My visit to the International Food Market resulted in my acquiring several Weird sodas (as well as an additional sample of a previous review, which we will revisit soon), but I must say I have been more pleased with the Chernogolovkian sodas than I expected. The Duchess (pear flavor) and cream sodas have been enjoyable, if not life-changing, experiences with surprisingly well-crafted Weirdness. Today, we will explore the third and last of the sodas from the Russian science town, a dark concoction named "Baikal".
Baikal, in a lovely artistic setting. Note the dignity. Note the balance. Note it! Note it, curse your eyes! Did you note it yet?
Baikal seems to be a dark brownish-red soda, not so different in color from any number of colas. It is only on further inspection that the Weirdness comes out.
First, let's look at the ingredients: after carbonated water and sugar, we have "taiga root and tea extracts". Fantastic--I believe we may be able to classify this under "Plant and Weed Based Weird Sodas" in our growing taxonomy. I'm a little afraid--previous experiences with tea-based sodas have been mixed--but I don't think I've ever had taiga root.
I did some looking into what Baikal might refer to. The most obvious candidate, given the lovely lakeside autumnal scene on the label, would be Lake Baikal. This is the deepest and largest freshwater lake in the world, holding--according to Wikipedia--twenty percent of the world's surface fresh water. At its deepest point, it is more than a mile deep, which for a freshwater lake is astonishing. It has its own unique native freshwater seal population. It will soon have a submerged neutrino telescope.
The hidden, dark depths, ancient geology involved in its formation, and weird advanced science going on there make it quite clear. That's no neutrino telescope. It's a human outpost watching a suspected entrance to a subterranean Deep One settlement, or maybe an opening to N'kai. I forget, can Nyogtha swim?*
Where and when: Purchased October 2010 from International Market, Vista, CA
Color: Dark brown, somewhat reddish with light shining through it.
Scent: LAT: "Lemony?"
Nazgul: "Lemony ginger."
The herbal ancestry is prominent; it's somewhat reminiscent of Moxie, or Fentiman's cola. The lemon is also clear, intense but a bit distant, overwhelmed by the herbal/gingery.
Nazgul: "It doesn't taste anything like it smells."
LAT: "Not sour. A little tangy."
Nazgul: "A little bit of chocolate."
LAT: "You know...a little. Maybe."
The initial taste is fairly dominated by the herbal taste, with the lemony flavor coming in from underneath. The taste is surprisingly moderate in strength, not overwhelming at all.
LAT: "I really like it. Do you like it, Nazgul?"
Nazgul (hissing ala Peter Jackson's nazgul): "Yeeesssssssss...."
It's lemonier than Moxie, with less of the "holy crud" strength of gentian root; whatever taiga root is, it's less off-putting. Over time, the tartness is coming out more strongly; it dominates the aftertaste, although there is a slight bitterness--a distinct third flavor--under the lemon and remaining herbal. It's not bad, just a faint, interesting taste.
I think this is my least favorite of the three Chernogolovkian sodas, although it's still pretty nice. I'd happily drink it again.
Quaff rating: 3.0. Surprisingly nice for a weed-flavored soda.
Cough rating: 0.5. The herbal flavor might be a bit too Weird for some, although it doesn't particularly bother me.
* We here at the Lab can find a way to work a Lovecraft reference into anything.