Can Soda Be Beer?

Bob Barnes - Is a hard soda war brewing?

A month or so ago I reviewed Coney Island Brewing Company’s Hard Root Beer, a beer/soda hybrid launched in July that adds sugars, ale yeast and Madagascar vanilla during a secondary fermentation. Although not a huge beer-like character, it is made with beer ingredients of two row malt, caramel malt and European hops and has a slight hop flavor in the aftertaste (especially after it warms a bit), but resembled a soda pop root beer more than anything; but it was still quite enjoyable, especially if you are a fan of the iconic soda flavor.

The brewery, located on Surf Ave. in Brooklyn, New York on the same street as the iconic amusement park it’s named for,now has released two more hard soda pop versions—Hard Ginger Ale and Hard Orange Cream Ale—both of which are popular flavors many of us will remember with fondness from our youth.

Hard Ginger Ale

ABV: 5.6%

I’ve had several ginger beers in the past, some to the point of being so potent that it carries a bite in your throat similar to pepper, and ginger seems to be a flavor that goes well in beer. But that’s not what the maker of this version is going for, but instead seeks to emulate the soda pop favorite. Coney Island uses exotic West African ginger along with sugar cane and sweetness prevails. Unlike ginger beer versions, this one won’t remind you of beer, and is definitely sweet to the point that it’s hard to tell it apart from a ginger ale soda.

Hard Orange Cream Ale

ABV: 5.0%

It’s hard to relate this flavor to beer, and other than beers brewed with orange blossoms or infused with orange juice or with citrusy orange-like hops, before now I had not tried an adult beverage that reminded me of the orange sodas I had enjoyed as a child. Coney Island’s Hard Orange Cream Ale is an amalgamation of orange, vanilla and spice, and like the aforementioned Hard Ginger Ale, it too greatly mimics an orange soda, but with a barely noticeable alcoholic kick.

So, it appears both of the new offerings are more soda-like than beer-like. It’s not accurate to think of them as beer, and in all fairness the maker is not promoting them as such. These new drinks should appeal to those who like the unadulterated taste of soda without it being altered when mixed with spirits. In both cases, the soda pop flavor presides, while still containing enough alcoholic kick to make it an adult drink, but an ABV low enough to make it sessionable.

All three of these hard sodas are available year round. The Coney Island Brewing Company is a subsidiary of the Sam Adams parent company Boston Beer, which jumped into the hard soda market this past summer. It is following the success of Small Town Brewery's Not Your Father's Root Beer (now distributedby Pabst), which gained national distribution in the US in the spring and Small Town also just rolled out its Not Your Father's Ginger Ale, which is expected to reach shelves soon.

It appears a hard soda war is brewing, as more companies enter the fray. Anheuser-Busch just launched its Best Damn Root Beer and MillerCoors is expected to introduce its Henry’s Hard (root beer) in early 2016. It will be interesting to see how things pan out, and if this new market segment will continue to gain steam. Some market analysts speculate that flavored beer and malternatives could reach 6 percent of the total beer category in sales in the coming years.

The Author:

Bob Barnes is editorial director of The Las Vegas Food & Beverage Professional, regional correspondent for Celebrator Beer News and writes the Top 10 Beer lists for He welcomes your inquiries and can be reached via e-mail at

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC, its affiliates, or its employees.

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