REVIEW: Crystal Pepsi (2016)

Crystal Pepsi (2016)

Full disclosure: I’m a Coke person. But I like Pepsi.

The sweetness of a cherry Pepsi contrasts particularly well with the sodium bomb of an extra crispy two-piece KFC meal, flanked with a side of comfortingly bland mac and cheese. And on Friday nights before I knew anyone with a car, Pizza Hut would deliver a meat-lovers pizza to the house, accompanied by bulbous onyx two-liter tanks of soda—always Pepsi.

I just like gross, adult stuff now: Bitter, sour, spicy, stuff that tastes like medicine, Coca-Cola. I like the harsh carbonation of Coca-Cola. If we’re picking teams, I’m Team Coke. But Pepsi is fine. And I definitely got my mother to buy me Crystal Pepsi multiple times the twenty-or-so odd years ago it was available.

Crystal Pepsi is back. It’s visually striking, the label’s bold blue and red logo against a foggy clear backdrop. The nostalgia factor is enough to get one buy out of me, but even on pure aesthetics, it’s compelling. A 20-ounce bottle of regular Pepsi looks like a familiar product. A 20-ounce bottle of Crystal Pepsi looks like the absence of Pepsi. It looks naked, vulnerable, honest even. It looks like it’s missing something. And it is.

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What Crystal Pepsi lacks is the almost-metallic taste that hits the back of the throat that regular Pepsi has. It’s hard to tell if the subtraction of the caramel coloring is the reason for this, but without the light medicinal quality, it kicks the balance of the drink into being really sweet. I would say too sweet. If you took a poll of what people thought of OG Pepsi, I think a lot of the answers would be “sweet,” especially in comparison to Coke. So this is even more than that.

At first taste it has the same sugary hit of Pepsi regular. Without the complexity of the rest of Pepsi regular, though, it seems like the soda boosts into maple syrup, lip-curling sweetness territory. I would have assumed a taste test between Crystal and regular would have been at least interesting, but it’s really not difficult to tell them apart. It’s an entirely different beast. It carries the lightness of a ginger ale with the sugary ceiling of an apple juice.

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Crystal Pepsi also has a smoother finish, and the carbonation is less harsh than most other sodas, so the texture in the mouth is also not compensating for the added perceived boost in sweetness. The sugar contents compare to regular Pepsi, however, and the ingredient differences are “gum arabic” and “sodium citrate.” Sure. Who knows what that means. Crystal Pepsi does now contain caffeine, which it didn’t have in the 90’s. So for people looking for a weird ass coffee replacement, that’s good information. “Nothing better in the morning than a cheese Danish and a mug of hot Crystal Pepsi.”

With 90’s nostalgia in full swing, Pepsi is surfing the trend wave. I mean, look at that label. I can’t remember if this is how Crystal Pepsi tasted like this in the 90’s but if it did, it was too sweet then. I probably just didn’t care. I was too busy playing pogs at Taco Bell while listening to Dookie. Now I sit in my breakfast nook and do my taxes and listen to a self-made Train’s Greatest Hits. And I drink Coke. Diet Coke. You got me to buy one, Crystal Pepsi. But I think that’s all you’re gonna get.

(Nutrition Facts – 20 oz – 250 calories, 0 grams of fat, 90 milligrams of sodium, 69 grams of carbohydrates, 69 grams of sugar, 0 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $1.89
Size: 20 fl oz
Purchased at: Walgreens
Rating: 3 out of 10
Pros: Nostalgia factor. Nice looking label.
Cons: Too sweet.

REVIEW: Pepsi 1893 Original Cola

Pepsi 1893 Original Cola

Ah, good ol’ 1893. What a year.

Who could forget Grover Cleveland’s riveting inauguration speech? The first commemorative postage stamps were displayed at the Chicago World’s Fair. The most beloved Marx Brother, Gummo, entered the world. And it was with a heavy heart that we said goodbye to the 19th President of the United States, Rutherford B. Hayes.

While it could be argued the Supreme Court legally declaring the tomato a vegetable was the single biggest event of 1893, I would counter with the invention of Brad’s Drink. “Who’s Brad, and why should I care about his drink,” you ask? Why “Brad’s Drink” was the original name of one Pepsi Cola.

