REVIEW: Pepsi Fire

Pepsi Fire

You know what I think’s the big problem with Pepsi’s marketing? They’re too skittish to come out and tell us what they really want to call their products: non-alcoholic colas.

We’re actually seeing this more and more with Pepsi’s line-up of L-T-O products. The first wave of Pepsi 1893 sodas had a distinct gin-like taste, and the recently released Mountain Dew Spiked beverages are clearly meant to ape the alcopop-flavor of stuff like Mike’s Hard Lemonade and Smirnoff Ice. While the newfangled Pepsi Fire soda may be advertised as a cinnamon-flavored cola, one swig of the stuff ought to remind you of an entirely different kind of beverage. Simply put – Pepsi Fire is VODKA-flavored cola.

It’s understandable why Pepsi refrained from marketing the beverage as a hard liquor imitator (obviously, parents groups probably wouldn’t be too keen on a cola manufacturer getting their kids accustom to the taste of high-alcohol-content fermented potato.) But the synthetic vodka taste is just too spot-on to be a coincidence. In an alternate reality, I can imagine the product being sold as Absolut Pepsi with an ad campaign heavily targeted towards millennial consumers – and selling like crazy despite all the media controversy.

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Alas, Pepsi went the “safe” route and stuck to its cinnamon cola marketing hook. The product isn’t new by any stretch – Pepsi has sold a cinnamon cola beverage with the very same name and almost identical packaging in Southeast Asia on-and-off again for at least two decades (sometimes, coupled with a spearmint-flavored counterpart called Pepsi Ice.)

Since cinnamon is a pretty polarizing flavor, naturally, your mileage will vary on the quality of the soda. While the cinnamon aroma is strong – if not overpowering – when you open the bottle, the actual cinnamon kick isn’t as tastebud-scorching as you’d expect. In fact, the aftertaste kinda’ feels like sipping on a cold glass of ginger ale while chewing some Big Red gum; you’re either going to find it appealing or disgusting, and there’s really no way to tell until you’ve given it a taste test for yourself.

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The hue of the cola is nice (it’s darker than standard Pepsi but not as atomically vibrant as Mountain Dew Code Red) and it has a nice sparkly, tingly mouthfeel. Oddly enough, it doesn’t taste anything at all like the short-lived Pepsi Holiday Spice, which despite being marketed as a cinnamon cola, had more of a dark cherry kick than anything else. I really can’t think of anything else out there to compare it to, not even Old City Soda’s cinnamon-flavored cola (which is noticeably sweeter and less spicy than Pepsi Fire.)

This is a hard one to score. Just for its uniqueness it’s probably worth a try, even if many drinkers may consider the overall flavor mildly off-putting. If you like cinnamon (or getting sloshed on martinis), I say pick up a 12-pack. But if you harbor a distaste for the spice, do you really need me to tell you stay far, far away from this beverage?

(Nutrition Facts – 1 bottle – 260 calories, 0 grams of fat, 85 milligrams of sodium, 69 grams of total carbohydrates, 69 grams of sugar, 0 grams of protein, 63 milligrams of caffeine..)

Purchased Price: $1.49
Size: 20 oz. bottle
Purchased at: Circle K
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: The cinnamon flavor is potent without being too intense. The medley of Pepsi and ginger ale is surprisingly decent. Taking that first swig and instantly recalling your first freshmen year kegger.
Cons: Unless you are a hardcore cinnamon connoisseur, it takes some time to get accustom to the taste. The packaging is really unimpressive. Trying to figure out why Pepsi thought it was a good idea to release a “hot” cola at the very beginning of summer.

REVIEW: Mtn Dew DEW.S.A

Mtn Dew DEW S A

Nothing makes me feel prouder to be an American than thinking about the colors that decorate our stars and stripes: purple, violet, and Crayola Purple Mountains’ Majesty.

The purple, of course, represents Grimace, an American hero who symbolizes our freedom to eat milkshakes with our 8 a.m. McMuffins if we darn well please. The violet honors Donatello, whose wise reptilian martial arts helped end the Civil War. And Purple Mountains’ Majesty commemorates the brave crayons who entertain our nation’s children while they doodle Donatello suplexing Grimace (or was that just me?).

This explains the color of Mountain Dew’s new patriotic Mtn Dew DEW.S.A too, becau—wait, what? You’re saying they just combined red, white, and blue Dew flavors to make this lilac-hued liquid? I guess that’s what I get for playing Pokémon instead of paying attention in U.S. History class:

I get stuck in Lavender Town.

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Speaking of lavender, Mountain Dew certainly didn’t skip art class, because this aesthetically pleasing beverage evenly blends the colors of Code Red, White Out, and Voltage: the three respective flavors that form DEW.S.A.’s chromatic trilogy.

