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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Zuberfizz Key Lime Cream Soda

It's a happy occasion at the Weird Soda Review Lab. Today, we have visitors who are interested in participating in the quest. The visitors are mostly from a family near whom we used to live, who are visiting from Denver. Anglophilia, Ph.D. is a health sciences and policy consultant, and is accompanied by her children, Mikey and The Moose. Also present (and adding significantly to the international credibility of the Lab) is Yue, an exchange student from Tsingtao, China. Unfortunately, they arrived one day too late for the Jones Tofurky and Gravy Extravaganza (although they did sample it, and their comments have been added to that review), but we can instead offer them something which might be somewhat more palatable. Today, we have Zuberfizz Key Lime Cream Soda.

Where: purchased at Cost Plus World Market
Color: Teal--that is to say, a bluish green. Mostly green. Not perfectly transparent, and despite the label ("Feel the Fizz!"), not particularly strongly carbonated.

Anglophilia: "Looks like lime jello."
Kibbitzer-in-Chief: "Wow, that's not the color I expected."
JAT: "It kind of reminds me of alien planets."
Moose: "It reminds me of goop."

It looks familiar, but I can't quite place it. And then it hits me: it's halfway between the neon green and dark green translucent Lego colors, as seen in canopies and windows, especially in the Space lines of the 1990s.

Scent: Very sweet, but not without some interest. A darker/mellower note, which for some reason makes me think of the work "foresty". The lime and vanilla are there (lime much more than vanilla). Not much tang. The lime is close to that scenting Sunkist lime jelly candies.

Anglophilia: "Mmm! It's refreshing."
Yue: "Mint...lime..."
Anglophilia: "I'm sensing a hint of lime jello."
K-i-C: "A broad hint."
Anglophilia: "And something about Pine-Sol?"
K-i-C: "That could be it. Like dish soap."

Taste: Very sweet, nicely mellow. The lime is reminiscent of lime Jolly Rancher, but not as tart at first. The tart does come out slowly and mildly after a few seconds. Cream is faint, but noticeable if you look at. Not much beyond what one would expect in key lime. Fairly tasty, inoffensive except that I'd like more tart and less sweet.

JAT: "Yummy!"
Me: "Not quite as lime Jell-o-ey?"
K-i-C: "No, more Pine Sol-ey."

Apparently, the K-i-C is not so fond of this one.
K-i-C: *pours hers into the JAT's cup*

Anglophilia: "What would this go with?"

This is a question which, to my knowledge, has never come up before. The K-i-C is a good cook, but we rarely consider trying to combine Weird Sodas with actual food. Anglophilia is proposing a course of analysis which is heretofore unexplored.

Anglophilia: "A blackened steak with Cajun seasoning."
K-i-C: "I'm thinking salmon."
Me: "But you don't like salmon."
K-i-C: "Well, yeah. But it would look so pretty next to it."
Anglophilia: "Beef Wellington!"
K-i-C: "It would be good with lamb."
Anglophilia: "And scalloped potatoes. Or mac and cheese."

Well, there you have it. Zuberfizz Key Lime Cream Soda is a very sweet, moderately lime-flavored soda, in which the cream aspect is minor. However, it is pretty tasty. And, apparently, it would go well with roasted leg of lamb, blackened Cajun steak, or boxed macaroni and cheese. Alert your nearest sommelier; the 2009 Zuberfizz Key Lime Vanilla Cream is the vintage of choice.

Quaff rating: 3.0. Would be higher with a bit less sweet and more tart.
Cough rating: 0.5. No particular urge to retch.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Jones Soda Tofurky and Gravy

The Kibbitzer-in-Chief is, without a doubt, the best wife (and research assistant) EVER. She is one of those rare people who doesn't like chocolate--and yet she willingly makes brownies which are outstanding morsels of moist chewy rich chocolatey goodness. She doesn't much like soda, but she consistently finds samples of the Weirdest Weird sodas around.
And this season...she has outdone herself.
For lo, she did order for me a package of Jones Soda, which includes three bottles of their 2009 Thanksgiving special holiday flavor, Tofurky and Gravy.

Verily, I tremble in anticipation.

Jones Soda has been putting out unbelievably Weird products around the holidays for several years. In previous years, there were often four unique flavors (such as Green Bean Casserole) in a holiday pack. Ive never been able to get my hands on them before, so I have never had the privilege of sampling one...until now.
This year, it's just the one flavor...but what a shining paragon of Weirdness it is!

Also in the package were three bottles of their new "Zilch" line, which are sucralose-based zero-calorie versions of existing flavors. I'll review those soon, but they'll have to wait their turn.
Also in the package is a metal Tofurky lunchbox. Yes, a lunchbox. It features cartoon drawings of anthropomorphic vegetables--possibly soybeans--performing as part of the Cirque du Tofurky.

That's pretty breathtakingly Weird, yes...but then you come to the bottle. No, wait, that should be capitalized. And italicized.
The Bottle.

First of all, it is labeled "Vegan".
There is no sugar in it.
There is sucralose, but it is the eighth ingredient. Preceding the only sweetener are (in order): carbonated water, salt, natural and artificial flavors, glucono delta lactone, modified food starch, caramel color, sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate. Following sucralose are ester gum and medium chain triglyceride.

Yes, this soda is the only one I've ever seen which contains more salt and starch than sweetener. I'm not sure what "modifications" the food starch has undergone, bu according to the nutritional facts, this contains no carbohydrates, so it must be something which modifies them beyond recognition by human digestive enzymes.
This soda contains actual triglycerides.

My God, what madman concocted this?

Reluctantly joining me for this most joyous occasion are the Kibbitzer-in-Chief (who doesn't get to dodge this one) and Punctilius, who has earned her place as the one who not only managed to drink Biotta Digestive Drink, but also (through liberal dilution with raw honey) made it consumable without retching. Not enjoyable, true, but drinkable.

Where and when: purchased directly from Jones Soda, December 2009 (a day which will indeed live in infamy)
Color: A muddy, translucent dark amber. Cloudy, but without visible particulates.
Me: "K-i-C, would you care to register an opinion on the color of this beverage?"
K-i-C: "I don't think you really want me to do that."
Me: "Please?"
K-i-C: "It looks like toilet water, and that's the most polite way I can put that."
Punctilius: "Looks like blood in urine."

Hold the presses. There are tiny bits of there.

Scent: Faint. Salty. Like tears or blood. A bit sweet.
K-i-C: "It doesn't have a strong smell, luckily. Wait, I'm trying to get my nose closer." *does so* "Ugh. There's the turkey."
I don't smell it, but as I get closer, there is a faint hint of something like meatiness.
Punctilius: "The smell's not too awful."

Wait, this is too historic an occasion. I must record it for posterity. I'm going to mike myself. I'll attach an MP3 of the recording, somehow, to this blog post.

Taste: Ummm...hmm.
K-i-C: "UUUUGH."
Punctilius: "It's not that bad."
K-i-C: *spits it back into the cup*
Punctilius: "I kind of like it."
K-i-C: "You're a sick, sick woman."
Punctilius: "I would be if I drank a whole bottle."

The initial taste is pretty sweet, actually, with a strong undertone of saltiness. The Tofurky flavor is faint, barely detectable. However, a few seconds after the sip...the gravy strikes.
And therein lies the horror.
The gravy seems to be the source of the saltiness, but the really bad thing--the thing which even now I can feel corroding my soul--is the hint, the little hint, of fat. That slight tone of greasiness somehow, like a single word whispered into your ear from across a dark room where you thought you were alone, manages to contain a sensation which causes ones viscera to freeze and recoil.
Disgust is the semi-digested flavor of Biotta and Abali.
Horror--REAL horror--is in that hint of grease in Jones Soda Tofurky and Gravy.

I'll try a smaller sip.

No, that's worse. The greasiness hits much sooner with a small sip. The rest really isn't so bad--certainly not a refreshing drink after a hot day of work, but really not as bad as it could be.

I am astonished to find myself wishing that Jones had left out the sucralose. If I'm going to drink a Tofurky and Gravy soda, then it shouldn't be sweet. In that sense, the sucralose really detracts from the authenticity. It gives it the surreal, vertigo-inducing character of a dream, rather than the prosaic, woodcut-like, Norman Rockwell-ish sense of a family Thanksgiving dinner.
Although at some houses, that dinner might also fall under the "surreal, dreamlike horror" label, I suppose.



Yep. The greasiness is bad. Not as immediately grotendous as some things, but pretty awful.

I do so love my calling.

Quaff rating: 2.0. Some of the taste is sort of pleasant.
Cough rating: 3.0. Some of it REALLY ISN'T.

UPDATE: Twenty minutes later, my stomach is cramping and I can still taste the greasiness.

FURTHER UPDATE, THE NEXT DAY: Our visitors (described in the review of Zuberfizz Key Lime Cream Soda) decided to try the Jones. Their reactions:

Anglophilia: "It's like carbonated dishwater! It's like carbonated dishwater on Thanksgiving night!"
Yue: "I just recalled my memory of my grandmother making medicine for my asthma. This was worse. I've never had anything worse than that."

She seems really horrified. This may not be the best way to introduce a visitor to the USA.

Yue: "At first, it's a little bit salty." *waits* "It's...I can't tell what it is." *waits some more* "Not as bad. Can I have yours?"
Anglophilia: "Enjoy!"

Okay, maybe it's not so bad after all.

Click me to hear the initial quaffing.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Spirit of Koiwai "Kirin" Yogurt Taste

You know, the Weird Soda Quest is inherently masochistic. We go out, find the strangest stuff we can, drink it, and if it's particularly unusual, we count that as a Good Thing. (Note that "unusual" does not inherently imply "unusually good"). Thus, it makes a sort of sad, twisted sense that, while out at Mitsuwa, when I beheld Spirit of Koiwai "Kirin" Yogurt Taste on the rack before me, the internal conversation went something like this.

Me: "Oh my God. A Japanese yogurt soda-like thing. I didn't know they had yogurt soda-like drinks in Japan. Isn't lactose intolerance more common there? Why would they subject themselves to such a thing?"

Me: "You know what sorts of Weird drinks they have in Japan. This isn't all that strange in comparison."

Me: "True. But think of the other yogurt sodas we've had. Those were unbelievably foul."

Me: "Some of the commenters say they're good after trying more. They're probably an acquired taste. Maybe you should try this one, and expand your horizons. Plus, look at the ingredients. This has sugar. And remember your mission. It's all for the mission! You must not fear."

Me: "Hmm. I suppose you're right. It's certainly Weird. Your arguments are compelling. Come, let us purchase and quaff it with joyous abandon. And if copious vomiting should follow, then we shall wear the splatters as badges of pride."