Now here we sit 123 years later with the release of Pepsi 1893. Brad would be proud.

1893 claims it’s a “bold” spin on an original cola, but I’m not sure “bold” was the best word to use. I was expecting to be hit with something completely foreign, but in reality it wasn’t that much different than what I’m used to.

In order to truly see what the hubbub was about, I picked up a 2016 Pepsi to compare.

Pepsi 1893 Original Cola 3

1893 looks and smells exactly the same, but it’s not as sweet as the current Pepsi formula.

It almost tasted a bit watered down, and like a mixed cocktail. Now I realize not everyone drinks alcohol, but if you’ve ever had a Jack and Coke Pepsi, I swear this tasted like a very weak version of that. It’s as if the bartender filled my glass to the brim with Pepsi, and then dropped a thimble worth of whiskey in. That said, I’m a Jack and Coke guy, so that actually worked for me.

If it interests you, I believe 1893 would make a really strong mixer. A “Jack and 1893” is a hipster drink if I’ve ever heard one.

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For the non-drinkers (Don’t drink, kids!) think of the “Real Sugar” Pepsi (1893 is made with Fair Trade Certified sugar). Now think about leaving a glass of it with a couple ice cubes on the counter for an hour. Now take a sip. The carbonation level here is not in the ballpark of what you’re used to, and it’s not a bad thing. I try not to drink soda too much these days, so every time I do, I get hit with what I call “bubble burn.” Regular Pepsi was like a shock to my system after drinking 1893.

I assume the slight taste difference is from the aromatic bitters and the natural kola nut extract, but I’m not gonna lie about knowing exactly what those taste like. I’ve never even seen a kola nut. Anyone who takes a sip of this and says “I can definitely taste the natural kola nut extract” is a try hard and you shouldn’t be their friend. Vin is your friend.

Beyond that, 1893’s can style is pretty deceptive looking. I imagine I’m not the only one who thought Pepsi may have gotten into the cola energy drink game. That being said, it’s a cool, sleek, “old school” style, and I dig it.

In the end, it’s just a slightly different Pepsi. If you’re looking for a huge difference, you’re not gonna get it. If someone three-card Monte’d 1893, Real Sugar Pepsi, and regular Pepsi and asked which was the “original” recipe, you’d pick 1893 without flinching, but that’s not a knock. This is a solid spinoff.

We also reviewed 1893 Ginger Cola! Click here to read our review.

(Nutrition Facts – 150 calories, 0 grams of fat, 55 milligrams of sodium, 40 grams of carbohydrates, 39 grams of sugar, and 0 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price: $1.29
Size: 12 fl oz. can
Purchased at: Wegmans
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Sleek Retro Can. Not as sweet. Less bubble burn. Cola with a K. No high fructose corn syrup. Wikipedia. Learning about the year 1893. Gummo love. Vin as a friend.
Cons: Not a massive difference. Tastes like a weak cocktail. Rutherford B. Dead. No one’s ever asked for a “Jack and Pepsi.” Tomato is a fruit!

REVIEW: Pepsi 1893 Ginger Cola

Pepsi 1893 Ginger Cola

“Excuse me, Mr. Cashier? Could I speak to your manager? I don’t want to make a scene, but all your cans of soda expired 123 years ago!”

Damn it, Dad. Get off my computer! Who said you could write the first line of my review?

While I lure my dad away with Home Depot coupons and History Channel DVDs, here’s a brief history lesson on Pepsi’s new 1893 soda line: coming in both Original and Ginger, these retro premium colas are based on “Brad’s Drink,” an 1893 Pepsi-Cola predecessor created by Pepsi founder and distinguished Walt Disney lookalike Caleb Bradham.

Like Brad’s Drink, Pepsi 1893’s base recipe contains, amongst other things: carbonated water, real sugar, African kola nut extract, and vaguely named “spices.” Ginger is obviously the lead spice in this variety I tried, so until soda historians uncover the secret formula for “Beckham’s Drink,” fans of Posh will have to settle.

