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.

Crystal Pepsi (2016) 3

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.

Crystal Pepsi (2016) 2

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: Sprite Tropical Mix (2016)

Sprite Tropical Mix (2016)

Don’t call it a comeback.

Or, more correctly: depending on where you live in the United States, don’t call it a comeback. See, this strawberry and pineapple-infused variant of the stalwart caffeine free lemon-lime soda has a convoluted history and its journey deserves some context.

In 2003, Sprite launched the Remix brand extension, a limited edition gimmick that would see a new flavor unveiled every year. Remix only lasted until 2005, so only three flavors emerged: the initial Remix flavor which we now know as Tropical; Berryclear, a mixed berry flavor; and Aruba Jam, an undetermined taste the label simply referred to as “fruit flavor.”

Nowadays, many of the elder statesmen of junk food have to swap out flavors just to stay competitive (*cough* Oreo *cough*) but back in the halcyon days of the early ’00s, Sprite’s Remix scheme earned a full-blown write-up in the country’s newspaper of record.

Unfortunately, despite the notoriety and success, Sprite dirt-napped the Remix concept before you could say “Jamaican me crazy.” The brand didn’t return to variant flavors until 2013’s holiday-themed Sprite Cranberry (a full seven years after competitor Sierra Mist introduced their Cranberry Splash) and 2014’s LeBron James-inspired Sprite 6 Mix, which presumably tastes like sweat and endorsement deals.

And then, last year, Sprite tested the carbonated waters with a limited re-release of Sprite Tropical Mix, no doubt stirred by the nostalgia-driven revival of Surge. It popped up in many states in the South and on the East Coast and, while elusive in 2015, this limited edition 2016 return is coast-to-coast, just in time for spring. And Sprite Tropical Mix is a heckuva springtime drink.

Sprite Tropical Mix (2016) 2

Crisp, light and free of the syrupy thickness of Robitussin-like competitors, Sprite Tropical Mix doesn’t suffer from cloying, burdensome flavor. Instead, it’s got a delightful, delicate aftertaste of strawberry and pineapple, and visually, it’s no different than your normal Sprite: crystal clear and buzzing with carbonation.

Sprite Tropical Mix has more in common with La Croix than, say, a mainstream soda variant like Mountain Dew Code Red or even a Fanta. It’s a perfect sipping soda for a hot day, a welcome approach as the market seems dominated by caffeine-engorged heart palpitation potions intended only to kickstart your testosterone-secreting punch engine. It’s a better bedside beverage than bottled breakfast booster for sure. So look for it because of the flavor rather than as the most expedient and cheapest caffeine delivery system.

The packaging assures us Sprite Tropical Mix is “for a limited time,” but I have a feeling that, much like the McRib, reports of its demise will be greatly exaggerated. It would make a welcome annual tradition amid these sweltering springs and scorching summers. Maybe down the line Sprite will offer a larger quantity than the 20-ounce bottles you’re likelier to track down at a convenience store than a supermarket.

Until then, however, track down some Sprite Tropical Mix and, like a vacation with a loved one, relish your time together.

(Nutrition Facts – 20 fl oz – 240 calories, 0 grams of fat, 115 milligrams of sodium, 65 grams of carbohydrates, 64 grams of sugar, 0 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $1.89
Size: 20 fl oz
Purchased at: Circle K
Rating: 10 out of 10
Pros: Crisp, light, refreshing. Caffeine free. Delicate flavors. La Croix. Does not taste like sweat and endorsement deals.
Cons: Limited edition. Uncertain future. Not available in larger quantities, e.g. oil barrel size.

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.

Pepsi 1893 Original Cola 2

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.

Pepsi 1893 Ginger Cola 2

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.

Pepsi 1893 Ginger Cola 3

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: Mountain Dew Midnight Grape Kickstart

Mountain Dew Midnight Grape Kickstart

I’d like to apologize to Mountain Dew Midnight Grape Kickstart.

