Guest reviewer and vintage soda enthusiast George Tsakiridis returns with another review.
Let's continue our look at nostalgic, glass-bottled soda enjoyment by taking a look at Fentimans Curiosity Cola.
First of all, the name is appropriate. I definitely am curious when I read the label. It states that it was established in 1905 and is a "Fermented Botanical Cola Drink with Ginger and Herbal Extracts." What is most interesting about the label is the fact that it is listed as "Less than 0.5% Alcohol by Volume." So this had me thinking, is there a slight amount of alcohol in this drink? Well, looking at the official Fentimans blog, it seems there is a slight fermentation, and apparently the State of Maine doesn't like this, or at least didn't as of October 2009.
As per the link though, Fentimans thinks it, "…is in the right by offering our Botanically Brewed Beverages (soft drinks, or as we prefer, sodas and mixers) to persons of all ages throughout North America. In the US, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows that soft drinks and other beverages under 0.5% alcohol by volume are considered "non-alcoholic" and may be served to persons of all ages." So basically, there is a tiny bit of alcohol in there. It is even molded into the glass bottle that this is "botanically brewed."
Speaking of bottle features, it is an old-time bottle having a large cylinder with a short bottleneck protruding outward. The bottle only contains 9.3 fluid ounces, so the portion also harkens to the old days before everything got really big. It also sort of reminds me of a Jack Daniels label. By the way, in case you were wondering, Fentimans is brewed in Canada by license of "Fentimans, Ltd. Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK."
As for the ingredient list, it reads as follows, "Water, Carbonated Water, Sugar, Cola Flavour, Ginger, Natural Herbal Extracts, Colour Caramel, Phosphoric Acid (E338), Caffeine." And in case you didn't catch it, the spelling is of a British variety; it isn't that I can't spell "flavor" or "color" in the manner in which most Americans are accustomed. A 9.3 oz bottle contains 129 calories, 5 mg sodium, and 32 g carbs (32 g sugars).
Regarding the the actual taste, before I even open the cap, I notice near the bottom front of the label that it says "Up End Before Pouring." I assume this is because we can't shake a carbonated drink, but there may be a bit of settling. It also says to serve chilled, which of course I have done. The drink is a dark brown, what you would expect out of a cola, but maybe with a slightly deeper richness. I open the cap (which is a twist off) to a small "pop" and the smell of cola and some herbal aromas, probably the ginger.
The taste is quite interesting, and a variety of flavors hit me at once. I do note what seems like a mix of cola and root beer, both in the initial taste and the aftertaste. I almost describe it as a cola-root beer-ginger beer/ale mixture with the cola being the dominant, but not the only flavor. The carbonation is there, but clears easily. This may be in part because if you remember the ingredient list actually has "water" before "carbonated water." There is another taste in the background that I can't quite put my finger on. It is fairly sweet, but because of the varied flavors, not overly so. As for the alcohol, I can taste it, but wonder how much of that is because I am predisposed to taste it based on knowing it is there. As an additional note, as the drink gets closer to room temperature, I almost like it more – not warm, but less cold. Of course this is subject to preference.
Overall, I like Fentimans Curiosity Cola. It provides the feel of a drink from 100 years ago, both in bottle aesthetics and taste. It is sweet, but with a blend of flavors and an almost medicinal hint. I think it would go well with a meal, and the fact that the aftertaste is present and there is no high fructose corn syrup is definitely in its favor. I say with or without food, it is definitely worth trying, if only as a "curiosity."
Full Disclosure: This beverage was provided compliments of Old 52 General Store