So now I see before me a bottle of Spirit of Koiwai "Kirin" Yogurt Taste. According to the ingredients list, it does indeed contain sugar. And soybean polysaccharides. And milk powder. And lactic calcium acidulant. I think I'm going to quaff it.


Where: purchased at Mitsuwa Marketplace
Color: Thinner than the Abali--resembles watered-down skim milk. Slightly translucent, white.
JAT: "Kind of dark white."
LAT: "Creamy."

Scent: Sweet smelling, with the milkiness definitely present. Smells like sweet fruit yogurt.
LAT: "Kind of smells like cherry yogurt soda"
JAT: "Yeah, kind of. It kind of stays in your nose."

Taste: Not bad at all. Tastes almost exactly like fruit yogurt, but thinner, like very thin milk.
LAT: "Peachy!"
JAT: "Yeah!"
They're right. It does taste almost exactly like peach yogurt. Almost none of the lactic acid taste--very little acid at all. Not carbonated at all.
The lead and junior assistant tasters like it a lot. They're currently chanting "Yummy...yummy...yummy..." and smacking their lips.

My horizons have indeed been expanded, although this "yogurt drink" is so utterly unlike the previous yogurt sodas as to be completely different beverages. Actually, this is almost too sweet, but in small doses it's quite pleasant.
The main differences between this and the Abali are the presence of sugar, the lower viscosity, the lack of acid, and the lack of carbonation. I'm pretty sure that carbonation and thickness are not the problem, and while I like sweet drinks, I'm not inherently afraid of those which are not. It must be the acid taste--that horrible "already digested stomach contents" taste--which makes the other yogurt sodas so much worse.


Quaff rating: 3.5. Very nice, if slightly too sweet.
Cough rating: 1.0. The milkiness is still off-putting to me, but not really bad.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Fentiman's Full Bodied Shandy

Though ages passed, and stars did wax and wane
And through their courses sped, regarding not
The man who stood below, his cup in hand
Awaiting word from some dark god, he thought,
The word which to his lips would tip the cup
Which, ever-filled with brews sublime or foul
Would spell his fate until again he quaffed.

The word has come, and now the bottle found
Which on this day gustation shall offend
The brew shall doubtless lead me to expound
To mark my fate, my immemorial end

--The Quaffing of the Brew, Act II, Scene 3

A very happy holiday to you, dear hypothetical readers. It's been a long time since Ive been able to fire up the Lab. One reason--a good one, more or less--is that I've lost almost 40 pounds. While this is a good thing for my health, the effort to avoid calories has made it more difficult to justify the quaffing of such wondrous delicacies, most of which are laden with wonderful, wonderful sugar. Sweet, delicious, delectable sugar...

Er. Anyway, I believe that as Christmas nears, I can justify occasional consumption of something interesting. Plus, it's not truly a festive occasion without the risk of retching, is it?

Of course it isn't.

Today, we at the Lab will be trying another find of the Kibbitzer-in-Chief's: Fentiman's Full Bodied Shandy. You may remember how successful some of her other finds have been. I'm sure I needn't remind anyone that the two most hideous things we have ever consumed here--the Biotta Digestive Drink and the Abali Yogurt Soda--were both K-i-C acquisitions.

Which, come to think of it, she avoided drinking...

In any case, we've had Fentiman's before. One of the first things I reviewed was their Dandelion and Burdock soda (one of the rare weed-flavored Weird Soda variants). This one is a Shandy, which is apparently beer flavored with lemonade or ginger ale. However, this bottle specifies that, while it is made with traditionally brewed beer, it contains very little alcohol. Like the other Fentiman's, the label says "Best Before: See Neck", but the neck bears no indication of an expiration date.
It occurs to me that it does not specify the neck of the bottle. Perhaps some other neck? Upon inspection in the mirror, my own bears no such inscription. Perhaps it is borne within the shandy itself, in some sort of rod-logic-containing nanotechnological system. After consuming it, the nanosites will migrate to my neck and form a subcutaneous organic LED display, which will read "It's expired. You're gonna die."

Oh, what the heck. Take me to Shandy-town!

Where and when: I have no idea where she finds these things, but it came to the Lab in December 2009.
Color: A fairly rich yellow-orange, like a nice apple juice.
Scent: Quite pleasant, actually. Lemonade-ish, with just a hint of creamy bite.
Taste: Huh.
Okay, this is a complicated one. The initial taste is tart and lemony, followed quickly--a few seconds--by a growing nuttiness, which must be the beer. This is underlaid by an interesting combination of tart and bitter/creamy. It's pretty similar to some of the lighter beers I've tried--wheaty, crisp, citrusy. The lemonade is mostly in the initial taste, then hides around the edges.
Actually, it's very good. Let's see what the young'uns think.

Lead Assistant Taster: "Smells nice, kind of like a cross between root beer and apple cider. *quaffs* Sweet, but the aftertaste is kind of bitter. And the aftertaste rolls along with the taste."
Junior Assistant Taster: "Uuh. Doesn't smell that good. *quaffs* Doesn't have much taste."
LAT: "The aftertaste is like grapefruit!"
JAT: "I can't explain the taste." *runs off to the back yard*
LAT: *runs off with him*

I'm honestly quite surprised that they liked it as much as they thought.

Me: "You know, this has beer in it."
LAT: "Beer?"
JAT: "That's what beer tastes like?" *sounds hopeful*
LAT: "Actually, that's not that bad, is it, then?"
JAT: "That's what beer tastes like?" *runs back to the backyard, faintly overheard* "I guess I wouldn't mind trying beer sometime."

Oh, good.

Quaff rating: 3.5. Tasty!
Cough rating: 0.5. The nuttiness would be off-putting, if you didn't like beer.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Hello Kitty Ramune

Cameron's review of Shirakiku Ramune Melon reminded me that I have several bottles of various Ramune flavors in Lab storage. One, in particular, seemed Weirder than the usual, and so I think we should start with that. Joining me today are the Junior Assistant Taster and the Kibbitzer-in-Chief.

Today's Weirdness is Hello Kitty Ramune. This flavor is Weird beyond my experience; cat-flavored soda will be a new frontier for us. The label prominently features a rotund white cat wearing a wetsuit and clutching a surfboard. In her (?) fur a hibiscus flower is displayed. How she can have become so rotund or have the energy for surfing without a mouth (a feature conspicuously absent) is unclear; I am guessing that this cat is either a genetically-engineered photosynthetic plant-feline hybrid (which might work well for a surfer, given access to plentiful water and sunlight) or is hooked up to some sort of intravenous nutrient delivery system out of sight I note that her lower body is not shown on the label.

The label specifies this as a "carbonate soft drink", and suggests "for an even more delicious this drink, chill before drinking". Alas, this one is only partially chilled.

While the ingredients list does not list cat as one of the components, it does mention "artificial flavors". This could, presumably, include Hello Kitty, especially if she is the aforementioned lichen-like semi-plant hybrid (which should qualify as artificial). Fortunately, true to the scientific nature of the WSR Testing Labs, we have an exquisitely tuned piece of equipment here which will allow us to detect the slightest hint of cat--that being the Kibbitzer-in-Chielf, whose immune system responds to the presence of cats by attempting to cause her to explode.

Unfortunately, we don't have time to go through the proper K-i-C calibration procedure (namely, shoving a cat under her nose and making sure her detector system is working), so we'll have to assume she is functional and proceed.

Where and when: purchased sometime in September at Mitsuwa Marketplace, West Los Angeles, CA
Color: JAT: "Clear." I believe he is referring to the color, rather than indicating his understanding or Scientological status.
Scent: JAT: "Slightly cherry-ish." I would call it closer to citrus--it lacks the roundness of cherry. Quite sharp and biting, sweet. I do see what he means--there is a fruity note.
Kibbitzer-in-Chief: *grimaces* "Smells like childrens' Tylenol." But she says that about a lot of artifical sweet things. No evidence of allergy attack is evident. "Like fake bubble gum."
JAT: "Yeah. Fake bubble gum."
As an experiment, I think I'll test whether he's just very compliant/suggestibe.
Me: "I'd call it kind of dirty sock-like. What do you think?"
JAT: "Dirty sock like?" *considers* "No."
I think he just likes the K-i-C better. Understandable.
Taste: Blech.
JAT: "I kind of like it." Of course.
Me: "What would you say it tastes like?"
JAT: "Horrible at the end. It feels horrible at the end. Something dry rubbing against the inside of your throat."
Me: "So do you like it or not?"
JAT: "The beginning, yeah. It's fine."

The very first taste--as in the first half second--is more or less blameless, just sugar water with some bite. Not nearly as much citrus bite as the scent suggests, though. However, After about half a second, there's an odd watery, slightly bitter taste which emerges and runs alongside the sweet. It's reminiscent of tap water. This gets stronger toward the end.

K-i-C: *sniffs* "Uh, the smell is much worse now that it has more surface area." *drinks, is speechless for some time, while frowning and smacking her lips. Finally...*"Luckily, it's not very strong." *pause* "Eh. It has a bad aftertaste."
JAT: Wouldn't you say the beginning is fine?"
K-i-C: "No, because that's when you smell it."

The fact that the K-i-C has not yet broken out into hives suggests to me that there is, in fact, no cat in this.

I've had Ramune which is enjoyable, but this does not fall into that category. However, I have to give the makers credit for accuracy; I respond to this about as I do to the actual Hello Kitty. Right at first, it's vaguely cute and pleasant, but immediately becomes vapid and pointless, and finally leaves you feeling abandoned with nothing but featureless, nondescript vaguely sweet memories with no character and a growing sense of the futility of the whole enterprise.

It is possible, of course, that the K-i-C's cat-detection capacities were nonfunctional. Perhaps in a future review we can revisit Hello Kitty Ramune, once my marriage has been reinforced sufficiently that the calibration process would not result in severe damage to the calibrating individual.

Nah. So not worth it.

Quaff rating: 1.5. Really, not worth it at all.
Cough rating: 1.0. Blech.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

JT Super Lemon Soda

Cameron's excellent foray into the Shirakiku Ramune world inspired me to unearth the small treasure-trove of acquisitions from Mitsuwa Marketplace which resides in a box under the bench in the corner of the Lab. Even as I made my way down the corridors which wind their way through the catacombs, I could hear it calling me, its voice echoing softly off the roughly-hewn walls.

"Commala-come-come, cupslinger. Ahead it awaits. Your ka, your destiny. Come."

As I knelt before the bench, I saw the labels of all of the Weird sodas which I had quaffed before before my eyes. Sweet Blossom. Oogave. Even Biotta and Kombucha Wonder Drink, as if they were new and yet unquaffed, and the miles and memories did not lie between us, as they now did.

"I remember you all. Yes, all, and I will speak your names here at the foot of the Lab bench."

