REVIEW: Coke Freestyle 2017 Holiday Mixes (North Pole Magic and Arctic Chill)

Coke Freestyle 2017 Holiday Mixes

One of the more understated junk food rites of the holiday season has to be Coca-Cola’s seasonal Freestyle mixes. Since they’re not ubiquitously marketed like everything else Coke does, they always seem to sneak up on you as quaint, L-T-O surprises at the local cineplex or friendly neighborhood Burger King.

Well, if you fancied previous seasonal flavors like Secret Santa and Mistletoe Flow, you’ll probably get a yuletide kick out of the latest additions to the Coke Freestyle family – the aptly named North Pole Magic and Arctic Chill.

Aesthetically, there isn’t much to say about either beverage. They both have a pleasant, reddish brown hue, with the Arctic Chill variation looking lighter than North Pole Magic. In terms of scent, they smell practically identical – as soon as your olfactory glands whiff the drinks, the aroma is unmistakable. You’ve got orange, you’ve got vanilla and you’ve got something else that you can’t quite put your finger on for the initial sniff. But that becomes very apparent once the drinks start tangoing with your taste buds.

Coke Freestyle North Pole Magic

We’ll start with North Pole Magic (NPM) because it’s the stronger of the two (both in terms of figurative quality and literal flavor). The beverage tastes pretty much the same way it smells. I’ve read some Internet posts that say NPM is one part vanilla, one part cherry, and one part root beer, but I beg to differ. To these tastebuds, anyway, NPM is one part Coca-Cola, one part orange creme and one part vanilla – in short, sherbet-flavored Coke.

In all my years I’ve never once imagined what a Yabba Dabba Do Orange Flinstones Push Up-flavored Coca-Cola variation would taste like, but I’ll be tickled pink if NPM isn’t one of the most delicious Coke permutations I’ve tasted in quite some time. This stuff is too yummy to be relegated to those bright red touchscreen terminals – Coke definitely needs to put this in bottle and can form come next Christmas.

Coke Freestyle ArcticChill

Arctic Chill (AC) – which is fighting under the less calorie-dense Coca-Cola Zero umbrella – is pretty much the same thing as NPM, except…well, not as flavorful.

I hate to use the term “watered down,” but that’s precisely what AC tastes like compared to NPM. It’s still pretty good, but the Coke Zero taste completely overwhelms the sherbet flavor. In fact, you only get the sherbet flavor as a ghostly aftertaste – almost as if you were drinking a Coke Zero in a cup somebody momentarily used as a holster for a creamsicle for about five seconds. Again, it’s not a bad soda by any stretch, it’s just that compared to NPM it feels like a mild imitation.

Regardless, you really can’t go wrong with either flavor. And Coke definitely needs to be commended for thinking outside the box for these holiday mixes – thank goodness they eschewed the all too predictable gingerbread and candy cane flavors in favor of one that’s great, no matter the time of year.

(Nutrition Facts – Not available.)

Purchased Price: $1.69
Size: 20 oz. cup
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 8 out of 10 (North Pole Magic)
Rating: 7 out of 10 (Arctic Chill)
Pros: A robust, creamsicle flavor. You’ve got options if you’re trying to count calories. The theoretical ability to combine each flavor with Diet Dr. Pepper and peach Sprite, because Y.O.L.O.
Cons: Arctic Chill tastes pretty watered down compared to North Pole Magic. Only being able to drink the sodas at the movies or while you’re shopping at the grocery store. Wondering how much it would cost to bribe the store to look the other way while you fill up a water cooler jug.

REVIEW: Burger King Flamin’ Hot Mac N’ Cheetos

Burger King Flamin Hot Mac n Cheetos

It’s an almost universally acknowledged fact that fast food marketers are about four years behind the rest of civilization. How else can you explain the packaging on Burger King’s new Flamin’ Hot Mac N’ Cheetos, which describes the item as “lit?” Jeez, you might as well throw in a “#BAE,” a “these are CRUNK” and maybe a couple of “shizzles,” for good measure.

