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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.
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