REVIEW: Mtn Dew Black Label

Mtn Dew Black Label

I’m probably not your typical college student.

“Oh, you guys are going to a party? Which one? I was always a fan of Mario Party 4. Should I bring a controller?”

“Football game? No, but I do have these awesome Limited Edition Little Debbie Football Brownies! They’re really just the same as their Easter Egg Brownies, and…hey, where’d everybody go?”

This mindset is why Mtn Dew’s sleek new Black Label variety probably isn’t for me. It’s being sold in limited college markets until its nationwide release in 2016, so I believe the idea is that this drink would be a perfect chaser at a party or a tasty, highly caffeinated pick-me-up before a round of Ultimate Frisbee on the quad.

But this “Crafted Dark Berry” Dew is flavored with herbal bitters and grape juice concentrate, so my immediate reaction was less “cool” and more “could this be the spiritual successor to grape-flavored Mountain Dew Pitch Black? Holy s***, Halloween is coming early this year!”

So I hustled over to my university convenience store and bought a can. At the register, I considered throwing in a box of condoms to up my “cool factor” in the eyes of the cashier, but instead I bought a Hostess Jumbo Honey Bun. Oh well, 1 out of 2 ain’t bad.

Mtn Dew Black Label 2

The light violet soda looks like a cross between a mad scientist’s concoction and the Creature from the Black Lagoon’s sinister bathwater, which is the reason I poured it into a laboratory-themed cup. It certainly isn’t because I don’t actually own any real glasses. That would be ridiculous!

The carbonation here is much more mild than other Dews, producing a smooth gulp that doesn’t sting your throat. As for the much hyped-up flavor, the prominent tang of the grape juice does make it taste a lot like Pitch Black (or at least how I remember it tasting; 10 years after Pitch Black’s release, my taste buds may have become senile and forgetful).

However, the complex “dark berry” makes Black Label taste more like Pitch Black that was diluted with Ghoul-Aid and a liquefied package of Kellogg’s Fruity Snacks. In layman’s terms, this means there’s the slightly sour grape beginning, which is dark and a bit bitter. It’s almost like the folks at Mountain Dew barrel-aged a bunch of Welch’s.

This is paired with a bit of puckering blackberry tartness and hints of sweet, artificial blueberry. The added ingredient of orange juice also gives the drink a citrus finish that reminds me of 2007’s Halo 3 Mountain Dew Game Fuel (which I still have three sealed cans of sitting in my basement. Seriously, how am I not more popular on campus?).

Mtn Dew Black Label 3

This charming mixture of nostalgic flavors puts Black Label right up there with original Game Fuel in my personal pantheon of best Dew varieties. However, the mellow mouthfeel of the drink makes me wish for more fizz, as a stronger bubbly bite would likely give the drink’s sour and tangy flavors more of a memorable impact. Instead, the lingering sweetness from the drink’s 100 percent real sugar leaves me with a bit of an uncomfortable, gritty glaze in the back of my mouth.

Regardless, fans looking for a more refined and energizing Dew won’t be disappointed. And if you’re just looking to channel the ghost of Pitch Black in time for Halloween, put down your Ouija Board, ‘cause it won’t get much closer than this.

Now, as I was saying: the Easter Egg Brownies are also very similar to Little Debbie’s Pumpkin and Seashell Brownies, but…hey, wait, come back!

(Nutrition Facts – 16 ounces – 210 calories, 0 grams of fat, 85 milligrams of sodium, 54 grams of carbohydrates, 53 grams of sugar, 0 grams of protein, and 83 milligrams of caffeine.)

Item: Mtn Dew Black Label
Purchased Price: $1.89
Size: 16 oz. can
Purchased at: Campus convenience store
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: A holy trinity of Pitch Black, Ghoul-Aid, and fruit snacks. Halloween in beverage form. Junk food séances. Encyclopedic knowledge of Little Debbie. Mario Party 4.
Cons: Unpleasant throat coating. Bite strength is less “Dracula” and more “Edward Cullen.” The thought of drinking 8-year-old Game Fuel. Trading my reputation for a Jumbo Honey Bun.

