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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Scotty's Butterscotch Soda

The second soda in today's dual review (following Sweet Corn) is Scotty's Butterscotch Soda.

This time it's the one on the right. Well, the soda's left. I mean, the left from the perspective of the soda, not "The Soda Has Left". It does have a left, of course, but there's nothing there. Except that there is something to the left of the soda, if by left I mean your left, and by soda I mean the one on the right. Your right. There's nothing on the right of the soda on the left, if by right I mean its right and by left I mean your left. Right?

Now, while we have established (in the Sweet Corn review) that this is probably not Scotsman-flavored; it seems more likely that this is a butterscotch soda, perhaps similar to the other such one we've tried. However, there are a few noteworthy things about this soda's label. First, it features two pictures: a bagpipe-playing kilt-clad man (presumably Scotty, although he is not claiming that "the bottle cannae take much more!") and a stick of butter. Just under the butter is a label, claiming that it is "Pure Cane Sugar".

The kilt-clad man, unfortunately, bears no such helpful label. Although I suppose it would probably read "Timing Belt".

I sincerely hope that the makers of this beverage do not believe that the pictured substance is, in fact, sugar; if that is the case, this will probably taste nothing at all like I expect.

Second, it claims to be "From the King's Castle". Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, Scotland does not have a king at the moment (and according to Wikipedia, what it does have is a "devolved government within a monarchy". Whether the Scots have devolved is a question I'd better not try to address.) They haven't had a king since 1952. So this is old soda. Oh boy.

Where and when: Purchased from Rocket Fizz in Vista, CA.

Color: Slightly orange, mostly yellow, a tiny bit cloudy. Disturbingly urineish.

Scent: Butterscotch, strong vanilla notes, a drone of sugar.

Taste: Hmm. Not bad at all. Clearly butterscotch, with a lot of vanilla and caramel, and (to my surprise) a pleasant toasty flavor. Almost like a toasted marshmallow, which goes perfectly with the butter and caramel. Aftertaste is mildly acidic, but not very strongly, and fades relatively quickly. Quite a pleasant surprise.

I would happily have more of this.

Quaff rating: 3.5. Pretty tasty, surprisingly complex. Love the toasty flavor.
Cough rating: 0. Really, nothing to object to.

Lester's Fixings Sweet Corn

Kibbitzer-in-Chief: "If you drink them together, do you get kettle corn?"

I think it could be argued that, for any combination of sodas, if such a question can be asked in a sensible way, you can assume that they're BOTH weird.

The Kibbitzer has been suggesting* that I do some more reviews, and as it turns out, I do have a couple of good ones. We'll deal with them in two separate reviews, I think. The first is another from Lester's Fixings, the source of a whole variety of things which should not be soda flavors. Today's is Sweet Corn.

This review is about the one on the left. Well, your left. I mean, when you're looking at the picture. If you were in the picture, it'd be on your right. So your left, but only where you are now. Unless you're behind the screen--then it's the one on your right.

There's a part of me which thinks that Lester's Fixings is cheating--that they are making sodas like this just to bait me. I mean, who in their right minds thinks that corn** would make a good soda flavor?

But then, I think of Hello Kitty Ramune, and realize that unless there is a vast international conspiracy (headquartered in Japan) to make bizarre soda flavors solely to keep blogs like this going, I must conclude that--in fact--Lester's Fixings is crewed by some sort of demented gnomes who (amid chortlings and cacklings and chants) come up with Sodas Which Seem Like A Good Idea At The Time.

In which case, I suppose they could be worse. Wasabi Lubricant Soda, for example.

Where and when: purchased at Rocket Fizz, Vista, CA
Color: Really incredibly yellow.
Scent: K-i-C: "Oh my God. Is it buttered?"
That's remarkable. It smells almost exactly like a freshly opened can of sweet kernel maize***. Which is a smell I like when opening such a can. Here, I'm not so sure.
K-i-C (sitting 5 feet away): "It reeks. From here."