As I chanted the names of the Weirdness, I heard once again the voice speak to me. Was it the voice of the Tower--Ves'ka Gan? Or perhaps the voice of the Beam?

But no, it was the voice of the Soda. Ves'ka Can.

"Welcome. But your journey is not yet done, cupslinger."

I reached the bench, and drew out the box. Indeed, there it lay, at the very back of the box. A small can, with what looked like a comic strip printed on it. In the comic, a woman raised a can (the same can? If I looked closer, would I see the same comic? Worlds within worlds within worlds, of course--this can was the linchpin of all time, space, and size, and such was to be expected) to her lips. In the next frame, her face had drawn back in a rictus of shock. A small explosion was taking place in her mouth, and the words were shown emerging.
"OH! Powerful Soda!" she exclaimed.
Of course, I thought. Powerful indeed. The source of all power, if the Canni-folk could be believed.
But as I extended my trembling hands to seize it at long last, from where it lay in the back of the box, it tipped toward the rear. And as it teetered, I felt worlds--all the worlds which whirled around its axis--tipping along with it.

It rolled, slowly at first, then with increasing speed, off the back and past the rows of boxes of ladyfingers, shortbread, and cakes which I had athered for the feast days--those confections which were to have ended the meal. I rose, moving with the utter lack of grace which had carried me shamefacedly out the door of a hundred merengue lessons, and pursued. As I had always done.

As I would always do.

The can in back fled across the dessert--and the quaffmaster followed.

Where: Purchased at Mitsuwa Marketplace
Color: Clear--perhaps ever-so-slightly cloudy, but only the tiniest bit.
Scent: Very strong citrus, but sweet. Reminiscent of lemon jelly candy, or maybe very sweet grapefruit.
Taste: *boom* OH! Powerful Soda!
Very, very tart--like a sour worm or sour Gummi Bear. Actually, tastes a lot like sour worms. Sweet, but very tart.
The Lead Assistant Tester is fond of putting lemons in the freezer, impaling them on a stick once they are cold, sprinkling them with sugar and sucking on them. I'll bet they taste a bit like this.
JAT: *eyes pop out, makes a number of interesting faces, pants* "Aaahh...huh...lemony. Sour soda!"
Fairly tasty, actually, but very very tart. Effectively liquid sour candy.

Quaff rating: 3.0. Not very subtle, but reasonably tasty.
Cough rating: 1.0. I like the tartness, but it's almost overwhelming.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Guest Review: Shirakiku (Ramune Drink) Melon

I am absolutely thrilled to introduce our first guest review! Cameron, who has commented several times on other reviews, has offered his opinions on the melon flavor of Ramune (a common and oddly bottled Japanese soda). Here he is; everything from here on out is Cameron:

Greetings readers.

I've been enjoying this blog for quite a while now and have communicated a few suggestions to The Quaffmaster but have decided to step into the light in order to share my experience with a couple of decidedly weird sodas that I came across while poking around my local Cost Plus World Market. Expect a subsequent review or two in the near future.

The first is sitting in front of me right now. It is one of two flavors that I picked up from the Shirakiku brand, known only as 'melon'. I've never trusted generic food names plopped upon specific foods (fish sticks and meat loaf spring to mind as worryingly under-described). I wasn't particularly scared about a melon flavored soda. Further adding to the mystery is the label which isn't overly helpful at determining what sort of melon I should expect as it features what looks like either a mutant or unripe cantaloupe with the characteristic textured skin but green flesh. There are some Japanese characters prominently featured on the label which may yield more information, but alas, I do not read Japanese. The word 'refreshing' is repeated on the bottom of the label which may or may not bode well for the soda.

The bottle is truly remarkable. I can honestly say I've never experienced or even heard of a beverage container like this in my entire life. The top of the bottle is shrink wrapped like any typical water bottle, concealing the weirdness within. The wrapper is plastered with some very specific instructions on how to enjoy this beverage:

How to open
1. Remove the seal from the top. (okay, no surprises here, oh wait, as I unwrap the seal a piece falls onto the table)
2. Detach the plunger from the center of the cap. (plunger? oh..if you push on the center of this ring thing it splits into two)
3. Place the plunger on top of the bottle. (I should note that the top of the bottle is ordained with a transparent but optically distorting window into the fluid below. And lookie...this plunger fits in the center thing)
4. Press down firmly with the base of your palm to release the marble. (should I be pushing this hard? I have visions of sweetened broken glass flying everywhere. oh wait...*plink* down goes the marble into a specially designed groove two thirds of the way up the bottle where the bottle necks down into a smaller than marble opening)
5. Throw away the seal, cap and plunger.
6. Have fun drinking Ramune.

From what I can gather, the plunger was held upwards by the pressure of the drink and perhaps a little gasket thing too. Amusingly, when I pour it into my cup, complete inversion temporarily reseals the bottle and halts the flow of the liquid.

I shall adopt the Quaffmaster's standardized review structure for the rest of my guest review:

Where and when: Bought at Cost Plus World Market this morning
Color: Green. Jolly Rancher green, but liquid.
Scent: A very light artificial fruitiness
Taste: Bitter and not nearly as sweet as the color would suggest. Despite the label's proclamation, this is not refreshing. The lack of sweetness allows the peculiar bite and bitterness to dominate. There's some sort of artificial fruitiness in the background that could conceivably be termed melon, but I don't see it. Certainly nothing resembling actual melon. The bite fades fairly quickly into just bitterness which then fades further into a not-awful generic sweetness aftertaste. Luckily the bitter doesn't stick around too long, though it's just as present with subsequent sips.

Quaff rating: 2.0. Not too enjoyable to drink
Cough rating: 1.5. The bitterness is distasteful but not long lasting

Upon noticing the marble sitting in its semi-circular one dimensional hammock, I began contemplating the best way to recover this unique souvenir. Despite the admonishments of both the shrink wrap seal and the label itself, I tried to pry the cap off. This didn't work. I plan to break the bottle after I finish the review to obtain my marble. How annoying is it that child safety features designed to save the lives of small children will actually force me to endanger mine so I can play with the shiny thing rolling around in the bottle?

I shall transcribe both warnings in order to absolve the Skirakiku brand, Nishimoto Trading Co. LTD of Santa Fe Springs, CA and the Quaffmaster of any legal responsibility related to my impending trip to the emergency room.

DO NOT SWALLOW THE PLUNGER. Throw it away immediately after opening.
Adults should open the bottle for small children and supervise drinking
Do not try to remove the marble from the bottle to avoid injury
Do not freeze the bottle or store it in direct sunlight
Do not consume if the marble is broken, missing or descended before opening.

Do not swallow the plunger. Throw it away immediately after opening

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Journey Siberian Sun Ginseng Brew

This is a new one. To date, just about everything we here at the Lab have quaffed can be categorized into one of the families of Soda. Cream soda, citrus soda, fruit soda, root beer, cola...the tried-and-true, well-known families.
Well, maybe not. We've actually discovered families of Weirdness which I never new existed--yogurt sodas, for example (the reviews of which have generated some controversy). We've taken much joy in exploring the many types of soda, testing some boundaries, and experiencing Weirdness in its many-splendored glory.

Today, I have one which I don't quite know how to classify. The Mysterious Stranger left this splendid donation in my mailbox. It's a "ginseng brew"...and I don't know how to classify that. I suppose it might be something along the lines of a ginger ale or ginger beer, except ginseng? The label calls it a "Softbrew", which apparently (from the description) is effectively a ginseng tea which is then sweetened and carbonated.

Well, all right then.

Where and when: donated by the Mysterious Stranger October 2009
Color: Dark reddish-brown. Not much of a head, so it ain't root beer.
Scent: Heh. Tea-like, not very sweet, slightly tart. A tiny bit chocolatey.
Taste: Buh...huh...wha? The initial taste is reminiscent of a cola with a touch of chocolate, slightly sweet, mellow and smooth.
This is immediately followed by a quite tart tea flavor, much like one of the Zinger teas, coming up from underneath. The tea is tangy, but not very distinctive. The light chocolate lingers overhead.
Really, the flavor is interesting, nicely smooth, quite drinkable. The dramatic change is intriguing. However, I don't really taste any ginseng--or, really, much of any distinctive flavor other than an initial cola/chocolate note, and that lightly. It's pleasant but bland.
I would have expected a ginseng brew to be spicy, biting, and heady, causing th one imbibing to be captured by visions of sunset hills, with quaint pagodas and ivory temples, verdant paths leading from one vista of misty loveliness to another still mistier and lovelier, surrounding a harbor whose headlands meet in a resplendent arch of crystal and on which a village with wharves of teak and granite clings to the rocky shore, where candles peep mellowly from windows draped with curiously embroidered curtains of red and gold damask.
This, on the other hand, makes me think of downtown Smileyberg, Kansas. That particular town consists of a single intersection at which an abandoned transmission repair shop commands a splendid view of the surrounding grasslands. I grew up in Kansas, and I learned to love the beauty to be found in the terrain. However, I do admit it is subtle, and probably an acquired taste.

I think this is sort of like that. Maybe with time it would grow on me, but right now it's a bit uninspiring for my taste.

Quaff rating: 2.5. Pleasant and mellow, but not really inspiring.
Cough rating: 0.5. Not much to object to.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Cherry 7-UP Antioxidant

In the last two days, I've received two donations at my primary job. The first was from the Mysterious Stranger; I haven't done that one yet because I still haven't remembered to bring a bottle opener to work.


Well, yes. However, today I received a donation from a different source entirely. As I entered the classroom today, I found a can of Cherry 7-UP "Antioxidant" on the front desk. Cool! I had been meaning to try to find some for the Lab, and lo and behold, someone brings it right to me. Huzzah!
It turns out that it was one of my students. In keeping with WSR tradition, I asked this kind soul to choose a pseudonym by which she could be identified.

So many thanks, Pain-In-The-A**! (I swear that's the name she chose, I did not select it, so don't think I'm being rude or anything). And just so that we avoid any possible accusation of bias toward this student, GALT has asked that he be allowed to speak.


Er. Ha ha. Don't worry, nobody's grades are riding on this.

The can is bright, cheerful red, with a big cherry on it. Apparently, it is an antioxidant because it contains 10% of your RDA of vitamin E. I'll admit it will probably go down easier than a typical multivitamin. Other than that, it says that it is flavored only with natural flavors, which apparently means HFCS and other "natural flavors".

