REVIEW: Cheerwine Kreme

Cheerwine Kreme

The Southern favorite, Cheerwine, used to be on my soda bucket list.

Yes, I have a soda bucket list.

Cheerwine. Chugged.

Moxie. Imbibed.

Big Red. Knocked back.

Coco Fizz. Consumed.

Faygo. Someday, yo.

Dublin Dr Pepper. Unfortunately, never, since it’s not being made anymore.

To be honest, for a while, I thought Cheerwine was an alcoholic beverage. But thanks to the internet and one really boring evening at home, I learned it was not. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to drink it, and, holy cheer, it’s one sweet cherry soda. Sweet because it made my sweet tooth dance like the inflatable tube guy you see at car dealerships and sweet because it’s one awesome soda. Think of it as Dr Pepper, but instead of having 23 flavors, it has one flavor — cherry.

Being both from the South, Cheerwine and Krispy Kreme decided to join forces to create a Cheerwine with a hint of Krispy Kreme icing. This would’ve been a nice flavor to introduce next year, since 2017 is Cheerwine’s 100th birthday, but maybe the company plans to introduce Cheerwine with a hint of birthday cake to celebrate.

This is not the first time the two brands have come together for a product. They also did a Cheerwine-flavored Krispy Kreme donut, I mean, doughnut.

Cheerwine Kreme 2

Cheerwine Kreme is noticeably lighter in color than original Cheerwine. While the original is Dr Pepper dark, the limited edition soda is like a slightly darker Big Red soda. It has an aroma that instantly makes me think of Vanilla Coke. It also has a vanilla flavor that instantly makes me think of a red creme soda.

I love red cream soda, so I enjoyed Cheerwine Kreme immensely. But it tastes exactly like a red creme soda. That’s an issue because Cheerwine has a unique flavor and the flavor of this isn’t.

A special thanks goes to Impulsive Buy reader Robert Harris who sent me the bottles of Cheerwine and Cheerwine Kreme. Cheers, Robert!

(Nutrition Facts – 8 fl oz – 100 calories, 0 grams of fat, 17 milligrams of sodium, 28 grams of carbohydrates, 28 grams of sugar, 0 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: Received from reader
Size: 20 oz bottle
Purchased at: N/A
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Tastes like red cream soda. Smells like Vanilla Coke. Probably less Red 40 than original Cheerwine.
Cons: Tastes like a red cream soda. Was available in very few markets. Not being able to drink Dublin Dr Pepper.

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: 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