Burger King Flamin Hot Mac n Cheetos 2

Regardless of the groan-inspiring “no, we’re hip and with it, for sure, dawg” artwork, I can assure you the recently revamped Mac N’ Cheetos are much better than the paper container they come in. For those of you who have never tried the regular BK Mac N’ Cheetos, I’d liken them to humongous, deep fried cheese sticks – which, as the name suggests, comes with a hearty smattering of Cheetos-flavored dust on the batter. Well, this variation ups the ante with a thick coating of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos spices, and it tastes pretty much identical to the puffed cornmeal snacks we all know and love.

Burger King Flamin Hot Mac n Cheetos 3

The exterior shell of these Mac N’ Cheetos is pretty dry, and the overall chewiness varies from piece to piece. Some pieces are fairly crunchy, while others are so hard it’ll snap the prongs off your plastic fork (which is what actually happened when I gave the product a taste test.) In terms of spiciness, I’d give it a respectable four or five out of ten, so if you don’t have a high tolerance for the hot stuff, you should still be able to enjoy them without breaking out the Tums or Kleenex.

Burger King Flamin Hot Mac n Cheetos 4

On the inside, the macaroni noodles are squishy but otherwise unremarkable. I’m almost 99.8 percent certain that’s Velveeta cheese spread on the inside, and that flavor is extremely powerful. So if you’re not a fan of gooey, buttery processed cheese, there’s your warning.

Overall, the snacks are tasty and surprisingly filling, with a spiciness that’s a tad more potent than you’d probably expect. Alas, they’re not without their demerits. First off, these things are EXTREMELY dry, with a sodium count the equivalent of swallowing half a teaspoon of table salt. And be prepared to dust red flakes off everything, because that Cheetos detritus flies like confetti every time you take a bite.

The big problem is that this five-count product desperately, direly needs a dipping sauce to accompany it. None of the usual Burger King sauces complement it all that well, and if you’re going to sell something containing half a day’s recommended daily allowance of salt, you at least owe us some on the house dressing to lubricate that stuff down our esophagi.

Which raises the question – what are you supposed to dip Cheetos in? Not that I’m trying to influence BK or anything, but Frito-Lay does already have a soy sauce-flavored Cheetos permutation in Japan.

(Nutrition Facts – 390 calories, 22 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 15 milligrams of cholesterol, 1170 milligrams of sodium, 40 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of sugar, and 9 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $2.69
Size: 5 pieces
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: The cheesy interior is really hearty and flavorful. The Cheetos dust is respectably spicy. They’re basically humongous fried macaroni sticks, and I won’t ever complain about that.
Cons: These things will dry your throat out fast. Not having a decent dipping sauce option afforded to you. Wondering why the packaging is all but devoid of Chester Cheetah iconography.

REVIEW: Mountain Dew Holiday Brew

Mtn Dew Holiday Brew

I, for one, hope this holiday-themed Dew trend continues. Hot on the heels of the oh-so-patriotic DEW.S.A. from earlier this summer, PepsiCo’s now hoisting Mountain Dew Holiday Brew on us, which could be the tip of the iceberg.

Why not release a special Dew variation for President’s Day called Grape-raham Lincoln? Or a special edition Mountain Dew Rosh Hashanah Raspberry while they’re at it? (I can see the tagline already – “you’ll want to Yom Kippur another one.”)

While we’re probably a few years away from that Thanksgiving tie-in Pecan Pie Mountain Dew or a special Saint Paddy’s brew (might I suggest the namesake Dew-U-I?), we can all take solace in the fact this year’s Christmas/Chanukah/Kwanzaa/New Year’s/Wright Brothers Day-themed beverage ain’t too shabby.

Mtn Dew Holiday Brew 2

As the product name and hue would lead you to believe, this special edition Holiday Brew is apparently one half Mountain Dew Code Red and one half regular old Dew. The beverage looks a little pinker than Code Red, though, and it doesn’t smell that much like either variation of Mountain Dew (I personally got a pureed cake batter vibe from mine, but your olfactory glands may detect something else.)

But taste-wise is where things get very interesting. As soon as the beverage hits your tongue, the taste is unmistakable – this stuff is Code Red Mountain Dew, straight up, with no additional flavorings. BUT when the aftertaste hits you, WHAM! It’s unmistakably the traditional green Dew flavor we’ve been slurping on forever. So we’ve got this downright bizarre mouthfeel thing going on where every five seconds or so, the flavor of the beverage shifts from Code Red to traditional Dew.