Since the colors are evenly represented, you’d expect all three Dew flavors to get equal treatment too, right? Left. Whoops, I meant wrong. Like a washed-out photo or my pasty face after a long winter, DEW.S.A. has poor white balance. Or at least poor orange balance. None of the citrusy bite of White Out or zesty zap of Voltage comes through, aside from a faintly tangy fruitiness in the end notes, which remind me of original, Cherry Citrus Game Fuel, which we first tasted when Halo 3 hit stores in 2007.

Makes sense: this stuff does look like an Energy Sword.

Cherry is a much fairer description for DEW.S.A.’s “body,” because the drink quite potently tastes of Swedish Fish. Or more specifically, Swedish Berries. Or even more specifically, the discount store-brand gummy raspberries my grandma would buy by the grocery bag-full and watch shamefully as I mushed a handful of them together into a single “mega berry.”

Okay, that may be too specific, but it’s accurate. Mtn DEW.S.A. blends Code Red’s candied cherry, Voltage’s tart raspberry, and a jelly-like pectin sweetness to craft a pleasant flavor that tragically ends too soon. Instead of bursting through the night like those anthemic bombs, the flavor of DEW.S.A. fades like a lone firework, cascading over your taste buds and disappearing as soon as the last drop high-fives your uvula.

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This is probably due to the soda’s sucralose content, which is always such a hot topic that I feel the need to mention it. I’m not opposed to artificial sweeteners —- I’ve been eating junk food for ages, so the Grim Reaper’s already been watching me like an eBay auction since I first learned to hold an Oatmeal Cream Pie -— as long as they don’t disrupt the flavor. The sucralose in DEW.S.A. tastes neither fake nor chemically, so I give it a pass.

It just makes the whole drink feel lighter (think Raspberry Crystal Light), which I find preferable to original Dew’s custardy thickness during hot summer months, especially as the latter leaves my throat feeling like a syrupy slime slalom.

And that’s just what DEW.S.A. is to me: a nicely crisp Dew with a nice, two-berried taste gimmick that’ll be simple (despite containing 200 percent more flavors than the average Dew) and refreshing during nice, poolside picnics. Nice.

I do wish the flavor was a little more recognizably American, but until they release apple pie HoneyDEW or charbroiled BarbeDEW, DEW.S.A. will Dew just fine.

(Nutrition Facts – 20 oz. bottle – 170 calories, 0 grams of fat, 105 milligrams of sodium, 45 grams of carbohydrates, 45 grams of sugar, and 0 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $1.79
Size: 20 fl oz. bottle
Purchased at: Meijer
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: An American drink that ironically tastes of Scandinavian cherry-raspberry candy. The crispest summer dew this side of a morning lawn. Beverage colors that won’t leave you Grimacing. Fatalistic Oatmeal Cream Pies.
Cons: Orange you upset there’s no citrus? Raspberries that didn’t choose the blue pill. Transient flavors with a wanderlust. Not calling it “The DEWcleration of InDEWpendence.” My White Out skin becoming Code Red an hour into tanning.

REVIEW: Pepsi 1893 Citrus Cola

Pepsi 1893 Citrus Cola

When the NCAA Basketball Tournament became “March Madness,” a national spectacle filled with office pools, unexplainable sick days, and an increase in vasectomies, it wasn’t long before morning radio shows and Buzzfeed slideshows wanted to get in on the excitement.

However, basketball isn’t everyone’s cup of tea — and thus bracket-style “tournaments” began to pop up ranking candy bars, vacation activities, and comic book villains.

Much like turkey with the trimmings or costume wearing, bracket-fying should no longer be restricted to seasonal status. Welcome to TIB’s first-ever grapefruit-flavored cola bracket!

Pepsi 1893 Citrus Cola 2

#4 1893 Citrus Cola over #1 1893 Citrus Cola was upset city baby! 1893 Citrus Cola is a PTPer (Pepsi Thirst Pleaser)! Dick Vitale Impression intonation!

So 1893 Citrus Cola appears to be the first grapefruit cola. The can is small, sleek, and slender, and felt like a kid brother compared to the Mountain Dew White Label can I picked up at the same time. It does come in a burnt orange color, setting it apart from the other three 1893 variations as a brighter look.

Pepsi 1893 Citrus Cola 3

Grapefruit essence is noted on the side of the can, and although it doesn’t appear specifically on the ingredients list, “Natural Flavor” appears higher than usual, and perhaps includes for the grapefruit. When you open the can, you’re hit with a strong, refreshing grapefruit scent that shouldn’t be unexpected, but is. Perhaps years of Fresca disappointment had biased my expectations.

The soda’s taste was very effective. Cola out in front, followed by a noticeable, pleasing grapefruit taste that lingered appropriately as an aftertaste as well. The execution reminded me of Pepsi Blue, another product that overcame my cognitive dissonance of a fruit and cola flavored beverage that delivered what it intended, arguably exceeding those expectations by having the flavors occur sequentially.

