THE UNITED STATES OF SODA
Coca-Cola and Pepsi may be skyscrapers on the soda landscape, but regional soft drinks bubble on in nearly every corner of the country. In fact, we're in the midst of a soda renaissance of sorts—interest in microbrewed beer has spilled over into the pop world, resulting in more than a few new local labels (the ones with the zany designs, inevitably). Brake for these bottles as you travel, or order some faraway fizz from Pop the Soda Shop (877/767-7632; www.popsoda.com) or ifs ands & butts (888/712-8887; www.ifsandsbutts.com), a Dallas soda bar that serves—and ships—130 flavors. Below, our coast-to-coast favorites.
Big Red, Texas
Pure Lone Star ingenuity, dating from 1937—a smooth, bubble-gum-flavored soda that makes you yearn for the heat of a Texas highway.
Green River, Minnesota
A shamrock-hued elixir. Like a zesty lime lollipop, but with thirst-quenching sparkle (and it won't turn your tongue green!).
Moxie Original Elixir, Maine
Gingerbread spiciness, tamarind sweetness, and a tart gentian-root finish add up to a serious soda.
Mad River Flying Kiwi Berry, Vermont
Take a slug of this newcomer with a strawberry-yogurt character and you'll kick off your Birkenstocks.
Squeeze Black Raspberry, Massachusetts
The recipe's a closely guarded, 80-year-old family secret. Like a pint of raspberries, only a lot more sweet.
Sodawerks White Tail Birch, Pennsylvania
A peppy tonic with sinus-clearing wintergreen zing (and real cane sugar!) that'll shake your molars.
Dominion Root Beer, Virginia
Ginger and chocolate notes round out this brew, whose richness comes from Virginia honey and yucca.
Red Rock Premium Cola, Georgia
Like drinking a vanilla Coke and eating caramels at the same time. A rare indulgence since 1885.
Cheerwine, North Carolina
Potent black-cherry roundness with a medium-high bubble factor and a hint of mint. Red tongue, for sure!
Sun Drop, North Carolina
Full-bodied citrus soda more lemon than lime, and with the creamy tang of lemon-meringue pie. Yum.
As tropical and peppery as a ginger ale can be in the middle of Appalachia.
Pearson Bros. Root Beer, California
San Franciscans dig this not-too-sweet root beer with the maltiness of Necco wafers.
Cock'n Bull Ginger Beer, California
Fresh ginger flavor, mild heat, and live-wire fizz invented at Hollywood's Cock'n Bull Pub.
Borgnine's Coffee Soda, California
Ernest takes his Italian roast the way we like it: black with plenty of sugar. Elegant—if that's possible.
THE WIDE, WIDE WORLD OF POP
Ready to dip into some foreign waters?Every country has its own peculiar soft drinks (Japan's Lactia or Vegitabeta, anyone?), but the not-so-surprising truth is that Coca-Cola owns pretty much every last tiny brand. India's Thums Up?Yeah, that's Coke's too. The good news is that you don't have to take a soda-centric trip around the world to do some serious taste testing. Instead head to Atlanta's World of Coca-Cola museum (55 Martin Luther King, Jr., Dr.; 404/676-5151), where, in the international tasting room, you can get free refills of 22 different drinks. Take advantage of the free-flowing fountains by doing some mixing and matching sodas (try Israel's lemony Kinley with a splash of New Guinea's Fanta Raspberry, and voilà!raspberry lemonade). A word of warning: Coca-Cola's taste-testers weren't kidding when they classified Italy's Beverly as a "bitter apéritif." Eeew. For an abbreviated international pop tour, check out the eight sodassuch as China's watermelon-flavored Smartstocked at Ice Station Cool in Future World at Epcot (I-4, exit 26B, Lake Buena Vista; 407/824-4321). This "refreshment research center" is owned, of course, by Coke.