Sunday, November 7, 2021

Squamscot Old Fashioned Beverages Soda Taste Test Comparison - New Hampshire - 22 different flavors!

Here's a taste test the kids were really excited for. It's soda!
But not just any soda. This is Squamscot soda! For the past 5 generations, since the time of the American Civil War, 1863, the Connor family has been bottling sodas!

There's also a whole bunch of different flavors and we're going to try them all! A few weeks ago, I was able to find 20 different Faygo flavors. Today we'll be sampling 22 different Squamscot flavors!

And unlike Faygo, we actually get to go see where and how the Squamscot soda is being made!
Just off the New Hampshire Route 85, in the town of Newfields, is the Conner Bottling Works. Dan Conner, the fifth generation to work here, is quoted as saying "We are the last family-owned independent bottler in the state of New Hampshire. Never shut down, never stopped."

And with only a few changes, it's always been made in this converted barn out back. The sub-picture below is from the late 1800s! In 1863, they were producing tonic water and spruce beer. In the 1930s, during the United States Prohibition era, they grew their line to 14 different flavors and could produce 26000 cases a year! They also changed their name from "Connermade" to "Squamscot Beverages".  

Inside, we found Tom Howcroft (the only non-Conner) hard at work, running bottles through "Dixie". Dixie is their automatic bottling machine, installed in 1938, and she hasn't moved since.
A giant pallet of glass bottles is on the right, and all by himself, Tom keeps the bottles loading from the right, and the filled bottles moved into cases on the left. 
Upstairs is the kitchen, where the simple syrup sugar is made and mixed with the flavoring extracts they are using that day. It's piped in from up above, and Dixie deposits 2 ounces of syrup flavoring into each bottle. 
Next comes the chilled carbonated water. Originally it came from the family's well, but when the city started drilling water holes nearby, their well water dried up. Now they pipe it in from the city. 
Finally Dixie twists a red bottle cap onto each bottle, sprays it with water to rinse it off, and slides it down the line. Tom gives each bottle a flip upside down to mix the syrup before putting it in the case. 

And speaking of cases, all their different soda flavors are stocked up right here! They typically make 1 flavor a day, but can do more if they need them. When they're running smooth, they can make 100 cases with 24 bottles each every day!
They deliver to 600 different vendors in the New England area. Their most popular flavors can be found in the New Hampshire Liquor and Wine Outlets and are used as mixers for alcoholic drinks. Tom told us their top sellers are Ginger Beer, Root Beer, Tonic Water, Maple Cream, and Lemon Lime. 

Well you know how we like to do things around here. I'll take one of every flavor (minus the diet flavors)! Even Tom Conner said "I don't care for it. I know people like it. Some people have to drink it, and we make it, and let it go at that." 
Tom Howcroft went to work plucking one from each box, while we peppered him with questions about how it all works, and he told us about the history of the bottling plant. 

That's a very colorful case! Bottles are $1 each or a full case for $21. We each picked more of what we thought would be our favorite flavors to fill up the case. 

Tom - Before you go, do you want to try a soda right off the line? 
They are making Root Beer today. Yum! That's a tasty Root Beer. 

The kids enjoyed their free bottle of soda while we drove back to the RV Campground. 

Very tasty! 

Once we got home, I pulled all the soda bottles out to get a picture and lined them up alphabetically. Hey, wait a minute. I'm missing one! Oh no! 
I reached out to the Squamscot Facebook page and found that Tom Howcroft runs that too. He remembered us, and jokingly blamed Theresa for distracting him while he was getting all bottles for us. I know they were running low on a few flavors too, cherry extracts are hard to find right now, so I wanted to confirm they had them in stock too. 

Two days later, we hopped back in the truck and drove over to the Conner Bottling Company again. The kids were excited to get another free soda, but when we got there, Dixie was getting a bath. 

We met Eileen Conner, who gave me a list of all their flavors so I could be sure I had them all. I had also planned on skipping the Tonic Water entirely, but you know, it does have a flavor and sugar, so I got that too. 
They also make a seasonal flavor called Mistletoe Mist, but only during 1 month of the year. Tom said it's too early to be making it right now, seeing as how it's September. I told him that I was seeing Christmas things at Home Depot in August, so it's never too early. 
We're going to be doing this taste test with our family in Michigan and Theresa was trying to figure out if we had enough soda. These are only 12 ounce bottles, so we decided to pick up 1 more of every single flavor to make sure we had enough. 

