive, two separate ferry trips, and culminated in our arrival to the beautiful city of Victoria, BC. This was my first visit to Victoria, and also our first day away from the kids in a while, so we did what any self-respecting couple would do. We promptly separated so that my wife could get a massage and I could tour a gourmet soda factory.
I let the guys at Phillips Soda Works know that I was going to stop by, but they went above and beyond a simple “Hello, how are you?” They provided me with samples of their three craft sodas, they explained the history of the company, and provided me with a walking tour of their facility. This was a phenomenal opportunity! Phillips is currently NOT available in the US market. Heck, it’s even hard to find outside of the British Columbia area. Their crew gave me an under the hood look at how they tick and what their vision is going forward. So, how were the sodas?
They were fantastic! Phillips carries a Root Beer, an Orange Cream, and a Ginger Ale. They’re dedicated to producing a true high-end, natural, and distinctive soda, so they make all the syrups themselves with fresh ingredients. As a slight disclaimer, it’s a little tough to grow vanilla on Vancouver Island, but when the ingredients aren’t local they try to source them responsibly. Plus, their label art is truly inspired. It reminds me of metal lunchboxes from the 50’s. Very clever, and extremely well executed.
Let’s get down to the details…
ROOT BEER – Their intergalactic root beer is one of the most distinctive root beers that I’ve tried. The base flavor comes from molasses and sarsaparilla, but it’s highlighted with a mix of herbs and spices including licorice root, black pepper, anise seed, cloves, cinnamon, and wintergreen. Sarsaparilla can be challenging to work with. I’ve actually tried brewing my own root beer using raw sarsaparilla and the result turned out far too earthy and bitter. I’d say that the Phillips root beer comes closer to about 50/50 between the earthy notes and the other spices, but the vanilla provides a steady smoothness throughout. I enjoyed it a lot. It’s not as sweet as most root beers that you’ll try, and people expecting an A&W type beverage will be surprised. Maybe even disappointed. For me, it tastes somewhat like a really good spice cake. Or a strong apple cider (without the apples). Things are balanced and executed well. In my book it’s an 8 out of 10. Depending on the day, possibly a 9. It’s a mood drink.
GINGER ALE – I find it hard to wax poetic about this one.
It’s pretty simple, and it’s good, but it’s basically sweetened ginger with some fizz. I love ginger ale as a calming drink and this is one of the best I’ve had. It has a bit more pep than your standard grocery store can, and is probably a little less sweet.By itself I thought it was nice, but I ordered a glass of the stuff while at a restaurant in town and thought that the drink was enhanced tremendously with a slice of fresh lime. Once again, I’ll give an 8 out of 10. It’s won’t burn your face off like some ginger beers on the market, but it will wake up your palate.
ORANGE CREAM – This is the rock star of the line-up. It’s also the newest entry. It’s the first orange cream I remember trying that is actually made with REAL ORANGE JUICE! The taste comes in a couple waves. There’s a clean acid rush of sparkling orange juice which blends into a the smooth Madagascar bourbon vanilla. The last note you get probably comes from their use of orange essential oil. This helps provides the citrus smell and lasting presence on your tongue. You won’t forget that you’re drinking an orange soda. I loved it. Sometimes an orange cream can taste just like a creamsicle from the ice cream truck…which isn’t a terrible thing. This is a bit more mature and could be paired with a meal…not just enjoyed for dessert. This earned a solid 9 out of 10.
It should be obvious by this point that I’m a big fan of this company. I’d like to tell you a little bit more why I was so impressed with them. Besides the fantastic craft sodas they have an inspiring vision and also the momentum to achieve it.They gained notoriety with their beers about a decade ago and introduced the sodas within the past few years. The community embraced their product, and Phillips embraced the community right back. Phillips strives to operate at a high level of environmental responsibility, they work closely with the United Way, and they put on a variety of community events. What better way to give thanks to the people that have helped drive your success?
Above (on the left) you’ll see the tank they brew the syrups in. Also above (on the right) are the holding tanks for finished product.
Phillips creates the syrups and sodas from scratch at their facility in Victoria and even after adding capacity where they can they continue to grow. 15 years ago this was an idea, then a few-man operating. Now there are dozens of employees and a bright future ahead of the brand.
The bottling machinery wasn’t running when I visited, but imagine a Willy Wonka warehouse of conveyor belts and hoses filling up the bottles with soda and beer. One of the lasting impressions I have from this tour, though, was how much personality went into designing the labels and packaging for their product. The throw-back toy sketches and vintage colors really give a feel for the playful and vibrant personality of the company. Bravo.
If you made it to the bottom of this post, congratulations. You’re probably wondering, “how much did Phillips pay him to grovel at their feet?” The truth is, they gave me two bottles of soda to take home and half an hour of their time. I just really like the brand. Hopefully someday we can get this stuff south of the border, until then I wish you Canucks all the best with your craft soda.
Visited and sampled on 8/26/2016 in Victoria, BC. Their factory is located at 2010 Government Street, Victoria BC, but their soda can be found at various retailers in the greater BC area. Refer to their website for details http://phillipssoda.com/
Big thanks to Russell at Phillips for making this tour happen!
It was an honour (canadian spelling!) to host Daryl Allen, the Sodafry guy at our Phillips Soda Works brewery! We hope he enjoyed his time on Vancouver Island, and that the experience was enough to convince him to come back soon. Thank you for the high praise!