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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Reed's Original Ginger Brew

The Lab has visitors tonight. We are very lucky, in that we have made a bunch of really interesting friends (As it turns out, being a scientist/musician/historian/weird-soda-quaffing family tends to put you in contact with a variety of interesting people). One of our guests happens to be fond of a certain Weird soda which we have not yet reviewed--the Reed's family of ginger-based beverages. This friend (who shall be known as Gointotrance) was generous enough to bring some tonight, so we'll be reviewing the core of the family, the Reed's Original Ginger Brew.

Reed's has a reputation for being a strong ginger soda. Afficionados of Reeds typically view other ginger ales (e.g. Canada Dry, Schweppes) with amused contempt. Ginger is fine with me, and I'm fond of regular ginger ales, so I'm looking forward to the experience.

Where and when: Purchased December 2010 at Frazier Farms, Vista, CA
Color: Light brown, close--very close--to yellow. In fact, I'd call it yellow, but that's just me.
Gointotrance: "Probably from the honey? Pineapple juice and honey, that's certainly going to add to the yellow color. There's also lemon and lime juices."
I agree.
Gointotrance: "Unlike my sodas, it's got very fine bubbles which have decided to cling to the bottom and sides. Look, the bubbles have congregated there like little see-through caviar eggs."
Scent: Fairly strong ginger, kind of lemony. Not all that sweet. The sour is strong, a touch of bitter.
Gointotrance: "You can smell the stickiness. Can something smell sticky? There's a kinesthetic-olfactory synaesthesia there."
This blog has just become quite a bit more credible by having that terminology appear, I think.
Taste: Hmm. Pretty tart, the lemon juice is prominent. The ginger has a strong but not overwhelming bite. It's sweet. There's complexity here, but I'm a little surprised that the ginger isn't stronger.
Gointotrance: "Put some on your tongue and let it sit there."
Ah. *pause* Yep. There's some sting.
Gointotrance: "Mind you, this is not the extra-strength one."

The sweetness doesn't come across in the smell, so it's a bit surprising. It's actually quite sweet, but not the corn-syrup sort--it's a more mellow sweetness. Not surprising, given the honey-pineapple sweetener.

The ginger is hitting me more now. Let's try the Kibbitzer on this.

K-i-C: "It's nice. It's probably the pineapple juice, but it's kind of like cider."

The cider is an interesting comment. I think I see what she's saying.
This is much more complex and interesting than I would have guessed.

Gointotrance, having his own carbonation setup, is looking into custom soda. He has an idea for a tomato-garlic-ginger-Worcestershire sauce carbonated beverage. The mind boggles. The stomach clenches. I can't wait. This is very exciting to me--what could be Weirder than that which emerges from the depths of personal Weirdness? What Weirdness lurks in the hearts of men?
The Quaffmaster will soon know!

Quaff rating: 3.5. Very nice to drink, and surprisingly complex. Quite a nice surprise.
Cough rating: 1.0. The ginger, while pleasant, produces some strong sensations.

Aftertaste update: the ginger lingers.
Gointotrance: "After you drink it, you know you've drunk it. The experience doesn't end as soon as you're done. For the next 40 minutes, you'll know you had this beverage."

Friday, December 24, 2010

Virgil's Cream Soda

I've been saving this one for a special occasion.

It was really cream soda which led me to become the Quaffmaster. In the days of my youth, my parents made soda choices which shaped my future development. They did permit soda in the house, although it was not in enormously plentiful supply, and so I did develop a taste for it. However, more important than its availability was its nature. At least in my youngest days, we weren't a Coke/Pepsi household. Instead, my parents opted for Shasta.

Shasta stood out among the choices available to a family in Topeka for one main reason: it came in a wide variety of flavors. I clearly remember rows of multicolored Shasta cans in our refrigerator, each one a separate incipient taste experience. Only later in life did I come to realize that, for many children I knew, soda came in exactly three varieties: cola, lemon-lime, and root beer. While these are all worthy flavors, it was my days with Shasta which opened my eyes to the existence of soda...well, maybe not Weirdness, exactly, but at least relatively exotic things like strawberry, orange, and the intriguingly named "Dr. Diego".

And, of course...cream soda.

I think it came in a can which bore a tan color scheme. I don't remember the flavor clearly; it may have been of the tart, acid-laden cream soda family, or maybe a slightly mellower vanilla. Such distinctions are lost in the ever-shifting mists of memory. What I do clearly remember, though, is that cream soda was my favorite. Whenever my parents came home, bearing a variety pack of Shasta triumphantly upon their shoulders like early human hunters with a hunk of steaming mastodon carcass*, I would leap upon it and rip a can of cream soda from its cardboard viscera like a small, Lego-furred wolverine.

Thus, it was in my Kansan youth that I developed my taste for soda Weirdness in general, and cream soda in particular**.

I've had many a fine cream soda since then, but I've been hearing legends of this one. Those who speak of it do so in very respectful, hushed voices, as if they expected that a bottle might happen to be nearby and overhear them. It's not particularly hard to find, although it isn't usually at the regular grocery store. Thus, I'm not sure this fully qualifies as Weird. However, in the interest of exploring all facets of soda, the reputed pinnacles of excellence should not be neglected.

Given that we are in the thick of the holiday season today, this seems like an auspicious occasion. So whether you celebrate Christmas, Festivus, Chanukah, or Talk Like a Pirate Solstice Day, allow me to raise a glass of cream soda wassail to you, my generous and loyal readers.

Where and when: Purchased December 2010 at Frazier Farms, Vista, CA
Color: A fairly rich medium brown. Darker than many cream sodas.
Scent: Sweet, very vanilla-y. Maybe even maple-y. The vanilla has depth and darkness; it's a sweeter version of vanilla extract. Promising.
Long Rod McBean: "Smells very slightly of beer. Or maybe that's just my upper lip." I think I see what he means; the darker side of the vanilla has some complexity which is like that of a lager.
K-i-C: "Eww. Does not go well with cilantro."
The Kibbitzer-in-Chief has been making salsa for Christmas Eve dinner.
K-i-C: "Actually, it's not unlike the Marsala."
She's right. The Marsala is heady, creamy and amaretto-y, and there is something a little like that in the Virgil's. The more I smell this, the more I like it.
Wyvern: "Good. But I want to change my name. I'm Nazgul now."
So noted.

Wow. WOW. This is outstanding. It's got a very strong vanilla, with the depth of real vanilla, but without most of the bitterness. Behind that, it's got some of the lighter french vanilla found in most of the cream sodas. It's a lovely balance, holding the main options in vanilla in concordant opposition***.
The aftertaste continues the balance, although the french vanilla does turn slightly more acid, taking a bigger role in the balance.

The balance and complexity are remarkable.

LRMB: "Light, yet...almost champagne-like."
Me: "Is that good?"
LRMB: "I wouldn't say it's the heartiest cream soda I've ever had. I'd call it a light cream soda. Maybe...a cream soda to go with a fruit tray and some cheese, rather than a hearty stew. You might want a darker, heavier cream soda on a cold day. Might be good with Mexican food with a squeeze of lime."

The rest of us gaze open-mouthed at Long Rod McBean's unsuspected culinary depths.

Nazgul (nee Wyvern): "Maple-y."
LAT: "Balrogs are awesome!"
K-i-C: "That's not very relevant."
LAT: "Yeah, but they are!"
K-i-C: "Yes, but would they like this cream soda?"
LAT: "Probably."

LRMB: "This cream soda would go well with prosciutto. Or else grapes, green grapes."

The funny thing is, he's right. This soda has enough character that it would go better with some foods.

What a lovely holiday treat. Bravo!

Quaff rating: 4.5. Among the most enjoyable sodas I've had.
Cough rating: 0. I can't think of any reason I'd be unhappy with this.

* Note: This was NOT one of the available Shasta flavors. I think Jones may be working on it, though.

** Plus, I still have a fondness for certain cardboard varietals.

*** Which is, if I remember, the outer alignment plane of true neutrals in 2nd edition AD&D.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Biotta Beet Juice

Happy Thanksgiving Day!
At the Weird Soda Review Lab, we are thankful for many things. We have several loyal readers, for whom we are thankful. We get to play around with blogs, for which we are thankful. We have the opportunity to explore a fascinating and diverse world of bubbly beverages, experiencing scents and tastes which expand our sensory horizons. We are pioneers, explorers, voyagers into every unknown corner of the soda universe, shining the light of knowledge and experience into the dark corners of quaffdom. For all of that, we are thankful.
And there are several of those corners which we will NEVER HAVE TO VISIT AGAIN. And for that, we are profoundly thankful.

Of course, these two gratitude-inducing qualities are somewhat incompatible, especially when those dark corners hold new examples of Weirdness. When such conflicts arise, what choice have we but to continue to quaff all that can be quaffed?

It seemd appropriate to try and find something Thanksgiving-related. We have no meat-flavored sodas, and no more of the Tofurky and Gravy, so it'll have to be vegetable-based. And there's a vegetable based soda from one of the darkest of those dark corners which has been waiting, patient, biding its time in the Lab vaults...

Biotta Beet Juice

This is, of course, made by the same company which produced Biotta Digestive Drink, one of the least palatable concoctions we at the Lab have ever attempted to consume. The scars of that encounter, like the rings left by the tooth-rimmed suckers of giant squid on the heads of sperm whales, still mark the olfactory and gustatory centers of my brain. Its foulness was of a magnitude sufficient to--had the bottle been a bit smaller--have collapsed the fabric of taste-time (which is always looking a bit tattered around the Lab) and resulted in a naked sodularity. Such are the hazards of our calling, but rest assured, loyal readers, we have learned from the experience and enhanced our safety protocols. Emergency bottles of high-quality vanilla and cherry cream sodas have been placed around the lab to stabilize the yummion fields. I believe that we are now properly equipped to sample another Biotta product with only minimal risk of catastrophe.

Er...hold on a moment. A closer look at the label reveals that this is classified by Biotta as a "cleansing and fasting drink".
Maybe I'll have the staff reinforce those cream soda compensators with a few well-placed root beer stabilizers.

Where: purchased at Frazier Farms, Vista, CA
Color: Wow. I had assumed the glass of the bottle was opaque. It turns out (now that I've poured some into a cup) that it wasn't--the stuff is just a red-purple so dark as to be nearly black. I can tell it's red-purple because the inside of the bottle is coated with a thin layer. It doesn't bead up like a watery liquid; it seems to spread out, coating the interior of the bottle like some sort of obscene beet amoeba searching for prey. It's my understanding that wine connoisseurs will swirl wine around the glass to observe its "legs", the way in which it clings to the side. Doing so with this produces a transparent film of Biotta which clings...and clings...and clings. It very slowly slides off in a uniform mass, reluctantly, as if filled with the lost hopes of escape from its confinement and subsequent ravaging of the human world.