Squamscot Soda: Helping You Wash It All Down Since 1863. 
They use pure cane sugar and the finest extracts to make their lightly carbonated soft drinks. They are handcrafted with pride. Take a trip down memory lane and enjoy! 

Alli is super excited to try them all. She loved our Faygo taste test. 
I was happy that Rita had enough room in her fridge to hold 2 cases of sodas! There's no way it would have all fit in my RV fridge! 

That's quite the lineup! 44 bottles of pop on the table. 44 bottles of pop! Take one down. Pass it around. 43 bottles of pop on the table!

I asked Alli if she could help me alphabetize the flavors. 
Alli - I can totally do that. I learned about it in school!
Her and Abby then went through and verified everything was correct. I don't want any embarrassing errors later on. Abby remarked that it was pretty amazing that the soda called Half and Half was right in the center.  

Donald came over and said "These are delicious. I can tell already. They've won me over with their marketing." 
Very bold words. 

Ethan - This is going to be like the Epcot thing, Club Cool. 
You got it!
Without further ado, let's get started! 

Everyone grabbed a small Dixie cup (very fitting, considering Dixie is the name of the automatic bottler), and Aubrey and I went to work giving everyone a taste. 

Our first 6 flavors are described on the Squamscot site as follows.
Birch Beer - A spin off of Root Beer, (an old timer’s drink)  Dark in color, has a wintergreen taste.
Black Cherry - Has a wonderful Cherry aroma. A sweet, thick, delicious, fruity drink. A personal favorite, you just gotta try it.
Blueberry Lemonade - No description
Cherry Cola - We took the smooth cola and added a squirt of cherry. It’s a nice variation of the old favorite.
Cola - One of the oldies, a light smooth taste, sure to bring you years back.
Cream Soda - Straight Vanilla and plenty of it, for an endless creamy taste.

Everyone is all smiles and excited to start. 

But with 22 different flavors, there's sure to be some favorites, but also some that people just don't like. 

Our thoughts: 
  • Birch Beer: Only the Flowers family has tried Birch Beer before when we did our test a few weeks ago. I can taste the wintergreen. Ethan - It tastes like root beer and mouthwash together. Theresa - Birch Beer is Pepto Bismol in a bottle with carbonation. It's a good thing to coat our stomachs with this before we drink all the other ones so we don't get sick. That's awful. 
Okay... so not the best start. This also started the practice of rinsing our reusable cups out when we got a flavor people didn't like, so as not to taint the next flavor. 
  • Black Cherry: Ian - Black Cherry is fantastic. This is the best one. Ethan - It's got the grenadine flavor. Abby - It's very cherryiey. It tastes like fresh cherries. Rita - It's a little lacking in carbonation. Aubrey - Way better than Birch Beer. Tyler - A little bit of a diet cola aftertaste. 
  • Blueberry Lemonade: Abby - I think I'm going to like this one. Aubrey - I get blueberry lemonade slurpees at 7/11. Tyler - It doesn't quite have the smell I would think blueberry lemonade would have.<then we taste it> Rita - Oh. Ohhh. Donald - It must be nice! Rita - It's not nice. It tastes like cleaner. Like Pine-Sol. Ethan - It's better than the Birch Beer. (approvals around the table). Cue another round of people rinsing out their cups. 
  • Cherry Cola: Donald - This is going to be wonderful. Ian - Best one so far! Agreements from Abby, Donald, Tyler, and Theresa. Donald - That's unique. It's two distinct flavors. It's really good. Sheila - It could use more fizz. 
  • Cola: It really comes down to personal preferences with cola. Abby - Better than Coca-Cola. Tyler - I'd rather have a Coke. Richard - Maybe a Royal Crown Cola flavor. 
  • Cream Soda: Rita - I'm not crazy about that cream soda. That garnered disagreements from around the table. Amy - I like Cream Soda. It tastes like there's a malt flavor to it. Ian - I love it! Abby - I really like it. 