Where and when: Donated by Pain-In-The-A** in October 2009.
Color: Pink!
Scent: Bright and sweet. There is a definite smell of 7-up, but where 7-up is biting and citrusy, this is more mellow and fruity. It's still quite a bright scent, but I like it better than regular 7-up.
Taste: Interesting. The initial taste is not exactly cherry, more of a nonspecific "fruity" flavor. That lasts about two seconds. Then, at the edges of the tongue, this really interesting tart sensation creeps in. It overwhelms the mellow fruitiness, eroding its support like incoming tide undercutting the wall of a sandcastle. This barbarian tartness causes the walls of mellow fruitiness to crumble, allowing the hordes of synthetic cherry flavor to overrun the smoking ruin of the battlements.
So the tart leads to some cherry-like flavor, synthetic, but not like medicinal cherry. It's probably somewhere between pie filling and a sharp cherry soda. Overall, it's actually kind of pleasant. It's not all that complex, although the segue from bright and mellow to barbarian cherry onslaught is intriguing.


Quaff rating: 3.0. Kind of nice, especially for a HFCS mass market soda.
Cough rating: 0.5. Really nothing to object to.

Friday, October 23, 2009

A request for help from other Weird Soda lovers

A reader has asked for help. In a quest to provide familial affection, she is seeking the name of an obscure cream soda which I (to my shame) am not familiar with. She describes it as coming in a miniature barrel, about the size of a soda can, with a cork. It may be some sort of regional specialty.

In any case, I have not seen such a thing, nor have I been able to find anything out about it. If anyone out there is familiar with it, and can provide any information, please either leave a comment to this post or contact me by email ( Your contributions will be acknowledged in some way which I am sure will occur to me sometime soon. *grin*

Anybody heard of this Weird soda?

Sprecher Fire-Brewed Cream Soda

So far at the Lab, we've only reviewed one of Sprecher's offerings--the Ravin' Red. It did not go well--not only did it make our "Weird in a Bad Way" list, it made me write a poem. And that's not usually a good thing.

We've decided to give them another chance, and try out their Cream Soda. Given my great affection for cream soda, I have high hopes for this; on the other hand, given the really unpleasant aftertaste of the Ravin' Red, I am prepared to have those hopes cruelly dashed. In short, I am prepared for anything.

Well, except for the newly discovered freaking enormous orb weaver that was recently discovered in Madagascar, Nephila komaci. *shudder* I might need a cape to be ready for that. I'm not sure I could possibly be ready for that.

Anyway. The JAT and I are going to give this Sprecher a try. The label names is "Sprecher Fire-Brewed Cream Soda". How fire is involved in the brewing process is not further described. The label features a picture of an anthropomorphic bee in a chef's hat, drinking from a bottle of Sprecher's cream soda while holding three other bottles with its other appendages. The bee seems happy about this.

He probably hasn't read about Nephila komaci yet. I looked that happy, too, before I read about that.

Where and when: purchased at Galco's, Los Angeles, CA
Color: medium amber. Darker than some, kind of the color of stained oak or maple. JAT: "Golden."
Scent: Honeyish and vanilla. There's an interesting acrid bitter scent in there too, faint. Not the bitter of beer--a more acid bitter. Honestly, the bitter of stomach acid, but very faint and not quite as unpleasant as that.
JAT: "Cherryish."
Taste: Definitely vanilla, the sweet kind--this is a little like the Faygo, in that it has a strong note of french vanilla ice cream.
JAT: "Vanilla!" He is apparently speaking in single-word sentences for this review.
Unlike the Faygo, however, this has an undertone of bitterness, but not like Bourbon vanilla. It's the same bitter from the scent--again, faint, but present. It shows up mostly in the aftertaste. The front taste is almost entirely French vanilla, with some honey-like notes. Quite sweet.
The bitter/acid is worse in the scent than in the taste; in the taste, it mostly comes out as an acid or citrusy kick at the end of the taste. I like the honey vanilla flavor, it's quite nice. The honey lends a complexity that a more pure vanilla cream soda lacks.
Sprecher seems to have an affinity for Weird and slightly unpleasant aftertastes.

Quaff rating: 3.5. Pretty good, nice smooth honey and vanilla.
Cough rating: 1.0. The unpleasant acrid scent makes the approach problematic.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Visvita Juice House Aloe Vera Juice

For some reason, at the moment we here at the Lab are long on non-Soda juices. But that doesn't mean we're short on Weirdness--oh, no, certainly not. For what do I see before me now?

Aloe Vera juice.

Yes indeed, a bottle of Aloe Vera juice, from a company called Visvita. It is distributed by Chimex Produce Co., and is a "Product of Korea", so I'm not sure exactly what role Visvita plays in the process...but that's beside the point.
The other day, I sustained minor burns to my hands in an ill-fated attempt to make chili in the Lab kitchen. (While I am expert in quaffing Weird things, a cook I am not). Aloe vera seemed appropriate at that point, but it never occurred to me to try an internal route of administration. Perhaps between a topical gel and a Weird aloe vera beverage, I can deal with the burn from both sides?

Looking at the ingredients list, the Weirdness becomes even more evident. This drink contains--and I quote (bold emphasis is mine)--

Aloe Vera Gel Power (12%), Aloe Vera Crush (8%), Corn Syrup, Citric Acid, Calcium Lactate, Vitamin C, Water

Apparently, they found a way to extract the Gel Power from aloe vera. And soon, its power shall be MINE! ALL MINE! MUA HA HA HA HA! THEY CALLED ME MAD AT OXFORD, TOO!

Er. Sorry. Further evidence of the Weirdness of this beverage can be found simply by looking at it. It is chock-full of floating wisps of some lacy, translucent stuff. I'm not sure of that's the Aloe Gel Power or Aloe Crush; I'm guessing the Crush, not knowing what raw Power looks like.

Really, given the color of the bottle (bright lime green), and the ingredients (Power and Crush), this is some sort of Weird Hulk Juice.


Where: Purchased at Mitsuwa Market, West Los Angeles, CA
Color: Very, very pale green, almost clear. Lots of little wisps.
JAT: "Clear, with a bunch of greenish-grey...stuff."
K-i-C: "Have you ever looked into an emesis tray?"
Scent: Citrusy, but not very sharp. A bit lime-ish.
JAT: "Ginger ale-ish."
K-i-C: "A grapefruit soda kind of smell. Actually, it smells a lot like the Trident I'e been chewing lately."
Taste: Tastes just like it smells. The taste is pretty nice, actually...and then I feel the first of the little bits of floaty gunk hit my lip. In solution, it looks like tiny scraps of paper.
It's not.
They're thick, and jellyish. Very similar to what was in the Tsubutsubu Jelly Drink. And just as off-putting now as they were then.
JAT: "It's very hard to explain." *swigs, discovers bit of slimy goo.* "What's this stuff?"
Me: "I think it's aloe vera."
K-i-C: "You hope that's aloe vera."

The overall taste is good--lime/orange citrus, mellow, with a pleasant smoothness. But I'd recommend quaffing quickly, so the fragments of nameless horrors don't have a chance to get a grip on the walls of your esophagus, coalesce into something formless and horrid, and take over your brain.

Quaff rating: 3.5 for the taste. 1.5 for the texture. Let's call it 2.5.
Cough rating: 1.5; doesn't make me want to puke, but somehow, I feel as if it should.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Pocari Sweat Ion Water

We're back!
After a brief hiatus, the Weird Soda Review lab staff is back on the job. The life of a Quaffmaster has many demands, but always I come back to this, the calling of my heart; to find, quaff, and report to you, hypothetical loyal reader, on the Weirdest beverages we can find.

I don't know if today's drink is actually Weird or not, but I strongly suspect it is, for the following reasons:

1) I bought it at Mitsuwa Marketplace. It comes from Japan, and I haven't yet seen a non-Weird Japanese beverage. Bless the Japanese!

2) It is called "Pocari Sweat Ion Water"

3) The ingredients list includes, as the fifth item, "crude".

Also, as a bonus, the ingredients list does not include any dairy products at all. However, after the ingredients list is the following notation:

*Contains milk

This is already one of the Weirdest things I've ever consumed, and I haven't consumed it yet.

It seems likely that "Pocari Sweat Ion Water" is some sort of electrolyte-replenishing, Gatorade-like drink. Now, normally such a thing would be made in some sort of factory by adding sugars and salts to water. However, based on the name, I'm guessing the company responsible (apparently "Otsuka") has decided to bypass the middleman. I can hear the conversation in the planning room:

Bright young corporate mind: "I have a suggestion for a new sports drink."
Stuffy executive type: "There are a gazillion sports drinks on the market. How would yours be different?"
BYCT: "Well, what is the purpose of a sports drink?"
SET: "To replenish electrolytes lost in sweat."
BYCT: "And how would we normally make such a drink?"
SET: "By adding sugars and salts to water in some sort of factory."*
BYCT: "And we buy those sugars and salts on the market, correct?"
SET: "That is correct."
BYCT: "Well, if athletes are already losing electrolytes in their sweat, and we want to make a drink containing electrolytes, then why do we need the factory? Could we not simply collect the honorable sweat of the hard-working athletes, bottle it, and sell it?"
SET: "That is brilliant. Bring me an athlete right away."

Somewhere in Japan, there is a man, an elite athlete. That man is made to sprint, throw a discus, lift weights, and solve difficult math problems (for the critical "skull-sweat") under heat lamps for eighteen hours each day. An IV containing water and Mountain Dew is plugged into each arm. All of his labors are performed in a large ceramic dish, in the center of which there is a drain. Underneath that drain, a pipe leads into a bottling plant, where this man's perspiration is collected in plastic bottles (after having the all-important "crude" added).

His name, of Pocari.

Where: purchased at Mitsuwa Marketplace, West Los Angeles, CA
Color: Crystal clear.
Scent: Sweet, faintly citrusy. And just a hint of discus. Reminiscent of orange Gatorade.
Taste: Bleh. I was kidding above. I HOPE I WAS KIDDING!
It's mildly sweet, and has the usual slight tang of such drinks (like very watered-down Sunny Delight). Most sports drinks have a slight taste of salt, but are dominated by sweet. However, Pocari Sweat is somewhat saltier than the sports drinks I've tried...almost as if it...was made...from...

EEEEAAAUUARRRRRGHGHHHH! *gibbers with mounting, cyclopean horror*

*another swig*
Yes, there's definitely a different undertone. Saltier, maybe ever-so-slightly musky, as if there were just a touch of very ripe cantaloupe. Combined with the name, this is a most disturbing and unpleasant development.

For my own sanity, I'm going to assume that the different taste is the "crude", and not the other, hideous possibility, that nameless choice among quantum worlds wherein twitches and glibbers the eldritch, twisted figure of something which was once a man, but which now moans over and over in the throes of his athletic exertions the one sound which he can recall...the syllables which form his only fraying rope by which he dangles above the nethermost pit wherein is found only the monotonous clink of plastic bottles and the queasy dribbles of dripping fluid...those syllables by which he was once known, his unknown and unknowable, immemorial name--

"Pocari-ri! Pocari-ri!"