I can’t recall ever tasting a soda that did that, not even the aforementioned DEW.S.A. Whereas that tri-branded brew created a new synthesized flavor, the divergent flavors of Holiday Brew are pretty much locked in gustatory mortal combat – and that one-of-a-kind sensation might be worth purchasing the newfangled soda all by its lonesome.

Of course, if you never cared for either permutations of Dew in the past, I guess the prospects of Code Red Dew and normal Dew having a liquid kung fu fight on your tongue probably won’t convert you as a consumer.

I can’t say that Dew and Code Red Dew combined results in a better product than either as stand-alone beverages, but as far as Franken-sodas go, it’s still quite flavorful. That, and it opens the floodgates for even wackier novelty sodas in the future. Come on, Pepsi – you know you want to combine Pitch Black and LiveWire as All Hallow’s Eve Dew. You just KNOW you do. Or is that dew?

(Nutrition Facts – 20 ounces – 290 calories, 0 grams of fat, 110 milligrams of sodium, 77 grams of total carbohydrates, 77 grams of sugar, and 0 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $1.49
Size: 20 oz. bottle
Purchased at: Circle K
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: The alternating citrus/cherry flavor is unlike anything you’ve probably tried before. It’s a very thick and filling beverage. The packaging is festive.
Cons: It really doesn’t taste any better than Code Red or regular Dew. The cross-pollinated flavors aren’t as harmonious as DEW.S.A. Wondering which two brands Pepsi’s going to merge together for the inevitable Bastille Day Berry.

REVIEW: Burger King Farmhouse King

Burger King Farmhouse King
 
Usually when you order a fast food burger the product is considerably smaller than the item advertised. In the case of Burger King’s Farmhouse King, however, it’s just the opposite – as soon as the cashier handed me the bag, I thought they had accidentally dropped a napkin dispenser in there.

Be forewarned, the Farmhouse King is not for the faint of heart. Packing in a monstrous 1,220 calories, it surpasses the calorie count of Arby’s Meat Mountain sandwich. Indeed, this item could be considered the breakfast version of Arby’s aforementioned Noah’s Ark Sammich (since it pretty much contained two of each animal under its buns.)

We’ve got nearly a pound of burger going on here. That includes about half a pound of flame-kissed beef in the form of two Whopper patties, plus a heaping helping of smoked bacon, plus a double shot of melted American cheese, plus a handful of crispy onions and – the kicker – a fried egg capping the whole thing off like an angel atop a Christmas tree. And underneath the toasted sesame seed buns you’ve got a smattering of ketchup and BK’s proprietary “creamy sauce,” which to me, tastes a lot like honey BBQ sauce.

Burger King Farmhouse King 2

Needless to say, this stuff is intense. All by itself it makes up more than half of one’s recommended daily allowance of calories, and with more than 2,000 milligrams of sodium, it does constitute an entire day’s worth of USDA-approved salt intake. That said, it’s undeniably a yummy novelty burger, and if absolutely nothing else, one of the most filling single-serve fast food items in recent memory.

I suppose the first question most people would ask is whether the addition of the egg improves or worsens the product. To be perfectly honest, the taste of the egg itself is pretty hard to distinguish from the goulash of meats and sauce, which ultimately coalesces into this extremely tasty medley of BBQ sauce, beef, bacon, and onion (which, for whatever reason, most fast food places describe as “Western”). I mean, if you really focus you can pick up the yolky aftermath, but it’s nowhere near as prominent as you’d imagine. I wouldn’t go as far as to say the egg is superfluous, but it’s certainly downplayed once you start chowin’ down.

Burger King Farmhouse King 3

If you’re looking for a satiating sandwich, unless you’re a world class competitive eater, this sucker ought to have you down for the count. About halfway through my sandwich I was getting winded and by the time I finished the last bite, full-fledged the itis had set in. In hindsight, it wouldn’t surprise me if that BK “secret sauce” was actually Nyquil-laced Thousand Island dressing.

I wouldn’t want to down a Farmhouse King every week, but for a one-time, super-gluttonous fast food treat it’s downright marvelous. But if you’re going to eat it, be prepared; not only are you going to need a small army of napkins, you better have a pillow handy, too.

