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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.
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