Scent: Beety. The scent doesn't get far, I had to get my nose close enough that I was worried about attack, but it's strong when it's there. A powerful, concentrated distillment of beet.
K-i-C: *rendered absolutely speechless for a moment, sniffs again*
K-i-C: *sits in contemplation for a while*
K-i-C: "Ugh. Smells like...onions and pomegranate. OLD onions and pomegranate. You should smell it, LAT."
LAT: "I'd rather not."

Taste: Oh...oh...
Recently, the K-i-C read a web site which translated the Chinese curses uttered on the magnificent cancelled-by-Fox-may-they-suffer-a-plague-of-aroused-hamsters science fiction show Firefly. One of them represents my thoughts on the taste nicely.
"Holy mother of God and all her wacky nephews!"
The initial taste, in the first second or so, is sort of like a thick grape punch with lots of citrus. And I do mean thick--it's roughly the consistency of cough syrup. However, the tastes which follow in the next few seconds escalate from worrisome to hideous. I actually found myself paralyzed, literally paralyzed, with growing despair and a sense of impending doom.
It began with the citrus, which transformed from chorus of sprightly, laughing citrusy children into a horde of cackling, cavorting lecherous imps of tartness as it moved over the back of the roof of my mouth. That tartness transformed from fruity to acid/sweatlike. It was accompanied by a moderate vegetable bitterness, trampling over the tender meadows at the base of my tongue, leaving them a blasted wasteland of mud and broken dandelion stalks.
Little bursts of sweetness could be seen, strongly in the initial taste and gradually fading thereafter. Aside from those, though, this was almost entirely unpleasant for me.

Interestingly, the K-i-C (who, after a prolonged struggle, managed to sip a bit) found the initial taste the worst by far, and felt that it got better over time. On the other hand, she said, after tasting it, that it would "go better with cabbage". I have two responses to that:

1) NOTHING goes better with cabbage.
2) That is a bit like saying "Death by cheese grater is awful. It would be better if you added a firing squad."

Quaff rating: 1.5. Parts of it could almost be good. Those parts are the first to die.
Cough rating: 3.5. I didn't puke, and didn't have to fight all that hard not to.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Foxon Park White Birch

The Lab has been faced with a quandary of late. Some time ago, the Kibbitzer-in-Chief spearheaded a new sub-project for the Lab; an investigation into the growth patterns and oviproduction of Gallus domesticus. Yes, we had decided to raise some egg-laying hens. We procured several juvenile specimens and acquired a used habitat (i.e. found someone giving away a free coop on Craigslist).
The habitat was small, which was fine, given that we intended for the specimens* to free-range on the Lab grounds during the day. They grew well, and all was well.


The back door to the main Lab building is left open during much of the day, as the official Weird Soda Review canine auxiliary staff** require unfettered access to the grounds to perform their duties (these include "barking at nothing" and "pooping in as many places as possible"). In order to minimize insect infiltration of the Lab, the open doorway is covered by a screen curtain held together in the middle by a magnet. The canine staff mastered the art of simply pushing between the screen flaps within a few minutes, and so had no trouble with it. The new lab chickens, however, were completely stymied by this incomprehensible barrier.

Chicken #1: Behold, comrades! The large bipeds emerge from this opening with some regularity. Surely, beyond must lie untold riches and new places to poop. Let us voyage into the unknown.

Chicken #2: Indeed. Forth Eggorlingas!

Chicken #3: *hits screen* Alas! What is here, my faithful avian companions? My way is blocked by a mystic barrier. The light and scents from the paradise within drift out to tantalize and tempt me, yet I cannot pass! Ah, cruel fate!

Chicken #2: 'Zwounds, it bars my entry as well. Whence comes such an impediment? Knowest thou, O wise leader of out feathered sisterhood?

Chicken #1: Nay, it is altogether out of my experience. Never before has such a thing come to pass in the memory of any chicken. Let us investigate.

*The chickens poke around at the screen, completely failing to notice the fact that it parts easily in the middle*

Chicken #3: Truly, it is impassable. The mammalian bipeds and our canine foes must be possessed of some celestial virtue, unknown to hens, by which they can move freely betwixt this realm and that which lies beyond. Oh, cruel fate, which so oft is arranged against our ilk.

Chicken #1: Verily, thou hast pecked it on the mark. Come, let us return to our efforts to uproot every vegetable planted by the bipeds.

This dialogue was repeated every day. It was amusing to watch them utterly fail to figure out how to get through, and be so obviously annoyed that we and the dogs had no such trouble.

Well, it was funny until they finally figured it out. Now we have to keep a constant watch on the door, lest the chicken hordes invade and explore the Lab.

Inspired by this unfortunate turn of events, I have been busy constructing a larger habitat for the chickens (based on plans for the Garden Coop) in which they can spend more of each day in seclusion. Being a novice at construction, this has been occupying much of my attention, and I have neglected my Quaffmasterly duties. Well, no more. NO MORE, I say! No invading fowl shall keep me from the swift completion of my appointed rounds.

Tonight we're trying "Foxon Park White Birch" soda. I'm presuming this is a birch beer, rather than some sort of soda made from whole birch trees.

Where and when: Purchased at Urbn Pizza in Vista, CA.
Color: Transparent, totally clear. The white/pale blue label color scheme, combined with this, gives it an icy aspect.
Scent: Yep, it's a birch beer. It has that very strong scent of wintergreen. Oddly, though, it's underlaid with a savory, almost meaty smell. This is quite strange, and makes me a little afraid.
Taste: The mint is the dominant taste, with a nice balance of sweetness. The sweet is not overwhelming; rather, it's a good complement to the mint. However, there don't seem to be any other tastes at all. It's very clean, but kind of uninteresting.
No sign of meatiness, not even a bit of gravy or a blot of mustard.
About ten seconds after the swig, a delayed aftertaste creeps in. It's a cooler, more pepperminty feeling, pleasant and faint. Other than that, there's very little aftertaste; cool mint, and a fading slight tart note which is the inevitable melancholy twilight to cane sugar's intense noontide radiance.
I'm really not sure what to make of this. It leaves very little impression beyond a pleasant wintergreen mintiness. I suppose in its own way, that's nice; the cleanness is appealing in a way, and at least it's a pleasant taste, but it lacks complexity. It reminds me a bit of IKEA furniture.

K-i-C: "Rest assured, it was quite expensive."

Hmm. Perhaps I'm not sophisticated enough to appreciate what sets this apart from all other birch beers. It's nice--I wouldn't mind drinking it--but I probably would specifically request it. And I definitely wouldn't try to have it with most pizzas, it's far too weak.

Actually, Urbn has a nice white-sauce pizza with clams. This might go well enough with that...

Soda in the trees
A few notes, now repeated
Plain and simple song

Quaff rating: 2.5. The taste is well-balanced and pleasant, but colorless.
Cough rating: 0. There's nothing offensive here at all.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Fizzy Vimto

The second Weird soda I obtained from Bit O' Britain in Carlsbad is Fizzy Vimto. Here you can see it in a dignified setting, as befits a British soda.

And a better view. The backdrop is a lovely afghan knitted for me by my Aunt Barbara, who would probably be happy to know that it will now be seen throngs which view this site. Throngs, I tell you!

It had a very cheerful-looking can, with something distinctly British about it. It actually seems to me that British junk food shares a sort

Me: "Hey, K-i-C? You're a literature person. What's the word to use when you're trying to say that a bunch of things share a set of common characteristics that they use to convey meaning? Milieu? Weltanschaaung? Gestalt?"
K-i-C: "Er. I don't think so."
Me: "Argh. Do you know what I'm talking about?"
K-i-C: "No. I was thinking about Euripides."

Dammit. Here I am, unable to come up with the right word, and my Lab partner is off thinking about interesting things unrelated to my needs. How could she?

Oh well. It seems to me that British junk food shares a certain set of common themes in its plumage, the primary element being a fairly short brand name which is simultaneously intriguing and uninformative. "Horbix", "Glutrio", and "Whangee" all seem like they could be good British junk food names*.
This name is typically displayed on a brightly-colored background, in a large, balloon-ish or otherwise curved font, and conveys no information about the nature of the product.

Vimto gives us a little help, at least. It bears the description "Fizzy", and there are images of fruit behind the logo, along with a liquid-looking purple splotch.

Sounds like a Weird soda!

Where and when: Purchased at Bit O' Britain in Carlsbad, CA
Color: Reddish-purple, slightly darker than the Tango. Transparent.
K-i-C: "Strangely, a bit pinkish. Well, not that strange, considering the smell."
Scent: Strong, sweet, berryish. Strong element of bubble gum.
Taste: Sweet, very sweet. Smooth, maybe a bit viscous. Tastes sort of like Concord grape jelly, the sort you find in tiny packets at 3 am at IHOP.
K-i-C: "This is the loudest soda I've ever drunk. Did you hear how loud the bubbles are? Like Pop Rocks. " *swig* "Tastes kind of like Pop Rocks, too."
The bubble gum flavor is there, along with a mild acidity. It's got a moderately mellow taste, like a fruit or berry punch, with grape being the strongest element for me.
K-i-C: "Didn't you hear the bubbles. Here, hold some in your mouth."
She's right. It's like Rice Krispies in there.

What's in this?

Quoth the back of the can:
"Mixed fruit juice drink made with the delicious secret Vimto flavour. A tantalising mix of secret herbs and spices, for the most amazing taste experience you'll ever have."

A mix of secret herbs and spices? My's British Kentucky Fried Chicken Soda!

Okay, maybe not. It lists the ingredients as being carbonated water, sucrose, mixed fruit juices (grape, blackcurrant, and raspberry), and "Vimto Flavour". This last is further described as containing fruits, herbs, barley malt and spices.
I really don't taste the barley, but I can believe it. The secrets of the Vimto Flavour are mysteries perhaps beyond the fathoming even of a Quaffmaster.

It's got a reasonably pleasant fruit flavor, with a strong grape and berry tone, a big bubble gum component, and an unusually smooth texture (especially considering the strong fizziness). Not bad, but not really magnificent.

Quaff rating: 3. Fairly pleasant, but ordinary. I like it sort of as I like Fanta Orange. I'd happily drink it if someone handed it to me, but probably wouldn't seek it out.
Cough rating: 0.5. Strongly sweet, and I don't care for the bubble gum.