In March, an unexciting team that executes well is always a pretty good bet to go on a deep run. But there’s a reason few people pick Butler, Xavier, or Wichita State to go far in their brackets. A grapefruit cola is not likely to appeal to many, and my primary reaction to the product is “who is going to buy this?”

If that “who” is you -— the kind of person that appreciates offensive efficiency ratings and senior-laden squads — then 1893 Citrus Cola will surely outplay their seed. Just know that they’ll likely be right back “on the bubble” come next March.

(Nutrition Facts – 12 ounces – 150 calories, 0 grams of fat, 55 milligrams of sodium, 39 grams of carbohydrates, 39 grams of sugar, and 0 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: 2 for $3 (on sale)
Size: 12 oz. can
Purchased at: Country Maid Deli
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Innovative flavor combination. High marks for execution. Stands out on the shelf.
Cons: Questionable market for grapefruit cola. Pricey for a small can. Being told by the dental hygienist I should no longer sip on soda. Pat Riley will probably trademark “Greatfruitest.”

REVIEW: Mtn Dew Green Label

Mtn Dew Green Label

Kiwis and I had a pretty good relationship.

I’ve always wanted to visit New Zealand, kiwi birds are my favorite animals, and during elementary school lunchtime I would’ve happily traded a Ziploc full of half-crushed Oreo cookies (worth more in those days than gold dust) for a Strawberry Kiwi Capri-Sun.

But that relationship was tested when I was forced to watch a peer eat an entire kiwi fruit like an apple—a grueling sight that would make the Ludovico Technique feel like Sesame Street. I understand that many of you will probably defend this practice, but let me tell you, when I cracked open my can of green apple kiwi-flavored Mtn Dew Green Label, all I could hear was the haunting crunch of canine teeth piercing hairy kiwi skin.

I think I want my baggy of sandwich cookie smithereens back.

Despite these preexisting prejudices, I will give Green Label some credit: its premise is more interesting than Mtn Dew White Label, which was essentially a white grape sequel to Black Label that tasted more like a Phantom Menace-esque prequel. I had hopes that Green Label would close Dew’s first Label trilogy off right, mostly because the stuff is the same color as Luke’s lightsaber in Return of the Jedi.

Mtn Dew Green Label 2

Seriously, this stuff is green: greener than Kermit the Frog after too many Midori and Ecto-Cooler mixers. But even though it’s about 50 shades of Oz darker than original Mountain Dew, my first sip of Green Label just tasted like watered down Dew. It took a few swirls, swishes, and elevated pinky fingers before Green Label’s tarter green apple notes began to develop behind its syrupy lemon-lime base.

Despite its largely natural ingredients, this soda doesn’t taste much like a real green apple. I know: big surprise coming from a fine beverage brand that pairs with authentically cheese flavored hors d’oeuvres like Doritos. Green Label’s mild carbonation sort of mimics the refreshing crispness of a Granny Smith, but the drink’s leading fruit flavor is closer to an artificial green apple candy.

On a scale of “Green Apple Skittle” (that filthy, lime-killing Brutus) to “Green Apple Jolly Rancher,” Mtn Dew Green Label’s tasty tanginess is about a “Green Laffy Taffy.” Not too sweet, not too biting, this green apple flavor is pleasantly juicy, but still tragically underpowered compared to the core Dew taste.

Speaking of oppressed flavors in a puppet Dew-mocracy, Green Label’s faint kiwi taste only emerges near the tail end of every gulp. Its lightly floral, tropical melon twist reminds me of a Strawberry Kiwi Propel, and my secret conspiracy theory is that PepsiCo diluted Green Label with that very same electrolyte drink —- hence why it’s kind of watery.

Mtn Dew Green Label 3

But even if this Dew is nefariously spiked with the kiwi-flavored stuff plants crave, it’s still worth trying for the aftertaste alone. For a brief, magical moment at each sip’s end, Green Label’s apple and kiwi flavors merge to produce a delightfully sweet, trachea-crackling fruit cocktail that tastes like green Wonka Fun Dip.

Seriously, if I could bottle just that fleeting flavor, I’d have something more addictive than Soylent Green with a side of Green Eggs & Ham.

Overall, Mtn Dew Green Label’s advertised flavors may be too mild and washed out, but in those rare instances when both green apple and kiwi work, they work memorably enough that your taste buds will want to frame them right next to your uvula.

To use another Force-sensitive analogy: if White Label is the Jar Jar Binks to Black Label’s Qui Gon Jinn, then I think we found his soda Obi-Wan.