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I poured my classy Pepsi into the classiest glass I own (there are pretty much 1,893 different Pokémon by now, right?) and admired its amber caramel hues before sipping with my pinky out. As with any brown liquid I’ve ever photographed, pictures don’t do it justice. Interpret that as you will.

Original 1893 comes in a black can, while Ginger’s is sleek and copper-colored. If you stack them Voltron-style, you can make a drinkable Duracell battery. I only mention this because Ginger 1893 is exactly the soda I imagine a post-apocalyptic steampunk cyborg would swig for energy before busting fiendish intergalactic prospectors.

This is because even though its carbonation is a bit light (Dad: “you’d be flat too after a century on the shelf!”) this soda has a bite. The ginger taste hits quickly, but don’t expect molasses and liquefied gingersnaps. This spice is fiery, floral, and folk medicine-y.

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The kola cola taste is intriguing: it’s definitely nuttier, earthier, and more “authentic” than run-of-the-mill Pepsi, but it also seems to exist separately from the carbonated sugar water rather than being blended smoothly into it. Coupled with the sweetened water’s granulated sugar flavor, it’s like Nesquik, just with cola instead of chocolate, and a ginger root instead of a stirring spoon.

A tingling burn of caramel and ginger lingers long after each drink, but this warming sensation becomes pleasant and cara-mellow as it spreads into my stomach. Designated drivers of the world, take note: Ginger 1893 might spice up your sober night a little.

As for everyone else, your enjoyment of this cola will depend entirely on your fanaticism for ginger as a spice, because the sizzling ginger here is more fiery and overbearing than Guy Fieri on fajita night.

In short: it’s a much angrier Vernors. To use a reference non-Michiganders will understand: it’s like that Jolly Reindeer soda Coca-Cola brought to Freestyle machines last Christmas, except this time the reindeer kicks you in the throat after each sip.

As for me, the spice is simply too much for my baby tongue. I think I’ll stick to the Original Pepsi 1893 so I can more richly appreciate the kola nut flavor. Should the desire for a sweet ginger soda ever strike me, I can always sadistically dunk a freshly baked gingerbread man into the bubbling brown liquid until the goofy smile melts from his face.

I’ll see you in therapy, Caleb Bradham.

We also reviewed 1893 Original Cola! Click here to read our review.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 can – 150 calories, 0 grams of fat, 55 milligrams of sodium, 40 grams of carbohydrates, 39 grams of sugar, and 0 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price: $1.69
Size: 12 fl oz can
Purchased at: Meijer
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Warm ‘n’ bubbly in my belly. Cool kola nut nuttiness. Elegant Pokémon chalices. The Continuing Adventures of Duracell Voltron.
Cons: Hot ‘n’ spicy in my throat. Ginger was not applied gingerly. 19th century Nesquik Bunnies. Dad jokes. Guy Fieri’s dinner parties.

REVIEW: Pepsi Max Cherry Blast

Pepsi Max Cherry Blast

To be honest, I thought Pepsi Max would’ve been discontinued by now. Because it seems every beverage and snack that I love ends up being removed from shelves. I’d list all of the discontinued products, but I’m not in the mood to cry right now.

For those of you not familiar with with Pepsi Max, it’s a sugar-free, zero calorie cola with ginseng extract and nearly twice the caffeine of regular and Diet Pepsi. It’s been around since 2007 and it competes in the same market as Coke Zero, which is the diet colas with black labels market.

Although it’s a diet soda, it tastes different than Diet Pepsi. Pepsi Max is sweetened with aspartame and ace-K, while Diet Pepsi has just aspartame. This difference gives Pepsi Max a less harsh artificial sweetener aftertaste.

It’s a favorite of mine mostly because of the higher caffeine content. A 20-ounce bottle has 115 milligrams of sweet, sweet caffeine.

Although it’s been around for a while, Pepsi Max has had only one new variety in the U.S. market — Pepsi Max Cease Fire. But that changed recently with the introduction of Pepsi Max Cherry Blast. Hey, I just realized the name kind of rhymes. I guess that’s why Pepsi didn’t call it Wild Cherry Pepsi Max. The soda only comes in 16-ounce tall boy cans, is a 7-Eleven exclusive, and I love this soda…aspartame and all.