Taste: Well, there's something you don't taste every day. Okay, let's's sweet. Very sweet. Slightly buttery. And maize-ish. It's not bulgur wheat, or soybean, or even sorghum. This is a reasonably accurate creamed corn flavor.
I really have to hand it to the cackling gnomes at Lester's Fixings. They manage accuracy, God help us all. I can't even honestly say I dislike it.

Me: "Hey, guys! There's a Weird Soda here for you to try!"
*sounds of Nazgul and Olorin desperately trying to hide, or dig under the fence to freedom*

I managed to get them to try it.
Nazgul: *grimacing in despair* ""
Olorin: "Actually, I kind of like it. Can I have the rest of this cup?"

I see a great future for you, Olorin. How's your cackle?

Quaff rating: 3. It's really not bad, and certainly interesting. Bonus points for accuracy.
Cough rating: 1.5. It's corn, for the love of all that's holy.

* She would like to have some of the space in the kitchen back, I guess.

** Pedantry: Apparently, the term "corn" does not actually necessarily refer to the grain we in the States usually mean. The term can refer to whatever grain is most commonly used as a feed grain in a given region. What we in the states call "corn" is more accurately referred to as "maize". Now, it might be reasonable to assume that by "Sweet Corn", this soda means maize, an assumption supported further by the substantial picture of maize kernels on the label. However, keep in mind the logical consequences of such a supposition; today's other soda features only a picture of a kilt-clad man playing bagpipes, and is labeled "Scotty's". Given the same logic which leads us to believe that this must be a maize-based soda, we are forced to assume that the other soda today is Scotsman-flavored. And that, my friends, is a sanity-shaking possibility I am not prepared to contemplate for even a moment, given that I plan to drink it.

I think it's safer for us to assume that this soda might just as easily be barley, wheat, or amaranth-flavored.

See how logical and scientific we are here at the Lab?

*** Accuracy, my friends. Accuracy above all!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Jones Soda Giles's Grape Potion

The Weird Soda Review Lab is not only dedicated to discovering Weird beverages; we also enjoy Weird movies and TV. Recently, Olorin and the Kibbitzer-in-Chief have been making their way through Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Joss Whedon's magnificent multi-season epic. Seeing them watching an episode recently reminded me that I had several bottles of Buffy-themed sodas from Jones Soda, makers of all sorts of strange drinks. We should get to those!

I had never noticed that Giles wasn't on the Buffy Season 3 box. Well, now I can take care of that.

Where and when: Ordered from Amazon (I think) a while ago.
Color: pale, transparent purple.
Scent: Faint, popsicle-y grape. Fairly tart, pleasant, synthetic. Reminiscent of Welch's grape soda from my poolside childhood days.
Taste: Unremarkable but nice. Not a very strong taste. More tart than sweet, synthetic grape, and that's about it. Really, this is only Weird from the label.

Now, if you've watched Buffy, you know that Giles is a noble, courageous, and brilliant man, who is nevertheless not exactly the life of the party. We love him, we admire him, and we would probably avoid trying to do karaoke with him.

This is a well-named soda.

Afterburp: A tiny bit more interesting, with more volatile flavors evident. That's kind of a disgusting thing to write.

Quaff rating: 2.5. Just not very interesting, and I don't feel like a stevedore.
Cough rating: 0. Nothing to object to.

EDIT, LATER: It is probably worth noting that I am now in big trouble with the Kibbitzer-in-Chief, who is very upset that I implied that Giles was boring and fake. For the record, please let me clarify: I think Giles is terrific, and did not mean to imply that he was insincere or dishonest. I'm sure that a scholarly discussion with him would be very stimulating. However, he doesn't make me sit up and go "wow!".

Buffy's mother might have a different opinion, of course. If she offers to do a review, I'll post it.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Belvoir Elderflower Presse

Once again, the Lab is facing a backlog of soda. What can we say? There are other pressures* even on the life of a Quaffmaster, and though braving the heights and depths of Weird sodadom and penning epistles for you who seek the vicarious experience of imbibing is my deepest calling, I cannot utterly ignore all other demands for my time**.

Thus, as though a Mentos had been dropped in the Diet Coke of the life of the Lab, we must attempt to relieve the growing pressure of Weirdness before it explodes into a sticky flood of bubbly broubaha***.