* They are also good names for Great Old Ones**.
** Or first-year Latin porn stars

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tango Cherry

In our continuing quest for worldwide Weirdness, we found ourselves in downtown Carlsbad. Now, if you are familiar with the geography of north San Diego county, you might be aware that downtown Carlsbad is about fifteen miles from Vista, where the Lab is located. Being aware of that, you might regard a fifteen mile trip as something less than impressive in terms of a "worldwide quest". You might, in fact, conclude that we were less than dedicated in this quest. If you were of a particularly rude turn of mind, you might even (heaven forfend!) scoff at our dedication to a global Weirdness perspective, and make pointed remarks as to the pluck, vim and vigor, and "can-do" attitude which seems less than evident.

I can only respond to such scurrilous calumnies in two ways.

Riposte the First: there is a store in downtown Carlsbad called "Bit O' Britain", which sells genuine British foodstuffs, and...

Riposte the Second: the second "Dollhouse" series DVD came from Netflix, and the Lab staff REALLY wanted to watch it on the Lab theater system that night, so an actual trip to Britain was unfeasible.

There. I will expect your apology by post within the week, or I shall demand satisfaction, sirrah!

To be perfectly honest, our visit to Bit O' Britain was not motivated primarily by a quest for Weird soda, but rather by a hankering for sausage rolls and Caerphilly cheese for cheese muffins*. However, my job as a Quaffmaster requires me to be alert at all times for the possibility of acquiring new samples, and markets selling foreign foods are excellent opportunities to broaden the palate. Thus, I discovered several British sodas which might be called "Weird".

The first we will review is called "Tango", with a subtitle presumably denoting the flavor variant (in this case, cherry). I was particularly drawn to this one because the can employed a gimmick. A potentially rude phrase is imprinted on the side of the can, with a strategic word missing and replaced by a white box. In this case, the phrase is:

"Chilled Tango Made My ________ Shrink"

It's sort of like a redacted document, in which euphemisms for body parts are regarded as classified national security information**.

In this case, the gimmick is that the missing word is printed in some sort of temperature-sensitive dye, so that it only appears when the can is cooled to a temperature suitable for soda. I believe a similar gimmick is employed on cans of Coors beer***.

In this case, upon spending some time in the Lab refrigeration apparatus, the missing word was revealed to be "Stones".

The can is further emblazoned with a lead-in to the gimmick phrase, "It started in my toes, and froze up my leg until...". Near this, there is (for reasons which are unclear) an image of a bear trap. The mixture of mildly raunchy phrases and vaguely threatening images on this can has left my mystified.

Let's see if the soda itself is any less mystifying.

Where and when: Purchased at Bit O' Britain, Carlsbad, CA
Color: Transparent red, fairly light.
Wyvern: "Lightish cherry-colored."
Scent: Very much like unsolidified cherry Jell-O. Very sweet, moderately tart, synthetic cherry. Not especially promising in the eternal quest for the perfect taste of cherry Popsicles.
Wyvern: "Mmmmnnneeaahhh. Not good, but not bad."
Taste: Wow, much more tart than expected. The initial feel is of tart rather than sweet, with an odd burning sensation similar to Pop Rocks. It goes beyond carbonation.
That tart is followed by a cherry which is very similar to the smell; very sweet and heavily synthetic. This goes beyond the innocent, artificial cherry sweetness of Popsicles, and on into some sort of cyborg-level synthetic taste. Reminds me of hot dogs, for some reason. It doesn't actually taste like meat, but there's something in the overtones of the taste which brings the juice in a pack of hot dogs to mind.
Wyvern: "Tart-ish. What I think a 'tart' would taste like."

I wait a while, and then try it again. The tart is still there, but the burning has faded somewhat. The cherry flavor hasn't gotten any better; it's still very unnatural, and seems to be developing more of a bitter aftertaste.
Wyvern: "It doesn't make me pinch my throat closed after I sip it anymore."

The cherry is slowly devolving into medicinal cherry, but with a heavy unnatural note, a weird combination of tart and bitter. Kind of vile. As fond as I am of cherry flavors, I don't care for this. And it's making my stomach hurt. I blame King George III.

What the heck is in this, anyway? I am astonished to find that the second ingredient--just after carbonated water--is actual cherry juice from concentrate. I believe the British word for my state would be "gobsmacked". How can something which tastes like this actually be made of fruit juice?
Another swig, and I'm still mystified. This is not a nice cherry flavor. I'm trying to not even be swayed by my love of cherry Popsicles; I wouldn't have guessed that this was flavored with cherry juice. I like real cherries. Still, in the interest of integrity, I must admit that I was wrong about the synthetic nature of this one; it is (apparently) the real thing.

This had better not actually be making anything shrink.

Quaff rating: 1.5. I'm really trying to like the cherry, but I can't quite manage it.
Cough rating: 2.0. Not actively awful, but possessed of a certain quiet horrendousness.

Update: Ten minutes later, by stomach is actually uncomfortable. Bad British!

*"Hey, Jim? How do the British make their toasted cheese muffins?"
"I don't know, Bob. How?"
"I hate you, Bob."

**One can only wish that the redactions in United States governmental documents were hiding the same things. "The Director of the Department of Homeland Security made the decision to close the airport based on _____________" would be much more entertaining (and less disturbing) if the missing words were "bodacious ta-tas".

***Sales of Coors would probably improve if the thing which appeared when the can was cooled was not a stylized image of the Rockies, but rather something along the lines of the ideas described elsewhere in this review.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Mary Jane's Relaxing Soda

There are days when being the Quaffmaster comes with a fair amount of stress. As an example: today, my "to-do" list includes:
1) Pick up "Shade's Children" and "Gateway" from the library
2) Return approximately 65 pounds of books to the library
3) Package auto parts to return to the vendor
4) Rent a tuxedo
5) Purchase components for this year's Halloween costume ("Groovus Maximus, the Beatnik Centurion")
6) Really seriously think about getting around to grading some papers

Plus, there's the work at the Lab. If only I could find some way to make the quaffing and reviewing of soda include some sort of mellow relaxation...

Wait. What's this? Here, in the back...
"Mary Jane's Relaxing Soda".

Perfect. A review title which will get me arrested.

I'm excited about this one. When I spotted it on the shelf at BevMo, I couldn't pass it up. Now, while I am reasonably widely-experienced in the realm of Weird soda, I am effectively completely naive about other I drink very little alcohol, smoke no tobacco, and have had no experience with anything else. Even so, I couldn't help but think that "Mary Jane's Relaxing Soda" was meant to refer to something else.

A closer look at the label:
"Take a moment for yourself. Enjoy euphoric relaxation that's all natural, plain and simple. Consume Responsibly - Limit 2 bottles per day. Excessive use or use with prescription sedatives may cause drowsiness and impair ability to operate a motor vehicle or heavy equipment."
I think that I need to take a good, close look at the ingredients list for this one.
We've got water, cane sugar, passionflower extract, caramel color, kava extract, phosphoric acid, citric acid, and natural flavor.
Apparently, kava is a Pacific island herb whose roots can be used to prepare a mild sedative drink, so we can probably assume that's the active ingredient. I'm keeping an eye on the "natural flavors", though...

The Kibbitzer-in-Chief says, "Should I make some brownies for this review?"

She does make some darned fine brownies, especially for someone who doesn't like chocolate.

Oh, as an extra bonus, we have another guest reviewer at the Lab today. Flip-Flop Girl, a good friend, is visiting with her children. Let's see how she likes this one.

Where and when: Purchased at BevMo, October 2010
Color: Moderately-dark caramel.
FFG: "Well...brown?"
K-i-C: "Yep. I guess it's a tiny bit red. Watery prune juice color."
Scent: Sweet, moderately spicy. Herbal and cinnamon notes, lemony.
K-i-C: "Woo! It..."
FFG: "To me it smells like stale Pepsi."
K-i-C: "It doesn't really smell like anything that special."
FFG: "It smells like a soda that's been left out all day."
K-i-C: "It's been relaxing."

It is similar to Pepsi, but more volatile, a bit heady.

FFG: "There's something else I'm trying to identify..."
K-i-C: "It's got kind of a caramel smell to it."

Taste: Stronger citrus than I was expecting, more orange than lemon. The initial taste is of citrus, followed closely by a slightly more bitter fruit.

FFG: "You know how you were saying it looked kind of like prunes?"
She's's is a pruniness, maybe raisin-y. I think the passionflower is pretty strong. So it goes from orange-passion to prune, still not unpleasant, but definitely unusual.

K-i-C: "I don't feel more relaxed."
FFG: "Maybe you haven't had enough yet."

Oh, isn't that ALWAYS the way these things start?

There's a very, very faint hint of bitter in the later taste. If I close my eyes, it reminds me slightly of the Abbondio Chinotto, but not nearly so strong. The taste interacts nicely with the smell; the cinnamon and spice of the scent combines well with the citrus and prune. More pleasant than I would have guessed.

The K-i-C and Flip-Flop Girl say the prune comes before the citrus. I guess I'm outvoted.

And then the chickens (yes, the Lab has chickens) mounted an escape attempt. The ensuing chaos may have impinged on any putative relaxation effect, but it was a fairly enjoyable experience nonetheless.

JAT: "Bleah."

Quaff rating: I'm torn between 3.0 and 3.5. I'm going to go with the 3.0, based on the opinions of the K-i-C and Flip-Flop Girl.
Cough rating: 1. The raisin flavor is a bit odd.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Jarritos Variety Pack: Tamarindo

The time has come.

This Jarritos odyssey began, arguably, with a review of Jarritos' Tamarindo flavor. It was a little while after that that I was first contacted by the Jarritos company with their offer to send me a variety pack for review, presumably because I didn't much care for the tamarind flavor.
While the variety pack has held some surprises, both pleasant and not quite as pleasant, I did note that there was a tamarind bottle in it. It was as if Jarritos was offering me a chance at redemption in their eyes, a way to clear the air between us. Maybe they changed the formula! It could be their way of atoning; a humble offering for me to evaluate, to determine if their honor could be restored.

Or maybe it's a chance for personal growth on my part. When I have expressed dissatisfaction with other Weird sodas, readers have written in with vigorously-expressed opinions concerning my comments on their favorite beverages, as well as faith that if I were slightly higher on the evolutionary scale (above, for example, yeast), I would feel differently. These occasions have reminded me that my own journey is hardly at an end, and in my voyaging I may well experience my own alterations and transformations. Perhaps I have reached a new level of maturity in which it is not the Tamarindo which has changed, it is only myself, and I will find that I now understand and appreciate it.

Or, maybe, there is, in fact, no Tamarindo. Perhaps the bottle contains an assortment of vile toxins or biowarfare agents, and upon quaffing I will be reduced into a mound of gibbering protoplasm. Jarritos corporate ninjas will rappel into the Lab from their candy-colored stealth helicopters and plant a sign over my jellied remains, warning any who might see it of the dangers of implying that a Jarritos flavor tastes like "mango armpit".

