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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Where you can buy Flying Cauldron Butterscotch Beer in North County

The short version: As far as I can tell, the only place to find it is at Rocket Fizz, which has a store in downtown Vista, near the Cinepolis theater.

The long version: My two intrepid Assistant Tasters have decided to celebrate our arrival at a particular point in the Earth's orbit by hosting a party for their friends at the Lab. Some of these friends were previously introduced to a delightful Weird soda, Flying Cauldron Butterscotch Beer, which we reviewed at the Lab back in 2012. Shortly before the party*, I was informed that these splendid young people were hoping that more Flying Cauldron would be provided**. Being a Quaffmaster (even if semi-retired), I assumed that locating a specific Weird soda would not be difficult.

I turned to our modern Delphic oracle***, the Google. The Google reported that several stores indicated that their store was familiar with Flying Cauldron, a word which here means "have heard of it at one point, and are pretty sure they'd be able to order it for you with two weeks lead time". It turns out needing it in 24 hours makes businesses feel perfectly entitled to add all sorts of extra charges amounting to it being cheaper to have my own Flying Cauldron brewing facility constructed.

The manufacturer's web site is well-constructed, and even has the ability to select a specific beverage and have stores selling that beverage located. How lovely.

Of course you can buy Flying Cauldron in your area!, I was told. There are any number of stores, all of the "Fresh & Easy" chain, which stock Flying Cauldron. Here are all the locations within 100 miles of you.

Unfortunately, I happen to know that the entire Fresh and Easy chain has recently gone out of business****.

Having concluded that my quest was in vain, I resigned myself to provide some sort of lesser butterscotch beverage and throw myself upon the mercy***** of the teenagers who would be descending on the Lab in six hours. According to Rocket Fizz's website, they did not have Flying Cauldron, but did have at least one other butterscotch soda, which might be adequate, so I went there first (the second try would be Cost Plus, where they apparently had Dang! That's Good butterscotch root beer; not my favorite).

Browsing through Rocket Fizz, I was astonished to come across Flying Cauldron. Grabbing twelve bottles and snarling ferally at any other customers who wandered near, I went up to the counter.

"Do you realize you are the *only* people in North County who stock this?"

The proprietor gazed at me, a satisfied smile on his face, a calm serenity in his eyes.

"Oh, yes," he replied, "yes, we do."

I don't know why it's not on their website. Perhaps they hope to restrict Flying Cauldron only to the worthy, who do not seek advice from the Google. Perhaps they hope to avoid attention from the same shadowy forces which brought down the Fresh and Easy chain. It's impossible to say. But given that this blog is read by approximately ten people, I feel safe in spreading what word I can:

All that is good is not Googled,
Not all that which bubbles does boil;
If you seek you shall not be bamboozled,
Deep quaffing awaits those who toil.

The cauldron has flown here in secret--
To Vista, where stores know their biz;
The Butterscotch Beer is on fleek yet!
You'll find it at Rocket Fizz.

* And by "shortly", I mean "less than 48 hours"
** And by "hoping", I mean "operating under the assumption, with unspecified but dire consequences if said assumption proved unfounded"
*** Having the option to have Google deliver search results in cryptic Delphic utterances is a very very good idea.
**** I blame ISIL, and their well-known hatred of butterscotch.
***** I thought I'd give all the parents of teenagers out there a bit of a chuckle to start the New Year.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Chicken Partner

It's been a, a bit over a year at the Lab.
In fact, I haven't been in the Lab. I had moved on to other experiences. Archery. Hang-gliding. Applying to be an academic dean. Competitive marshmallow eating. Shooting marshmallows off of the dean's head with arrows while hang gliding.* My life had expanded to new horizons, and if I thought on the Lab, it was only in dreams. I'd walk across the kitchen, and my eyes would pass over the bench and the spaces beneath, where we kept the Weirdness** in days gone by, and my mind would simply edit it out. I'm not sure whether it was trying to console me or protect me. There are some places where the human mind--or taste buds and olfactory organs--goes, and if it is lucky enough to return unbroken and unscorched, it walls up those memories like Fortunato*** and tries to ignore the faint scratchings in the night.


It was at Olorin's Halloween party. An old friend of his had come down to visit us (the friend now lives hundreds of miles north) for the party. As the soiree drew to a close, this young friend's father came to the door to whisk his child away. They were just on their way out, when he turned to me.

To my dying day, I'll never know if it was a hallucination, a premonition, or the pure truth, but I saw an unholy light in that man's eyes as his eyes met mine. His mouth curved in a smile whose contours approximated the Dho-Nha geometry needed for the summoning of things which should not be dwelt upon overlong.