Fortunately, I have high hopes that today's item will be a pleasant experience.

Belvoir Elderflower, here depicted next to actual elderflowers. It's kind of like a family portrait.
We've reviewed one other elderflower soda--Sweet Blossom Elderflower. It was fantastic, and still ranks amongst my favorite Weird sodas of all time. Good science practice, however, demands that we assess other elderflower beverages to determine whether the exquisite flavor of the Sweet Blossom was due to the presence of elderflower, or some other unidentified factor.

Enter Belvoir Elderflower Pressé.

I'm not actually sure what a "pressé" is. My mind, of course, imagines elderflowers being picked, arranged on some sort of sluice, and smacked Muppahone-like with mallets****. This is admittedly unlikely. Let's see if the bottle label holds any clues.

First, the label appears to be real paper; it's thin, and wrinkly where moisture has caused it to peel a bit. On the back, it becomes clear that this is from England, and it claims to contain fresh, hand-picked elderflowers. Seeing none floating in the bottle, I have to assume that it is more like a tea made from said elderflowers (although I note that a Muppaphone-type apparatus is not ruled out; it would presumably have an English accent). The ingredients list includes only water, sugar, elderflowers, and lemon juice. Spiffy!

Bonus points: the little drawing of elderflowers on the label is pretty realistic.

Where and when:  To be honest, I can't remember.
Color: Transparent, slightly yellow tinge.
Scent: Flowery, slightly tart, sweet. A bit like a very sweet, milder lavender. Pleasant.
Olorin: "Kind of like honeysuckle pear-y lemon."

Taste: Much more sour than the smell; the lemon juice is prominent, but not unpleasant. The sweet, flowery smell is very pleasant in the taste. It's quite strong; this is potent stuff, much more so than the sedate label would suggest. Really, the overwrought labels and names of American sodas (e.g. the various "EXTREME!" Mountain Dew variants) would be better applied here, as this has more of a bold, strong taste than most of those. However, given that it's a British label, it'd have to be different.

I'm envisioning a formal English garden, tended by a grandmotherly woman in a bonnet, who is trimming the gardenias with a six-foot serrated broadsword from the sidecar of a motorcycle driven by Ozzy Osbourne. The title:

Belvoir Fruit Farms
"It's practically rude!"

Olorin: "Kind of the flavor of lemon juice, but with the flavor of pear. Leaves a dry-ish texture in the back of your mouth, like not quite ripe fruit."

Kibbitzer-in-Chief: *shrugs*

Nazgul: "It's all right".

This is getting decidedly unimpressed responses from the rest of the Lab. As for me, I like it well enough, and I admire the boldness of the flavor...but the Sweet Blossom was much nicer. This lacks the pleasant fruit flavors, and substitutes a very strong lemon. It's much like a slightly bubbly floral British lemonade.

Quaff rating: 2.5. Meh. The label is pretty, and the floral flavor is interesting...
Cough rating: 0.5. The lemon, while not unpleasant, it very strong.

* For example, recently reinstalling Diablo 2, because...well, because.
** Some of those Unique items are really hard to find.
*** A.k.a. the Kibbitzer-in-Chief giving me that look.

****  The Muppaphone:

Friday, July 27, 2012

Taylor's Tonics Cafe Azteca

I was born in Topeka, Kansas. To the great surprise of many people I meet, I actually have many good feelings and memories of my hometown and state. Kansas is a lovely place, and Topeka has a certain charm. That's not to say it doesn't have its own unique problems*, but I enjoyed growing up there.

I now live in north San Diego County, and when I discuss my history with people who live around here, I notice an odd thing. None of them are all that surprised that I have good memories of Topeka.

What shocks them is that I have good memories of living in Los Angeles.

I openly acknowledge that L.A. has some serious issues. It suffers from major traffic problems, parts of it have unpleasant climate, the air quality could be better, etc., etc. Yes, I know. On the other hand...Los Angeles has just about every possible language, culture, and food within 20 minutes of wherever you live. When we lived in UCLA's graduate student housing (West LA), our complex had a mix of people who spoke English, Spanish, Russian, Japanese, Egyptian Arabic, French, and Chinese (not sure which dialect). The incredibly cosmopolitan nature of the city presents unlimited opportunities. It's a wonderful place to live, if you like that sort of thing.