(Nutrition Facts – 16 ounces – 140 calories, 0 grams of fat, 80 milligrams of sodium, 35 grams of carbohydrates, 35 grams of sugar, and 0 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $1.79
Size: 16 fl oz. can
Purchased at: Meijer
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Straight-off-the-Lik-a-Stix aftertastes. The surprisingly palatable union of Laffy Taffy and power sports beverages. Enjoying the taste of plain Dew enough to like this stuff regardless. Having cheese platters on hand for emergencies. Using “trachea-crackling” as a compliment.
Cons: Authoritarian lemon-lime Dew-tatorships. Watered-down sugar water. Meek apple-kiwi wallflowers. The non-existence of fancy Limburger Doritos to pair this with. Et tu, Skittles?

REVIEW: Sprite Cherry and Sprite Cherry Zero

Sprite Cherry and Sprite Cherry Zero

AP English nerds rejoice! The world has redeveloped an interest in classic dystopian novels, the likes of which “Cliff Notes” developed an entire business off the laziness of the rest of us.

At the top of the list stands “1984”, the seminal Orwell work about the sacrifices of personal privacy in modern society and how individuality can be suppressed through fear.

This resurgence is just in time for a new development. When the Coke Freestyle soda fountain, seemingly a paragon of choice, was released eight years ago, numerous pundits referenced “1984” in regards to one feature: that each Freestyle machine collects data on the beverages we have dispensed for “Big Bubbler” at the “Ministry” in Atlanta. For the first time, that data has been put into play, as the two most popular choices have been bottled and rolled out nationwide.

Moving past the debate about privacy invasions that are just as commonplace at the grocery store and Amazon.com these days, cherry soft drinks have been popular since the 1930’s, and it’s no surprise Cherry Sprite is the top Freestyle option for most anyone – other than the namesake of one version of the concoction. Apparently identity appropriation doesn’t get you a seat on the “Good Ship Lollipop”.

Sprite Cherry and Sprite Cherry Zero 2

The press release states: “Formulations for the fountain and bottled versions of Sprite Cherry and Sprite Cherry Zero vary”. Let’s hope this isn’t like heading to a Chevrolet dealership to find out the SS Sedan doesn’t look like this.

Sprite Cherry and Cherry Zero are clear, identical to original Sprite, but unlike the red-tinted versions that come from the Freestyle. The initial scent of Sprite Cherry was a strong cherry, with the citrus notes fading in at the end. Sprint Cherry Zero was less distinct, fruity and fresh but not as discernible.

Sprite Cherry and Sprite Cherry Zero 3

Sprite Cherry was a wonderful experience. It was crisp and really suggested a balance of cherry with a lemon/lime combo and equal in sweetness to original Sprite. It was one of the best new bottled sodas I have tried in recent years.

Sprite Cherry and Sprite Cherry Zero 4

Sprite Cherry Zero was adequate, but in comparison to Sprite Cherry, was a relative disappointment. No individual flavor stood out. This was a particular letdown as cherry flavors have proven very effective in no-cal soft drinks. Cherry Coke Zero, Diet Dr. Pepper Cherry, and Diet Mountain Dew Code Red stand as some of my all-time favorites.

The primary reason is that the strong cherry flavor seems to make up for the artificial sweeter, resulting in a less diet-feeling experience. Coke may have tried to achieve the balance of cherry with the other flavors in the full sugar version, but it was the wrong call in the diet version.

My hopes for a new go-to diet drink were dashed as abruptly as Winston’s fleeting happiness before the novel’s climax. Sprite Cherry might end up with more staying power, as an enjoyable but not radically different option (Ministry of Plenty approved!)

As for me, I’ll go back to dreaming about my soft drink “dark haired girl” – when Coke decides to add Mango, Watermelon, Pomegranate, and Chocolate options to the Freestyle – or my “Golden Country” – a Pepsi Spire machine near my home.

(Nutrition Facts – 20 fl ounces – Sprite Cherry – 200 calories, 0 grams of fat, 110 milligrams of sodium, 55 grams of carbohydrates, 54 grams of sugar, and 0 grams of protein. Sprite Cherry Zero – 0 calories, 0 grams of fat, 55 milligrams of sodium, less than 1 gram of carbohydrates, and 0 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: 2 for $3.50
Size: 20 oz. bottles
Purchased at: Wawa
Rating: 8 out of 10 (Sprite Cherry)
Rating: 5 out of 10 (Sprite Cherry Zero)
Pros: Freestyle feedback leading the R&D process. Balanced Cherry hit of Sprite Cherry. Brave New World. Fahrenheit 451. It Can’t Happen Here.
Cons: Not enough cherry “umph” in Sprite Cherry Zero. Uber-safe options coming from the Freestyle (no Grape Mello Yello?). The Pepsi Spire locator map that indicates a Subway next door to where I work in Delaware that is actually in Saskatchewan.