Quaff rating: 1.0. I like Gatorade well enough, but this is not as enjoyable.
Cough rating: 2.0. There was something about the taste which I cannot and must not recall.

* Told you so.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Zevia Black Cherry

Well, now we've done it. Most of the Weird beverages we've sampled to date have been sweetened with either cane sugar or high-fructose corn syrup (or, notably, not sweetened at all, as in the yogurt sodas and Biotta...*shudder*). Recently, we tried out the notably yummy offerings from Oogave, which are sweetened with agave nectar.
Well, here's another. Today we have Zevia, which is sweetened with an extract of the Stevia rebaudiana plant. Apparently, this sweetener has no calories and produces a slower and longer-lasting sweet flavor as compared to sugar.
According to Wikipedia, there is evidence that not only does it not impact blood glucose, it may also even improve insulin sensitivity. There is also a little bit of evidence that it might be a mutagen, although no evidence that it actually causes genetic damage.
It was banned by the FDA as a potentially unsafe additive, although that was because it hadn't been proven safe, and there is controversy over the suggestion that the artificial sweetener industry coerced the FDA into the ruling given that stevia is easy to grow and widely available. Interestingly, the FDA has granted acceptable status to two sweeteners based on stevia developed by...wait for it...Coke and Pepsi.

Well, sounds fine to me. And, to make it even better, a good friend decided to donate two cans of Zevia (a soda sweetened with stevia extract) to the Lab for our tasting pleasure. This good friend doesn't have an official WSR Lab nickname yet, but neither is she mysterious nor a stranger. Let's call her--for the moment--"Pepper Trot".
Pepper Trot was kind enough to give us a can of Black Cherry and a can of Root Beer. Today, we'll try the black cherry.
Thanks, Pepper Trot!

Oh, and I have decided that the anti-bias personality we developed during the Oogave Odyssey needs official WSR Lab status. It shall be designated the Grumpy Alternative Libations Taster. Welcome to the team, GALT!

Galt: %@$%^ YOU AND YOUR &^@*ING STEVIA.

Where and when: Donated October 2009 by Pepper Trot.
Color: Completely clear. Quite bubbly.
Scent: A nice black cherry scent. Crisp, somehow alpine. Very good scent.
Kibbitzer-in-Chief: "Smells like...lollipop."
Junior Assistant Taster: "Mmmm!"
Taste: Hmmm, that's pretty good. A little more tart than the smell suggested, but that's not a bad thing. The cherry taste is nice, fruity, not particularly artificial. The aftertaste is odd, though--fairly tart, with a strange note--a bit bitter or bark-like. Herb-y.
K-i-C: "Tastes like raspada.
K-i-C: "Like a snow cone. But not one of those crappy snow cones you can buy with the stuff already on it."
Yeah, good cherry snow cone syrup is pretty close. This is better than I expected, except maybe the aftertaste. The tart is maybe just a bit strong; I prefer a slightly more mellow, berry-ish tone to my cherry flavor. But this is good.
If I'm right about the stevia, I'm not sure it will go well with the root beer. But we'll have to wait and see.

Quaff rating: 3.5. A very nice cherry soda.
Cough rating: 1.0. The aftertaste is weird. Not Weird, just weird.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Final thoughts on Oogave

As the good folks at Oogave are the first bottlers to take the time to send me samples, I feel that I should provide some closing thoughts.

Overall, these have been excellent sodas. I don't know for sure, but I think the agave sweetener makes a real difference; all of them had an interesting, honey-like tone to the sweetness (most evident in the Grapefruit) and a very smooth texture. Whether or not any individual Oogave flavor has hit the very top of my list, as a line they are very consistently good. I will certainly be looking out for more of them; my understanding is that they may be releasing some new flavors soon. I'm looking forward to it.

The sole exception is the watermelon cream soda, which didn't impress me any more the second time. Even that, though, is reasonably pleasant--just not noteworthy, in my humble opinion.

So a big thank you to Mike and Esteban at Oogave for their generosity in sending me samples, and for their tasty products. I hope their company thrives and continues to produce Weirdness of this caliber.

Mystery Oogave #6: Watermelon Cream (revisited)


Yep, we've come full circle. After this fascinating odyssey through new frontiers of agave-sweetened Weirdness, the last bottle for us to sample is Watermelon Cream. I won't look at the previous review, and I'll try to re-sample this with a fresh mind.

Where and when: sent September 2009 from Oogave.
Color: Faint pink, transparent.
Scent: Very sweet, like cotton candy or bubblegum. Possibly a faint fruit scent, but hard to detect under the powerful sweet.
Taste: The first taste is just pure sweet, like icing on a cookie. There's a hint of acid in it, but faint. Also a little of the mellowness of a berry. The dominant flavor is bubble gum, pure sugar.
There is a bit of cream, of the sweet vanilla ice cream variety. This is making me think of the circus or the county fair--ice cream, cotton candy. I need a funnel cake-flavored soda, and I'll be all set.
The faint acid/berry is probably the watermelon, and if I let the aftertaste linger for a bit, I suppose I can taste how it's watermelonish, but this seems like the least authentic of the Oogave flavors I've tasted so far.
This also feels to me less smooth than the others, and the most ordinary. It's pleasant, but neither complex nor delicious. It's fairly light, and I guess it would be refreshing, but I'd rather have one of their other flavors.

Quaff rating: 2.5. Nice enough, but not inspiring.
Cough rating: 0.5. The sweet is perhaps a bit cloying.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Mystery Oogave #5: Esteban's Root Beer

Next up is Esteban's Root Beer. When reviewing the previous Oogave flavor (Esteban's Cola), I noted that having Esteban's name on the bottle made me feel guilty. I think I've got it now, though, so I've decided that having his name on the bottle is kind of neat. Actually, I'm tempted to do the same for things I make; that might be relevant if I made anything worth quaffing.

Well, let's see if the root beer is worthy of the name of Esteban. Of course, it already bears his name (not to mention his Seal of Approval), but I suspect that he might be biased. Not like me.


Yes, well. I think a quaffing is in order.

Where and when: sent September 2009 by Mike and Esteban at Oogave.
Color: Dark reddish-brown.
Scent: Strong, spicy. Pleasant. Very sweet, a little biting, root beerish (but the sharper kind).
Taste: Oooh, nice. Sweet/spicy root beer (with a hint of bitter) and a fairly strong citrus note. The agave smoothness is evident, although this has a bit more bite than the other Oogaves. This is also sweeter than most of the others, and stronger.
The aftertaste is more pleasant and less sharp than that of most sodas, and lingers quite a while.
Actually--and this is weird--it's fairly reminiscent of the Abbondio Chinotto. The initial spicy citrus is very similar, and the hint of bitter brings the real Weirdness of the Abbondio to mind. This one, though, is both more pleasant to begin with, and also lacks the "holy crud" factor which the bizarre coffee-cola wave brings to the Abbondio. This hints at the beginning of that wave, but never follows through, choosing instead to linger in the spicy/sweet/hint of bitter swirling mist of yumminess in which it began.
The Kibbitzer-in-Chief feels that this should be re-dubbed "Rooty-Tooty-Oddly-Fruity".
Very good. I think Esteban can be proud. I would be.

Quaff rating: 4.0. Quite nice, very good taste.
Cough rating: 0.5. The hint o'bitter is just a bit off-putting.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Mystery Oogave #4: Esteban's Cola

Apparently, there has been some mistake. When I stripped off the bubble wrap from the next randomly-selected bottle sent by Mike and Esteban at Oogave, the label read "Esteban's Cola".
Truly, when I accepted their offer to send me samples, I didn't expect their own personal bottles of soda. Plus, ewww, backwash.
However, I was reassured when, upon closer inspection, the bottle was sealed and still full. I am forced to conclude that this is not, in fact, Esteban's personal bottle of soda, but is instead made from a formula which is the possession of Esteban.
Okay, I feel less guilty now.

There are many colas out there, even aside from the occasionally-seen Coke and Pepsi. I still intend to have a Normal Soda Review day, when such things are quaffed and subjected to the same scrutiny as the Weird stuff. But not today--today, we sample Esteban's Cola. The label does not specify the source of the cola, only listing "natural flavors", "caramel for color", "citric acid" and "natural caffeine" in addition to the usual water and agave sweetener.
Come to think of it, "caramel for color" is interesting. Does this actually have caramel in it? That would be Weird indeed.

The label also bears a sigil which proclaims this soda to have "Esteban's Seal of Approval", and bears a picture of a man giving a thumbs-up. Well, I would hope he approves of his own cola. I'm looking forward to sodas from other bottlers having Esteban's Seal of Approval.
Actually, I'm looking forward to soda bottles having a WSR badge of some sort. Maybe the "WSR What The Heck Is This?" seal of approval. Anyone want to propose a design?

Let's see how Esteban's Cola stacks up against all other colas.

Where and when: sent by Oogave Soda, September 2009
Color: A medium-dark brown, but still transparent. Lighter than most colas. Sort of like a red ale.
Scent: Intriguing. Actually, it smells a little like chocolate or caramel. The Kibbitzer-in-Chief says it smells like hazelnut. Maybe we can compromise and call it Nutella-scented. It's pleasant, a bit spicy.
Taste: Unexpected. There's actually not very much initial taste. The first impression is mild acid, slightly nutty/spicy (cinnamon or nutmeg, maybe). Then the citric acid comes in, along with more of the spice. It's a little like spiced cider, which is intriguing in a cola. The flavor is not overwhelming. A bigger swig gives more of the caramel flavor, but still with plenty of spice, in an overall mild impression. It's cola, but a spicy mild cola, rather than a whomp-you-on-the-head cola.
Punctilius: "Somewhere between root beer and cream soda. Does it have ginger in it? It's nuanced, and I'm trying to pick up the...hmm...leaves a bubbly bite on your tongue."
K-i-C: "It doesn't taste like cola. The aftertaste is kind of bitter."
Punctilius: "No it isn't. It just feels prickly. I kind of like it. I guess I...I like it."

I see what they're saying. This doesn't taste much like Coke and Pepsi, but it is reminiscent of some of the Weird colas. It's subtle...
Whoa. There's the bitter. A very delayed aftertaste, reminiscent of nut rinds or some spices. I think that's alkaloid? It's not strong or off-putting, but it's interesting.
K-i-C: "You know, carnitas will take care of that."

A very interesting soda. The flavor is more subtle than most, very complex. I like that, but it's a risk. I'm not sure if I'd call it enthusiatically enjoyable, because it's not a simple pleasure, but it's worth the effort.