My wife's family is partially Mexican, and so I've learned more about Latino culture through them. Thus it was that--when I saw this brew from Taylor's Tonics, I thought it might be fun to try.

There's nothing particularly Mexican or Aztec about this setting, except that the tree is a jacaranda.

Growing up in Kansas, "hot chocolate" meant a sweet chocolate-and-milk drink, heated, and usually served with marshmallows. If you wanted to get exotic, you might put some nutmeg on it.

In LA, I learned some about the history of Mexican hot chocolate, and the use of interesting spices and lack of sugar.

<i>At first I was afraid; I was petrified!
I kept thinking "I can't live without mini marshmallows on the side!"
But then I spent some nights thinking about spices and cinnamon.
Now I like it strong, and I've learned the Aztecs weren't wrong!</i>

 This claims to be based on cocoa, coffee, cinnamon, and cayenne. Let's try it out!

Where and when: purchased at Frazier Farms, Vista, CA, sometime in June.
Color: A fairly light caramel brown, slightly cloudy.
Scent: Hmm. That's a very interesting smell! A strong scent of cocoa, with a definite cinnamon and coffee undertone. Sweet and sharp, with a hint of acid. Pleasant, but very strong.
Taste: Hmm...whoa...huh...

Okay, this one has some real complexity. It keeps changing, over ten seconds or so. I wasn't quite ready for that, have to try again.


And they're off! The first to hit is a chocolate dominant tone, underlaid with a moderate coffee-like bitterness, reminiscent of chinotto. There's also a significant acid tang, which fades in about 3-4 seconds. The bitter drifts away a bit more slowly, with the chocolate staying aloof above it all. As the bitter fades, it is overtaken by an interesting bite--must be the cayenne. This slowly gains strength, and has a lot of staying power--20 seconds or so later, it's still there, with the chocolate hovering over but dissipating very slowly, like cirrus clouds lingering after a thunderstorm.

I'm not sure when I've had a Weird soda with such a complex and changeable flavor. I have to give it some interest points. I'm not actually sure yet whether I actually like it, but it's bold and interesting at least.

I convinced the Kibbitzer-in-Chief to try a sip. The sequence of expressions on her face was a testament to the complexity of the flavor; she went from surprised, to unhappy, to afraid, to angry, and finally to saddened, over the course of about 30 seconds.

It reminds me somewhat of Moxie, oddly--as if you took Moxie and mixed in some chocolate and caramel, and then a dash of Tabasco.

I'm not quite sure how to rate this. I've tried Taylor's Tonics Chai Cola before, and found it quite pleasant. I can't say this is as nice, at least for me...but it's certainly interesting, and the flavors are high quality. For someone who likes coffee, this would probably be a great soda.

Quaff rating: I'd have to say 3.5. Good and interesting flavors.
Cough rating: Probably a 1.0. Maybe "arresting" is the right word.

For your interest, here is a partial transcript of an audio recording I made of some friends and Lab staff (Rapier, his wife, Nazgul, and Olorin) trying out Cafe Azteca.

Olorin: "Blaaaaaaaah. Smells like pepper jalapeno chocolate coffee." *tastes* "That's good."
Rapier: "It's like walking into the spice isle at a non-Western supermarket."
Nazgul: "That tastes good!"
Wife-of-Rapier: "It's not like artificial chocolate."
Rapier: "No, that's good."
W-O-R: "I smell the almond chocolate."
Rapier: "It's way better than it smells."
Nazgul: "Yeah. Way."

*For example, it's the home of the Westboro Baptist Church.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Prometheus Springs Lemon Ginger Capsaicin Spiced Elixir

This morning, a dear friend of the Lab (who has been introduced before as Pepper Trot) came by. She and her son were coming to take Olorin out for a day at the beach, which is good--he should occasionally have a break from his 18-hour-a-day job analyzing bottle mold and making painstaking woodcut illustrations for his book "Weirde Sodas of 1775: A Compendium of Heresie Amongst Beverage-kind". To me great delight, she had also brought something new. And by "new", I mean "which I would never have thought of, and whose existence strikes me as ill-advised". She produced a bottle of Snapple-ish size and shape, which was labeled "Lemon Ginger". thing seems quite protective of this stuff.