"So, I heard you're into Weird sodas?"

By all that is all which stands bravely against the impersonal and immeasurable void beyond the stars...can one NEVER ESCAPE ONE'S PAST? Like some unspeakable hunting-horror chasing me through the angles of time, an identity which had once possessed me was again slipping its carbonated talons under the bottlecap of my brain. I must resist! I must fight, lest new and unquaffable horrors slink liquescently into the homes and glasses of the innocents who, in their sylvan and pastoral gambolings through the Internet, accidentally stumble into the hoary and immemorial ramblings of that half-man, half-beast known to the initiated as the Quaffmaster. Like some ancient revenant, would that hideous shadow come forth and seize me again? I cannot! I must not! I...

"Yeah," I said.

Aw, heck.


You may have read the title of this post and thought that you were on the wrong blog****. Or perhaps that you have witnessed the world's most unlikely typo*****. Or an autocorrect which says more than one wants to hear about the normal typing of the author. But fact, the can that man handed me on that Halloween night bears the label "Chicken Partner". And a subtitle which...and I would not have believed this was even Weirder.
"You Need Her."
I really sort of wish I had seen this on a shelf. I can imagine the double take, and the slow walk back to confirm that I had, in fact, seen what I thought I had seen.

I think it can smell fear.

For what it's worth, I tried using Google Translate to interpret the characters on the front of the can. The website allows one to hand-draw Chinese characters and will suggest likely matches. I did my best, but I have to assume that I did something wrong, because the first two characters come out as "Chicken Clamp". On the other hand, the last two do seem to mean "Partner". The small characters below, according to Google, mean "You Need A Partner".

Truly, the mind boggles. Apparently, not only do I need this chicken partner, but said partner identifies as female. Why do I need her? Is she the partner of a chicken? Will the chicken be jealous? Or is the thing I need a female chicken, and I need her *as* a partner? Is this the beginning of a madcap police comedy sitcom, in which a tough-as-nails-but-secretly-warmhearted chicken police officer is partnered with a lovable-but-bumbling-but-secretly-competent physiology professor to fight crimes and learn valuable lessons about the meaning of friendship? I suppose "Chicken Partner" could even be the name of a boat or ship or aircraft of some sort, which I will require at some point in the future. A sequel to "Blue Thunder", perhaps?

I'm not even sure that I can speculate. This may be one of those things which really cannot be explained in terms suitable for the sane mind. It's even possible that this is actual nonsense. It could be a Diceware password. But it is definitely...unquestionably...Weird.

Really, I think we can only make one guess about this soda before quaffing it.
It probably goes well with chicken.

Where and when: I don't even want to speculate, but possibly Petaluma, and sometime shortly before Halloween 2015.
Color: light to medium amber. The color of a dark ginger ale, such as Vernon's.
Scent: Not very sweet, a bit smoky or dusty. Pretty faint.
Taste: Um...whoa. Okay, where to begin. First, it's sweet...but the sweet is accompanied by a very strange flavor that I'm having trouble describing. It's bitter and acrid...makes me think of the smell of car tires. The sweet is fairly strong, but the slightly acidic bitter taste is hovering around the sides of my tongue. After about ten seconds, it develops a vaguely alcoholic, volatile, sickly-sweet flavor right around the top of my mouth. This persists as the bitter fades, leaving me with a slight sense of some sort of sweet menthol-ish oil coating the inside of my nose.

It's probably safe to say that it's not my favorite.

I'm really not quite sure what to liken it to. It's a tiny bit like a cola, I guess, but with a more cloying and less tart taste. It's got a little in common with the Abbondio Chinotto. Actually, it's a tiny bit like Moxie, which I'm also not especially fond of.

Kibbitzer-in-Chief: "I think it smells like apple juice that someone's crushed Tylenol into."
*tastes it*
*grimaces* *grimaces again, but differently* "That's interesting. It...tastes better than it smells. Is that--barbecue sauce?" *grimaces* "Barbecue sauce. Like fake smoke, cider vinegar, brown sugar, and...I don't know. Tastes like cheap barbecue sauce, but carbonated...which *is* better than it smells, but not good."

*a minute later*

"Oh God, it's still in my nose. Make it go!"

Okay, so far this tastes like car tires and cheap barbecue sauce, and it somehow moves into your nose and won't go away. I think our junior tasters need to try it.

Nazgul: *sniff* "That's a weird smell." *taste* *long pause, thoughtful expression* "What is it?"
Me: "It's Chicken Partner."
Nazgul: *pause* "I'm not sure how I feel about that."

Olorin: *sniff* "That's a weird smell." *taste* "It's...actually good. Sweet."
Me: "You're welcome to finish it."