I’m a fan of Pepsi Wild Cherry and Diet Pepsi Wild Cherry, and their syrupy artificial cherry aroma and flavor. If you’ve never experienced either soda, their cherry flavor is a hypersweet candy version of cherries, but for some it makes them wonder if they’re drinking cough syrup. Even though some folks think it tastes like something from the cold medicine aisle at your local Walgreens or CVS, I love that cherry flavor and it goes extremely well with Pepsi Max.

I. LOVE. PEPSI. MAX. CHERRY. BLAST.

Pepsi Max Cherry Blast Closeup

I’ve purchased five cans of Pepsi Max Cherry Blast over the course of a week. If that’s not love, then I don’t know what is.

Although, to be honest, I think a major reason of why I love this soda so much is because, after drinking enough regular Pepsi Max to fill a few bathtubs over the years, my taste buds have gotten extremely tired of it and they yearned for something different.

As much as I love the flavor and the 92 milligrams of sweet, sweet caffeine in each can of Pepsi Max Cherry Blast, I do wish it was available in other sizes and stores. Also, I wish I knew if it’s a regular flavor or if I should prepare myself emotionally for when it gets discontinued.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 can – 0 calories, 0 grams of fat, 50 milligrams of sodium, 0 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of sugar, and 0 grams of protein.)

Item: Pepsi Max Cherry Blast
Purchased Price: 99 cents
Size: 16 oz. can
Purchased at: 7-Eleven
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: I love this soda. If you enjoy Diet Pepsi Wild Cherry and want more caffeine, this soda will definitely do. Finally, another Pepsi Max flavor! Has 92 milligrams of sweet, sweet caffeine.
Cons: Non-diet soda drinkers will not like it. Those who think the cherry flavoring tastes like cough syrup will not like it. 7-Eleven exclusive and only available in 16-ounce cans. The possibility that it’ll get discontinued.

REVIEW: Pepsi Pink (Japan)

Pepsi Pink (Japan)

When I think of pink, the first three things that come to my mind are Hello Kitty, pink lemonade, and the backsides of casual Victoria’s Secret clothing.

The fourth thing that comes to mind is Pepsi Pink from Japan. For most people, the fourth thing would probably be flamingos, roses, the My Little Pony Pinkie Pie, the singer Pink, breast cancer awareness, Pink Floyd, pigs, the Powerpuff Girl Blossom, Valentine’s Day, tongues, the Pink Power Ranger, or raw meat.

But for me it’s Pepsi Pink because, when it originally came out in 2011, I didn’t spend the $12 or so at an online Japanese snack store to have a bottle shipped to me, making it one of the few Pepsi flavors from Japan I haven’t tried. I guess you could say it’s my pink whale.

With its color and the fact that Japanese snack companies are known for coming up with weird flavors, you might think Pepsi Pink has an unusual flavor, like roses, pigs, or raw meat. Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you kreatophagists out there, Pepsi Pink is strawberry milk flavored.

Pepsi Pink (Japan) Closeup

It has an sickly sweet strawberry aroma that’s also slightly floral. It’s what I imagine the Care Bear’s Care-a-lot smells like. The strawberry flavor is a hyper-sweet, artificial version of strawberry. They kind of taste like the strawberry bon bons hard candy that are seen only around Halloween.

The back end of each sip is a bit more interesting because that’s where the “milk” flavor kicks in. Its sweetness and flavor makes it taste more like artificial cream than artificial milk. Also, the milkiness reminds me of another Japanese drink I’ve had. It might be Calpis, but I’m not 100 percent sure.

As for its cola flavor, even though the word “cola” is printed in big letters on the bottle, there isn’t any.

Pepsi Pink is okay, but I couldn’t drink the entire bottle in one sitting. I could only take its sweet and artificial flavor in small doses.

I’m glad I finally conquered my pink whale, but, much like most Japanese Pepsi flavors I’ve tried, I don’t have the urge to buy more.

(Nutrition Facts – 100 ml – 47 kcal, 0 grams of fat, 15 milligrams of sodium, 11.8 grams of carbohydrates, and 0 grams of protein.)