REVIEW: Trader Joe’s Brownie Crisp

Trader Joe’s Brownie Crisp

Instructions for Sadness:

Don’t think about brownies.
Mmmmm…
Or fudge chunks.
Chunks?
Or crispy edges.
Edges!
In fact, just throw all the chocolate near you away.
(Slow motion:) Nooooooo!!
Your only thoughts should be about canned beets.
Ew.
And standardized tests.
Please. No.
Maybe stare at a broken clock, read a self-help book, and reflect on your recurring nightmares about the one-eyed, door-to-door orange juice salesman.
BAH!
But not brownies. Or cookies. Or both.
Mmmmmm…

Promise me something: if you like chocolate, crispy bits, fudge chunks, and crumblies, ignore the above instructions. I know I did as I grabbed these Brownie Crisps from the shelf, puzzling over the image on the polymer bag. “Is that a Brownie Brittle replica? Or just an ugly cookie? Perhaps some mutant Cocoa Puff?” Only one way to find out…

Trader Joe’s Brownie Crisp 2

Before we get going I feel the need to talk about the original Brownie Brittle. By now, you might be familiar with those slivers of chocolate crunchies, but, if not, allow me to introduce you. Brownie Brittle is a crispy, crunchy creation, much akin to a very, very thin chocolate cookie. The cookie-like shards are pummeled with teensy round chocolate chips, broken up, and served up in wackadoo shapes.

Trader Joe’s Brownie Crisp 3

As you can see by my poorly constructed tent resort camping facility, the structural integrity of these brownie crisps rivals that of Lincoln Logs. The Original Brownie Brittle was a bit thinner and more delicate, breaking into shards at the ill-angled toss of a bag. Not so with these chunks: they’re sturdy, yet also crumbly, holding an integrity that transmogrifies an Oreo with a graham cracker with an especially wonky-shaped Tollhouse. Basically, it’s a giant, thin brownie-cookie hybrid that’s been baked on a sheet, sent through an identity scrambler, and smashed by Thor (that’s how they do it in the production facility, right?).

Of course, the hybrid’s success hinges on said brownie-cookie’s execution. This one? Is splendid. The outside base starts crunchy, then disintegrates into a dutch cocoa, sugar-filled crumble. None of my crisps are burnt, avoiding the charcoal bitterness that so easily throws off a brownie corner’s game. I’m working to eat the crisp alone, but it’s hard to get a bite without konking into a chocolate chunk.

And those chunks? They’re everywhere. Scattered on top. Scattered inside. Moderately mammoth-sized. Peewee mammoth-sized. These chunks are special in their flavor’s capacity to complement the cocoa base. The chocolate here is nothing exotic. No citrus or nutmeg or hints of pine. Just some very simple pudding, butter, and coffee notes, maybe a hint of vanilla, all of which contributes a dark, melty bitterness that rounds out the sugary grit in the chocolate crisp base. I ate them. I ate them all. My regrets are nill.

Trader Joe’s Brownie Crisp 4

Of all brownie’s transmutations, this is surely its most hardship-free: crunchy, crumbly, cocoa buttery fragments scrambled with chocolate chunks. If any of that sounds like something you might enjoy, hustle on over to Trader Joe’s. While extremely similar in concept to Brownie Brittle (i.e.: shards of a brownie-cookie hybrid), these crisps are a bit thicker with chocolate chunks the size of a small child’s eyeball. I’m knocking them a few for lacking ingenuity, but, between the chunks and the crispy crumblies, these are downright delicious.

If you enjoy the last crumbs of brownie corners, make haste to your Trader Joe’s. To hesitate? Means one would miss out. This would make one sad. One might cry. One might cry a river so deep, one’s Industrial City Planners would have to construct a new bridge to redirect the water hazard created by one’s tears. Save yourself from sadness and city tax dollars. Get the brownie crisps. Nothing about brownie cravings should involve delayed gratification.

(Nutrition Facts – 3 crisps – 100 calories, 35 calories from fat, 3.5 gram of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 35 milligrams of sodium, 17 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of dietary fiber, 11 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein..)