From the website descriptions: 
Creamy Orange - Very delicious, just like a Creamsicle.
Fruit Bowl - Certainly has the fruit, with a citrus punch that leaves your lips puckered.
Ginger Beer - Look out, so spicy, it takes a special person. Some say that nothing else compares.
Golden Ginger Ale - For those that like a nice spicy Ginger taste, used commonly as a cold remedy.
Grape - Well, it’s purple, and well, it’s grape and makes you feel like a kid again.
Half and Half - A wonderful blend of Lemon and Grapefruit creating a thirst quenching citrus drink. 

When we were talking to Tom, he said that the Creamy Orange is a mixture of the regular Orange and the Cream Soda flavorings. 

Some flavors though were a very specialized taste. 

  • Creamy Orange: Abby - That's good! Like a Creamsicle! Aubrey - I like Creamy Orange. Sheila - I want it to have more of an orange taste. 
  • Fruit Bowl: This was a surprise. Everyone was expecting some version of Hawaiian Punch. Amy - Oh my word, this is so good. This tastes just like cotton candy! So good! Donald - It's half cotton candy and half Squirt. There was a bit of disagreement on this one. Some thought it was wonderful (those who liked cotton candy). Others did not care for it at all. Ian - Fruit Bowl is one of my favorites. Alli - Me too!
  • Ginger Beer: Donald - I'm going to like this one. I love ginger beer. Ian - sips it and immediately spits it back into his cup. Amy started cackling. Sheila - Anyone else's mouth burning from that one? Amy - My nose is burning. Ethan - That is so not good. The ginger beer is nasty. Ian - Least favorite! Abby - That is so bad. Tyler - That is really strong. Like wasabi ginger beer. Mickey - It tastes like ginger! I like it. 
  • Golden Ginger Ale: Abby - Better than the ginger beer. Theresa - It's like mild ginger beer. Tyler - Same flavor, but less potent. 
  • Grape: Alli - I love grape! Abby - It tastes like a melted purple popsicle. Like the Otter Pops. Theresa - I don't care for that one at all. 
  • Half and Half: Tyler - Half and Half of what? Alli - I like Half and Half. Abby - It's yummy. Very refreshing. Richard - Like Fresca. Theresa - I'm okay with Half and Half. 

Lemon Lime - We know, it looks just like anti-freeze, but it tastes so good.
Maple Cream - If you love Maple syrup, this is for you. All that’s missing is the pancakes.
Orange - Full bodied Orange flavor, just like it fell from the tree.
Pale Dry Ginger Ale - A light Ginger taste, with a hint of citrus
Raspberry Lemonade - A great summer time drink. Just the right blend between the two very different flavors. You just gotta try it!

Ethan went to the kitchen to get some pizza to help cleanse his palette. 

  • Lemon Lime: Alli - Oh it's so good! Abby - I feel like it doesn't really have a flavor. Tyler - It really doesn't. Unless the other stuff coated our tongues. Amy - Or the ginger beer burned our taste buds. Theresa - It's very mild. Mickey - I like the Lemon Lime one. 
  • Maple Cream: Rita - I'm afraid of that one. Amy - I'm excited. Around the table, exclamations of Oh My, and Wow start as people start tasting it. Joe - It tastes like you're drinking Maple Syrup. Amy - Like you're drinking Maple Icing. Makes me want a pancake. 
  • Orange: Ethan - I like the orange one. Alli - It is so good but I like Creamy Orange better. Tyler - It's better than grape! Ian - I give Orange 5 stars. 
  • Pale Dry Ginger Ale: Theresa - Oh no, more ginger. Ian - Can I just skip this one? Donald - I like it. Around the table, most people like this one better. It's got a much more mild and sweet taste. Like Canada Dry Ginger Ale. 
  • Raspberry Lemonade: After the Blueberry Lemonade, the table was a little worried. Alli - This is so good! Donald - That's not my winner. Amy - It's not so bad. Donald - I'm sorry Mr Squamscot, that almost hit my gag reflex. Abby - I liked this one. Still, it triggered another run to the kitchen for everyone to rinse out their cups. 