I have NO FEAR.

Where and when: Donated by Jarritos
Color: Medium tan, semi-translucent. The color reminds me of cantaloupe, although it is a bit darker/browner.
Oddly, although I don't have a comparison bottle to be sure, I think this is significantly lighter than the Jarritos Tamarindo that I had before. Is that a promising sign?
Scent: Tangy, sharp, acid, not very sweet. Surprisingly, not unpleasant; there is an element of muskiness, but it's not all that bad. It's strange...almost meaty, which is kind of disturbing.
K-i-C: "I don't smell anything." It *is* faint, I agree.
Taste: Okay, checklist.
Cup? Check.
Backup tasters? Check.
Emergency supply of caramels? Check.
Here goes.

Hmmm. The dominant flavor is tartness, not as sharp as lemon or quite as bitter as lime. It's got a sort of tangerine feel to it. Hard to pin down. There's a certain mango-y quality, especially to the initial taste and first follower, which is fast.
It's sweeter than the smell, especially right at first. The tart comes right on the heels of that, and is followed about a second and a half later by the fruity. We go from sweet to citrusy to mango-tangerine in the first few seconds.
A few seconds after that, there's the muskiness, but it's muted. Actually, it's a bit like caramel (and no, that's not because I was preemptively inoculating myself from the emergency supply).
In the previous review, I likened it to pre-vomit saliva. On the third quaff, I can feel that a bit; this produces a heavy feel in the bottom of the mouth, but it's not as bad as before.

K-i-C: "Tastes like sweet armpit juice."

Well, I don't think it's as bad, anyway.

A few more swigs later, it's becoming a bit less pleasant. The sour saliva taste is increasing, as is the muskiness. Perhaps this behaves like wine; there may be some sort of oxidation going on as it's exposed to the air, which is changing the flavor. Perhaps, as in so many cases, the K-i-C is quicker to grasp the inevitable truths than I am.

I decide to take some out to the Lead Assistant Tester and .$O", who is again visiting the Lab. I'm not telling them the flavor, though.

.$O": "Well, it looks disgusting."
They swig.
LAT: "Ugh! Bitter!"
.$O": "Mmmmm!" *swigs again*
LAT: "It's all heavy and slimy in my mouth."
.$O": "It's really good! Tastes cider, but fizzy." Interestingly, he's right; there is a similarity to apple cider vinegar.
LAT: "But it's bitter, like they crushed the stems in, too." *grimace* "It's good, though." *swigs*

From this, I have learned two things. First, that Tamarindo is a complex flavor, and probably an acquired taste. Some folks seem to really relish it; others fear and loathe it.
Second, there is no soda so repulsive that the LAT can't bring himself to enjoy it. He's a born Weird Soda reviewer.

I am concluding that Jarritos Tamarindo isn't as bad as I thought the first time. I could enjoy the first few sips. However, as I went on, I found it less and less pleasant; the muskiness and heaviness became increasingly apparent, masking the crisp tart flavors. It went from an earthy tart sparking cider to the slightly slimy feel of cider vinegar and club soda.
I could imagine, though, that someone who was already fond of tamarind would enjoy this.

Unfortunately, it wasn't so awful as to justify digging into the emergency caramel stash, which saddens me. These disappointments are part of the burden a Quaffmaster must learn to bear.

My thanks to Jarritos for an interesting set of samples of Weirdness to review. In the days to come, we'll be delving deeper into the realms of the Weird. I have a few samples from Mitsuwa, and...shudder...possibly another product of Biotta.

*dramatic music cue* Dun dun DUUUUUUUUNNNNNN!

Quaff rating: 2. There are pleasant flavors in this, but they are adulterated with Weirdness of the bad sort.
Cough rating: Began around 1.5, but rose to 2.5 over subsequent sips. I'm going to give it an average score of about 2. Significantly aversive, but not a threat to one's digestion.

Afterburp update: Earthy. Kind of unpleasant.

Further aftertaste update: Mmmmmmm, caramels.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

We're on Facebook!

Well, it had to happen. The Weird Soda Review now has a Facebook page. If you're on Facebook, feel free to "Like" us. It makes us here at the Lab feel special.

In a fit of geekery, I tried to expand the explanations of Quaff and Cough ratings you can see on the right with the nifty "hover your mouse over something and get extra text to appear" HTML goodness. Let me know if it doesn't work for you.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Jarritos Variety Pack: Grapefruit (Toronja)

The Lab, like many institutes at which cutting-edge research is accomplished, can sometimes get a bit...messy. It's really not unique to the Weird Soda Review Lab; I was once a graduate student at UCLA, and I can testify that things there could also get a bit disorganized. You'd be walking the halls of a lab building, and inevitably, there would be random stuff littering the corners, stuffed in the alcoves, and (occasionally) spang in the middle of the hall. This accumulated debris of scientific inquiry ranged from broken office chairs to supercomputers which were one generation behind the leading edge. However, no matter what comprised these piles of castoffs, they were always accompanied by indicators that the piles were NOT TO BE TOUCHED. Somebody had PUT that stuff there, darnit, and they'd be sorting through it ANY DAY NOW, so you should just LEAVE IT ALONE. This was nearly universal, despite the fact that some of these piles had been there since before I became a graduate student (and my PhD took...well...let's just say longer than it should, so that things which were there before I got there were ancient indeed). In some cases, I'm not sure tat the person who had PUT IT THERE was, in fact, still EMPLOYED by UCLA, and might in fact be PUSHING UP DAISIES, and thus unlikely to HANDLE THE MESS except perhaps in a Jacob Marley-ish fashion.

Professor Scrooge fell upon his knees, and clasped his hands before his face.
“Mercy!” he said. “Dreadful apparition, why do you trouble me?”
“Man of the professorial mind!” replied the Ghost, “do you believe in me or not?”
"I do,” said Scrooge. “I must. But why do spirits walk the earth, and why do they come to me?”
“It is required of every professor,” the Ghost returned, “that he or she should not litter the halls of his building with stacks of unpublished data, discarded CRTs, and unclassifiable office furniture; or, if he should do so, that he CLEAN IT THE &@#$ UP BEFORE RETIRING, and if that spirit cleaneth it not up in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the lab—oh, woe is me!—and witness what it cannot tidy, but might have tidied on earth, and the consequent plugs of desperate undergrads trying to find their way though the ever-ramifying maze!”
Again the spectre raised a cry, and shook its chain and wrung its shadowy hands.
“You are fettered,” said Professor Scrooge, trembling. "Discarded printers are chained to your ankles, and an antiquated gene sequencer depends from your neck. Tell me why?”
“I wear the crud I abandoned in life,” replied the Ghost. “I left it there in the hall bit by bit, and pile by pile; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I always intended to call Facilities to have it discarded, but never quite got around to it. Is its pattern strange to you?
Scrooge trembled more and more.
“Or would you know,” pursued the Ghost, “the weight and length of the huge pile of crud you bear yourself? It was full as heavy and as long as this, seven Christmas Eves ago. You have laboured on it, since. Remember that iMac you got for the graduate student? The one with the built-in CRT? Still there.”
Scrooge glanced about him on the floor, in the expectation of finding himself surrounded by some fifty or sixty generations of obsolescence and probably-useless-but-can't-quite-bring-mysef-to-throw-it-out: but he could see nothing.
“Jacob,” he said, imploringly. “Old Dean Marley, tell me more. Speak comfort to me, Jacob!”
“I have none to give,” the Ghost replied.
 -from "Ramifications of Paranormal Experience on Microeconomic Behaviors: an fMRI study", C. Dickens, PI*

Well, in any case, the Lab has gotten a bit...messy. In fact, I got up early this morning, and was just about to get started on thinking about finding a pile of papers to sort into smaller piles of papers, when the Kibbitzer in Chief got up. She came out into the Lab. She looked around.

She shuddered. Her eyes closed, and seemed unwilling to open.

"I'm going out," she said, "for a bit."

"When will you be back?" I asked, poised precariously on the precipice of springing into action on considering starting to clean up a bit.

She opened her eyes for a moment, then squinched them closed, as if confronted by visions dangerous to sanity and health.

"It'll be a while," she said.

"Anything you want me to do while you're out?" I asked, in my usual selfless, helpful mode.

She came close, and opened her eyes only when my face would fill her peripheral vision entirely, blotting out the non-Euclidean landscape of assorted junk mail.

"I'm sure you can think of something," she said, while fixing me with a deeply meaningful look.

Then she left. I sat, puzzled and pondering her cryptic departing message, until finally enlightenment struck. She wanted me to do a Weird Soda Review!
Well, heck. It's the least I can do.

Today we go with the penultimate soda from the Jarritos Variety Pack, "Toronja", which I believe to be grapefruit, based on the fruit depicted on the bottle and the English message "Naturally Flavored Grapefruit Soda" printed below. Just to be sure--we're meticulous scientists at the Lab--I looked it up in an incontrovertible source**.

Apparently, it's either Portuguese or Spanish, and means "grapefruit".

All right. Bring on the Toronja!

Where and when: Donated by Jarritos
Color: I would say greeny-tan, although the JAT ("Wyvern") says "yellow, with a hint of green". Slightly cloudy.
Scent: Errr...not promising. To me, it smells almost exactly like lemon-scented floor cleaner. There is a sweet undertone, but the lemon is aggressive and unpleasant.
Wyvern: "Lemony-ish". The use of two vague-ifiers is interesting.
LAT: "Lemony lime...No! 7-Up!" There's something to that, although it lacks the crispness of 7-Up.
Taste: Significantly sweeter than the smell. Strong lemonade, with little or no grapefruit bitterness. The lemon is much like the smell--acrid, and synthetic tasting. Underneath is a sticky sweetness. Pretty unpleasant.
Wyvern: "Uhhhheeeehhhhhuuh."
LAT: "Bluh. It sticks to my mouth. It's like 7-Up jello syrupy. Let me try that again."
"Vleh. It sticks to the inside of my mouth. Gross."
It's really too bad the K-i-C couldn't be here. She'd hate it.
LAT: "Blech. Now it's bitter."
Hmm. I don't really get the bitterness. It still tastes more like lemon floor cleaner to me. It's really not grapefruit-y at all, more of an unpleasant lemonade. It's quite strong, very sweet and strongly tart. If you had strong lemonade with too much sugar and added SweeTarts or Pixie Stix powder, it might be like this.
It's not so much actively unpleasant as yecchy but not nausea-inducing. Much less pleasant than most Jarritos.