Item: Trader Joe’s Brownie Crisp
Purchased Price: $2.99
Size: 5 oz. bag
Purchased at: Trader Joe’s
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Crispy. Crumbly. Lots-o-chocolate chunks. Chunks’ flavor complements crispy cocoa base. Structural integrity of a Lincoln Log. Chunks the size of small child’s eyeball. Smashed by hammer of Thor.
Cons: Copycat of Brownie Brittle. Won’t appease anyone looking for chewy/fudgy brownies. Bag empties quickly. Standardized tests. Recurring nightmares of the door-to-door orange juice salesmen.

REVIEW: Limited Edition Brownie Batter Oreo Cookies

Nabisco Limited Edition Brownie Batter Oreo Cookies

These Limited Edition Brownie Batter Oreo Cookies are dark.

The creme in these cookies is so dark that the cookie looks like it’s made with three chocolate wafers. These cookies are so dark that I’m afraid to eat these outside at night because if I drop one, I don’t think I can find it before the five second rule goes into effect. The cookies are so dark that I’m surprised they’re not a Sith Lord named Darth Atter.

Unlike many of the new limited edition flavors this year, Nabisco didn’t do anything special with the crunchy wafers. There’s no food coloring (red velvet). There’s no special flavor (s’mores and key lime pie). It’s the standard chocolate Oreo we all know and we all love, except for the folks who made Hydrox, and in between the wafers is a brownie batter-flavored creme.

Nabisco Limited Edition Brownie Batter Oreo Cookies Comparison

Before trying these, I wondered how different they would taste compared with Chocolate Oreo Cookies and their Jedi robe brown-colored creme. So I did something I rarely do. I bought a package of regular Chocolate Oreo. (Seriously, including the package I bought for this review, I believe I’ve only purchase Chocolate Oreo twice in my life.) And after trying the two, I have to say Brownie Batter Oreo is much better.

The extremely busy labcoat-wearing folks in the Nabisco test kitchens did a wonderful job with these cookies. The aroma that comes out of the package after opening it smells like brownie batter, and it also reminds me of the hot fudge on a McDonald’s sundae. The creme itself tastes like I’m risking the chance of getting salmonella by licking clean a wooden spoon covered with prepared brownie mix. It has a richer and fudgier flavor than the Chocolate Oreo creme. It’s delightful and I’d recommend licking it, if you’re into that.

Nabisco Limited Edition Brownie Batter Oreo Cookies Closeup

But the chocolate wafers do get in the way of the brownie batter creme. When eaten whole, I taste more of the wafers than the creme. But it does get a bit more noticeable in the aftertaste. Of course, if you were to eat these in an unconventional way, with one of the wafers removed, the brownie batter flavor definitely stands out.

If you love licking brownie batter off a spoon or, if you’re civilized, run your finger along the spoon’s head to get some of that brownie batter goodness, I think you’ll love the flavor of these Limited Edition Brownie Batter Oreo Cookies.

(Nutrition Facts – 2 cookies – 140 calories, 60 calories from fat, 6 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 100 milligrams of sodium, 70 milligrams of potassium, 20 grams of carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of fiber, 13 grams of sugar, 1 gram of protein.)

Item: Limited Edition Brownie Batter Oreo Cookies
Purchased Price: N/A
Size: 10.7 oz.
Purchased at: N/A
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: That brownie batter creme is wonderful. Brownie batter flavor without the brownie batter hazards. Better than Chocolate Oreo. Better than Cookie Dough Oreo. Cream licking.
Cons: Wafers can get in the way of the creme’s flavor. Might be on the dark side of the Force. Forcing a weak Jedi reference into this review.

REVIEW: Lay’s Do Us a Flavor Southern Biscuits and Gravy Potato Chips

Lay's Do Us a Flavor Southern Biscuit and Gravy Potato Chips

I’m an Italian kid from the Northeast, so when I hear “gravy” I think of that brown stuff you put on turkey, not the white sausage based stuff popular in the South. I also never, I repeat, never think of red sauce you put on macaroni as gravy. Anyone who tells you that’s “gravy” is certifiable. Sauce with meat is not gravy. You are wrong. Stop being wrong. You’re probably right. Who the heck knows?

Lay's Do Us a Flavor Southern Biscuit and Gravy Potato Chips 2

Lay’s Southern Biscuits and Gravy Potato Chips are the brainchild of Hailey Green from Noblesville, IN. Her idea was based on her “Nonnie’s” homemade biscuits and gravy recipe. So if these stink, I’m putting full blame on Nonnie. Moment of truth, Nonnie. Here goes nothing.