Quaff rating: 3.5. Pretty nice, complicated, interesting, but challenging.
Cough rating: 1.0. While it doesn't bother me much, some of the flavors are surprising.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Mystery Oogave #3: Grapefruit

Out from under the bubble wrap it came, sliding into view like a hornworm from under a tomato leaf. The slither-POP sounds of its passage made the pit of my stomach churn, bringing to mind images of an army of snakes which had recently eaten Mentos and Diet Coke emerging from the grass of a suburban garden. First, a glimpse of translucent brown bottle, hard and curved like the back of some translucent scarab beetle; then the edge of pink and coral which was the label, on which the glyphs which proclaimed its identity had been scrawled.
"Grapefruit", they announced.

Third in the mystery pack of flavors sent by Mike and Esteban at Oogave, we have Grapefruit. I'm familiar only with a few other grapefruit sodas; Squirt is a nice change from the usual colas now and then, and Hansen's Grapefruit is similar. I'm looking forward to this.

Where and when: sent in September 2009 by Oogave.
Color: clear, with itty-bitty bits of something floating in it. I'm presuming that's grapefruit. I'm really hoping that's grapefruit.
Scent: Not much scent at all. Very faint citrus.
Me: "Do you smell anything in this?"
K-i-C: *sniff* "Yes."
Me: "What?"
K-i-C: "Bubbles."
She says you feel it more than smell it, and that it is sharp and citrusy.
Taste: The initial taste is sweet and very smooth, with almost no citrus. This then fades in an interesting way over the next three or four seconds, and a mild grapefruit flavor comes out underneath. It's a bit like honey on a grapefruit. The aftertaste is very clean--no lingering anything.
No, wait. There's a little bit of mild citrus still there. The soda itself is very mild, mellow, with an interesting bit of tart/bitter grapefruit.
*a bit later*
As it warms up, the grapefruit is becoming more evident in the initial taste, but not in a bad way.

This is a very light, mild soda, not a strong citrus at all. Mellow. Might actually be thirst-quenching. And, according to the nutrition facts, it has a tiny bit of fiber.
Heh. Quite pleasant. It's not often that I almost wish that a soda were stronger, and don't exactly on this one--if I were going to suggest an improvement, though, that's what might occur to me.


Well, I enjoyed it, anyway.

Quaff rating: 3.5. Very nice, light. And I'm not ashamed of that.
Cough rating: 0. No impulse at all to expel it.

*I don't actually have a uvula. Seriously.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Mystery Oogave #2: Mandarin-Key Lime

As described in the previous review, we have developed a protocol for dealing with the extremely-well-wrapped donated Weird sodas from Oogave; we will unwrap one at random, and review whatever comes out. This time, I was intrigued to see the words "Mandarin-Key Lime" coming out from under the bubble wrap.
I have to admit to being a bit skeptical; will mandarin and key lime be meaningfully different from all of the other odd citrus combinations out there (Passion-Persimmon being one I've not seen, possibly due to it sounding slightly obscene).
Er. Anyway, I don't see any immediate way in which Mandarin-Key Lime could be considered obscene*, so we don't have to worry about that. We have yet to see if its flavor will be distinctive enough to be considered Weird.

Oh, and for the sake of avoiding accusations of bias:


Where and when: donated September 2009 by Oogave
Color: Clear and transparent, maybe ever-so-slightly yellowish.
Scent: Sweet and citrusy, but not significantly different from the scent of Sprite.
LAT: "It kind of fills your throat with a weird sort of feeling." *sniffs* "Euuuh." *sniffs* "I like it!"
Maybe has just a touch more bitter than Sprite, but only barely.
Taste: The key lime is the most evident, both sweeter and having just a bit more bitter than regular lime. The orange is harder for me to taste, but it's there. I don't taste it as a distinct mandarin-y flavor, though. Like the ginger ale, there's an interesting smoothness to the flavor; I think it must be the agave sweetener.
The K-i-C, who is not that fond of soda in general, finds it a bit harsh. It's noticeably smoother than Sprite or 7-Up, with less of a bite. A bit more bitter than either of those, too. The citrus has a slight unpleasant late taste, but it's minor.

The aftertaste is pleasant, strong key-lime flavors.

Pretty nice, but I liked the ginger ale a bit more.

Quaff rating: 3.5. A nice citrus soda, with some complexity.
Cough rating: 0.5. Hints of unpleasantness, like someone intentionally using the wrong fork at a formal dinner.

*And if you do, please feel free to leave it in the comments.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Mystery Oogave #1: Ginger Ale

A little while back, we reviewed Oogave Watermelon Cream, and found it to not be as good as we hoped. Being fans of both watermelon and cream soda, we were hoping that it would (in fusing the two) lead us to hitherto unsuspected realms of beverage enjoyment, transfixing us with halberds of watermelon-creamy refreshment, and sending shivers of transcendent ecstasy through our quivering frames with the popping of each little carbonated bliss-bubble.
Perhaps our expectations were a bit high. Still, it did not strike us as being as special as we had believed it might be, after reading reviews elsewhere.

Imagine my utter shock when Mike, who apparently works at Oogave, commented on the review. I was--to use a British phrase which has become a favorite of mine--gobsmacked.
Someone reads the blog!
Mike was very polite, acknowledging that not everyone likes the watermelon cream flavor (although it does sell well). He then offered to send us samples of other flavors. A Weird Soda bottler wanted to send me soda!
But wait...would this bring our integrity into question? If I accepted Mike's generous offer, would it bring the objectivity of the Weird Soda Review labs--objectivity on which thirsty weird folks everywhere might, theoretically, depend--into question? Was I taking the "king's soda"? Would this forever tarnish the sterling reputation of the Lab and its staff, and result in our being forced to lurk in dank alleyways, huddled under cardboard boxes, reviewing pools of stagnant water and oil slicks on the pavement?*

After careful consideration, I decided that having bottlers send me Weird sodas was just too cool to pass up, but that I would make sure to enforce absolute objectivity on myself and the staff. I would accomplish this by offsetting the genuine gratitude I felt toward Mike and Esteban at Oogave with a ridiculously grumpy attitude. So here goes...


Okay, now that's taken care of, and nobody could possibly suspect us of bias.

When I opened the package that Mike and Esteban sent us, I found that they had sent us six bottles. Each was completely mummified in bubble wrap, so that I couldn't actually see what they were. They were plush, bottle-shaped objects which sloshed vaguely.
I didn't think our review had been bad enough that I should worry about bombs, but this did present me with a problem. What flavors, exactly, did I have?
The Kibbitzer-in-Chief showed me how this was not as much a problem as an opportunity. We could have a series of surprise reviews! I would pick a bottle at random and unwrap it, knowing that whatever it was, I would have to review it.

I don't think Oogave makes "Cockroach Cream", but if they do, I'm probably the right guy to send it to.

For the first one, I unwrapped Ginger Ale. I like ginger ale. I hope it's good.

(Thanks, Mike and Esteban!)

Where and when: donated by Oogave, September 2009
Color: murky and translucent, white. Not the usual amber-gold of ginger ale.
Scent: Holy moly. Massive ginger smell, much stronger than any other ginger ale I've smelled. Almost earthy. Pleasant, but very strong.
K-i-C: "Yep. Ginger. And, oddly, grapefruit."
Taste: Hmm. The ginger taste is strong, but not extremely sharp. The dominant impression is one of smooth and cool, with a strong honey-ginger taste.
LAT: "I like it."
JAT: "Doesn't seem that refreshing to me."
LAT: "It's a very fast taste, isn't it? Like, kind of BOOM!, then goes away fast. Like a nuclear explosion." *tastes* "Mmmm. BOOM!"
K-i-C: "It's very nice. If anything, it's a little too sweet." *pause* "That's a lot of ginger. I feel like I should be having sushi with it."

It's very smooth, easy to drink. Very little initial bite, which is remarkable given how much ginger is in it. It also tastes like honey--which, given the agave syrup, is understandable. Overall, very pleasant. It's not much like any other ginger ale I've had--it's almost like a ginger Italian soda. Much better than the watermelon cream--more subtle, less cloying.
Actually, it's a bit like Vernors, which is a good thing. This is smoother, less sharp, and a bit sweeter, I think.

Quaff rating: 4.0. A very nice experience.
Cough rating: 0.5. The ginger scent almost made my eyes water.

*"At first, the mold and algae was a bit strong for my taste, but I found that the undertone of diesel more than offset it. Still, I'd prefer to lick the gutter at 4th and Lincoln."

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Ooba Hibiscus & Orange

It's been slow at the Weird Soda Review labs this last few weeks. Our two younger members, the Lead and Junior Assistant testers, have been spending part of their time at institutions of learning, pursuing advanced projects*, and the logistics behind that have been occupying much of our time. As things settle into a routine, though, the Call of the Weird has been heard once again at the Lab. Have no doubt of it, the quaffing shall continue.

In fact, to my great delight, we have actually received a donation of samples from a real, honest-to-God bottler of Weird Soda! More on that to come. Today, we'll begin with something which is Weird, but not utterly unfamiliar.

We have previously reviewed Ooba Hibiscus, and found it most quaffable. While at Frazier Farms, though, I found that Ooba had taken a dramatic leap forward in their offerings. This kind of bold step into further Weirdness should be acknowledged and quaffed. Yes, Ooba had bravely--possibly foolhardily, but of such courageous moves are great things born--added orange flavor to their hibiscus drink.
Tremble, yea, TREMBLE at the reckless abandon with which they tamper!

On the other hand, Ooba Hibiscus was good--why mess with it too much?

In any case, today I will be reviewing Ooba Hibiscus and Orange, with the assistance of the Junior Assistant Tester and his assistant. His assistant is a small styrofoam model of the Space Shuttle which he obtained at a NASA/JPL educational event. This is certainly the first review I've ever done with an aerospace-oriented model, so there may be turbulence ahead. However, inspired by the courage shown by Ooba, I am willing to face the unknown.

Where and when: purchased August 2009 at Frazier Farms, Vista, CA
Color: The JAT says "purplish-red". I see a bit more brown, but I'll accept that. Plus, he dresses better than I do, so I'm inclined to trust his color judgment.
Scent: Tealike, with a fruity note. The JAT says "Cherryish!" Yeah, I'll buy that. I'd add strawberry, like strawberry preserves. The cherry would be the bright red kind, not the more mellow black cherry.
Taste: JAT: "Mmmm! Good!"
The hibiscus is clear, and the orange note does come through. It is different from their regular hibiscus, notably so, but still pretty good.
The aftertaste is, at first, surprisingly watery--the taste fades quickly, leaving cold watery tea with a faint hint of citrus in the mouth. Then the flavors return a bit.
JAT: "It's hard to explain." He's more honest than I am.
It's nice. Refreshing, not too syrupy. Take a strong hibiscus tea, add a little sugar and orange flavor, and carbonate it, and you'd get this. More thirst-quenching than some.
Let's hear the report from the shuttle model (which the JAT insists is named "T.J.H.")
Me: "What does 'T.J.H.' stand for?"
JAT: "Tiny Junior Helper."
Of course.
TJH: "I like the smell."
We decide to find out how he likes the taste, and I dip his nose in the Ooba.
TJH: "I don't know. I liked the JAT's idea better." By this he means the taste is "hard to explain" and "good".