Me, to Kibbitzer-in-Chief: "Would it go well with chicken?"
K-i-C: "I like barbecue chicken."

Olorin's friend and his friend's father didn't have names by which I could identify them here, so they'll have to remain anonymous. Unless, of course, I assign them pseudonyms. So thanks much for this truly Weird experience, Bikeronaut and Zombunny!

Quaff rating: 1.0. I really can't say I enjoyed it, but I'm pretty unlikely to forget it.
Cough rating: 2.0.  Barbecued. Car. Tires.

* One of these is even true.
** I think that at this point the Weirdness would have to be said to live primarily in Nazgul's room. 
*** If I even found a can of soda labeled "Amontillado", you know I'd have to review it. "Sweet, just a bit spicy...and gritty, as if with brick dust..."
****I'm not sure on what sort of blog "Chicken Partner" *would* be an unremarkable post title...some sort of exotic folk-dancing blog, perhaps? Or...well, perhaps it's best not to speculate.
*****"Ah, I see. He meant to type 'McBlatherson's Cherry Spice Tonic Slime', but it came out 'Chicken Partner'. A mistake anyone could make."

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Sodas of Self-Aggrandizement: "Spiffy" Cola and "Dang! That's Good" Butterscotch Root Beer

Date: August 3, 2014
Where bought: North Topeka Arts Walk, Topeka, KS, from Soda Works

There comes a time in the life of every Quaffmaster when he or she* must, like a spawning salmon, return to the waters of his or her** birth***. Feeling this soul-deep summons, I persuaded the Lab staff that it was time for us to make a journey from Vista, California to Topeka, Kansas. And what better way to cross the great American southwest desert in late July/early August than by driving across it?

Having agreed that this was the best plan of all possible plans which have ever been planned, we rented a car*****, loaded up a lot of stuff, and set course for the town where I spent the first eighteen years of my life.
By a somewhat indirect route, of course. Why take a road trip if you're not going to see some stuff? In this case, "some stuff" included Las Vegas, chicken fried steak, unexpected summer desert rainstorms, the Great Salt Lake, the Temple Square, our life flashing before our eyes on a Utah interstate merging, Dinosaur National Monument, a vague view of I-70 through a curtain of rain and mist as we skidded down the Vail Pass in a driving rainstorm, giant voyeuristic bears, warm greetings and yummy food from dear family, another friend who I had only ever spoken to online, several hours' worth of the inside of a tire repair shop in Estes Park, unexpected waterfalls, wrong turns, wind farms, Kanorado, giant stone phalluses, decadently huge sandwiches, sphinxes, and (most recently) dominoes.

And, not entirely unexpectedly given who I am, Weird soda.

As we strolled through the North Topeka First Friday Art Walk, a bag containing a highly artistic wire sculpture of an octopus swinging merrily from my arm, my eyes chanced across a street cart at which beverages were being vended. The cart bore the logo of SodaWorks, a Topeka company I had only heard of, which sold Weird sodas. This meeting was clearly destined, and so I strode boldly forth to peruse their wares.


Not only did they have wit as sparkling as their beverages, they had two I had never even heard of before. Obviously, I had to purchase these and report on them for you, my readers******. So with my hat off to SodaWorks, let's get to the quaffing.

Spiffy: A Swell Cola Drink

Where and When: Purchased August 1, 2014 from SodaWorks at the North Topeka Arts Walk, Topeka, KS
Appearance: We should start with the bottle.

It rests upon the table where I ate dinner in my childhood. I think I kind of looked like that at the time, too.

This one is from Orca Beverage Soda Works, which I note is based in Mukilteo, Washington. Any town which combines the concepts of "mucus" and "kilt" in its name has got to be some place special.
The person depicted on the bottle is cherubic and partially bald. What hair he (I am presuming "he") has is swept dramatically back from the widow's peak on his forehead. His tongue, protruding tentatively from his lips, suggests that he is either licking his lips in anticipation of the drink or giving a raspberry to the year 1934. My father (who shall be known as Cliffhanger) was born in 1933, so I am presuming that Mr. Spiffy, here on the bottle, is expressing his disdain for any year following the year of Cliffhanger's birth. "Baloney, you chizz!", says Mr. Spiffy, "No gin-fizz or giggle juice can eighty-six the macher which is Cliffhanger! Why, I'm starry-eyed at his moxie! But I'm just bumping gums here, cat. Abyssinia!"

Now, the appearance of the soda itself.

Appears to be a dark caramel-colored cola, similar to any number of others. Aside from the smooth Joe on the label, it doesn't seem too unusual.