Quaff rating: 1.5. Not nice to drink.
Cough rating: 1.0. The "floor cleaner" aspect is unpleasant, but nothing in it makes me actively want to spit it out.

Now, what to do for the rest of the day?

* Text from

Friday, October 8, 2010

Jarritos Variety Pack: Pineapple (Pina)

We're approaching the end of the Jarritos Variety Pack. Soon, it'll come back down to Tamarind, the one which started it all. However, in the interest of delaying that as long as possible (I wasn't very fond of Tamarind...), we'll take on Pineapple today.

Pineapple sodas are an interesting bunch. I've only reviewed one so far, and that wasn't strictly pineapple; pina colada is only pineapple-based.
Fresh pineapple is a wonderful pleasure. Deliciously juicy and sweet, with just the right added tartness, it's a lovely and refreshing fruit. Pineapple soda is not necessarily so well-balanced. The Jones Pineapple Cream, for instance, is heavy on the sweet side with insufficient balance; while it's nice, it doesn't really capture pineapple. Fizzy Lizzy, on the other hand...well, I haven't reviewed it yet, so that'll have to wait.

Jarritos specializes in fruit, and while they are often a bit sweet for me, pineapple's dominant flavor is very sweet. It might be a good match.

Let's find out.

Where and when: Donated by Jarritos
Color: Mostly yellow, with the slightest tinge of yellow-green. Semi-translucent.
K-i-C: "Looks like chicken broth. With celery."
Scent: Interesting. Definitely sweet, but that's not all of it. A bit metallic? I don't think metallic is quite the right word. Sharp, but not acid. The image that comes to mind is a moonlit icicle. It has the same taste as the sound of an icicle breaking at night.
I'm not sure exactly what that means. Being the Quaffmaster does, at times, border on the mystic.
*sniff* Okay, an icicle with a bit of vanilla syrup on it.
LAT: "Smells like Gatorade. Not very strong, though."
JAT: "Lemony Gatorade. It smells good, though."
I think it's a bit stronger than Gatorade, and definitely creamier.
K-i-C: *sniff* "Is it papaya?"
JAT: "It says pineapple."
K-i-C: *sniff* "Smells more like papaya."
Taste: Sweet, but not quite as cloying as some. It does indeed have a balancing tartness.
LAT: "BLEAH." *spit* "Bubbly pineapple syrup. I don't like bubbly pineapple syrup."
JAT: (enthusiatically) "Can I try?" *sip* "Wow." *pause* "I think it's kind of good."

Have I mentioned that, at this point in their lives, the lead and junior assistant testers are effectively guaranteed to disagree about anything?

LAT: "Can I try it again?" *sip* *grimace* "Blech."
JAT: "Can I try some more?" *sip* "Surprising."
K-i-C: "It's interesting. The taste is different than the smell. I feel like I need to wipe out the inside of my mouth, though. It's like pineapple with marshmallow."

Yeah, that's pretty accurate.

K-i-C: "I wonder if that means marshmallow would be good with ham?"
LAT: "Marshmallow with ham?!"
K-i-C: "Pineapple is good with ham."
LAT: "But pineapple isn't good with marshmallow!"

LAT: "It's still good, though, even though...bleh."

So here's the verdict. It's actually complex enough, between the taste and aftertaste, to be a reasonable approximation of sweet pineapple juice. The K-i-C is right, though...the delayed aftertaste has an oddly creamy, marshmallow-y taste. It's as if someone couldn't help but make it a pina colada.

K-i-C: "Now imagine it with a slice of bacon."
JAT: "Mmmmm!"
K-i-C: "I think my next batch of Rice Krispy Treats will have bacon bits."

Quaff rating: 3.0. Best approximation of pineapple I've had yet. Would go well with bacon.
Cough rating: 0.5. Still a bit too sweet.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Jarritos Variety Pack: Jamaica

Dewy-Eyed Adorable Kid: Grampa Quaffmaster, tell us a story about the Great Review Famine of 2010!
Grampa Quaffmaster: *wheeze* Well, young whippersnapper, it all started back in August of the year 2010. I was livin' back at the Lab in those days, not here in this fancy new flyin' orbital contraptio-whatzamagigger you got here. Why, back in those days, if we wanted to fly, we had to wait till someone big 'n strong came along to kick us in the seat of our britches so's we could jest soar over the crick and into the next county! And personally, I don't hold with there here trans-mat-o-rays, whaddaya-call-em's, "Telly-porters". Nawp, nawp, never have done. In my day, if'n you wanted to get torn apart at a sub-molecular level and have the quantum state of all yer bosons and fermions and whatnot edited to map to new coordinates in Schrodinger-Klein space, you had to do it yerself, with good old spit 'n gumption! We didn't have fancy machines to do it for us! You young folks today, you jest don't know what you've got. Gawd, I hate you kids.
DEAK: Aww, Grampa, you're such a coot. What about the Review Famine?
GQ: Oh, you want to hear about the Famine! Well, why didn't you say so? It all started back in 2010, when Obama were President. That was before the Swarm Intelligence act, when individual people were allowed to run the country. Anyway, I was jest sittin' down to quaff me some sort o' bubblin' brew for the review, when I heard this sound in the backyard. It were kind of a "vworp vworp" sound, kind o' like the oogah-horn on m'old Schwinn, and then the chickens started kickin' up a fuss, and I thought I'd better go see if it were the cyborg rebellion startin' up again. Well, it weren't. Out o' nowhere, this blue box just sort of appeared in the middle of yer gramma's vegetable patch. I was gwinter go out and let 'em have a good talkin'-to about that--probably some young kid, puttin' his blue box wherever he felt like it, no consideration. Why, back in my day, if we had a blue box we needed to materialize somewhere, we asked PERMISSION first, and you better bet we said "sir" when we asked! Gol-darned young kids just strewin' there blue boxes all over the space-time continuum, crushin' people's azaleas.
DEAK: Grampa...
GQ: Don't you interrupt me when I'm on a rant. Anyway, this youngster came rushin' out of his box, and he came up to me and said, "We need you, Quaffmaster. There's a terrible crime which is going to happen in the year 5416, and it'll crack the very foundations of reality. It will cause devastation from the founding of Skaro to the collapse of the Shadow Proclamation. All of existence is at stake."
DEAK: What did you do, Grampa?
GQ: I told him "First, get yer box off my wife's broccoli." Well, he went back into his box, there was that oogah sound, and the box moved over onto the driveway. He came out again, and said, "Will you come?" I asked him why it was me he needed. Back then, I hadn't ever saved the universe, not even once.
DEAK: Wow. That must have been a long time ago.
GQ: Yep. Well, he said three words. Just three words, and I knew I had to go.
DEAK: What three words?
GQ: "There's a Weird Soda involved."
DEAK: That's five words.
GQ: Shut up. You kids these days, with yer "new math", you think you can count to five? Why, back in my day, if we wanted to count to five, we went out and WORKED to save up enough money to buy five...things, and then we lined them up, and we counted 'em, and if we only got to three were were grateful that we got three! You young kids...
DEAK: *bops GQ with a stick*
GQ: Well, it was then that I stood up straight, looked that young man right in the eye, and said "I guess I'm yer man. What's yer name, sonny?" And he says, "I'm The Doctor." And I says to him, "I'm...


DEAK: And then what?
GQ: I told him to get a haircut. Well, we went into his box, and I saved the universe, but it took a bit. So there weren't any reviews until October of that year.
DEAK: Gramma said you were in the bathroom reading from August until October that year.
GQ: Go clean yer room.

Where: Donated by Jarritos
Color: A rather lovely transparent red-orange
Scent: Quite sweet, floral. Roses, tulips; a fairly mellow, heady scent. Nice. It's my understanding that Jamaica is made with hibiscus, so the floral scent makes sense. This is a bit sweeter than most hibiscus-based drinks I've had.
Taste: Very sweet, but recognizably hibiscus. In my (limited) experience with Jamaica drinks, many have an earthy taste,while others add a bit or tartness. This is closer to the earthy kind, but with dominance from the sweet. Almost, but not quite, syrupy. Like many Jarritos flavors, it's probably a bit too sweet for my tastes, but still pleasant. Very clean taste, mild, uncomplicated aftertaste, without a lot of acid.
I would be happy drinking this; it's a sweet hibiscus. If you imagine the Jamaica agua frescas you can get from jars on the countertop in some Mexican fast-food type restaurants, it's a little like that, but thinner and less complex.

Quaff rating: 3.0. Nice enough, but unremarkable. A simple soda.
Cough rating: 0.5. A bit too sweet and simple.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Jarritos Variety Pack: Lima-Limon

We recently reviewed Jarritos' "Lime" flavor, which the bottle listed as "limon". This seeming inconsistency led me to some linguistic research into the proper Spanish translations of "lemon" and "lime", which apparently depends on a number of factors, such as the exact dialect of Spanish involved, the prevalence of lemons and limes (and apparently some third fruit) in the area, and possibly one's horoscope. However, Jarritos seemed to have weighed in clearly on the issue: the bottle of "limon" was translated as "lime", the soda was green, and it tasted of lime. One would think that the issue--as far as Jarritos was concerned--was resolved.


Today we are reviewing Jarritos Lima-Limon flavor, which the bottle translates as "lemon-lime". When I saw that, I was wracked by uncertainty. I felt my world tremble on its foundations, my sanity and rational worldview teetering, held in place only by the tenuous filaments of my belief in a sensible linguistic world.
Which of those words means 'lemon'?, I gibbered.
As far as I could tell, this was "lime-lime" soda! Nowhere had I found the suggestion that "lima" could mean "lemon". But how could "lime-lime" exist? Somehow, the very conception was abhorrent, as though the first and second limes would, rather than interacting in an additive fashion, coalescing into some sort of unspeakable uber-lime which might permeate the world with its eldritch citressence--they might instead cancel, resulting in a lime-shaped hole in linguistic reality, a hole through which one might glimpse the nightmarish, cyclopean fruity horrors which lurk behind the veil of conscious reality, horrors which whisper and insinuate in our subconscious minds, filling our dreams with nameless fragrances and half-remembered tastes of fruits unknown and unknowable. These seed-bearing, fleshy, pulpy abominations would not only be seen, but could then see, emerging into the sane sunlight world of conscious thought spreading their malign influence and shaping the world of words and literature into a pattern more subtly aligned to their unguessed purposes.

To avoid this outcome, I have decided to enlist the help of the Kibbitzer-in-Chief's father, who is visiting the Lab today. As a Spanish speaker, perhaps he can help avert the collapse of civilization and sane expression.

Me: "Pop, what's the Spanish word for 'lime'?"
Pop: "I think 'lima'."
Me: "And what's the Spanish word for 'lemon'?"
Pop: "'Limon'."

