A couple of weeks ago before the school year started, I took one final summer trip. My wife was already back at work, so I went on a solo walkabout at the Magic Kingdom. Call it a farewell to joy and sleeping late. Also, I bought a Disney annual pass in July when some out-of-town relatives came to visit. I’m trying to use it a lot to justify its purchase. So far so good.
Anyway, before I headed home on the uninteresting drive that is I-4 (incidentally I think I may have run over a deer carcass), I took a detour to the other side of Orlando to visit the 4 Rivers Smokehouse. It is a ridiculously good barbecue joint that is currently the talk of the town. Lines are always out the door. Literally. On this particular trip, I waited in line for 45 minutes (partly outside in the rain like I was in communist Russia!) just to savor their burnt end sliders. They are a revelation.
In the restaurant, the line meanders through a series of Disney-like switchbacks. Sadly, there are no cool interactive experiences unless you count the obnoxious children behind me who kept running into the backs of my legs. One about-face passes in front of a large refrigerated section stocked with all kinds of great sodas.
I was happy to see they were carrying this Sprecher Puma Kola. Sprecher is a brewery out of Wisconsin that makes a line of craft sodas that are fire-brewed. Whatever that means. My friend and soda connoisseur Kevin turned me on to Sprecher earlier this year. They do good work, and this is one of their best.
The soda has a strong nosegrope. It smells of very sweet cola with hints of vanilla.
The cola flavor is as strong as the nosegrope would lead you to expect. There are some nice undercurrents of vanilla and even a touch of cinnamon happening as well. I’ve never tasted a soda with this combination of flavors. It almost seems like it could be a holiday variety. All they’d have to do is lose the weirdo puma on the label and replace him with an equally horrible-looking reindeer. Sprecher makes some good soda, but sweet fancy Moses, their bottle labels are a disaster.
Puma Kola is sweet. One of the sweeteners is raw honey, but that comes in the ingredients list after the high-fructose corn syrup. That seems weird to me. I’d expect with all the fire-brewing and whatnot that they’d skip the high fructose corn syrup. But I’m not complaining. I’m not opposed to the HFCS. It is what it is.
I found the soda tasted the best after it started to warm a little. Not warm as in warm. Just warm as in not quite refrigerator cold.
My only real complaint is that I wish Puma Kola was more carbonated. I like fizzy soda and big foamy bubbles. This is not that. It’s very lightly carbonated and goes flat fairly quickly. Which sucks because as the soda warms and flattens, the flavors are reaching their most delicious levels. The perfect moment when the flavors and carbonation are both at their best is very fleeting. It’s like one of the Buddhist sand paintings that takes a week to make and then just gets blown away.
Just like that.
Anyway, this is a good, good soda. It’s unique and well-made and is totally worth buying online if you can’t convince your neighborhood soda broker to stock it.
And if you’re in Orlando, hit up 4 Rivers. The meat is ridiculous and they’ll drop a cupcake into your milkshake before they blend it. I know.