On several occasions, on this blog, out in public, and in a mirror, I’ve said the grape-flavored Mountain Dew Pitch Black is the best Mountain Dew flavor. So when I learned the brand was coming out with Midnight Grape Kickstart, I said to myself in the mirror, “YASSSSS!!! A grape-flavored Dew!!!” because I thought it would taste like my beloved Pitch Black.

But after drinking it and comparing it with Pitch Black (which I received from Mountain Dew a few weeks ago), I realized I shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up because my logic was flawed.

I thought Grape + Mountain Dew = Pitch Black, but that’s not the case and I should’ve known that. Does the Black Cherry Kickstart taste like Mountain Dew Code Red? No. Does Orange Citrus Kickstart taste like Mountain Dew Livewire? No. So I’m sorry to Midnight Grape Kickstart for thinking it would taste like something that it doesn’t.

How can I make it up to you, Midnight Grape Kickstart?

A glowing review? Nope, you’re not going to get that.

Mountain Dew Midnight Grape Kickstart 2

Much like all the Kickstart varieties that come in 16-ounce cans, this grape one has 5 percent juice, which comes from white grape juice concentrate. The addition of juice gives the beverage a natural grape flavor and not the candy-like grape Pitch Black has. Although it’s white grape juice, the color and flavor are more like a purple concord grape.

It’s not syrupy sweet like regular Mountain Dew sodas, thanks to artificial sweeteners ace K and Sucralose backing up the high fructose corn syrup. The use of those sweeteners cut the sugar content to 20 grams per can, which is a third of what’s in a 16-ounce serving of regular Dew. However, the lower sugar content makes it taste like a lightly carbonated diet grape juice or lightly carbonated grape juice that’s been watered down.

To be honest, I didn’t really care for it the first time. But after having a second can, it’s grown on me. However, that could be the 90 milligrams of caffeine per can talking.

I’m a fan of Mountain Dew Kickstart. I regularly purchase the Black Cherry and Fruit Punch flavors. But, even though Midnight Grape has grown on me, I can’t say the new flavor is good enough to join the other two flavors as a regular purchase.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 can – 80 calories, 0 grams of fat, 170 milligrams of sodium, 105 milligrams of potassium, 21 grams of carbohydrates, 20 grams of sugar, 0 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: 99 cents
Size: 16 oz. can
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Decent grape flavor that may take some getting used to. Fewer calories and sugar than regular Mountain Dew. Contains fruit juice. Natural grape flavor. 90 milligrams of sweet, sweet caffeine.
Cons: If you’re expected Mtn Dew Pitch Black, stop expecting. Tastes like diet grape juice or watered down grape juice. Apologizing to a Mountain Dew flavor.

REVIEW: Coke Freestyle Holiday Beverages (Secret Santa, Jolly Reindeer, and Mistletoe Flow)

oke Freestyle Holiday Beverages

Gather ‘round, all you Tiny Tims, Little Lisas, and Miniature Mitchells, and I’ll tell you about how ol’ Ebenezer Dan was visited by three new, carbonated Christmas Cokes during his latest Burger King trip.

As an idealist who insists that each December should be blanketed in snow (and pigs in blankets, but that’s a story for another day), I’ve been bah-humbugging my area’s lack of that magical sky sugar.

Turning to my local holiday radio station for inspiration, the unintentional subliminal advertising within “Hark! The Herald Angel Sings” soon had me driving to the nearest BK to quench my thirst with the chain’s three limited edition, seasonal Coca-Cola flavors. That’s right: I was ready to sing glory to the new-poured Burger King.

I placed my drinks-only order with my Burger King bartender, whose confused expression clearly read, “Gee, I sure hope this isn’t one of those Internet pranks where dumb teens throw soda at typically non-soda covered objects.”

Her confusion intensified as I proceeded to take photos of the Coke Freestyle machine that harbored my sought-after soda behind its newfangled touch screen. After touching the appropriately merry buttons, I was presented with three tempting options.

