Welcome back to America’s Favorite Soda Blog! We might start looking into upgrading to that title, as we once again set sail for a soda pop that is not well known here on our own shores. While the lovely people of Scotland gave us a great ride with their medicine-based treat Irn-Bru, today’s selection comes from the kangaroo infested land Down Under. Australian family owned, Bundaberg was referred to us by friend of the Soda Blog and all-around cool cat Britni Pepper (thanks for the tip!). While known for a number of different soda options, the Root Beer/Sarsaparilla is perhaps the most popular Bundaberg offering. Will it hold water against our Barq’s, IBC, A&W, or the countless piles of craft root beers available here in the States? Well, it ended up being a little harder than we thought it would be…
At first glance, these bottles are awesome! The medicine bottle shape and thick weight with the old timey look to the label is something missing from even the most smug of craft sodas produced in America. The sacrifice for this cool look though seems to be at the simplicity of opening the damn thing. The ritual that is required to taste a Bundaberg is a curious one. For starters, there’s no mere “cap” to unscrew or pop off, as the top is secured by an open tab over a plastic fitting with instructions openly taunting new drinkers on the cap wrapper. Before you can “pull out then up” it’s important to consult the front of the bottle as well. “Invert bottle before opening.” What the shit else do I need to do before I can taste this stuff? We began our tribal ritual of turning the bottle slowly upside down and back right side up, careful not to wake the carbonation spirits from their peaceful slumber. After bringing the bottle back to home position while standing in the living room my wife immediately ordered me to the kitchen sink to complete the task. The good people at Bundaberg were very considerate with this design, as only a mere third of the liquid from the bottle splashed out onto my shirt. This wasn’t from the carbonation mind you, but rather from jerking the bottle around thinking this was like opening a bank vault. Now that the hard part of the process is out of the way, what’s this stuff even taste like?
There’s an immediate curiosity that begins with the unique smell. The marketing boasts “hints of vanilla”, and I get that sensation, but it smells like it’s also been mixed with some kind of cleaning product. In fact, when pouring some in a glass, we weren’t sure if maybe there was some soap residue in our dishware that was affecting the smell…if only it didn’t smell just the same at the lip of the freshly opened bottle. The taste however, is much more refreshing. There’s a faint bitter edge that pairs nicely with the natural tastes of that promised vanilla along with one hundred other little flavors. It’s not nearly as “chug-able” as American sodas, and requires a sipping approach to take in all the flavors. This is possibly due to a lower sugar amount, however the nutritional facts on the label were printed in an unintelligible gibberish that one of my European friends calls “The Metric System,” so this mystery will just be left unsolved.
One last thing that should be addressed is Bundaberg’s outright encouragement to add alcohol to their line of soft drinks. Their website has a handy tool to pair whichever soft drink of theirs you have on hand with an appropriate alcohol, suggesting a fairly stout number of cocktail options. The Soda Blog staff at the TehBen labs tend to lean on the good nature (and personal plenitude) of spiced rum, so the “Bundaberg Libre” felt like a great place to start. Lime wedges muddled with Spiced Rum shaken and topped off with the root beer, and let’s just say I was cautious. The first sip was positively horrible. Bitter to the point of face contortion, I was ready to toss the damn thing in the sink. After letting it settle however, the flavors must have mixed properly making a much better result. The heavy vanilla in this blend of root beer and the pulp of the beaten lime gives the drink a frosty creamy sensation approaching the refreshment of a snow cone or root beer float. Clearly, there’s more work to be done in this medium, as this feels like Bundaberg’s true purpose.
Verdict: Bundaberg Root Beer is a uniquely flavored craft soft brew that goes all-in on its persona with old time taste and old time presentation. While the bottle itself is something to get used to, the smell as well as taste will be a journey of its own if you’re new to their flavor style. When considering alcohol, the vanilla and ginger combined with your choice spirit makes the drink truly come alive and will be a rewarding experience. To be quiet honest, I don’t think much of Bundaberg for a standalone soft drink. But I’m moving all of these little medicine bottles to the liquor cabinet, I’ve got a great new mixer.