Confession time: I was once a fan of a jam band. It’s not the sort of thing one admits to easily, but I feel like we’ve built up a level of trust. For years I resisted efforts by friends to convert me to the jam band mentality. In college my roommates would eagerly put on Phish’s “Meatstick,” and I’d shake my head while leaving for class and still be rolling my eyes an hour later when I returned in time to hear the final notes. What was the appeal of long, rambling songs that were the musical equivalent of Grampa Simpson telling a story? But in late 2001, I got dragged along to see O.A.R. play at a local club, and I… just… connected. It was a perfect storm of the general contentment and malaise that sets in midway through senior year, meeting laid-back songs about drinking, hanging out with friends, and crazy games of poker.
And with that, I was hooked. I went to a half-dozen O.A.R. concerts, successfully converted friends and family, watched them on Letterman… and for a brief period of time, I longed to attend Bonnaroo. Never very seriously — I think even then I realized only liking one band was not a good basis for attending a three-day musical event. But still, it remains the one festival I’ve ever really given any serious thought to, and my ears perk up whenever I hear it mentioned. Enter: Ben and Jerry and their latest hippie offering. Not to get stereotyped as the ice cream guy, but today we’re looking at Bonnaroo Buzz, yet another Fair Trade-certified flavor from everyone’s favorite not-necessarily-gay duo from Vermont.
For starters, please don’t ask me to explain how the flavor has any connection with Bonnaroo whatsoever — it’s coffee and malt ice cream with whiskey caramel swirls and English toffee pieces mixed in. Seems like a more appropriate title might be “Flavo(u)rs of the British Isles,” or perhaps “Feck th’ English (Though Their Toffee’s Not Bad),” but I guess that would be a hard sell to your more conservative grocery stores. It still doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, though, because while I’m certain many of the attendees at any given Bonnaroo are indeed buzzed, I think that’s an entirely different buzz from the kind one gets from coffee. I like imagining Ben and Jerry trying to explain it to consumers: “Naw man, we wanted to put the good stuff in, but ‘the Man’ wouldn’t let us. It’s cool though, just talk to Steve, he’ll hook you up. In the meantime we just put in whiskey, and coffee, and toffee, ’cause that totally rhymes, man! Whoa… did you ever really look at the back of your hand?” Then it’s just twenty minutes of giggling.
Bonnaroo Buzz has the misfortune of having to follow up on me reviewing two good-to-very-good Ben & Jerry’s flavors, and unfortunately it doesn’t quite measure up. Coffee ice cream fans may want to bump that score up by a point or two, but it just doesn’t hit exactly the right balance, with not enough caramel flavor spread throughout. Or rather, the smoothness of the caramel is able to briefly balance out the coffee bitterness, but it fades quickly while the bitterness lingers, which is not ideal. The toffee tastes good, crunchy but not teeth-shatteringly hard, although there were two massive chunks that really needed to be broken up into smaller pieces; not sure if that’s standard or if I just got an “off” carton. Still, I can’t say that the toffee flavor ever blended seamlessly with the ice cream so much as being two decent but distinct tastes. And I don’t know about you, but when I see the word “whiskey” on any product, I expect to be drunk after I’ve consumed a quarter of it, so strike three, Bonnaroo Buzz.
In general terms there’s a limit to how “bad” Ben and Jerry’s ice cream can really be — you’d still take it if it was offered to you — but compared to many of its forebears and peers, Bonnaroo Buzz isn’t in the same class. For O.A.R. fans, it’s like when they start playing “Delicate Few”… you kind of look forward to it, but then when you hear it you remember it’s not really one of your favorites and it’s probably time for a pee break. But, hell — every song is someone’s favorite, so if coffee ice cream is your thing, give it a shot. The rest of us will be in line for the bathroom.
(Nutrition Facts — 1/2 cup — 280 calories, 130 calories from fat, 14 grams of total fat, 9 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 60 milligrams of cholesterol, 115 milligrams of sodium, 33 grams of total carbohydrates, 0 grams of dietary fiber, 25 grams of sugars, 4 grams of protein, 10% vitamin A, 0% vitamin C, 10% calcium, and 0% iron)
Item: Ben & Jerry’s Bonnaroo Buzz
Size: 1 pint
Purchased at: Acme
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: “Hey Girl” live. Senior year malaise. Getting your British on. Smooth caramel. Solid but not adamantine toffee. Ice cream that could conceivably get you drunk.
Cons: “Meatstick.” Getting stereotyped as the ice cream reviewer. Names that don’t make sense. Lingering coffee bitterness. Toffee boulders. Ice cream that doesn’t actually get you drunk.