Scent: Fairly sharp cola, citrusy undertones. Maybe some vanilla. A nice smell.
Taste: First attack is sweeter than some colas, with little of the aggressive bite that you get in more common sodas. Followed quickly by a very sharp tartness, "orange-ish or slight lemon" in Nazgul's opinion which dissolves into a pleasant series of aftertastes. The aftertaste has a lot of root beer-like notes, cinnamon and vanilla.
Cliffhanger: "Characteristic cola taste at the beginning, with a citric highlight in the aftertaste."

Of course, Cliffhanger can actually distinguish between wines, so his palate is more trustworthy than mine. The fact that we broadly agree makes me think I might have some hope for myself. Or that I should have more wine.

Colas aren't my favorite sodas, although I can enjoy them when they are what's at hand. This is an unusually nice cola; smooth, without a lot of bite, and with some complexity. Nazgul is also fond of the not-quite-as-carbonated quality, which probably helps with the smoothness.

Quaff rating: 3.5. Good stuff.
Cough rating: 0.5. Other than the very powerful citrus attack in the mid-taste, no objections from me!

After that pleasant surprise, I'm a little apprehensive about moving on to the next one. It's a bit more unusual...more daring, even. But what are we, if not courageous?*******

Dang! That's Good Butterscotch Root Beer

This is made by Imperial Flavors Beverage Company, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I can only assume that the marketing dialogue went something like this:

Executive: "Ladies and gentlemen, we have a new soda to sell. What do we call it?"
Marketing Person: "We're not sure yet. We're looking for ideas."
Underling: "Let me try some. We can base the name on the flavor."
Executive: "Very well. Stormtroopers! Get this underling a bottle of the latest brew!"
Executive: "Genius! Let's go with that!"
Lawyer: "Errrr..."

I must admit that the original title is better, but one must make allowances for the desire to not be arrested.

Where and When: Purchased August 1, 2014 from SodaWorks at the North Topeka Arts Walk, Topeka, KS 
Appearance: A slightly lighter caramel than the Spiffy, but still pretty much brown.

This is the table where I ate family meals for most of my pre-adult life. Coming back and doing Weird soda reviews on it feels a bit weird.

Scent: Interesting. The butterscotch is right on top, masking most of the root beer smell. It's a bit darker than, say, butterscotch chips or those hard yellow butterscotch candies, but it's pretty clear.

Taste: This is an interesting combination. The butterscotch isn't as strong in the taste as in the smell. It's balanced almost perfectly with the root beer, and the balance is nice. The butterscotch has an ever-so-slightly burned note, as if aged in oak barrels which, just prior to being breached, were shipped to a dungeon room in which a party of eighth-level adventurers encountered an adult red dragon********.
On the other hand, the good part of root beer is in the complexity of the mid- and aftertaste, and that is completely lost here. The butterscotch masks it completely, fading out slowly, without ever letting it get through. It's either a very poor root beer, or it's lost in the butterscotch; either way, I am sad.

Oh, wait. About ten seconds after quaffing, there's a bit of mild ickiness. A slight bitter-metallic aftertaste, and a feeling of light coating on the roof of the mouth which persists. Unpleasant.

Overall, while the butterscotch is fun (and I admire the balance with the basic root beer flavor), this is disappointing.

Quaff rating: 2.5. Meh. Good but not really good.
Cough rating: 1.0. There is noticeable aversive stuff in the aftermath.

Our work here is done. Time to leave Topeka, and journey back to the Lab. Abyssinia!

* In this case, "he".
** In this case, "his".
*** My mother, Rotalmomska, did not save any of the amniotic fluid in which I gestated****, so this should be taken metaphorically.
**** please God please God please God
***** Had we not done this, our choices from the Lab auto pool would have been a 1994 Ford Aspire (no power steering, effectively no air conditioning, and a vestigial back seat) or a 1998 Toyota Sienna minivan (on which I have been practicing effectively nonexistent automotive maintenance skills, and also lacking effective air conditioning). There is no price that the rental car company could have charged us which would not have been worth it.
****** I am told that the chance of any given person reading this blog is nonzero. Since nonzero is infinitely greater than zero (I know this is mathematically unsound), I conclude that not only is it certain that every single person on Earth is a reader of this blog, but also that the existence of information describing this blog has reached Alpha Centauri by now, and so all sentient beings there are also readers. As Earth's ambassador to alien species, I offer my sincerest apologies for Abali Yogurt Soda.
******* Actually, I can think of any number of other descriptors. You probably can, too, but I doubt I want to hear them.
******** While "800 XP" is not specifically listed in the ingredients, I think I can taste it.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Avery's Kitty Piddle and Dog Drool

Okay, so I wasn't quite right about being "done". I forgot that a very good friend of mine had sent me some interesting sodas from Los Gatos, and I would be a pretty cruddy friend not to review tham after that, wouldn't I?*

I don't actually have a good alias for this fine man, but I'm guessing he wouldn't mind if I referred to him as "Bryozoan". That combined with the fact that he was my freshman-year roommate at UC Santa Cruz should make it easy for him to identify himself**, and to know that it's him I'm thanking right now.

