As one of those rare and socially mysterious individuals who abstains from alcohol for reasons completely unrelated to health, religion, finances, or even just a really overactive bladder, I readily acknowledge I’ve missed out on more than my share of, uh, experiences in life. Some I don’t feel too badly about, but oftentimes I can’t help but feel a tinge of regret for having never had the chance to drive backwards through the drive-thru at McDonald’s, nor make-out with a mannequin in a department store window.
More than anything else, though, I miss having the pretentious but totally boss ability to pair foods with beer and wine, and then brag about it to everyone I know.
I’ve always suspected I would make a fine sommelier, what with my extensive background testing seasonal McDonald’s pies and limited edition Oreo flavors. In fact, I’ve often imagined myself amongst many a social gatherings, carrying on about how my drink selection perfectly matches the bold and intrepid flavors of whatever dish I’ve slaved over (or at the very least, the frozen pizza I just popped into the oven.)
Come to think of it, what makes alcohol so special that only it can be paired with foods? If you’re going to brag ad nauseam about how your bright, citrusy Chardonnay compliments the diverse selection at the Thanksgiving feast, you’d think those of us still relegated to the kids’ table could do the same with soda.
Sprite Zero Cranberry seems like it would be just that kind of soda. Forget the seasonality of cranberries at holiday parties, the bright, tart, and tangy flavors strikes me as the perfect relief for copious amounts of turkey and stuffing, with that lemony carbonation of Sprite Zero serving as just the stimulant to get those much needed second helping burps going.
Of course, Coca-Cola isn’t the only soda company to reckon just that, which is probably why Sierra Mist has been making a cranberry flavored lemon-line soda for a few years now, and why Canada Dry Cranberry Ginger Ale has been a staple on grocery store shelves each September through December.
Those sodas are good, but they do have flaws. Sierra Mist Cranberry Splash tastes too lime flavored if you ask me, while the cranberry taste gets a little too intense after a single glass. Cranberry is a great flavor and all, but there gets to be a point where it’s too much. Thankfully, Sprite Zero Cranberry doesn’t take it that far.
Appearing identical to your standard glass of Sprite Zero, the essence of cranberry hits you as soon as the cap comes off. It’s a good essence though, and not the kind of essence that involves actually standing out in a cranberry bog with your grandfather. The first taste is floral and sharp, but it quickly gives way to the unmistakable taste of Sprite Zero. For a regular diet soda drinker like me, it’s a taste that comes across as neither overly artificial nor overly lemony (as many store-brand or lesser lemon-lime sodas seem to be.) Bolstering this quality is a distinctively cranberry finish, leaving an endearing, but not overpowering, fruit flavor.
It’s very good, and pairs wonderfully with a hearty turkey sandwich. The deficits are minor; the cranberry flavor could be bolder (like you’d find in a cranberry juice) and the soda could also convey some element of lip-puckering tartness. I mention that with some caution, however, as the attempts to replicate authentic fruit flavors in diet sodas often turn out maddeningly artificial. And maddeningly artificial gives me headaches, especially when it comes to having to endure an hour at the kids’ table while I attempt to instruct little Patrick that no, in fact, the turkey leg cannot be used as a weapon. In any case, those looking for an extra cranberry tartness should do as I did and dump dried cranberries into the fizz.
Sprite Zero Cranberry isn’t quite the fruit-filled cranberry hit that Sierra Mist Diet Cranberry Splash is, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Lighter, with that distinct Sprite bite that’s sandwiched between an enjoyable cranberry essence, it doesn’t become artificially cloying or saccharine as quickly, and yields instead to the similarly non-overpowering lemon-lime flavor of Sprite Zero.
Overall, I actually enjoyed it more than the potent Sierra Mist Diet Cranberry Splash, a fact which, among other things, will likely leave me with more pours and conversation to impress upon my nine-year old cousins at the Thanksgiving kids’ table. Whether or not it can save me from getting a turkey leg thrown at me is another question still yet to be determined.
(Nutrition Facts – 0 calories, 0 calories from fat, 0 grams of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 45 milligrams of sodium, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 0 grams of carbohydrates, 0 gram of dietary fiber, 0 grams of sugars, and 0 grams of protein.)
Item: Sprite Zero Cranberry
Purchased Price: $1.99
Size: 2 liters
Purchased at: Safeway
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Non-diet tasting diet soda. Cranberry taste is floral and slightly spicy, with a smooth, non-artificial finish. Doesn’t taste as saccharine or lime flavored as Diet Sierra Mist Cranberry Splash, and has a better carbonated bite. Equality in beverage and food pairings. Pairs well with turkey sandwiches.
Cons: Lacks over the top cranberry flavor and sweetness that cranberry sauce has. Not as tart as actual cranberry juice. May lead to excessive burping. Getting hit with a turkey leg at the kids’ table during Thanksgiving.