The chips have a nice gravy scent. Is that a thing? A “nice” gravy scent? Has anyone ever said, “Mmmm, this gravy smells fantastic?” There’s a very distinct smell you get when you pop open a bottle of turkey/chicken gravy or open a pouch of dry gravy mix. I’m sure it smells that way when you make any variety of gravy from scratch but…look I’m no Nonnie, I’ve never made gravy from scratch. Pity me.

My first inclination when trying a new chip flavor is to immediately compare it to a flavor I’m familiar with. With these my immediate first impression was that they were a saltier, less potent sour cream and onion. As I munched on, the gravy flavor poked through. It’s definitely there but it takes a little while to build. The flavor really reminded me of something familiar and it took me about 10 more chips to realize what it was — Stove Top Stuffing. After reaching that conclusion, I couldn’t taste anything else.

Ya know what I don’t really like? Stove Top Stuffing. Ya know what I do like? Chips that taste like Stove Top Stuffing. Go figure. Go. I’ll wait.

We good?

I’m not sure what exactly stuffing and biscuits and gravy have in common, save for the starch element and some onion powder, but they are definitely in the same ballpark. I want to say gravy flavoring on potato chips is strange, but who doesn’t like gravy on mashed potatoes? It seems dumb, but once that thought crossed my mind, I really started to enjoy these more. “Thanksgiving Dinner” was one of my contest submissions, and this might be as close as I’ll get.

Lay's Do Us a Flavor Southern Biscuit and Gravy Potato Chips 4

I wouldn’t say these chips have a kick, but they are a bit peppery. Each chip is coated with little red, orange, and black specs of spice. You’ll come away feeling like you may have possibly eaten something spicy a while ago and your mouth is still recovering.

As for the biscuit element, there’s a hint of a creamy, buttery flavor, but it’s pretty understated. I kept trying to really separate a biscuit flavor but found it difficult. That seems authentic to me though as the gravy would overpower the biscuit flavor if you were eating the actual dish. Biscuits are delicious, but are also a textural food, so you lose that when converting that flavor to a chip.

Therein “Lay’s” the problem with most of the Do Us a Flavor chips. They don’t so much stand on their own as they just make me really want to eat the food they are copying. Like right now? I want a biscuit. I don’t want any more chips. I gotta have a biscuit. Where’s that little giggly Pillsbury Doughboy bastard when you need him?

Lay's Do Us a Flavor Southern Biscuit and Gravy Potato Chips 3

These are the traditional-style chip, which was a good call on their part. I don’t think they would have been as successful in Wavy form. As I said, I want the softest style chip possible for this flavor. The Greektown Gyro flavor really worked as a kettle chip, but there is almost no chance these would have. When thinking “biscuit,” you don’t want to be crunching down on something that could crack a molar at any given second.

I find the color of the bag aesthetically pleasing, but the image of the actual biscuits and gravy are unappetizing. This is admittedly a nitpick, but annoying people tell me that we “eat with our eyes first,” and that gloppy white stuff just doesn’t look tasty. I was pleasantly surprised these turned out a lot better than the picture led me to believe.

I enjoyed these slightly more than the Gyro chips and I ended up eating half the bag in one sitting. I probably could have kept going but my mouth started to feel like the Sahara and I needed to chug an entire bottle of water. So congrats to Lay’s, the Jelly Belly of potato chips, for another successful flavor foray.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 oz – 160 calories, 90 calories from fat, 10 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 140 milligrams of sodium, 15 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 1 gram of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Item: Lay’s Do Us a Flavor Southern Biscuits and Gravy Potato Chips
Purchased Price: $2.50
Size: 7.75 oz bag
Purchased at: Stop & Shop
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: They go down easy. Stuffing flavor. Not overpowering. Nice hint of spice. Nonnie finally getting her due. Bag color. Molars intact.
Cons: Masked biscuit flavor. Bag photo. Lay’s constantly denying my submissions. “Gravy” on macaroni. Actual biscuit cravings. Pillsbury Doughboy not being at my beck and call.