Well, those are nice flavors. This should be

"Capsaicin-spiced elixir"?

Allow me to quote from the label.

"Capsaicin: Nature's Spicy Superfood. Extracted from chili peppers, this antioxidant is delightfully painful. Its kick has the curious ability to trigger endorphins for a happy, natural high."


"Awaken your senses with refreshing lemon layered over a cold-pressed ginger bite. This robust elixir is for intrepid individuals who seek a more potent ginger experience."

I feel it is worth noting that this is the only Weird beverage I've had so far which is actually promising to hurt me when I drink it. I am also keenly aware that Prometheus was a titan, best known for bringing fire to mortals.

I am so happy right now.

Where and when: apparently, according to Pepper, this was purchased at Jimbos, or maybe Whole Foods.
Color: Pale, cloudy, ever-so-slightly yellow tinged.  
Scent: Hmm. Actually, kind of like Thai food.

Kibbitzer: "If you had a peanut-butter sandwich next to it."

I wonder if you mixed this with one of the peanut sodas if you would get Pad Thai?

The lemon and ginger are clearly present, and there's definitely a threat of burning.

Taste: Oh my God.
Let me provide a rough timeline.
(t=0 s) Major lemon impact, mild to moderate sweetness. Powerfully tart.
(t=0.05 s) There's the ginger. So far, so good. Actually, kind of nice.
(t=0.1 s) So far, reminiscent of lemon ginger cookies, which I like a lot. This isn't so bad.
(t=0.3 s) Hmm. That's kind of an interesting edge. A bit spicy.
(t=0.4 s) Okay, some spice building up.
(t=0.5 s) I write this in the hopes that it may be found by those in a position to warn others of my fate. For more than 400 milliseconds, I thought I had found something pleasantly lemony and gingerish. Ah, to be young and foolish once more.

I will openly admit that I am a spiciness wuss. When I go eat Indian or Thai, I never go over 2 (on a scale of 1-10). That being said, my eyes opened wide, and I was only able to make vague strangled noises for a moment. To a wuss like me, it's pretty potent stuff.

Kibbitzer: *pause, contemplation, nodding to self* "Actually, it's pretty good."

Punctilius: "Maybe it would be good for arthritis of the throat."

Kibbitzer: "It's very...warming."

That's the funny thing--it is actually pretty good. The capsaicin interacts in a nice way with the ginger, making it significantly more potent. The lemon plays nicely, and it's nicely sweetened.  I was prepared to really dislike this, and I doubt I'd seek it out, since I'm not actually very fond of spicy food, but it's pretty pleasant.

Quaff rating: 3.5. Quite nice, and definitely interesting.
Cough rating: 1.0. A kick in the pants.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Lester's Fixins Peanut Butter and Jelly Soda

Remember in our review of Rocket Fizz Peanut Butter Soda, when we suggested that the only way to make it worse would have been to have a peanut butter and jelly soda?
There is a soda company, Lester's Fixins (bottled by Rocket Fizz), which seems to be specializing in producing carbonated versions of a variety of comfort foods (such as bacon, sweet corn, and peanut butter and jelly). My mother was born in Texas, and maintains a deep love of fried okra. We can only assume that somewhere in my future, I will be drinking a bottle of fried okra soda.

I feel about this much the same way as Londo Mollari felt about his vision of his own future.*

In any case, the Kibbitzer picked up a few samples of these from the new Rocket Fizz in Vista, and I can no longer put off the inevitable. Let's start with what is probably--incredibly--the least horrendous, Peanut Butter and Jelly.

I hoped that, by placing this in a pleasant pastoral setting, I could compensate for the horror of its existence.