Okay, that is consistent.

Me: "But the Jarritos lime flavor translated itself as 'limon'."
Pop: *eyes me suspiciously*

Perhaps this is a mystery best left unexplored.

Where and when: Donated by Jarritos.
Color: Light fluorescent yellow-green. Similar to Mountain Dew. The flavors may be all natural, but that color is only found on poison dart frogs, I think.
Scent: Tart, sweet. Sweeter and stickier that the scent of Sprite or 7-Up, but a little more tart than the smell of Mountain Dew.
Taste: About like it smells. Closer to Sprite than I would have guessed, but with a bit more syrup. To me, most of the lemon-lime sodas have tasted mostly of lemon; this has more lime, and then throws some more sugar in. Between Mountain Dew and Sprite.
K-i-C: *grimace* "Like Gatorade, only less salty".
Actually, fairly nice. The aftertaste is sweet and pleasant, almost floral. That's quite a surprise; in my experience, aftertastes are rarely good.
K-i-C: "It's the color that gets to me. The taste is nice, but the color is Repo Man-ish."

I'm pretty happy with this.

JAT: "Bleah."
Interesting. The Junior Assistant Taster is typically very fond of--well, almost anything sweet. I wonder why this is an exception.

Quaff rating: 3.5. Nice, with an especially pleasant aftertaste. Actually lemony and lime-y.
Cough rating: 0.5. Just a hair syrupy.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Jarritos Variety Pack: Strawberry

It's cleaning day at the Lab. My mother (RoTalMomska, who has been a guest reviewer before, with the Dry Soda Co: Juniper Berry) will be visiting the Lab for a few days, and the tottering piles and strata of Lab debris (entirely scientific, I assure you!*) might not present the most welcoming atmosphere. Thus, the Lab staff has been busy with scrubbing, polishing, and disinfecting** endeavors.
It's hot, though, and time for a break.
Thus, while the Lead Assistant Tester and his friend .$O" (that is his chosen pseudonym, not a failed attempt at HTML) work their way through Guitar Hero***, I have decided to continue the Jarritos odyssey.

Today it's Strawberry (Fresa).

Welcome to the tasting!
It gets Weirder every day.
You learn to quaff the oddest things
With tuna melts for pay.
If you got a hunger for what you read,
(which may not seem likely).
You can have anything you want,
And write a guest review for me!
In the tasting...welcome to the tasting!
It'll bring you to your n-n-n-n-n-knees.
Some more Jarritos, please!

Where and when: Donated by Jarritos
Color: Transparent red with a hint of orange.
Scent: Sweet, darkish, a bit of strawberry sundae syrup.
JAT: "Cherryish. Cherry Coke-ish."
LAT: "Bleah. Syrupy."
Taste: It's sweet, but not overwhelmingly. There is a hint of fruity taste--could be strawberry--but it passes oddly quickly. Somewhat tart, but again, not as much as I would have expected. The taste fades, leaving just the impression of having quaffed, but not a lot of evidence.

I guess strawberry is closer than anything else, but it's not all that strawberry-ish. It's not all that anything-ish, really. It's like slightly acidified club soda which has just a touch of strawberry syrup in it.

JAT: "Meh. Eh. *ptui*"
.$O": "Mmmm! Mmmmmm! Ah!" *sighs* "Best thing I've tasted in years!" *quaff* *squeak with delight* "Well, months. Weeks? It's good." *quaff* "Mmmmmmh!"

Well, I guess that's a mixed opinion.

K-i-C: "Tastes like a raspada. It should be colder. And chunky."

It's tasty, as far as it just doesn't go very far.

Quaff rating:2.0. Tastes okay, but not worth it. .#O" might disagree.
Cough rating:0.0. Nothing to object to either.

*And amenable to investigation by archaeologists.
**In certain cases involving the bathroom, this can involve either large rifles or unspeakable occult rituals involving the summoning of the Great Old One L'y-Sol.
***Unfortunately, there is no option to do "I'm a Pepper, You're a Pepper, He's a Pepper, She's a Pepper...wouldn't you like to be a Pepper too?"

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Jarritos Variety Pack: Lime

Today, there's Jarritos Lime.

The first thing that pops to mind about this one is the translation. The label claims this is "Jarritos Lime (Limon)". My Spanish is extremely poor, but that didn't seem quite right--I would assume "limon" would be "lemon" in English. So I talked to my wife, whose Spanish is better.
Me: "How would you translate 'limon'?"
K-i-C: "Lemon."
Me: "Not 'lime'?"
K-i-C: "No, that's 'lima'."

I figure that to be safe, I should get some other opinions.

Me: "lemon lime"
Google Translate (English->Spanish): "lima-limon"
Me: "No, not the combined flavor. Lemon. Lime."
Google Translate (English->Spanish): "Limon. Lime."
Me: "Okay, let's go backwards to check. Limon. Lima. Lime."
Google Translate (Spanish->English): "Limón. Lima. Lime." (Yes, I double-checked.)

Okay, that didn't help. So I did a Google search, and ended up reading an argument about the proper translations of English "lemon" and "lime" vs. Spanish "limon" and "lima". According to at least one person in that argument, in Mexico, "limon" refers to the English "lime", while "limon real" refers to the English lemon (and is rare in Mexico). "Lima" refers to some other citrus fruit.
Except, apparently, in Michoacan, where "limon amarilla" refers to the English "lemon" and "limon verde" refers to the English lime.
Except, apparently, in Puerto Rico, where "limon" refers to the English "lemon" and "lima" refers to the English "lime".
Except, apparently, in Venezuela, where "limon" refers to a small green fruit (probably the English "lime") and "lima" refers to some very rare fruit which you never see.
Except, apparently, that in many areas "limon" refers to any number of citrus fruits, including English lemons and English limes.

...and the argument continued.

As to what this is, please allow me to quote Lt. Commander Data, whose summary applies well here:
"It is green."

Where and when: Donated by Jarritos.
Color: I'm tempted to call it "lime green", except it's not. It's very close to the Gatorade sold as "lemon-lime". Pale yellowish-green, slightly translucent.
Scent: citrus, tart, but not extremely sour like a limon. (Ha ha!) A bit sweet, slightly bitter. Probably lime.
Taste: Similar to the scent, but a bit more sour. Pleasant, very sweet, somewhat heady but with no lingering on the tongue (like the Guava did). Kind of similar to lime jelly candy--not the Jujyfruits version, but the soft, sugar-crusted Sunkist type.

Pretty nice. Like most Jarritos I've had, a bit overly sweet, but pleasant enough.

Quaff rating: 3.0. Tasty.
Cough rating: 0.5. Still too sweet.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Jarritos Variety Pack: Mandarin

You may have noticed that the Kibbitzer-in-Chief was not quoted in the previous review (Jarritos Guava). If you read that review, you now understand how valuable her input is to the reports issued by the Lab, and the problems that can arise without her presence.

She was not exactly pleased with the results*.

In any case, she's here now, and so with a more sober mind we shall move on to the next item in the Jarritos pak: Mandarin. Whether a mandarin orange is the same thing as a tangerine is apparently a source of some debate, but most sources I have found suggest that mandarin and tangerine are, if not identical, then very closely related.

So we'll call this Mandarin and/or Tangerine flavor.

Where and when: Donated by Jarritos
Color: Translucent bright orange. About the same color as freshly squeezed orange juice, but more translucent and no pulp.
Scent: Pretty close to actual tangerine.
K-i-C: "It smells familiar. I'm trying to place it."
Me: "Tangerine?"
K-i-C: "Could be."
Sweet, a strong bitter citrus undertone.
Taste: Fairly mild. Quite sweet, but not utterly cloying. The bitter citrus is more understated here, with the dominant flavor being a fairly mellow, not-all-that-tangy pleasant citrus.
K-i-C: "The guava was better."
It's sweeter than the guava, and more artifical in taste.
JAT: "Mmm! Tastes like Orangina."
I disagree; Orangina tastes very much like actual orange juice, with the full tang and bitterness thereof. This forgoes most of the complexity of real fruit for a dominant sweetness and mellow mild citrus. You wouldn't mistake this for carbonated fruit juice.

Quaff rating: 2.5. Not bad, but could be better.
Cough rating: 0.5. Not sweet enough to provoke an adverse response.

* I believe the exact quote when she read it was "Eww. That's really disturbing," followed by some odd sidelong glances and suspicion.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Jarritos Variety Pack: Guava

Second in our perusal of the Variety Pack donated by Jarritos is Guava, or Guayaba. I haven't had a lot of guava sodas (or juices, for that matter). When I have, the main impression it has left on me has been of slightly sweet musky thick pulp, which--while possessed of a certain cheesy-romance-novel sensuous quality--is nevertheless not exactly my favorite thing.

However, in honor of that particular tenuous connection...I think we have found a suitable theme for today's review.


Sunset was Joanne's favorite time of day. As she walked through the gardens in her royal-blue track shorts and lace-trimmed halter top which showed off the exquisite contours of her supple, tanned leather harness, the gathering cool of the approaching dusk allowed her to release some of the tension in the strong yet feminine muscles of her upper back. Beads of sweat fell from the honey-colored bangs in front of her eyes and ran down into the shadowed valleys beneath her collarbones. It had been a long day, but he never minded performing the..."special services"...she was uniquely suited to render to the master of the house.
Even when she had first come here, little more than a girl, she had loved the lush gardens around the master's house. She remembered that day so clearly--how she had stood in the dress with that preposterously short skirt, feeling so exposed and vulnerable, feeling his gaze travel over her. His eyes, looking up at her, and his voice, husky, saying that yes, she would do, she would serve well--and her surprise and finding herself not appalled, but actually eager...


That same husky voice drew her from her reverie, making her gasp. It was as though she was feeling his arms again, his hands on her neck, her shoulders...

"Joanne, come on. We have so much more to do today."

With a start, she realized that it WAS his hands she felt, as he sat in his usual place. His heels kicked at her sides, urging her to go on, to go further, and she responded with her usual desperate eagerness to please.

She stepped further down the row, a delicious shiver of pleasure racing from her neck down her spine to a deeper core within her as the whine and buzz of the motors sounded just behind her left ear. The tiny puffs of ozone from the sultry, overheated circuitry tantalized her, making her tremble. The burnished, articulated bionic arm extended langorously up, and delicately plucked the guava from the branch where it had slowly ripened over the months before. Now it sat in the sharp-edged hand, its slightly wrinkled skin pressed firmly to the gleaming metal surface of the seven digits and palm within which is was held, in an inescapable embrace.
But why would it want to escape?, she thought. Why would it want anything else?
The master's voice sounded from just above her head.
"My batteries are running low, but I think I want one more. Hold this one for me, won't you?"
The arm swiveled gracefully and released the fruit, and it fell into her arms. For once, she was the one to hold it, to feel it against her own milky, smooth, scented skin. The guava--this guava, this very symbol of fertility--she couldn't wait any longer. She had to possess it, to consume it, and she couldn't wait any longer.