Coke Secret Santa

First up was Secret Santa: the Coke of Christmas Past. This drink earns that title by tasting like every mad scientist concoction of leftover sodas that my cousins and I mixed together as young’ns. The overwhelming taste notes are a seamless cocktail of cola, cherry, and vanilla. It feels like the flavors were unceremoniously dumped together, as it’s hard to distinguish between the candied cherry and syrupy vanilla sensations that blend together like a liquid fruitcake.

Sorry for that mental image.

So while the middle is a bit muddled in this one, the lime twist that comes with the aftertaste is pleasantly citrusy with a subtle sourness. It lasts, too: limey tendrils continued to wander aimlessly around my labyrinthine mouth like a fruity Theseus (that mythology class is finally paying off!).

Coke Jolly Reindeer

While the other flavors are available in most restaurant Freestyle machines, Jolly Reindeer seems to be a BK exclusive. This Coke of Christmas Present gets its name by embodying a very irritating modern trend in which companies simply slap two existing things together and call it “New!” “Revolutionary!” or, worst of all, “Mystery Flavored!”

Because there’s no mystery here: the enigmatic “festive blend” of Jolly Reindeer tastes just like Coke mixed with vanilla root beer. It’s tasty, don’t get me wrong, but it makes me imagine an emergency, last minute marketing brainstorming session that ended with a hastily scrawled sticky note reading “DEER = Sounds like BEER? Yes: do it!”

I have to admit that Coke and root beer make great cup-fellows, though. As I chugged down my gingery cola, I noticed a sophisticated herbal and woody aftertaste, as if Jolly Reindeer were barrel-aged and half the cedar barrel came with it. Bravo, Jolly Reindeer: you made me feel like a lumberjack Santa Claus.

Coke Zero Mistletoe Flow

My final visitor was Mistletoe Flow. As the Coke of Christmas Future, the Coke Zero base of this drink symbolizes all of the diet drinks I’ll be drinking in the near future to justify the Santa-sized portions of gingerbread men I’ll be sliding down my own face chimney.

Like most diet colas, the body of the drink tastes a bit diluted, light, and artificial. However, the vanilla here makes up for it—unlike the syrupy vanilla smack of Secret Santa, Mistletoe Flow boasts denser notes of genuine vanilla extract.

Beneath the vanilla, I struggled to decipher what the drink’s “zesty blend” was. Coming up empty-handed and full-stomached, all I could think was that it tasted an awful lot like those cola bottle gummies, which have a more puckering and exaggeratedly caramelized cola flavor. And as someone who often dreams of sucking down liquefied cola bottle gummies through a straw, this is a high compliment.

So all in all, each limited edition Coke offering presents a fun holiday present, and each would make a perfect gift for a certain personality. What do you get for the person who has everything? Give ‘em a taste of everything with Secret Santa’s fruity mixology. Got a Ron Swanson-themed holiday party coming up? Go with Jolly Reindeer’s down-to-earth charm (my personal favorite). Oh, and I’m sure your Haribo-loving HariBro will love Mistletoe Flow.

After my invigorating series of visits, this Scrooge is now feeling merry once more. I should probably stop listening to the radio when I’m hungry, though. Because now B.B. King has me dreaming, of a Whiiiteee…Castle!

(Nutrition Facts – Not available.)

Item: Coca-Cola Secret Santa, Jolly Reindeer, and Mistletoe Flow
Purchased Price: $2.00
Size: 20 oz (small)
Purchased at: Burger King
Rating: 7 out of 10 (Secret Santa)
Rating: 9 out of 10 (Jolly Reindeer)
Rating: 8 out of 10 (Mistletoe Flow)
Pros: A vanilla-y trilogy of holiday fun. Lime-flavored Greek heroes. Three cheers for deer beer: here here! Fulfilling gummy cola fantasies
Cons: Metaphorical liquid fruitcakes. Literal liquid fruitcakes (probably). Drinking flatter colas to get a flatter stomach. Inevitable post-gingerbread man regret. Pissing off the kids behind me at the Freestyle machine