Where and when: purchased in May 2012 at Rocket Fizz, Vista, CA  
Color: An oddly sickly pinkish-orange. I'm not sure why; if it's meant to reflect the intended taste, I can only assume that this is a peanut butter and guava jelly sandwich. Which is an assumption I don't want to make.
Me: "All right, anybody want to smell and taste this with me?" The rest of the Lab staff, in chorus: "NO."

*sniff* Holy crud, it *is* guava jelly.

The smell is sweet and citrusy, with a bit of muskiness. No detectable peanut butter, and definitely not any jelly I normally put on sandwiches.**

Nazgul (forced to smell): "It actually smells good, kind of like cherry".

I see what he means, but it'd be a tart cherry. I still get more guava or passionfruit from it.

Taste: Blech.
Okay, now I get the peanut butter. Actually, it's a more accurate peanut butter taste than the previous one. This isn't that far off from a semi-sugared peanut butter like Jif or Skippy. I've gotten used to the natural/organic peanut butters, and this isn't anything like those...but it does taste a bit like peanut butter.
Not that that's a good thing.

The jelly part is also there. It's not guava; all of the acid and muskiness is in a thin crust on the flavor surface. Underneath, it's a pretty clear grape jelly--again, sweetened and synthetic-ish, but grape.

The acid and musk on the top does not help. The major impression I get is of a Skippy/Welch's Grape Jelly sandwich, on Wonder bread, on which someone has plopped a heavy dollop of cantaloupe and tamarind puree.

It's not pleasant; it's actually kind of revolting. But I will give Lester's Fixins points for accuracy; it does actually taste something like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Quaff rating: 2.5. Somewhat interesting.
Cough rating: 2.0. But in a bad way.

*You should watch Babylon 5. Just in case you don't, Londo was NOT pleased about his future. On the other hand, in its way, it saved millions of lives. I'm not sure if that would be enough to get me to drink fried okra soda.
** Actually, I prefer crunchy peanut butter with dijon mustard on potato bread.

Guest Review: Biotta Sauerkraut Juice

Someone finally clicked on the "Submit a Guest Review" button! Thisis an exciting event for us at the Lab. This is a short--very short--opinion, submitted by "Disappointed", on Biotta Sauerkraut Juice. I'm assuming that's Biotta Digestive Drink, which was one of our first reviews, and very nearly ended the whole enterprise. At least, I'm hoping that's what it refers to; the thought that Biotta decided that what the world needed was another sauerkraut-based beverage is horrible to contemplate. Anyway, here's the review: ---------------------------------------------- Where and when: Whole Foods Taste: This does not taste anything like sauerkraut juice. They need to change the title to YUK! ----------------------------------------------- It may be a short review, but I can't say I disagree. Thanks, Disappointed!

Armenian Fungus Cake

No, this post isn't about an Armenian Fungus Cake soda. Although that would be rather awesome. Rather, I'd like to recommend a website to those who follow this blog. I was recently contacted by some individuals who run a blog reviewing unusual snacks, including soda. I took a quick look, and can enthusiastically recommend that you visit them. Firstly, because the reviews are written in a funny and engaging style. If you like reading this blog, you'll probably like them too. They wrote poetry to a tarragon soda. Secondly, because a blog named "Armenian Fungus Cake" is definitely Weird, and everybody should be able to say "Hey, did you check out Armenian Fungus Cake today?" Their website is here. You can also find them in the list of Other Soda Reviews on the lower right side of the site.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Rocket Fizz Peanut Butter Old Fashioned Soda

There are times when the universe looks inward, onto the tiny, insignificant head of a Quaffmaster, and says "Let's make this guy's day". It's on days like that that Weird Soda retail establishments open in the Quaffmaster's home town.

Yes, loyal and hypothetical reader, a chain called "Rocket Fizz" has opened a storefront in downtown Vista, California. I'll be posting a "Pilgrimage" account as soon as I can, but in the meantime, my beloved Kibbitzer-in-Chief paid them a visit and came back with a bonanza. I'm going to go through them...lovingly...joyfully. Not only that, but an old friend of mine sent a whole batch of excellent review candidates, so we're rolling in Weirdness.
What better way to celebrate such a windfall--such a felicitous turn of fate--than to review something which almost certainly should NEVER have been made into a soda?