REVIEW: Lay’s Do Us a Flavor New York Reuben Potato Chips

Lay’s Do Us a Flavor New York Reuben Potato Chips

At the risk of offending those of you who actually liked the Lay’s Chicken and Waffles Potato Chips, I’m of the mindset that the whole Do Us a Flavor competition has been one of the more impressive fails of snack food marketing over the past few years.

Why do I say that? Well, because I still cringe at the thought of 2013’s aforementioned Chicken and Waffles chips, my taste buds panic whenever I’m around mangos, and I still have a nearly full bag of the Cappuccino chips buried somewhere in my pantry.

Come to think of it, I probably haven’t made it through a full bag combined of the past Do Us a Flavor finalists I’ve tried. Meanwhile, my unquestionably brilliant idea for a chip based on the flavors of a sandwich — Buffalo’s iconic Beef on Weck — has been shot down each of the past three years.

Given my past history with Do Us a Flavor, I was ready to write this year off until I saw the finalist chips. All I can say is, “Nice job, America.” You’ve obviously outgrown your suggestions for flavors that have no business on a potato, and finally thought strategically about the chips you want to eat. You’ve even managed to get another iconic New York sandwich on there — the Reuben.

(Seriously, why don’t more chips taste like sandwiches? Sandwiches are delicious, and everyone likes them. Oh shit. Now that I’ve said that, one you is probably going to suggest we start making Peanut Butter and Jelly flavored potato chips, aren’t you?)

Lay’s Do Us a Flavor New York Reuben Potato Chips 2

The Reuben sets the bar pretty high in terms of sandwich flavors but man do these chips deliver, starting with this distinct caraway and rye smell that emanates from the bag. If you’ve ever been to a good, old-school Jewish deli than you know the smell. The taste is familiar to anyone who’s ever had a Reuben, with strong notes of all those classic pickling spices and the tangy, fermented bite of sauerkraut. It’s a great taste and not the least bit overpowering, giving way to a hint of sweet and acidic tomato and a more potent, but mellow, buttermilk and cheese aftertaste.

It’s really an impressive array of flavors, and one in which every component of the sandwich is represented in one form or another. What’s most striking is that none of the flavors dominates or overtakes another, an important element in a sandwich which such a heavy connotation. If anything, the initial taste of caraway, then sauerkraut, and finally tomato (the Russian dressing) and cheese, mirrors the progression of flavors you’d get when biting into an actual Reuben. Heck, even the crunchy chips have a sort of buttery aftertaste that can’t help bring to mind griddled bread, going a long way to create the flavor of not just sandwich components, but an actual sandwich.

Lay’s Do Us a Flavor New York Reuben Potato Chips 3

More than anything else, these sandwiches chips are downright addictive. There’s nothing which says passing the litmus test of a potato chip’s noshability than reaching into the bag to grab another chip while writing your review, only to discover you’ve just consumed an actual Reuben’s worth of calories in potato chips. If I do have a small gripe it’s that there’s nothing really meaty about the chips. I didn’t get the flavor of the spices that make corned beef, well, corned beef.

Given my disastrous experiences with finalists from the past two years, the Do Us a Flavor promotion could’ve struck out with me this year if they didn’t give me something really good. Fortunately the New York Reuben Chips are really good, even if the Reuben may have actually been invented in Nebraska and not New York. Frankly, I could care less what the truth behind the origins of the sandwich are. I’m just glad I won’t be throwing away another full bag of Do Us a Flavor chips.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 oz – 150 calories, 90 calories from fat, 10 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 330 milligrams of sodium, 16 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 1 gram of sugar, and 2 grams of protein..)

Item: Lay’s Do Us a Flavor New York Reuben Potato Chips
Purchased Price: $2.48
Size: 7.75 oz bag
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Finally getting a Do Us a Flavor finalist that I actually want to eat. Caraway and Rye. Awesome sauerkraut and pickling spice flavor. Distinctive taste of Russian dressing and cheese. Crunchy, buttery aftertaste mimics griddled bread. Smells like a straight up Jewish deli.
Cons: Beef flavor in the corned beef is missing. Having to supply your own over-sized kosher pickle. Someone please make me my Beef on Weck flavored potato chips!