The juices ran down her chin as the pulp rose to the surface, responding to her insistent squeezing. In the total abandonment of her enjoyment of the guava, her eyes closed, long lashes catching the last rays of the setting sun filtered through the leaves of the garden, she didn't feel the weight shifting in the harness.
When her eyes opened, she found herself staring into the half-metal, half-flesh face of the master, who had climbed from the harness onto the top of her head. His four legs clutched gently at the elegant shape of her head, and the red gleam from his right ocular prosthetic reflected the warmth of his cybernetic heart as he watched her sensual pleasure with evident enjoyment.

"I hope you saved some for me," he crooned delicately.

Where and when: donated by Jarritos
Color: Translucent pink. Not quite hot pink. Maybe the pink of the blush on the cheek of mind.
Scent: Unexpectedly not that sweet. Melonish, mild, a tiny bit acrid. Fruity.
Taste: Rather a lot like the scent. The initial taste has a core of sweetness, but the sides are fairly tart, and there is a lot of melon-y volatility. It's pretty good. The aftertaste doesn't get very tart--no more than the initial tartness around the side. The headiness does linger, interestingly, and feels like it's staying in the top of my mouth.

I like this one quite a bit more than the fruit punch. This actually tastes a bit like fruit. It's still quite sweet--maybe just a touch too much so--but not as cloying. Much more refreshing.

Quaff rating: 3.0 Quite nice.
Cough rating: 0.5 Maybe the tiniest bit too sweet for me.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Jarritos Variety Pack: Fruit Punch

The other day, the Lab computer system alerted me to the arrival of an email. Now, this is not such an unusual event; we receive email on a semiannual basis* regarding our reviews. However, despite our busy schedule, I felt it was important for me to see what sort of correspondence awaited.

Lo and behold, we had received email from Jarritos itself! Not only that, but the folks at Jarritos were offering to send us samples of their product for review.
Now, I was somewhat surprised by this. Jarritos is a major soft drink maker; their products are ubiquitous in Mexico (and much of Southern California). I've had several of their flavors before, and reviewed one (Tamarindo) for the Lab.
A couple of quotes from that review:
"There's a strange aftertaste, too--to me, for reasons I'm not sure of, it made the image of licking a basketball come to mind."
"...that sour/bitter flavor is probably what makes me think of pre-vomit saliva, and what makes the K-i-C think of armpit sweat."
"Tastes kind of good, but not as good as bad."

I can only imagine what went through the minds of the corporate officers of Jarritos in deciding** to offer me a sample pack.

Corporate Researcher: "Hmm...ladies and gentlemen, it appears that an anonymous person in north San Diego county has posted unfavorable comments about our Tamarind flavor!"
Marketing executive: "Ye gods, man, surely not! Why, this is an atrocity! A disaster of epic--even Biblical--proportions! The thought of someone...disliking...our soda..." [breaks down in a storm of piteous weeping]
Corporate president: "There there, O Noble VP of Marketing. All is not lost! Surely, by some malign providence...I wouldn't be surprised if it were owing to the agency of an ill-natured fairy...this 'Quaffmaster' was the recipient of adulterated soda."
All: GASP!
Corporate president: "Alas, it may be so. Quickly, mobilize the Postal Division. We must send this 'Quaffmaster' samples drawn directly from the pure wellspring of Jarritos itself, that he may see the error and remove this besmirchment, this unspeakable blight, this HIDEOUS CYCLOPEAN STAIN OF SHAME AND HORROR from our corporation. Indeed, until this is done, let all of the bottles henceforth be shipped wrapped in black ribbon, bearing the legend 'Honor Requires It'."

Clearly, I would have to honor this peace gesture.

After a short wait, a box containing a variety of Jarritos flavors. I will now embark upon an odyssey of Jarritos flavors, ending in a return to Tamarindo, and reporting at each stage of my journey.
And, as usual when reviewing sodas sent by corporate sponsors, I will attempt to ensure the high standards of objectivity you have come to expect by inviting the contributions of GALT, our official anti-bias artificial personality.


Well, we'll begin with Fruit Punch (a.k.a. "Tutifruti").

Where and when: Donated by Jarritos
Color: Bright red, fairly opaque. Really, an impressive scarlet.
Scent: To my surprise, when I try to twist off the cap of the bottle, it doesn't come off and I damage my fingers. Amazing--I'll actually need the bottle opener.
Quaffmaster: "Lead assistant taster! Fetch me the bottle opener!"
LAT: "Yes, master!"

The scent is a bit darker than most fruit punches--more berry, less citrus.
LAT: "I can smell it from here. Smells like Cherry Coke, except more watery."
Maybe. Kind of like a very strong red Gatorade, with a bit of grenadine.
Actually, on second smell, it's more like Welch's grape soda than anything else. I used to have Welch's grape soda by the pool, when I was a kid. That smell, the smell of hot concrete and chlorinated water...they all go together...


Yes. Anyway.

Taste: Hmm. Not what I expected at all. Very sweet, almost syrupy, with a moderate amount of carbonated bite. The major flavor is berryish or cherryish, not grape, and it's pretty thick. It lingers strongly in the mouth. Not unlike grenadine, but a bit thicker. Aftertaste is somewhat orangeish. Pretty strong, and would be too sweet to be a good thirst-quencher. On the other hand, it's a fairly nice strong cherry taste. Not sour cherry, or even black cherry--it's more like maraschino cherry. Artificial-tasting, but it is made with real sugar.


No, it's not that bad, but it is awfully syrupy.

Me: "LAT, would you try this and give me your opinion?"
LAT: "No way."
Me: "Oh, come on."
LAT: (quaffs) *grimace, spit* "Very sweet."
JAT: "Mmmm! Good." *pause* "For some reason, the taste is familiar."
LAT: "I like it." *quaff* "It's not bad." *pause* "It's kind of good, sort of."

I guess the LAT has mixed feelings.

K-i-C: *quaffs* *grimaces* *gags* "Here you go." *hands the bottle back* "Oh God, the aftertaste is awful. Is there anything real in that?"

A bit more grape-y than Hawaiian Punch.

Delayed aftertaste: pretty sour.

Quaff rating: 2.5. The taste is okay; I've had much worse cherryish things.
Cough rating: 1.0. Very syrupy, which doesn't bother me that much, but would undoubtedly bother others. Such as half the Lab staff.

*If that.
**Because I'm absolutely SURE this decision was made at the highest levels of the Jarritos corporation.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Kvass Ochakovskiy

Okay, admittedly, I had to guess on the name of this one.

The Kibbitzer-in-Chief returned from one of her mysterious "go somewhere other than the Lab for a while" missions with a can of something yellow and an odd smile on her face.
"It's called Kvass," she said, "and apparently it's popular in Russia."
The can was extensively Cyrillic.

As a scientist and Quaffmaster, I do try to keep a cosmopolitan worldview. I try to sample Weirdness from around the world. Heck, we've even tried something from Antarctica!* But Russia is a new one for me. I'm out of my depth, and need to consult with an outside expert.
My good friend who shall for the moment remain nameless--a fellow scientist--was over the other day, helping put up gutters on the Lab.

Me: "So, GFWSFTMRN, you read Russian, right?"
Me: "What the heck is this stuff?"

My friend proceeded to describe Kvass. Apparently, in Russia, this stuff is brewed up from stale rye bread by the kegful and sold on street corners. It's technically a fermented product, but the alcohol content is very low. According to some quick and superficial research, for a while it was displaced by Coke and Pepsi, but it has made a recent comeback based on nationalist pride.

I'm going to quaff Russian nationalist fermented rye bread. I have the greatest calling EVER.

Color: Dark caramel brown. Slightly lighter than most colas. A pretty orange-brown, medium carbonation.
Scent: Malty, but less bitter than Malta Hatuey.
Me, to K-i-C: "Here, smell."
It's not that bad. Slightly spicy, strong malt, a bit of root beer/cinnamon.
Taste: Not nearly as sweet as I expected. A fairly strong beer/hops flavor, also a strong taste of carbonation (which is odd, given that the carbonation is pretty mild).
There's an interesting malt flavor. It's actually fairly mild, tends to linger around the top.
Me, to K-i-C: "Want to try it?"
She tries several times, but is actually unable to sip any.
K-i-C: "Can you make beer out of raisins?"

Hmm. I guess I can taste what she means. With the bread, it's kind of like bread pudding soda.

The aftertaste is fairly lemony, acid, with a slightly-sweet beer-like note.

This may be one on which the K-i-C will have to disagree. I kind of like it. Not a lot--I don't think I'd go down to the street corner for a refreshing cup of Kvass--but it's far better than some things I've had. If I were a beer afficionado, I would probably appreciate it more. Still, a big "Spasiba!" to the makers of Kvass. Pretty good stuff.


Or maybe not.

Quaff rating: 2.5. It's not exactly splendid, but I can see the appeal.

Cough rating: 1.5 (for me). I'm betting the K-i-C would go to about 4.5.

*And just in case someone should comment on this (see comments in linked review): yes, I know it's not from Antarctica.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Malta Hatuey

Have you ever had one of those months? A month in which your Federal grant money* runs out, the bill collectors come calling, you find yourself in a forest lean-to somewhere east of Manitoba with nothing but a hatchet, two pieces of French toast, a Greek-Pashto translating dictionary/thesaurus, and a bottle of Stewart's, and you're somehow on the no-fly list? A month where the only sounds you hear are the frenzied pounding of your heart while you desperately search for an opening in the ring of mutant fungi surrounding your crashed interceptor, and the thin, detestable whining of noisome flutes accompanying the rhythmic undulations of unknowable blasphemies, ceaselessly writhing and flailing around the nethermost bubbling blight at the center of all the worlds? A month where the fish ain't biting, the birds ain't singing, and the jam ain't pumping, probably because of the oceanwide bloom of lethal dinoflagellates which is only narrowly being kept in check by your unsung efforts with a colander and an eggbeater?

You have? Wow. That's terrible. Gosh, we've just been busy with other stuff here at the Lab. I had to build a Lego model of Fallingwater as if it were designed to Sauron's specifications, for one. That took a while. But finally, with sheepish grins and shifty eyes, we're creeping back to the bench. And waiting thereon is one I've been looking forward to for a while: Malta Hatuey.

