It was one of the best drinking days of my life...
I was in Rome in the middle of a blazing summer, en route to a meeting outside the city.
A good friend from the states had family in Rome, so I cold WhatsApp'd this guy, Esteban, and asked him if he wanted to grab a drink.
We met up for a beer one night. We got along, so we made lunch plans for the next day.
Esteban said to meet in the center of Campo de Fiori - it's a famous square in Rome with a bustling market. The center has a statue of a hooded figure named Giordano Bruno. He was a 16th century friar and philosopher who believed in multiple universes (pretty heady for the 1500s)... so the catholic church killed him.
Anyway, we're talking about drinking here...
I met Esteban and we tucked into a cool, dark trattoria - beaten up wooden floors, rickety tables and chairs. Perfect for a scorching hot day.
After an amazing lunch and bottle of wine, Esteban asked the owner for his favorite amaro (amaro is an Italian, herbal liqueur typically enjoyed after your meal). The owner said he didn't have it, but Esteban persisted.
A few minutes later, the owner slammed a frosty, frozen bottle of Amaro del Capo on the table. He left it for us to enjoy. And we did...
I don't drink anymore, but I used to love amaro.
So I was stoked when I heard Casamara Club in Detroit was making sparkling amaro soft drinks (or "leisure sodas" as the company calls them).
I ordered a case of all four flavors and invited my brother, Cary, a level one sommelier, to taste and review them with me.
Cary owns a restaurant in Georgia with a big bar and wine program. And he's an amaro fan (he's the first person to take me to Amor y Amargo - a bar specializing in Italian cocktails and bitters - when we both lived in NYC). In other words, he likes to drink.
I figured someone whose career is tasting drinks, selling wine and making up fancy cocktails could give good insight into the Leisure Soda world. (Full disclosure: I paid Cary in Costco turkey jerky for his time.)
This is Cary the Sommelier:
Cary had a clear favorite soda, which we'll get to in a minute... But let's start with the basics...
Casamara Club shows up in a nice box.
And the bottles are well-designed and retro - reminiscent of old travel posters and stickers.
There are four flavors - Alta, Onda, Capo and Sera.
I started with Capo, because, well, did you read my story about drinking Amaro del Capo?
A quick note before we dive into the review...
Don't expect an amaro replacement when you drink Casamara Club. Because it's not that. The drinks only have four grams of sugar and 15 calories (which is awesome)... so it's hard to reproduce the sweet viscosity of amaro - or even a typical soft drink.
It's a soda for adults. Something you can feel cool about ordering at a bar... not the sugary garbage most kids guzzle.
OK, back to the review...
The beginning of each review is from me. You'll see Cary's comments next.CAPO:
The first thing that hit me with Capo - my first ever sip of Casamara Club - was how subtle the flavors are.
I was expecting the same herbal, wintery blast you get from amaro... and I was initially a little bummed.
Then I kept drinking...
Capo hits you first with a slight sweetness and some bright, citrus notes. Then you get some mint. And you finish with the classic, bitter aftertaste. It's got those classic, Alpine amaro flavors. And you can almost mentally transport yourself to Italy or some other alpine destination while sipping the beverage.
It takes a few sips for your palate to adjust to the bitterness. Then you get into the groove and can fully enjoy this leisure soda.
Cary the Sommelier: You get citrus and menthol on the nose. It tastes like Emergen-C. It has citrus up front, then a minty, herbal green-tea type flavor. It's the lightest and freshest of the bunch.ALTA:
Alta isn't as sweet as Capo.
It hit me right up front with bitter, tangy orange. Then you get some subtle, berry flavors. And it leaves you with a dry, bitter mouthfeel.
It's like a bitter explosion that lingers in your mouth (don't take a description of bitter as a knock here... amaro means bitter, after all).
This flavor is more direct than the others. It mellows a bit as your palate adjusts and you let the soda breathe a little.
One of the biggest challenges with mocktails and other non-alcoholic drinks is mixing something that keeps you from gulping it down. And I appreciate Casamara's ability to do that with its soda.
These are definitely sipping sodas. Slowing it down allows you to fully enjoy the complex, but subtle flavors.
Editor's note: Cary the Sommelier had started on his turkey jerky bounty at this point. The tasting panel does not believe it tarnished his palate.
Cary the Sommelier: Alta is all citrus on the nose. I think the mandarin orange really comes through. On the palate, it leads with orange, too. The flavors change to more herbal berry notes and finish with the dry, bitter flavors that you expect from an amaro.ONDA:
Onda is light and bitter. The first taste I got was honey, then lemon. It reminded me of drinking a fizzy lemonade or a shandy, but not as sweet.
It strikes me as the perfect drink to sip outside in the sun while everyone else is fruiting their hefeweizen.
It wasn't as complex as the others. And it's easier to gulp down.
A note on Onda - it lost some carbonation when we poured it in a double old-fashioned glass. We recommend drinking it from the bottle!
Cary the Sommelier: It's super vegetal on the nose. I get a lot of the leaves, root and sage. It leads with lighter, citrus notes. Fresh lemon. On the back, you get sage leaf and rhubarb, that gives it some bitterness. It sits on the palate longer than the others.SERA:
That's what first thing I thought of when I drank Sera. Or, the more adult version of root beer, I suppose.
Sera is the "thickest" tasting of the leisure sodas. You get a strong honey flavor up front. That kinda dissolves into cinnamon, root and other flavors.
I like this one.
Cary the Sommelier: This is autumnal. You get a lot of honey and cinnamon, which gives it more of a body than some of the other ones.AND THE VERDICT IS...
After tasting all four sodas and housing some more Costco jerky, Cary and I both chose our favorite Casamara Club offering.
For sentimental reasons, I like Capo. While the minty blast wasn't as strong as I wanted, it still took me back to fond memories. My next favorite soda was Sera - the "root beer."Final Thoughts from Cary the Sommelier:
I love bitter flavors and have enjoyed exploring the wide range of flavors that can be found in various types of amaro. The flavors of the Casamara Club sodas were reminiscent of many of my favorite amaro. Ultimately, the sodas will not be an alcohol substitute for me, so I chose Onda as my favorite because it was tasty and easy to drink.
One thing I found interesting about the Casamara Club line is their ability to develop layers of flavor. You see it in great wine, whisky and even beer - flavor that develops as you drink it and changes a drink into an experience. Casamara has accomplished this in a zero proof soda, which is something I haven't tasted before.
I don't know that I will be filling my pantry with Casamara Club, but I do look forward to playing with their sodas as a mixer to see what kind of depth they may add to a favorite cocktail.
We both enjoyed Casamara Club. And I plan to order another case to keep around the house. It's an excellent addition to any bar (alcoholic or non-alcoholic).
And while I enjoyed sipping Casamara Club straight, it would also be excellent in a mocktail... or possibly even with some herbs muddled into it (reason for another article!).A few things to remember when drinking Casamara Club...
1) We'd recommend drinking this soda chilled, not ice cold. You get more of the flavor that way.
2) Do not drink the soda on ice. Again, the ice dilutes the subtle flavor.
3) Do sip this soda to fully appreciate the complex and subtle flavors.
4) It's important you drink Casamara Club with the right mindsight. It's not an amaro replacement... let's be real, nothing is. It's also a refreshing and very low sugar drink (only 4g), so don't expect the sweet, syrupy mouthfeel that you're used to when drinking other sodas.
The Zero Proof is a fan of the world's first leisure soda. And we can't wait to mix it into some mocktails and try other recipes with it.