Most grape-flavored things don't taste like grape at all—they taste like purple. Commercial grape soda walks the line between the taste of real grapes and sugary artificial flavor. Grape soda should be the non-alcoholic, fizzy sister to wine, but instead it seems to be the least appreciated of the sodas. I've had a soft spot for this deep purple, bubbly beverage since childhood, so I was inspired to make a DIY version that has a more natural flavor.
What's Available to Buy?
My favorite commercial grape soda is Boylan, which has a hint of tartness that makes the grape taste more real. (It also ranked highly in the grape soda taste test.) Sunkist and Crush are the most widely distributed grape sodas. Sunkist is crisp with a bright grape flavor, while Crush is cloyingly sweet and thick. Neither one of them tastes like biting into a grape, but Sunkist comes the closest of the two big brands. Faygo and Stewart's are also pretty widely available, but they taste more like candy than soda to me.
If you like grape soda at all, making it at home is a must. You can use all-natural ingredients and still get a soda that's bold in both color and flavor without bunch of food coloring and corn syrup. The Champagne yeast, aside from providing carbonation, helps dry out the soda and add to the complexity of its flavor. I added lemon zest for a little pop, but you could experiment with other flavor boosters like mint, cinnamon, or other juices like raspberry and apple.
I like the way agave syrup complements the sweetness of the grape juice, but you could easily use sugar or even stevia if you're into that kind of thing. Fresh, homemade grape soda is ridiculously easy to make, and it costs about $3 to make 1.5 liters, which is more than you'd pay for some of the larger brands but it's on-par or cheaper than the smaller-batch options. In my mind, the little bit of extra cash is worth the true grape flavor and extra fizziness of the homemade kind.
I mostly drink this soda on its own over ice, but sometimes I like to add a little bit of tonic water to give it a bitter edge. You can make a grape soda ice cream float or add a little milk or half and half to your soda for a creamy treat. For an easy cocktail, spike your soda with some vodka or gin, plus a few dashes of bitters.