Now, it's pretty much self-evident why this qualifies as a Weird soda. It's named after the sound of loogie-hawking. That's pretty darned awesome, as well as Weird. It further describes itself as a "non-alcoholic cereal beverage", and is adorned with a drawing of a stern-faced native American. He looks really, really unhappy, and a bit sad. If I were to guess as to his thoughts, they might be something like

"Alas. Not only have my people been ravaged by smallpox, cheated, lied to, and forced from our ancestral I am associated with Malta Hatuey. This is a #@%$-fest of truly EPIC proportions."

The ingredients list includes barley malt, fructose, corn syrup, "mellomalt", caramel malt, and hops. I have no idea what "mellomalt" is. My mind keeps trying to associate it with Mallomars, which is (hopefully) incorrect.

Color: Dark, dark brown, and mostly opaque. Kind of thick. Dense foam.
JAT: "Looks black to me."

Scent: Like Cinnamon Toast Crunch, except with beer instead of milk.
JAT: "Smells bad. Bleeeaaaahh."
LAT: "Smells kind of like molasses. Molasses root beer, actually."

Taste: Well, it's definitely malty.
Me: "Want to taste it?"
LAT: "Errrrr....wellll...uh...I don't know. Is it toxic?"

I give him some.

LAT: "It tastes doesn't taste like much. It tastes like a more bitter molasses, that only lasts, like two seconds." *smacks lips repeatedly, pauses, smacks lips again* "Hmmm." *Smacks lips*

JAT: "Ah...bah! bleaaah! Bleeeaaaah!" *goes to bathroom*

K-i-C: "Smells like blackstrap molasses." *sips* "Tastes like patent medicine. Mmmmm, nutritious."

In a remote, mountainous region, in a facility constructed of basalt and rough-hewn cedar, wizened alchemists are even now combining coffee, caramel, Whoppers, motor oil, beer, sawdust, cinnamon, and amaretto in their attempts to create the Philosopher's Stone. This is a byproduct of that quest.

Quaff rating: 2. I'd be pretty unlikely to seek this out. Bitter, strange. But then, I'm beginning to think that malt beverages aren't my thing.
Cough rating: 2. Definitely a grimace, but not a gag.

*National Quaffing Institute Grant EWW-12722, "Investigation of Relative Gustatory, Olfactory, and Spectrographic Parameters of Carbonated and Non-Carbonated Beverages and Their Impact on Pleasure/Pain Psychological Dynamics in Recipients", principal investigator Quaffmaster, T.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Mountain Dew Gamer Fuel

It's good to be reminded, now and then, that one is not alone. When I started this blog, I was the only person I knew with my calling--to quaff all which is quaffable (and to attempt that which turns out to be emphatically NOT quaffable). My family knew, from early on, that I was a bit odd. I was that kid who stood by the soda fountain and made ten squillion mixtures of different flavors of soda for no apparent reason.
This love of flavor mixtures did not extend to food, of course--I would recoil in horror if one of the foods on my plate touched another. Who knew what sort of unholy reactions might take place between green beans and yams? I saw "Them!", and "It Came From Beneath the Sea". I know what happens when you mess with nature. Don't let the food touch, for the love of God, lest it wreak a horrible vengeance upon us all.
And pass me some more of that Coca-PepperSquirt, please.

Mad? Mad, you call me?! They called me mad at Oxford, too. But I'll show them!

Anyway, shortly after becoming the Quaffmaster, I found that there were, in fact, others who shared my peculiarity. I became part of the worldwide Weird Soda brother- and sisterhood. If you look along the sidebar of this blog, you'll find links to a number of other websites (including an entire organization, the Obscure Soda Lovers Organization, or OSLO) run by others on the Quest. However, one in particular came to my attention: Soft Drink Reviews, Exotic and Non, run by my distinguished Quest Elder, Tim H. Tim shared not only my affection for sweet bubbliness, but also my love of tentacled things and general geekitude. Plus, he has a cool beard.

Tim did a fine review of Mountain Dew Gamer Fuel recently, in which he not only carefully assessed the gustatory nuances of this latest Mountain Dew variant, but also deftly dissected the use of art on the cans, the subtleties of orc armor and various incarnations of the Platonic "Orc" in media, and the difficulty of finding studio space in Brooklyn.

Then I got the email.

An email from Tim himself, offering to share his booty with me!

Er. The word "booty" here refers to "treasure" or "precious objects". Specifically, he had extra cans of Gamer Fuel, and wanted to share them with me. The generosity of the offer put tears in my eye. Another Weird Soda lover--my elder, whose work had become an inspiration to me--was offering to send me soda.

And yesterday it came--but that wasn't all he sent. The contents of the box:
1) Two cans (red and blue) of Mountain Dew Gamer Fuel, complete with Bottle Top can-to-bottle conversion units. These are spiffy little plastic contraptions which snap onto the top of soda cans and have flip-up bottle-type sealable lids. They are awesome.
2) A pencil
3) a standard six-sided die.

So my sincere thanks, Tim! I'll see if there is some way I can reciprocate.

NOTE: Mountain Dew Gamer Fuel is specifically associated with World of Warcraft, a game I have intentionally avoided after seeing the crack cocaine-like addictive effects on those who play it, and the haunted, scarred look in the eyes of those who have stopped. I'm sure that both the figures depicted on the cans, their armor and weapons, and probably subtleties including the number of nose hairs in each orc nostril have specific names and deep significance in the WoW mythos. I say this not out of mockery--I have deep respect for obsessive detail in fantasy and science fiction mythologies--but rather out of a desire to acknowledge my ignorance. Lest I draw aggro*, I won't even try to guess about any of it. Please feel free to enlighten me in comments.

Inspired by the artwork on the cans, and by Tim's review, I have decided to invite two guest reviewers to help with this review. The first is Orthog, an orc of the Crusted Fingernails clan, whose image graces the red can.


Also with us at the lab is L'haerni, a glowing-eyed elf warrior maiden, featured on the blue can. The dominant word to describe her is "pointy"; her midriff-baring armor bustier seems to be made of overlapping triangular leather fragments, her shoulder armor has pointy eaves, and her ears are very pointy. Plus, she has elegant eyebrows which extend out at least six inches from either side of her face. They must be waxed. Can you have epic waxing?

L'haerni: Your insolence is noted, mud-spawn. However, I will forgive it on this occasion.

Me: Thanks to you both for joining us today in the Lab. Now, Orthog...that's an interesting name.
Me: Really? Orthogonal, as in "perpendicular to"?
Me: I see. I notice that your can is labeled "Dew With a Blast of Citrus Cherry Flavor".
Me: Well, I'll look forward to trying that.
L: No you won't. You'll enjoy mine much more. The flavor in my can is an extract of the T'lithia berry, which grows only on mountain peaks struck by lightning. The berry is crushed gently by hand, and the sparkling, milky juice stirred thrice with a spoon of pure gold. It is then aerated with winds from the deep forest, exposed to sunlight atop the ancient temple of Hru at dawn on the solstice, and kept in the catacombs of Mnar for three centuries before we add it to the drink.
Me: It says "Dew with a Punch of Wild Fruit Flavor".
L: It loses something in the translation.
Me: Well, let's get this quaffing started. Well begin with your can, Orthog.

Where and when: generously donated by Tim H, December 2009
Color: Surprisingly, bright orange. It's slightly cloudy, not perfectly transparent.
Me: Ah.
Scent: Stronger than standard Mountain Dew. Strong citrus and sweet, but with an oddly smoky component. If you added a tiny bit of lapsang souchong tea to Mountain Dew and upped the orange content significantly, you might get this.
Taste: Quite strong, *extremely* sweet. There's a powerful cherryish tone, sweet to the point of syrupy. I actually like the flavor well enough, but it's so incredibly sweet it's hard to drink. Imagine Mountain Dew mixed about 2:1 with the liquid from a jar of Maraschino cherries.
Me: You keep mentioning this secret ingredient. You said the "Crusted Fingernail" clan was named after it?
Me: How fascinating. This is actually a good example of how something can be high on both the quaff and cough ratings. The flavor is nice, and would be nice at about a fifth the intensity.
I note with interest that this has 46 grams of sugar per can. Compare that with about 40 in a can of regular cola.

Quaff rating: 3.5. The flavor is pleasant.
Cough rating: 1.5. Good googly-moogly, it's sweet.


Next, we have L'haerni and her can of blue fruity goodness.

Where and when: also generously donated by Tim H, December 2009
Color: A frighteningly intense shade of blue. I'm talking BLUE blue. Also slightly cloudy.
L: As if one had distilled the very essence of the twilight sky?
Me: Yeah. Blue.
Scent: Lighter than Orthog's brew, and cooler in tone. Orthog's made me yearn for the heat of battle. This makes me imagine starlight glistening on a huge pile of key limes and oranges heaped on the soft moss on a riverbank.
L: Be quiet, you great baboon. I know that riverbank well.
Taste: No smokiness here. This has more pear and flower notes than rough-hewn iron and burning villages. It is, however, also almost appallingly sweet, although not quite as much as Orthog's can. The flavor is a bit smoother.

Quaff rating: 3.5. Nice.
Cough rating: 1.0. Not quite as sweet as the other one.

They're both still recognizably Mountain Dew, but I think they are distinctly different enough that I could tell them apart in a blind test.

Actually, let's find out.

The Lead Assistant Taster is helping me. I've cleared my palate with a drink of water, and closed my eyes. He has handed me the first cup.
Mmm...a bit rough, pleasant, very sweet. I think it's probably the orange one, but let's wait a moment. Clear the palate. Now the next.
Wait, no, this one is the orange. Isn't it? In retrospect, compared to this one, the other was a bit cooler. This one must be the orange. Let's go back and make sure. I think this one is...wait...well...let's try the other one.
Oh, crud.
*I hold up the second one.* Me: "Orange?"
LAT: "Nope."

How fascinating. I can't, in fact, tell them apart. When I taste them knowing which is which, I think there's a difference--but it is smaller than I thought.

It's almost as if there's a point to be made here--something about how two sides in a conflict can actually have deep similarities, and how their differences can be mostly in the presentation and the perception it engenders, but an objective assessment shows them to be nearly indistinguishable.

L: I concur. Quickly, Orthag--we must silence him!

How when one discards what one is told to think about two opposing sides--when one tries to really see them for what they are, rather than what we are told they are--we can find that the conflict between them is largely manufactured by other interests who profit from the rivalry.

L: Indeed. Silence, or face my blade, worm!

Me: Orthag, L'haerni, wait...those faces...they're just masks!

*pulls them off, revealing two identical scruffy-bearded men*


*This is the extent of my mastery of WoW jargon, and I'll bet I even got it wrong.
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