Item: Pepsi Pink (Japan)
Purchased Price: $3.50 (plus shipping)
Size: 490 ml
Purchased at: J-List
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Strawberry flavor reminds me of strawberry bon bon. Milky flavor reminds me of Calpis (I think). Finally conquering my pink whale. Not raw meat flavored.
Cons: Only available in Japan. No cola flavor. I could only take its sweetness and artificialness in small doses. Slight floralness isn’t for everyone.

REVIEW: Pepsi True

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High fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners. To some, they’re just ingredients on a label. To others, they’re a plague that has destroyed society. To me, they are the sweeteners that’ll haunt my liver for the rest of my life.

You will not find high fructose corn syrup or artificial sweeteners in the new Pepsi True. Instead, you will find and taste old school and new school plant-based sweeteners — sugar and stevia. There’s also carbonated water, caramel color, phosphoric acid, natural flavor, and caffeine.

Don’t let the green can fool you. It’s not a natural, environmentally friendly, St. Patrick’s Day celebrating, green tea containing, or 4/20 celebrating version of Pepsi. (Although I do imagine the can is bong-able.) It’s just a cola for those who stay away from high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners. Coca-Cola has a similar product on the market called Coca-Cola Life.

However, while Coca-Cola Life can be purchased from stores, the only way to get your hands on Pepsi True is through online retailer Amazon. And you can’t just buy a 12-ounce can, a six-pack, or a 12-can fridge pack. You have to buy a nine dollar, 24-count case made up of adorable 7.5 ounce cans. Right now I imagine some of you doing math in your head. Stop what you’re doing and let me be your abacus.

SPOILER ALERT: Buying a case of Pepsi True from Amazon is pricey.

A 12-pack of regular Pepsi/Diet Pepsi/Pepsi Next in 12-ounce cans go for around three bucks. So if 24 cans will be around six bucks, then it’ll cost two cents per ounce. Now a 24-pack of 7.5-ounce cans of Pepsi True has 180 ounces and costs nine smackers. So it ends up at five cents per ounce. So Pepsi True per ounce is more than twice as expensive as any other Pepsi in cans. Oh, but nine dollars is not Pepsi True’s true cost. There’s also the shipping cost or the other items you have to buy in order to get free shipping on Amazon. Sometimes it’s a pain to spend $35.

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As a Pepsi fan, I was excited to try Pepsi True, but after drinking through the four cans I received from Pepsi, I don’t think I’ll be filling my Amazon shopping cart with cases of it.

Now don’t get me wrong, I like Pepsi True. It’s smoother and cleaner than regular Pepsi and Pepsi Next, which I adore. It has 10 fewer grams of sugar than a 7.5-ounce can of regular Pepsi. I dug that slight kola nut extract vibe it has, making it taste kind of like Pepsi Natural (although there isn’t any kola nut extract in the ingredients). Also, there isn’t any bitterness that usually comes with some stevia-sweetened products.

But it’s not good enough to make me want to pay a premium for these tiny cans from Amazon, even if I do have an Amazon Prime account. If Pepsi True ends up in brick and mortar stores and comes in larger sizes with prices equal to its HFCS and artificially sweetened bretheren, then I do see myself buying it on a regular basis.

However, if you’re a soda drinker who avoids high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners, I imagine you would be willing to pay extra for Pepsi True since real sugar and stevia sodas tend to be pricier, like Mexican Pepsi and Coke, which are sweetened with real sugar, and Zevia soda, which contains stevia and monk fruit. So if you’re one of those people, I think Pepsi True a good option to have in the mostly high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweetener world we live in.

DISCLOSURE: I received free Pepsi True samples from Pepsi.

(Nutrition Facts – 7.5 ounces – 60 calories, 0 grams of fat, 20 milligrams of sodium, 17 grams of carbohydrates, 16 grams of sugar, and 0 grams of protein.)

Item: Pepsi True
Purchased Price: FREE
Size: 7.5 ounces
Purchased at: Received from Pepsi
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Smoother and cleaner than regular Pepsi. Fewer grams of sugar than regular Pepsi. No HFCS or artificial sweeteners. Has a kola nut vibe to it.
Cons: Right now, only available only on Amazon by the case in small 7.5-ounce cans. You’ll have to pay a premium for it. Spending more money to get free shipping on Amazon.