He sent me a couple of sodas I truly hadn't seen before, and which fall without question into the "Weird" category.
I'm glad they put the intended flavor in the upper left side of the label.
There was a time when one of my readers suggested that he would find me a camel pee soda. I never saw that--I'm choosing to believe it doesn't exist, because if it did and someone sent it to me, I would be obliged to actually try it--but this seems like a spiritual attempt at the same thing.

I don't think I'm familiar with "Avery's", but they seem to be bottled in Connecticut***, so at least they're far from the Lab. I feel safer now.

First, we'll try Kitty Piddle. An interesting observation: this is the only bottled soda I've ever had which was filled to the very top of the bottle (you can see this in the photo). I know I'm not supposed to eat food from swollen cans lest I ingest botulinium toxin and die****, but the same thing shouldn't happen here. I can only imagine that, when it was being bottled, some kind soul didn't want me to miss out on that last swallow of kitty piddle.

Where and when: Purchased sometime in spring 2012 at Powell's Sweet Shoppe, Los Gatos, CA
Color: Translucent straw yellow. The bottom of the bottle has a bit of precipitated whitish stuff.
Scent: Sharp, tart. I'm quite familiar with the scents of human and dog urine*****, but not cat, so I suppose this could smell like kitty piddle.
Taste: Kind of reminiscent of Orangina, but with a bit of added mellowness. This is consistent with the label's proclamation of "Pineapple Orange". Pleasant, except that my mind (being the suggestible thing that it is) keeps trying to imagine cat pee. If I manage to ignore that, it's actually decent. Not a lot of aftertaste.

Quaff rating: 3.5. Surprisingly good.
Cough rating: 1.0. I can't quite shake the mental image.

Okay, on to the Dog Drool.

Where and when: Purchased sometime in spring 2012 at Powell's Sweet Shoppe, Los Gatos, CA
Color: Pale pink. Perhaps not too far from the color of living brain tissue.
Scent: Different. Tart, with a slight bitter undertone. Grape?
Nazgul: "Cherryish, with a little bit of watermelon".
Well, that's pretty different from mine. However, given that Nazgul did twice as well as I did on the Coke/Pepsi identification test, I really should give his opinion some weight.
Taste: Okay, I have to make a confession here. I'm more afraid to try this than most of them. And I can tell you exactly why--it's because of a joke RoTalMomska told me when I was a kid. It was triggered by the "drool" in the soda name. I'll include the joke at the end of this review...but consider yourself fairly warned by the fact that I still bear the scars of it more than twenty years later.

But I am--at least for this moment--still the Quaffmaster, and I cannot shirk my duty.

*not thinking of the joke* Not too bad. Pretty nice, actually. *not thinking of the joke* Grape-ish, with a substantial citrus, but more like lime. *not thinking of the joke* The label says "Orange Lemon", but I'd call it "grape lime." *not thinking of the joke* I think I like the Kitty Piddle a bit more, but I'd happily have this too, as long as I can avoid *thinking of the joke*.

Oh, crud. Now I may actually be sick. But it's not the soda's fault. It's RoTalMomska's.

Quaff rating: 3.0. Pleasantly mellow.
Cough rating: For the soda itself, probably 0.5. With the joke, 2.5.

* The review being 13 months late only makes me a somewhat cruddy friend.
** Unless my housekeeping habits that year have caused him to attempt to expunge me from his memory, for which I really couldn't blame him.
*** State motto: "Secretiones animalis esse bonos potiones"
**** But without *any* facial wrinkles
***** Flitwick, the Lab's Amazing Obnoxo-Dog, responds to the presence****** of most material objects by peeing on them, or the nearest convenient alternative object.
****** Or absence.

Oh, you want to hear the joke? Okay.

A guy walks into a saloon in the old west. He's obviously drunk, and the bartender doesn't want any trouble, so when he asks for a whiskey, the bartender refuses him.
Swaying, he addresses the bartender: "If you don' give me a whiskey, I'm a-gonna go get that thar spittoon and drink it instead."
The bartender doesn't believe that for a second. "Well, you just go ahead then, partner," he says.
The drunk man stumbles over and seizes the spittoon. He lifts it to his lips and tilts it up. The bartender is shocked and horrified to see his Adam's apple moving up and down.
"Okay, okay. I'm convinced. Come have yer whiskey," he says.
The man doesn't stop. He just keeps swallowing.
"Stop! I'll give you a whiskey, just stop!" the bartender cries, sickened.
The man doesn't stop. He keeps swallowing.
"STOP! Please, stop! I can't stand seeing this!" the bartender shouts.