Root Beer - No description.
Sarsaparilla - No description.
Strawberry - Just like drinking a strawberry shortcake, delicious.
Tonic Water - No description.
Yup - Lemon, Yup, just lemon.  More than enough to give your mouth a twist.

Most of these were good, but there was one that elicited a very strong reaction from almost every single person. 

It was bad. 

Really bad. 

Like, give me anything else to rinse my mouth out with bad. 

  • Root Beer: Tyler - I like that one. Sheila - It's promising, but it has a flat taste at the end. Tyler - It's much better than the lemonades. Abby - It's got a little bitter aftertaste. Ethan - It tastes like the Root Beer barrel candies. 
  • Sarsaparilla: Abby - The Root Beer is better than the Sarsaparilla. Alli - I like the Sarsaparilla better than the root beer. Donald - I'm just getting a lot of flavors right now. My taste buds don't know which way is up. 
  • Strawberry: Amy - That tastes like strawberry Jell-O. Agreements all around, but not many who like it. 
  • Tonic Water: Questions from the table "What is Quinine?" Theresa - I'm guessing something that doesn't taste good. Sheila - Isn't quinine medicine? <then we taste it> Tyler - Oh good grief! Sheila - Oh, nasty! Aubrey - Beverly! Abby - It's worse than Beverly. Donald - And it won't go away! Amy - That is bad! Richard - That'll get ya. Ethan - It tastes like the numbing shot they give you at the dentist's office. Rita - Why would you even make that? Abby - I couldn't even swallow it. Ian - I give it zero stars. Aubrey - That's the worst thing I've drank in my life. Tyler - If we would have started with that, I would not have finished. Almost everyone left to go rinse their cups out. 
  • Yup: Alli - It tastes like Sprite. Tyler - Much better one to end on. Aubrey - It's terrible (wait Aubrey, you drank your leftover Tonic Water again, and not your new cup). Oh, okay, this is better. 

That... that was a lot of different soda flavors to try. 
Richard - That was a fun thing to do. I also enjoyed going to the bottling plant. 
Joe - Who else has a fuzzy tongue? 

What are the favorites today? No surprise there are lots of different choices for the favorite, with no flavor getting more than 3 votes. 
Some people, Alli I'm looking directly at you, had a hard time picking a single favorite. Her vote is split into thirds, between Black Cherry, Grape, and Yup. Cherry, Grape, and Lemon. She loves her fruit flavors. 

Amy likes the Fruit Bowl, with its unique taste of cotton candy. 

For Ethan, he loves the taste of regular Orange. 

Orange is good, but add in that vanilla flavor to make it a creamsicle and Creamy Orange is the favorite of Aubrey and Rich. It was a close second for Tyler. 

The Lemon flavor of Yup was the favorite of Sheila and Rita. 

The Ginger Beer is strong and spicy, but that made it a favorite for Mickey and Donald. Donald said he really liked that "hot flavor" of the Ginger Beer. 

Cream Soda was the favorite of Abby, Theresa, and Tyler. 

And Chi, Ian, and I all thought the fresh cherry flavor and cola taste made Cherry Cola the winner. 

Thank you Squamscot for making all these sodas for us to try! There were lots of laughs and we had fun with it! 

1 comment:

  1. That was hilarious (well, maybe not intentionally :-) ) and "tasty" taste test!!! Some of those "painful" facial expressions were captured perfectly. Some of the descriptions from the tasters were just too much...only some of my favorites: Tastes like cleaner --- Pine-Sol, Pepto Bismol in a bottle, Oh my word this is so good!, Root beer + mouthwash together, Oh good grief!, Beverly!, and "I'm sorry Mr. Squamscot, that almost hit my gag reflex". The Tonic Water disoriented Aubrey so much she tasted it again, thinking it was the Yup! Aside from some "painful" moments, it was a fun taste test. Like that overhead shot of the displayed bottles...unique look. Alli got to practice some school learning with her alphabetizing of the bottles...good job, Alli!. The bottling Show & Tell at Conner Bottling Works was interesting to see...thanks Tom Howcroft! EOM