(Nutrition Facts – 1,220 calories, 720 calories from fat, 80 grams of fat, 28 grams of saturated fat, 3 grams of trans fat, 335 milligrams of cholesterol, 2050 milligrams of sodium, 62 grams of carbohydrates, 15 grams of sugar, and 63 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $6.29
Size: N/A
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: The beef, bacon, cheese, onion and BBQ sauce medley is downright delicious. It WILL fill you up. the egg taste is subtle, yet distinct.
Cons: The price point is pretty steep. Some might find the egg flavor too downplayed. Eating the sandwich at noon and having a duel to the death with The Sandman until 5 p.m. rolls around.

REVIEW: Kroger Big K Candy Cane Soda and Cinna-Roll Soda

Kroger Big K Candy Cane Soda and Cinna Roll Soda

Autumn 2005 is one of the most pivotal moments in the history of soft drinks since it marked the arrival of Jones Soda’s infamous Holiday Pack. Featuring a wild medley of bizarre-flavored beverages (turkey and gravy, brussels sprouts, pumpkin pie, etc.), the strange soda set received heaps of media coverage, more or less putting the obscure cola manufacturer on the map.

Here we are 13 years later, and soda companies are STILL trying to replicate Jones Soda’s unusual (yet undeniably successful) marketing strategy. From upstart micro-cola companies to Coca-Cola and PepsiCo themselves, soda manufacturers continue to trot out unorthodox – and in some cases, downright disgusting – colas with the hopes that the (morbid?) curiosity of John and Joan Q. Consumer will be enough to turn a profit, or at least generate some free publicity.

Kroger’s Big K Candy Cane and Cinna-Roll Sodas are certainly emblematic of the weird-simply-for-the-sake-of-being-weird cola trend. Neither product is all that appetizing – nor do they even taste that much like their namesakes, for that matter – but the sheer kookiness of the drinks is appealing.

Kroger Big K Candy Cane Soda and Cinna Roll Soda 2

The packaging has this ironic, half-hearted ClipArt feel to it, complete with two of the worst puns you’ll ever read in your life. And if nothing else, the soda hues are definitely cool; the candy cane one looks like mutated Hawaiian Punch (maybe lava lamp juice?), while the cinna-roll one is the same color of ultra thick maple syrup (or 10W30 motor oil?)

Kroger Big K Candy Cane Soda

Kroger Big K Cinna Roll Soda

Alas, aesthetics can only carry a cola so far, and in the one area that matters most, both these sodas fall flat. The candy cane variation is the better tasting of the two, but even then it just tastes like a jug of Sprite with about 50 peppermints floating in it. Granted, that’s not my bag, but if you’re a connoisseur of peppermint schnapps, you might foster a fondness for it.

Unfortunately, the cinna-roll one won’t impress anybody. First off, the smell is weird. Yes, it’s like a cinnamon roll, but one that’s really stale. Or a fresh one that’s in an old sock – I’ll let you judge that for yourself. Regardless, the taste isn’t there. Instead of tasting like a Cinnabon treat, it’s like thick ginger ale with a surfeit of sugar in it. In fact, both sodas are sugary to the point of being nauseating; one serving of either will net you a whopping 96 percent of your RDA of the saccharine stuff.

Kroger Big K Candy Cane Soda and Cinna Roll Soda 4

Alone, I wouldn’t consider either of these novelty colas worth going out of your way to experience. Just for the heck of it, though, I merged the two for science’s sake, and the coalesced Candy Cane-Cinna-Roll abomination actually tasted better than either standalone soda. Take note, Pepsi Fire fans (both of you) – combining these two off-kilter Kroger colas might be the closest thing you’ll get to reliving the magic and mirth of summer 2017. 

(Nutrition Facts – 12 ounces – 180 calories, 0 grams of total fat, 20 milligrams of sodium, 48 grams of total carbohydrates, 48 grams of total sugars, and 0 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $1.49 each
Size: 2 liter bottles
Purchased at: Kroger
Rating: 4 out of 10 (Candy Cane)
Rating: 3 out of 10 (Cinna-Roll)
Rating: 5 out of 10 (Both flavors combined)
Pros: The packaging is hipster-tastic; the colors of the sodas are really groovy. Combining the two colas together gives you (unofficial) Kroger Fire.
Cons: Both colas are excessively sweet. The cinnamon roll one has an off-putting smell (and carbonation that takes forever to die down). Realizing there’s no rational answer for when your significant other asks you why you’re putting them in the shopping cart.