We’re dedicated scientists here at the Lab. We spend our days* bent over our benchtops, engaged in deep gustatory meditations, or on local acquisition and sampling exhibitions. However, even such dedicated scientists as we occasionally benefit from a change of venue.
Prior to becoming a Quaffmaster, I spent some time as a graduate student and researcher in the biological sciences. It’s an interesting lifestyle, with many perks as well as costs. One of the nice bits is conference travel; you do some sort of interesting work, submit it to a conference, and get the institution to pay for you to zoom off to some destination with hundreds or thousands of other scientists, spending a few days absorbing vast amounts of research during the day (and presenting your own), and engaging in elevated scientific discussions far into the night**.
Well, now that I’m a Quaffmaster, I sort of missed the whole conference travel bit. Unfortunately, there aren’t any conventions in the Weird Soda world (well, none to which I’ve been invited at any rate). So we, the staff of Weird Soda Review, decided to do our own travel/pilgrimage/quaffing exhibitions. A big decision remained, though—where to go? As a grad student, my field had conferences all over—New Orleans, Japan, New York, Australia—but our travel budget at the Lab is a bit more limited than the University of California’s. So we needed to keep it within a few hundred miles, reachable by the Lab’s transportation arrangements*** and budget. And, of course, it needed to be Weird.
And we found the perfect place. The Madonna Inn.
If you’ve never been to the Madonna Inn, please allow me to assure you that it is possibly the Platonic paragon of Weirdness on Earth. It’s a resort hotel, in which all of the rooms are individually themed and decorated by some sort of mad genius. There’s the Caveman room (complete with walls, floor, and ceiling made of blocks of granite, a rock waterfall shower, and a stained-glass window with a caveman) , the Daisy Mae , the Buffalo Room, the Love Nest…etc. In the main building, the men’s restroom includes a gigantic urinal made of boulders, which automatically flushes via a ceiling-to-floor waterfall.
The main corridors are lined with red velvet wall coverings and decorated with elaborately carved wood,
gigantic chandeliers made of variously colored glass grape clusters,
a restaurant full of garish pink leatherish armchairs,
and a huge portrait of one of the founders of the hotel in a pink evening dress…with an accordion.
This place is obviously ideal for Weird Soda reviewing. On our trip up, we made side pilgrimages to Galco’s in Highland Park and Mitsuwa in West Los Angeles, picking up supplies. We then journeyed a few hours north to the Madonna Inn.
We made reservations for the Jungle Rock room. This room features a deep blue plush carpet, beds with zebra print coverings,
dark wood furniture (with feather fringes)
a fake tree growing out of the boulder wall
and a bathroom with rock floor and walls (except for the one which is mostly fuzzy zebra print) and a waterfall shower.
After extensive tasting preparations (which, coincidentally enough, took place in the hotel hot tub), we brought forth the two Weird sodas which had been specially selected for the honor of quaffing at this most Weird of Weird Locales.
Americana Black Cherry
This one was recommended to me by frequenter commenter Cameron, who has provided several excellent suggestions and technical help (the technical know-how to create and link up our new favicon was provided by him, for which we at the Lab lift our special tasting glasses to him in salute). I was very pleased to be able to obtain a bottle of it (long with many, many other Weird sodas) on this pilgrimage. He described it as the best cherry soda he’d ever had. iven my love of cherry soda, this is clearly a must-quaff.
This is part of Orca Beverage Company’s “Americana” line. Also in that line is a honey lime ginger ale and a root beer (which we did also acquire). Like most of Orca’s products, these are cane-sugar sweetened, with lots of natural ingredients (this one lists dark sweet cherry extract as the third ingredient, after water and sugar). I’ve had their NuGrape, and found it yummy.
Given that this uses actual cherry extract, I’m not sure what to expect. It may not be either the medicinal cherry or the popsicle cherry flavors I have experienced in the past. Something new? We’ll have to see.
I am feeling inspired by this environment. Truly, the Madonna Inn lends extra Weirdness to all within its sphere of influence.
