REVIEW: Coca-Cola Plus Ginger (Japan)

Coca-Cola Plus Ginger (Japan)

For most of my life I’ve thought of ginger as more of a medicine than an ingredient.

When I felt nauseous playing DOOM, I sucked on ginger candy. When I felt something funny in my tummy while watching someone play DOOM, I drank ginger ale. And when it felt like the room was spinning around every time I closed my eyes after playing DOOM, I hung out next to the toilet.

While ginger ale is quite possibly the most popular beverage with ginger, more drinks are being offered with it, like ginger beers, ginger kombucha, and, last year, Pepsi put some into their wonderful 1893 Ginger Cola.

Because of my love for Pepsi’s craft ginger cola, the first thing I sought out during my Japan trip was the new Coca-Cola Plus Ginger.

While Pepsi Japan comes out annually with limited edition soda flavors you’ve never seen in a PETE plastic soda bottle, Coca-Cola Japan keeps it simple by just adding a bit of flavor to the standard Coke and does it at an Olympics-like frequency. About three years ago, Coca-Cola Japan sold a delicious orange-flavored Coke.

It’s funny that the Pepsi Japan flavors are like ideas from a cocaine binge (cucumber, baobab, cherry blossom), while the cola that once had actual cocaine in it ends up being tame.

Much like the amount of orange flavoring in the last limited edition Japanese Coke I had, this soda had the right amount of ginger flavor. You can’t miss it, but it doesn’t overwhelm the cola. To be honest, it tastes right at home with the cola spices. Also, it didn’t burn, like it does with ginger beer. Coca-Cola Plus Ginger is such a great tasting soda that I bought two more bottles at the end of my trip.

If you enjoyed Pepsi’s ginger cola, you’ll like this, if you get your hands on it. It’s only available in Japan for a limited time (it was available in Australia in 2016) or from an online Japanese snack seller. If you think you’ll be able to replicate it by mixing Coca-Cola with Seagram’s Ginger Ale, you won’t because I tried using various ratios and none of them tasted anything close.

I really hope Coca-Cola Plus Ginger ends up in the United States, or at least be an option on a Coke Freestyle machine.

(Nutrition Facts – 100 ml – 44 kcal, 0 grams of fat, 11 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of sodium, and 0 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: 130 Japanese Yen
Size: 500 ml
Purchased at: Lawson Station
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: If you’re a fan of Pepsi’s 1893 Ginger Cola, you’ll like this. Right amount of ginger flavor. Ginger complements the cola spices. Doesn’t have ginger burn.
Cons: Not available in the U.S., but might be available through online Japanese snack sellers. The nauseous feeling I got when playing DOOM.

REVIEW: Mtn Dew Mango Heat Game Fuel

Mtn Dew Mango Heat

If you asked me to write down the flavors that remind me of October, I assure you that “mango” and “spicy heat” would both fall pretty low on that list, right there near the bottom with “overcooked pork chop,” “accidentally ingested Reese’s wrapper,” and “neighborhood bully knuckle sandwich.”

There’s really no logical reason for Mountain Dew’s new Mango Heat Game Fuel to debut after summer, unless the titular flavors are meant to symbolize global warming and all the unsold overstock from Trader Joe’s recent mango mania. I understand that Mango Heat doesn’t need to make sense, since it’s only meant to tie-in with the upcoming video game Titanfall 2, but as a meticulous Halloween fanatic, I want everything I consume this month to taste appropriately spooktacular.

It’s why every steak I eat in October oozes blood, every pizza is extra saucy, and every PB&J has enough J to create an impressive splash zone around me when I bite into it.

So Mountain Dew should’ve just tied this drink to the new Resident Evil zombie game and called it “Blood Orange Game Fuel.” Because as I quickly found out, that’s what it tastes like, too.

Mtn Dew Mango Heat 2

Amidst the wails of my Spooky Sounds cassette tape and the annoyed groans of my upstairs neighbors, the fine carbonated hiss of my Dew became a welcome part of the spooky symphony. But nothing about my first sip screamed “mango!” to me. Instead, it tasted like a carbonated Hi-C Ecto-Cooler.

More specifically, it tasted like Mountain Dew took a carbonated Ecto Cooler, added a splash of Sunny D, tossed in a dash of black pepper, and mixed it all together—by using a Mango Dum-Dum sucker as the swizzle stick. In layman’s tastes, this means Mango Heat’s predominate flavor is “sugary artificial orange,” with a mildly biting tang and an even milder tropical fruitiness.

While its lack of mango is already lame enough to make an ordinary man go nuts, this Dew’s peppery heat is the disappointing icing on an already sad birthday cake—the kind of cake that misspells my name as “Don.” The promised heat isn’t spicy or burning: it’s just kind of annoying. After every sip, a tingling, unflavored aftertaste tickled the back of my throat like one of those sneezes that teases but never comes.

I tried swishing the Mango Heat around in my mouth to test for deeper flavor complexities, but this merely spread the Dew’s unpleasant slimy corn syrupiness around my mouth and made my dentist shudder in his sleep without knowing why.

Mtn Dew Mango Heat 3

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with this Dew’s angsty tangerine juice box flavor. Its “liquefied Velma Scooby-Doo fruit snacks” taste is perfectly pleasant when sipped in isolation. Yet I can’t but help compare Mango Heat to its similar-tasting Game Fuel brother: Citrus Cherry. Since Citrus Cherry is also back in stores, I wish Mountain Dew had been more experimental with this new Game Fuel flavor.

With a color as atomically orange as Mango Heat’s, Mountain Dew could’ve made a vanilla-tinged Orange Creamsicle Dew or a BuzzFeed-breaking Pumpkin Spice Dew. Heck, I would’ve even accepted a nationwide release of 2014’s legendary, nacho cheese-flavored “Dewritos” soda. It’s the most deviant time of year, yet Mountain Dew tried to play it a little too safe.

Mtn Dew Mango Heat 4

If you really like Hi-C’s Ecto-Cooler or Orange Lavaburst, Mtn Dew Mango Heat might still tickle your fancy as much as it does your trachea. The rest of us are better off using it as a glowing Halloween mood talisman.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 bottle – 170 calories, 0 grams of fat, 100 milligrams of sodium, 46 grams of carbohydrates, 46 grams of sugar, and 0 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price: $1.69
Size: 20 fl oz bottle
Purchased at: Kroger
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: A stinging high-five between an Orange Starburst and a pissed-off glass of Sunny D. A soda the color of melted jack-o-lanterns. Using carbonation for atmospheric effect. Ordering an “extra large, extra bloody” pizza from Papa John’s. Never having the chance to masochistically taste “Dewritos.”
Cons: Mango flavor that’s as faded as my summer memories. A heated aftertaste that’s as irritating as YouTube’s Annoying Orange. A palette-swapped Citrus Cherry doppelgänger. PB&J stains on my best white shirt. Unknowingly eating the brown wrapper on every Reese’s Cup until I was six (seriously).

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: 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!