Well, there we have it. I like it, although I'd have to give the edge to the original Hibiscus Only flavor. The JAT is very fond of it. He says it's "nice and refreshing, just like you said in the review." And the TJH supports the JAT in his conclusions about the taste and smell. I suspect the TJH of being little more than a mouthpiece for the JAT's opinions, myself.

JAT: *removes wings from TJH*
TJH: "Hey!"

Quaff rating: 4.0. Quite nice, light and enjoyable.
Cough rating: 0.5. The flavors fade oddly, which was weird.

*Often involving songs about the letter D, and the consumption of paste. Coming soon: Weird Classroom Supplies Review!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Goya El Dorado Golden Soda

Arrrrr! Come, me hearties! Gather 'round the mizzenmast, and hear a tale of adventure and plunder.
'Twere in the year when Obama became President o' the United States, it were. The seas were awash in pirates of the scurviest sort, and one couldn't find a decent harbor in all of North County. Why, I heard tales told by old salty dogs of sloops full o' six or seven young blackguards--"minivans", I think they were called, and if I've ever seen a sorrier sort of sailing ship, then I'll buy another round for all o' yer--these "minivans" would come swoopin' inter a harbor, be it Rite Aid or Walgreens, and ark itself across two or three spaces. Have you ever seen the like?
Aye, I see by the blanchin' o' the skin around yer eyes and the drool from yer quiverin' lips that ye have.
Well, it were in dark times such as those when I found myself doin' some maintenance on my own little bit o' sea-sailin' savvy, the Ninety-Four Ford Aspire. Arrr, it's a good vessel she be. Well, I were shinin' the sides, as it were, when I saw a black sail on the horizon. Then, sailin' before the wind as if it were fleein' the demons o' Costco themselves, into my own little bay came a decrepit old barque of a ship. Tough as week-old Pringles she looked, and battered as a parkin' lot pine tree. Over the railin' swung an old dog as tough and rangy as any I ever saw, with smoke risin' from his beard and a wild look in his eyes. 'Twere the beard I clapped eyes on first, for not only were it a-smokin', it were yellow, yellow as the sun at mid-day. Well, of course, I knew the old dog by his reputation.
"I thought--I thought you were dead," I said. I'm not afraid to tell ya that my knees were a-knockin' a wee bit. If ye knew him, ye'd have been knockin' some yerself.
"We Yellowbeards are never more dangerous than when we're dead."
"Well, what do ye want with me?"
"For my crew. We're goin' after it, laddie. The El Dorado."

The El Dorado! I see ye've heard of it too--of course ye have. When old sailors gather over their pints of sarsaparilla or grog, a tale of the El Dorado is good for a week's worth of dinners. The fabled, lost Golden Soda of the Spanish Main! 'Twere the Dread Bottler Goya who were supposed to have captured it, once. Well, if Yellowbeard was on its trail...
I wasn't sure which scared me more, going after it, or not going.

Six hours later, I was sailing on his old barque. He'd introduced me to the rest o' the crew--a rough bunch, but he'd be needin' hard boys if he sought the El Dorado. In the galley, a washer-woman stooped over the table. At first I thought her back were bent, but then she looked at me.
"If he asks ye for a map, best give it to him," she moaned. Never did see her stand up straight from that table.
Anyway, we sailed for months until we found our way to Primo's Island. I'll not darken your dreams with the details of what we found, boy--the slow-roasted barbecue outside, the endless bins o' corn, tomatoes, and mangoes, nor the carts sellin' Popsicles--but in the end, we found ourselves lookin' at the thing itself. The El Dorado, the Golden Soda of Goya. It stood out on the aisle, shinin', sort of--I'd never seen aught like it, and never shall again.

It were a yellow-gold color, with a heathen idol on it. I've not seen that yellow since my days as a youth, but when I saw it, it chilled me to my marrow. It was the exact color of the cheap swim goggles I once had, through which the beauty and terror of the sea first showed themselves. A yellow like that comes from no natural drink. Well, the Kibbitzer--one of the saltiest o' the crew--looked and said "Aye, that is a natural color, but only the color of the markings on snow, if ye ken my maning!". Then th' Kibbitzer capered, gamboled, rolled her eyes, and did a somersault.
Never quite understood the Kibbitzer.
But Yellowbeard, he just laughed. He grabbed the bottle and opened it.

Well, the boys and I stepped back. Who knoes what heathen poisons would pour from something like the El Dorado. Yellowbeard breathed deep, the vapors from the bottle and the smoke from his beard mingling as they were sucked up his nose. The bo'sun asked him what visions plagued him, what smells he smelled?
"Arrr...they be faint, my lads. It put me in mind o' the tropics, boys. Banana. But faint as a moon through a witch's cloak."

And then he took it. Laughed. And drank.

Well, what happened to him I'll never tell a soul, boy. But those of us who came back made a vow, that every year on this day, we'd tell the story of Yellowbeard and the El Dorado. Except tonight...well, tonight, I'll tell you what I've never told another soul.

I drank the El Dorado too, my boy. I can't really describe it--at first, it didn't taste like much. But as it stuck in my mouth, I tasted a bit of the banana Yellowbeard spoke of, before he...he...OH GODS I CAN'T SAY IT!
Sorry, my boy. The taste, yes, the taste. Banana? Lemon meringue? Metal? I can't say. Faint, yes, but lingering. I can't say if it was supposed to be fruit, but...well, the Kibbitzer took one sip, grimaced, said "Ewww,", and then went into a fit on the floor of the disco.
Oh, yes, it were in a disco. Gods help me, a disco.

I can't tell you what it tasted like, my lad, for it were not quite like anything else I've tasted. Banana meringue is the closest I'll come. But I'll tell you this--it was in a disco for a REASON, my lad.

Where and when: purchased August 2009 at Primo's Market, Vista, CA

Quaff rating: 2.0. Errrrr. Arrrrr. Hurrrrr. I'd not seek it out again.
Cough rating: 1.0. Not so foul as the bilge, but not so sweet as the sight o' land after a month at sea.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Pop Goes the Bubble and Fukola Cola

It was on that morning, as Hogswallower Thornbottom rose from his comfortable Elvish bed in the quaint cottages which rimmed the hollow under the steep sides of Grothbringumden, that his faithful manservant Fidelio Brownnose came trotting up to him, wide-eyed and trembling.

"Oh, Mister Hogswallower, sir, you've got to come. He says it's urgent!"
"Why, Fidelio! What-ever is the matter? You're all aflutter."
"Well, it's like this, you see. Master Hlableldleletheldlerenden says that we should take the Blue Ball of Morkmindia to the Chasm of Deepness and throw it in, so that the world will be forever rid of its malignancy, or words to that effect. But Lord Finduil of the Finduillin wants to keep the Blue Ball for his people, to use against the forces of Hraaäargh the Foul. They're using loud voices, Mr. Hogswallower! I knew I had to do it. I knew I had to come to you."
"Well then, lead on, Fidelio. Let's see if a little Smalling-sense can smooth things over. And then what would you say to a bit of something, eh?"
"That sounds capital, Mr. Hogswallower. Just capital!"

So the two Smallings bounced their way into the Ring of Hearkening, where Lord Finduil and Master Hlableldleletheldlerenden were disputing the fate of the Blue Ball, both studiously ignoring the bristling eyebrows, rolling eyes, heaving sighs, and wheezy outbursts of "Confractimatulate all of you!" of the wizened wizard Gargamel.

"Master Hlableldleletheldlerenden, sir, I brought him!" piped Fidelio.
The elven master turned to Hogswallower and regarded him with eyes that seemed to gleam with the light of ancient stars.
"Ah, Pigswallower Thornbottom, Ball-bearer and last hope of all the peoples of Oldworld," he intoned, "I have summoned you to the Ring of Hearkening to lend your small voice to this dispute."
"But this is preposterous," cried Lord Finduil, "to ask advice of a Smalling in a Big matter! Aside from Ball-bearing, what knowledge or prowess can he lend to this debate?"
"Con-sarn it, you aggle-fragging wisher-washer! That Smalling done carried that rassin'-brassin' Ball more miles than a rootin'-snootin' frangle-waisted ribblerubber like you could do!" wheezed Gargamel.
Lord Finduil whirled, drawing his fabled sword Stabby halfway from its burnished sheath. Gargamel began a half-heard incantation in the sorcerous tongue.
Hogswallower stepped forward, radiating Smalling outrage from every hair on his head, feet, and the backs of both knees.

"Hear me, O wise ones of Oldworld! We Smallings may not be counted among the Wise, but surely even the voice of one such as I may rise to be heard when he is summoned amongst you?"

Gargamel, Finduil, and Master Hlableldleletheldlerenden drew back in surprise, unused to such a bold voice from a Smalling.

"If the world lies as you have drawn it, then surely the forces of Hraaäargh the Foul are even now at our doorsteps. If the Blue Ball is even now mine to bear, then bear it I shall, even if I must bear it into the very Chasm itself. This is the hour of the Smallings, and we shall not fail!"
Fidelio's eyes shone with tears. His chin trembled with pride to hear his master speak so, showering the patterned stones with dislodged crumbs from the remains of elvish delicacies.

"Hrmmm...I done said it before, Hogswallerer, I'll be jimmy-jangled if you ain't the rasslinest, brassiest, rip-roarin' swig-swaggerer that ever bamboozled a great-great-growliger with a pea-shooter, I'll tell you," mumbled Gargamel.
"Indeed, though the meaning of his words eludes me as always, I take the tone of it and add my own stanza, Master Hogswallower. Truly, you are a prince among Ball-bearing Smallings," spake Finduil.
"Yes. Truly, this is the hour of the Smallings," announced Master Hlableldleletheldlerenden, "and the hour of the Ball-Bearer! Let Master Thornbottom go forth with his Blue Ball, to bear it to whatever fate awaits him. But he shall go with more than our words."
The elven master brought forth an ancient hollow vegetable, plucked from the vine. It shone with an odd orange light. Lord Finduil knelt, and began to tie Hogswallower's shoes in a special pattern known only to those of his realm. Gargamel began an incantation, mumbling "rack-um-smackum-bangum-buggum-riggum-roogum..."

Hlableldleletheldlerenden handed the orange plant to the Smalling.
"You have my gourd," he said.
Finduil stood, having finished the lacings on the Smalling's footwear with a flourish of loops.
"And you have my bow," he said.
Gargamel concluded his incantation with a series of loud, ritualistic coughs and loogie-summonings.
"And my hacks!" wheezed Gargamel.