Where and when: Purchased August 2009 at Galco’s, Los Angeles
Color: Fairly light slightly orange-y red. K-i-C: “Looks like cranberry juice.”
Scent: Wow. This smells a lot like “Cherries Jubilee” ice cream from Baskin-Robbins (aka 31 flavors). Now if I only had some Daquiri Ice to go with it…
Taste: Complex. There’s an initial sweet, but it’s followed by a complex tartness. It is strongly reminiscent of dark cherries, quite fruity. Not a blinding wall of sweet synthetic cherry like a cherry popsicle (not that that’s a bad thing), this is what a cherry Popsicle would be after having gone to college for a couple of years.
The aftertaste is also very fruity; tart/sweet, with the slight bitterness you get in peels of things like grape and cherry.
The lead assistant tester likes it, although he fears that the burst of tartness would be off-putting to some.
K-i-C: *grimaces* “Tastes like…cherry pie topping.”
I agree up to a point, but I think it’s more realistic than that—the tartness is more like real cherry. She modifies her opinion to indicate that it tastes like dark cherry pie topping.
There is definitely the heady taste of cane sugar here, most detectable when it is slightly warmed. Good stuff, quite a bit more tart and complex than I expected.
Quaff rating: 4. Yummy.
Cough rating: 0.5. The tartness is good, but very surprising.
UPDATE: I’ve just had the last bit from the bottle, without the benefit of cooling (room temp). The syrupiness is more evident, with the tartness more immediate but less intense. It lingers oddly, becoming quite sharp. The cane sugar lightheadedness is even more prevalent. It’s closer to medicinal cherry when warm. Perhaps that’s one of the unspecified natural flavors.
The Original Mabi Drink.
Our second Weird soda for tonight is “The Original Mabi Drink”.
What, exactly, is Mabi, you ask? I have no idea, and I don’t want to pay the $9.99/day that internet access would cost me in this room. So until I can mosey over to the lounge where its free, I am stuck with speculation. The ingredients list includes water, high-fructose corn syrup, and—and I quote—“Natural Mabi Bark Flavor”.
Apparently, Mabi is bark. This is bark-flavored soda. I suppose birch beer is too, but…I’m not sure about this.
The label also says this is “The Authentic Caribbean Flavor”, and bolsters its claim with a yellow cartoon of some sort of figurine or fetish and a bunch of flags which I presume are from Caribbean nations, states, or territories. Elsewhere on the label, it mentions that this contains less than 0.5% alcohol by volume. I think it’s safe to presume that it contains some small amount of alcohol.
So what we have here is a hooch-soda containing bark from some Caribbean plant.
Where and when: purchased August 2009 at Galco’s, Los Angeles
Color: medium pale orangey-brown. Kind of brandy-ish.
Scent: vanilla and vinegar. Faint, but strange. It does smell a bit like alcohol, which is a little hard to believe if it’s really less than 1 proof.
K-i-C: “Ugh. How very unpleasant.”
Taste: Bluh. Faint at first, then hits your tongue with a faintly oily, lemony taste which my brain insists on calling “clayey”. Yes, like modeling clay. No, I don’t know why.
I’ve had very little in the way of liquor, but I think it tastes a tiny bit like amaretto. The K-i-C thinks it’s more like Tuaca.
Junior Assistant Tester: “I kind of like it!” We’ll have to watch out for him.
Lead Assistant Tester: “Eww.” *puts it down* I think we’re safe with him.
If I didn’t know better, I would think this was some sort of liqueur. It really is reminiscent of hooch. I feel as though I should be mixing it with something.
When drunk warm from the bottle, the lemon taste is stronger, but the hoochness is still there. I’m not sure whether that’s good or not.
Quaff rating: 3. More or less pleasant. Those who like Tuaca might rate it higher.
Cough rating: 1.5. Oily and liquoresque. Clayey, I swear.
* and by this I mean “sporadically selected portions of some days”
** Many of these discussions involved quaffing. A lot of quaffing. And not soda.
*** 1998 Toyota Sienna minivan. It has running boards and a spoiler, so it’s cool.
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