The man puts down the spittoon and stumbles back to the bar. The bartender, awed and disgusted, brings out a shot glass and pours the man a shot.

"Mister, that's gotta be one of the worst things I ever saw. Why didn't you stop when I first asked you to?"
The drunk man looks blearily at the bartender and says...

"Well, I tried to, but I couldn't; it was all in one string."

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Completely Normal Soda Review, and a Goodbye Song

It's been rather quiet in the lab. I think...we may have accomplished much of our mission. We have quaffed--if not all that is quaffable, then at least a whole variety of things. There's been joy. There's been pain. And I might--just might--be ready to go back to finding and actually drinking Weird sodas for a while.

When I started this journey, I had one thing I knew I had to do before it was done. I had to come full circle. Return to my roots. Come back and rejoin the masses. Yes...we must now review some completely normal sodas.

But being who we are here at the Lab, we'll do it with proper respect for science. Surely somewhere Galileo Galilei, Albert Einstein, Rosalind Franklin, Marie Curie, and Aristotle P. Mitzenheimer* will raise a glass of carbonated ambrosia** to us as we hold fast to our integrity, even now.

I've recruited the Kibbitzer-in-Chief to prepare a sample of four sodas:
Regular Coca-Cola Classic from a plastic bottle
Regular Pepsi from a plastic bottle
Mexican Coca-Cola from a glass bottle
Mexican Pepsi from a glass bottle

Each will be poured into a numbered cup, and she will keep the record of which is which. She will lay them out for me, and then ignore me entirely so she can't influence my judgment (it's the closest I can get to a double blind). I'll sample and review each, and try to identify them.

Soda Number One
Color: Brown, with a slightly yellow-green tint. Not promising.
Scent: Sharp, with a bit of chocolate and citrus.
Taste: Kind of thin, actually. A cool beginning without a great deal of flavor. Then a fairly sharp bite, followed by a moderately sour aftereffect. Just a bit of bitter in the aftertaste. Not especially sweet. Note of coffee?
(Later comments from Nazgul and Olorin)
Nazgul: Sweet, kind of creamy. It doesn't taste like Coca-Cola.
Olorin:Tastes smoother than a lot of sodas.

Soda Number Two
Color: Slightly lighter brown, same yellowish tint, maybe a touch less green.
Scent: Distinctly sweet, a bit sharp, smell of orange blossoms.
Taste: A bit more flavorful than #1. Similar cool bland beginning, but a sweeter and more mellow aftereffect with less tartness. Similar bitter tone at the upper back.
Nazgul: This one is more like Pepsi. More citrusy.
Olorin: It's colder than #1. It's more smooth than #1.

Soda Number Three 
Color: Almost identical to #1. Brown, slight yellow-green tint.
Scent: Cool, sweet, not so much floral. More like #1 than #2. Icy?
Taste: relatively quick impact of an orangey flavor, with cola tones. Aftertaste mild, not much bitter. Slightly sticky feel, lingers.
Nazgul: This one could quite possibly be Coca-Cola. Cherry-ish!
Olorin: Tastes a little bit more root-beery.

Soda Number Four 
Color: Same as the others. I think these guys all use the same tailor.
Scent: Fairly sharp, slightly acrid, very cool. Mintier.
Taste: Relatively quick attack with cool, slightly minty and bitter, but quite sweet. Moves fairly quickly to a moderately strong bittersweet high in the back of the mouth. Feels volatile.
Nazgul: Probably the most bubbles.
Olorin: Smooth and bubbly. Oh my. Bubblier than #1, but smoother as well. My favorite.

Honestly, all of these taste pretty similar. I don't have a lot of confidence, but here's my guess:

1. Mexican Pepsi
2. Mexican Coca-Cola
3. Regular Coca-Cola
4. Regular Pepsi

Nazgul's guess:
1. Mexican Coca-Cola
2. Mexican Pepsi
3. Regular Coca-Cola
4. Regular Pepsi

Olorin's guess:
1. Mexican Coca-Cola
2. Regular Coca-Cola
3. Regular Pepsi
4. Mexican Pepsi

 And here's what they really were:

1. Regular Coca-Cola
2. Mexican Pepsi
3. Mexican Coca-Cola
4. Regular Pepsi

Wow. Olorin gets a 0%, I get a 25%, and Nazgul gets 50%. In my defense, I will say that #4 was the one I was most sure of.

