It’s probably presumptuous to review a root beer from a small-town brewery that I almost visited. Yet, here we are. I packed the wife and kids into the car for a road trip to Medford, Oregon (we have friends there) with stops in Salem and Crater Lake along the way. Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States that was formed in the caldera of a Mount Mazama. Maybe you’ve gathered what inspired Caldera Soda Works‘ name?
Caldera Soda Works is the soda arm of Caldera Brewing based out of Ashland, Oregon. Back in 2005 Caldera became the first craft brewery on the west coast to can its own beers. This dedication to cans reminds me a lot of Maui Brewing. A lot of purists insist that a beverage isn’t actually craft unless it comes in a bottle. I disagree. Aluminum cans are a very practical alternative and probably don’t influence the taste of the beverage nearly as much as people assume. In fact, since the cans are completely airtight and don’t let in light they probably preserve the original flavor better than glass. Anyway, Caldera uses mountain water (the water in the PNW does taste amazing), cane sugar, and other high quality ingredients to make their sodas. I wasn’t actually able to continue down to Ashland (about 30 minutes from Medford), but I tracked down some cans at the Medford Food Co-op.
Please read to the end, but I actually didn’t care for the root beer when I first tried it. Caldera has a pattern of keeping sugar content low in their soda line, and the root beer only has 15 grams in a 12 ounce can. That translates to 70 calories per can. I love that they’re using real cane sugar but dialing down the sweetness in order to achieve a lighter soda, but with the danger is the soda drinking more bitter than someone might prefer.
I think that’s what happened for me with the root beer. The soda is a bit dry to begin with, and the high quality root beer extract really leans into the bitter flavors of the base roots. On its own it came across as aggressively bitter without the sweet balance of a fully sugared brew. I also expected some more vanilla notes to balance the earthiness, but I couldn’t pick it out. For me it was about a 7 out of 10 on my rating scale.
Stay with me. I didn’t give up there. Since I had to buy full six packs of each of the three sodas available I had several more cans to experiment with. Turns out I only needed one to prove my hypothesis. I figured that since the soda wasn’t very sweet on its own that it would pair extremely well with a high quality vanilla ice cream for a balanced root beer float. I used Hagen Daaz vanilla, a frosted mug, and about half a can of the Caldera root beer. After eating the ice cream in the float I diluted the remaining liquid with the other half of the can and tried the result. It was perfect. Sometimes a root beer float will end up too sweet because you have ice cream with a high sugar soda. That’s definitely not the case here. It still tastes like a treat, but significantly lighter than comparable brews.
In the context of a root beer float this is an easy 8 out of 10 on my rating scale. You’re getting a bold and earthy root beer with a creamy vanilla infusion from the ice cream. I highly recommend trying this combination. The root beer is fine on its own, and if you need something light in sugar then it’s right up your alley, but my preference falls with the combination.
You can find my other two Caldera reviews by clicking this link (assuming that I’ve finished writing them). They won’t be as long as this review, but overall I’m really happy with my Caldera experience. Hopefully I can visit the brewery (and restaurant) on my next road trip to the southern Oregon border.
Sampled in April 2018, purchased at the Medford Food Co-op (took a few phone calls to Caldera distributors to figure out where I could find it, but you might find some close to you)