Suddenly, a dark-cloaked figure appeared, set down two bottles of mysterious liquid, and vanished.

"By the gods, who was that?" gasped Finduil.
"It came and went so suddenly...a veritable Mysterious Stranger!" mused Hlableldleletheldlerenden.
"What in tarnation?" wheezed Gargamel.
Hlableldleletheldlerenden strode over to the bottles, and inspected them, peering closely at the grey-brown label of the first one.
"This writing is of an ancient mode, but I read it as 'Fukola Cola'," he said slowly.
"Fukola? Hmm...I have not heard that word before," said Finduil. "It sounds like a variation on a word I once heard in a far-off land, Nieau Hyoarch. If I remember, it sounded like 'Fu-'"
"STOP!" wheezed Gargamel. "I know the word, you grondleflobberer. The Fabled F-Word ain't not to be spoken by such a woozy-wharvin', gringly-grangly mornobbet like yerself. Even Hraaäargh himself might think himself another think before usin' the Fabled F-Word. Also, look yerself below; do you see what it says beneath? 'Anytime, Anywhere, With Anyone', it says. I'll be jiggerasticoated if that don't sound like a bottle ready to fight."
"Well, then," said Finduil, "let us consider the other, if this bottle carries such a heavy burden. This one the runes name 'Pop Goes The Bubble'. Beneath this I see writ in smaller letters, 'Old Fashioned Bubble Gum Soda'. Can any here interpret this riddle?"
Unexpectedly, it was Fidelio who spoke.
"Well, beggin' your pardon, Lord Finduil, but I think I might be able to explain that one, if I might be excused for intruding on your Lordships' goings-on. Back in Böondäukia, where we Smallings live, there's an old alchemist name of Old Smelly. Well, Smelly was known amongst the kids for making a certain kind of sweet that he called bubble gum. I'm thinking that this bottle might have come from Smelly himself. See? 'Old fashioned', it says. Why, it's near as could be to a maker's mark, if you ask me." Seeing the assembled representatives of the Wise looking down on him, he blushed and stammered, "Errr...not that it's right, or nothing...just thought I'd mention it..."
Gargamel wheezed out a laugh and said "Well, I'll be hog-handled and dip-dappled, that's just about the gur-dringiest thing I ever heard from a blim-blammy frickilated Smalling. You just go on with your ramblings, you old zing-zang-zoomie chilglibbersnabbit."
Finduil nodded. "Indeed, just as he said." His brow furrowed. "I think."
Hlableldleletheldlerenden stood, throwing back his robes, and shaking back the hair from his brow. "Friends, I think these eldritch brews can only have been delivered for the benefit of our good master Thornbottom, to aid him in his Ball quest. This 'Fukola Cola' seems likely to be a brew intended to lend strength to his arm in battle, though I do not think battle is his best refuge in this quest. 'Pop Goes The Bottle' I find harder to read, but I think I do not venture too far off the mark when I say it might serve to fire faint heart with cheery thoughts of home and hearth. After all, those are things near and dear to the heart of any Smalling, are they not?"

The assembled company laughed. "Ha ha!", they said. "Ha ha, ha ha ha. Ha." And then they sang a song, the Battle of Benny Hill, believed to be the anthem used by the forces of Han-Selior in their ill-fated, yet strangely humorous, battle against Hraaäargh's experimental all-scantily-clad female army. The first verse is rendered below:

Bi di bi diii diii di bi diii, diii diii di bi diii,
Duh, buh duh buh duh buuuuh DUH!

Where and when: Gifts from the Mysterious Stranger. The Fukola Cola was from August, while the Pop Goes The Bubble is from September.

First, the Fukola:

Color: dark brown, almost looked like a greenish tint while pouring, but looks reddish now.
Scent: Strong sweet cola, with significant spice. Toasty, cinnamony, citrusy.
Taste: Pretty nice, actually. The main taste is cola, but there's a pleasant lemony-lime which comes around the sides. Has an odd bite--oily and acid a the same time, but not as unpleasant as that sounds. Slightly reminiscent of Moxie. A lime-y cola with extra kick.
There's some ginger in the aftertaste--kind of a lot, actually.
The ingredients include: lime oil, orange oil, clove, American, Siberian, and Korean ginseng, capsicum (the active ingredient in pepper spray), dill weed, skullcap, echinacea, ginkgo, kola nut, sage, damiana, kava kava, and sodium benzoate (claimed to preserve flavor).
The K-i-C, who knows a bit of herbal medicine, informs me that damiana is a mild aphrodisiac.
Hence the soda name, I guess.

And now the Pop Goes The Bubble.

Color: cotton-candy pink, translucent/foggy.
Scent: Wow. Strong bubble gum, surprisingly lemonish.
Taste: Goodness. That's really interesting. It's really very much like the kind of bubble gum one fund in little wrappers.
K-i-C: "Bazooka."
Yes, that's it.
K-i-C: "I'm disappointed I didn't get a little comic strip."
Really amazingly accurate. Even has that odd harsh/bitter edge that reminds me of powdered sugar. I've described other sodas as tasting like bubble gum, but I wasn't right. This tastes like bubble gum. I'll have to figure out what all the others tasted like.
Maybe they tasted like stick bubble gum, but this tastes like Bazooka.

All right, final word.

Fukola Cola
Quaff rating: 3.5. Pretty nice, a notable cola
Cough rating: 1.0. The aftertaste is a bit strong for me.

Pop Goes The Bubble
Quaff rating: 3.0. If you like bazooka, it might be higher.
Cough rating: 1.0. Too accurate not to be a bit bizarre.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Vita Malt Classic

There seem to be a number of semi-sodas in the Weird family. On the Soda Venn Diagram, these would fall into the nebulous region between beer and soda--closer to beer than root beer, ginger beer, and sarsaparilla. We've previously reviewed Malta India, and found it Weird. Vita Malt is of similar ilk.

The label is very manly--silver, with bold colors, and "VITA MALT" in bold lettering. Clearly, this is no effeminate Weird malt soda with a little paper umbrella. This is VITA MALT. Not only that, it's not a twist-off cap. One needs tools to open VITA MALT. I'm not sure I'm worthy, but I will give it my all.

The ingredients list includes barley and hops.

Where and when: purchased April 2009 at Galco's, Los Angeles
Color: Dark brown and foamy.
Scent: Slightly sweet, but the dominant scent is beerlike. Reminiscent of a dark beer, rather than a lager.
Taste: Very sweet beer. There's the distinct underlying bitterness of the hops and barley, but with a syrupy, maple-like sweet layer on top. The bitter fades quickly, but the sweet is persistent. Between the two, this is kind of unpleasant. I think I'd rather have either a beer or a soda.
Aftertaste: blech.

Is this the taste of manliness?

Quaff rating: 2.5.
Cough rating: 1.0. The bitterness is unpleasant with the sweet.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Oogave Watermelon Cream

There are times when I have felt fear in the course of my job as Quaffmaster. However, it's not at the times you might think. Faced with something unknown, green, and foamy? No fear. Got to BevMo right after closing, and fresh out of anything drinkable? No fear. Biotta Digestive Drink? No fear.
Okay, well, maybe a little fear. But no quavering!
However, if you spend some time in this field, you become aware of a seething underlayer of resentment and hatred, of dark passions and darker betrayals, in which the slightest misstep can bring down DOOM unlike any seen since the fall of Sarnath onto oneself and one's family, yea, even unto the seventh generation. This war has been raging for decades, consuming many who attempted to take stands both heroic and base. Right now, it has retreated below ground, but it is always there, seething beneath our bottle bottoms like magma, ready to burst forth in incandescent fountains of scorching, sticky vituperation.
I refer, of course, to the Sweetener Wars.
Once, long ago, sweetness was simple. Sugar was sweet, and if you wanted something sweet, you put sugar into it. Sugar could be obtained from any number of vegetable sources. Scientists were delving into its secrets. We knew of the simple monosaccharides; glucose, fructose, galactose, and others of that ilk. Heck, the basis of life itself--DNA, deoxyribonucleic acid--is partially based on a sugar (deoxyribose). And then there were the sweet, sweet disaccharides: sucrose (cane sugar), a combination of glucose and fructose, was plentiful, sweet, and fun.
And then we realized that--GASP--sugar had calories!

Well, you all know the rest. Saccharin, which ended up being a carcinogen if you ate sixteen gazillion pounds each day. Nutrasweet (aspartame), which has the capacity to become formaldehyde in your body. Splenda (or sucralose), which seems to be a partially chlorinated version of sugar. All of these are sweet but calorie-free, and all of them seem to end up being prone to causing one to grow tentacles or some such.

Amongst calorie-enabled sweeteners, cane sugar has been replaced in many foods by high-fructose corn syrup, which is chemically similar to what sucrose turns into in your digestive tract but avoids the need for enzymatic breakdown (and thus one step of control).
High-fructose corn syrup vs. cane sugar is currently the major flashpoint in the war. HFCS is somewhat cheaper (sue at least partially to massive corn subsidies) and easier to distribute, so popular with manufacturers. Sugar advocates assert that it is dangerous, and leads to obesity and diabetes. Science is cited on both sides. Tempers flare.

Many Weird sodas have chosen to use cane sugar (the story of Dublin Dr. Pepper being an inspiring example). Others use HFCS. And tonight, we will see a representative of a third faction in the battle: agave nectar.

Well, let's see. What can we find on agave syrup...made mostly in Mexico, comes from agave, consists of varying percentages of...ah.
Glucose and fructose.
Like everything else.
Oh, and sometimes it's processed with enzymes extracted from black mold.
Oh goody.

Anyway, tonight, we're trying Oogave Watermelon Cream, which is sweetened with agave nectar--that is to say, a form of natural SUGAR. I like the idea of a watermelon cream, though. And it's been hot this week.

Where and when: purchased August 2009 at Cost Plus, Westwood, CA
Color: A very pale pink.
Scent: Very sweet, creamy, slightly bubble-gumish.
Taste: Very, very sweet, with bubble gum being the strongest initial taste. That lingers for 5-10 seconds, then a tart fruit taste comes slowly in.
I don't detect a lot of watermelon, and the cream is strong and synthetic-tasting. For something made entirely of natural ingredients, this tastes very artificial.
K-i-C: *shudders* That's...nasty.
I guess there's a hint of watermelon in the tartness, but it's faint.

I can't actually say that I much care for this. Too bad; I like watermelon, and I like cream soda. Thi is not really either; it's a bubble gum soda with a faint hint of watermelon and aluminum.

Quaff rating: 2.5. Not all that good.
Cough rating: 0.5. Not all that bad.
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