From this, I can reach several possible conclusions:
1. It is possible that I suck at this.
2. It is possible that there is actually very little difference between them
3. Pepsi seems to be easier to identify than Coca-Cola.

We all know plenty of people who swear upon anything they hold dear that they have a strong preference for one over the other. When I have run similar experiences with my science students, most of them assure me that they can easily tell the difference...and most of them are wrong.

I don't think I'd give any of them a quaff rating above 2.5 or a cough rating above 0.5. From that, I can conclude that this odyssey has allowed me to experience a fantastic variety of sodas which rise to greater heights (and fall to deeper depths) than those we usually quaff.

As I encounter more wonderful or terrible things, I will be sure to share them with you. Until then, I remain your Quaffmaster, forever willing to quaff it so you don't have to.

"Back to the Lab"
*to the tune of "Into the West", from the Fellowship of the Ring soundtrack*

Lay down your sweet and bubbly drink
Night is falling, you can step back from the brink
Rest now, and dream of beverages of yore
They are waiting, just inside the fridge's door

Why do you weep? Is that Abali in your mug?
No wonder then. That stuff would choke a slug!
Try this cream soda. It's quite appealing.

What can you see, within the bottle?
Why do you cringe in fear?
If it's got chunks, or smells like offal
Quaffmaster's come to quaff it right here.

And as he turns a shade of puce
You can hear him whisper "Get this juice
Back to the lab!"

* All the others had two names.
** "A bit glutinous, but with a nice cherry-pear balance and a bit of divine wrath."

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Joia Lime, Hibiscus, and Clove

There are many examples of excellent three-flavor combinations. Bacon, eggs, and orange juice. Brown sugar, vanilla, and lemon. Pineapple, orange, and guava. Garlic, mushrooms, and butter. Larry, Moe, and Curly. Barbecue sauce, chicken, and red onion.

It may be worth noting that none of these would make good Weird sodas. Whether this is due to some inherent mathematical incompatibility between Weird soda and the three-ness of such flavor combinations is unclear. Pairs of flavors seem to work well; Weird soda is inherently quadratic, rather than cubic?

Those people with normal senses of aesthetics learn to pay attention to such laws. Indeed, a sense of aethetics might be argued to be inherently dependent on their observance--or carefully balanced violation. But the world of Weirdness must not be held back by such constraints. It must stride boldly forward, unhesitatingly violating such quaint concepts as balance, proportion, and good taste. And that brings us to tonight's review: Joia Lime, Hibiscus, and Clove soda.

There are, as we have discussed before, multiple schools of Weirdness. When I can, I prefer to dip my toes in the sweet streams of fruit and cream sodas. However, a growing subsector seems to consist of sodas whose sole purpose in existence is to combine odd fruit, herbal, and other flavors* in novel and ill-advised combinations. Usually in threes.

Where and when: Purchased April 2013 at Frazier Farms, Vista, CA
Color: Transparent, ever so slightly yellowish-greenish. The color of pale, sun-dried hay.
Scent: Faint, cool, a bit of citrus, and a hint of floor cleaner. I'm not sure what that last is; volatile and spicy.
Nazgul: "I know I've smelled it before." Given the state of the Lab floors, this is unlikely.
Taste: Hmmm...mmm...blech. Let's see--the first taste is citrus, strong and a bit lemony. The hibiscus comes through clearly. However, what happens next is less than ideal.
My mouth becomes slightly dry, and an odd taste spreads through it--a bit like alcohol, a bit spicy. Maybe a bit reminiscent of dry champagne. Not good.

Kibbitzer in Chief: "Nice. It's clean, bright, and textured."

I swear that this woman and I have a great deal in common.

K-i-C: "It tastes like it should be alcoholic, though."
Nazgul: "Very sour, but with a weird sweetness, too."

So the Kibbitzer-in-Chief, whose aesthetic sense is generally considered a squillion times better than my own, likes this one. Let's consult Olorin; he also has a finely developed sense of balance, proportion, and beauty in all things.

Olorin: "Mmmmm! That's really good!"

Well, crud. Okay, I'm a buffoon.

Quaff rating: I must be true to myself. 2.5.
Cough rating: 1. The floor-cleaner part is icky.

*The term is loosely defined here; it's only a matter of time before Weird sodas come in "coal", "breath-of-a-mermaid", and "esprit de corps" varieties.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

DRY Soda: Wild Lime and Cucumber

That's not "Wild Lime and Cucumber", by the's two sodas, "Wild Lime" and "Cucumber". Although Wild Lime and Cucumber would probably be pretty good.

Hello, all. We've been gone for some time. There are a variety of reasons, involving switching domain registrars, defending the Lab from alien attack, and the Great Soda Kablooie of 2013*.

But we're back! I don't know how much longer the Lab will be in business, but for now we're still going. And a good thing too, because we recently found some new offerings from DRY soda company which simply must be quaffed, and without delay. Specifically, we'll be reviewing their Wild Lime flavor, followed by Cucumber.

We've reviewed several DRY Soda flavors in the past, including Kumquat, Juniper Berry, Rhubarb, Vanilla Bean, Lemongrass, and Lavender. They've been intriguing, and sometimes good. Vanilla Bean and Kumquat both made our "Quaffiest" list. Interestingly, so did Mr. Q Cumber, which might indicate that tonight's flavor convergence will produce a mutant beverage of unspeakable savoriness.

We'll start with Wild Lime.

DRY tends to go for "just barely sweet", unusual flavors. Lime isn't particularly unusual, but "Wild Lime" is an unknown quantity. What, we wonder, makes it Wild? Will we be treated to "Fruits Gone Wild 3: Tropical Titillation"?*** Or is this the unknown character from Maurice Sendak's lesser-known sequel book "Where the Wild Things Are Making Pies"?

There's only one way to find out.

Where and when: Purchased at Frazier Farms, Vista, CA, in April 2013.
Color: Clear, no color at all. Well, Nazgul and Olorin both assure me it's faintly green, but they're nuts.
Scent: Distinctly lime, not a lot of sweetness, but some. A little reminiscent of lime jelly candy, but less sweet.
Nazgul: "Smells like the lime juice you put on Dutch babies."****
Taste: Wet. The company name is still misleading.
Olorin: "Kind of like Sprite, but less sweet. Maybe." Olorin is as decisive in his commentary as usual.
It's kind of reminiscent of the unsweetened but citrus-oil-infused sparkling waters you can get. Just a bit sweeter than that. Pleasant.
Olorin: "I like it. It tastes like kryptonite."
Nazgul: "[It] doesn't really taste like much."

I can imagine this being sipped leisurely on a shady porch on a hot day, but "wild" it is not.

Quaff rating: 4. Pretty nice, actually.
Cough rating: 0. Nothing offensive here.

Okay, so that was...pretty good actually. I have high hopes for the Cucumber.
Where and when: Purchased at Frazier Farms, Vista, CA, in April 2013.
Color: Also clear. No obvious color. Nazgul agrees in this case.
Olorin: "It's practically completely opaque!"

This is worth a moment of explanation. Olorin feels it to be his sacred duty to disagree with Nazgul at every conceivable opportunity, even if such disagreement flies in the face of obvious evidence, logic, or physical laws. I envision future conversations along these lines:

Nazgul: "Hey, look. I had one orange, and Granny gave me another orange. I have two oranges."
Olorin: "No you don't. You have forty-eight pineapples."

Olorin has actually invented--on the fly--alternative and clearly incorrect mathematical systems for the sole purpose of annoying Nazgul (and, not coincidentally, me) by claiming to have proven assertions like the one above.

Scent:Hmm. That's really odd. I guess it does kind of smell like cucumber. Vegetal, a bit sweet. Kind of fascinating, actually. Ever so slightly peppery in the top of the nose.

Nazgul: "I've never liked cucumber."
Olorin: "It smells like platypus bladder."
Nazgul: *gives him an incredulous look*
Olorin: "What? You don't know what platypus bladder smells like?"
Nazgul: *continues incredulous look*
Olorin: *smacks Nazgul on the head*

Taste:I have to hand it to DRY Soda--that actually tastes a lot like cucumber. Remarkably accurate--just the tiniest bit sweeter, but barely perceptibly so.

Olorin: "It tastes like WOOOOOOOO cucumber! Kind of like with a cross with centipede Bertie Botts."
Kibbitzer: "Tastes like cucumber, but not in that good farmer's-market-cucumber-agua-fresca way. You know how when you buy cucumber seeds, you can buy burpless cucumber seeds? That's not this."

Honestly, I enjoyed the lime more, although this has to get points for accuracy. Whether that's a good thing, I don't know, but it's Weird, so yay!

Quaff rating: 2.5. Drinking a liquidated carbonated cucumber is not entirely a good thing.
Cough rating: 0.5. While it's not actually offensive, any vegetable-flavored soda has to get something here.

* One of these is, in technical terms, strictly speaking, not entirely true.**
** This statement is a slight understatement.
*** No comment.
**** For those who don't know, and are thus preparing to report us to the authorities: a Dutch baby is a sort of popover, yummy with powdered sugar and citrus juice.
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