Rocket Fizz Peanut Butter soda, displaying a high degree of camouflage expertise in its natural environment of vases and knickknacks.
There are many wonderful tastes in the world. Vanilla extract. Cream cheese. Cumin.* Peanut butter is one of them--it's wonderful, versatile stuff, which was never ever ever meant to be carbonated and bottled. Thus, of course, I must sample it. I mean, it could be worse, right? It could be peanut butter and jelly soda.**
A quick ingredients check reveals no peanuts--in fact, the only recognizable foodlike substance after "sugar" and "citric acid" is "modified food starch". Other than that, it's water, flavor, and color.  

Where and when: Purchased by the Kibbitzer-in-Chief at Rocket Fizz, in downtown Vista.  
Color: Opaque and beige. The Kibbitzer is referring to it as "clogged toilet color", but it's not that brown. It is a truly unappetizing color. Yellowish beige...about the same color as the outside of a cantaloupe.
Scent: Errr...this is not promising. The scent is faint, and has a slight note of synthetic peanut butter. A little like what you get in Nutter Butter cookies. You know--nothing even resembling peanuts. And under the faint pseudo-peanut butter, a hint of acidity. Not the "ripe orange" kind, rather more of a "slightly acid taste in the back of your throat while wondering if it was REALLY necessary to linger QUITE so lovingly over the disembowelments in Game of Thrones" kind. This is gonna be rough.  
Taste: *grimace shudder* Uuuuuhhhh. This is not good. Actually, it's bad enough that, several seconds after sipping it, I'm still kind of shuddering.

Kibbitzer: *Sip* *Cough splutter* "I won't be drinking that."

It's got this sort of oily, lingering aftertaste...I had one small sip *minutes* ago, and I can still clearly taste it. I can still clearly FEEL it on my tongue. But--and here's the worst part--not well enough that I can provide a description without taking another sip.
We who are about to quaff salute you, my readers.


Auugh. Okay, here goes. First, it's extremely sweet, to the point of being syrupy. There's a slight acid under the sweet as well. That fake peanut butter taste is there, too, but rather than working together with the sweet and acid, the three flavors mingle awkwardly, not making eye contact. The flavors of this soda interact in much the same way as three men who have just discovered that they have inadvertently all been using the same athletic supporter.
The next major problem is the endurance. More than most, this particular mix of flavors lingers. It sits on the tongue, and is quite hard to dispel. For something without any oil in it, it has a distinctly oily feel.

Nobody would drink this to refresh themselves on a hot day. Nobody would drink this to refresh themselves on a cold day. Nobody would drink this on a day during which--by direct order of the President--refreshment was not *legal* except via drinking of this soda.

Quaff rating: 1.0. I suppose there's a bit of interest in the sheer unusualness, but it's pretty unpleasant.
Cough rating: 2.5. I didn't retch, or even feel that I had to spit it out, but there was definite face-making and shoulder-shuddering in the Lab.

 *I should note, at this point, that I tried once to combine these three lovely things into one uber-taste which could bring joy to my heart and peace to the Middle East. As it turns out, three lovely tastes do not necessarily combine into one messianic flavor of goodness. In fact, the result may have been directly responsible for the current problems in mortgage finance, as thousands of people in the US stopped paying their mortgages on the grounds that they didn't want to live in a country where making tastes like what came out of that was legal.

 **Hold that thought.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Grandpa Lundquist Christmas Soda

We're back!

About two months ago, I was colonized a stupendous badass of a respiratory virus*. I don't get sick very often, but this one knocked me on my butt for some time. Among its many fascinating effects, it completely eliminated my sense of smell for a while. Given that the majority of our perception of taste actually derives from our sense of smell, this presented a problem in terms of Weird Soda reviewing, i.e. everything I ate or drank tasted more or less like unseasoned boiled potatoes.

On the assumption that a series of reviews complaining about how various Weird sodas just tasted like potatoes, I decided it would be best to refrain from reviewing for a short time. Fortunately, my sense of smell has returned, and the Lab is ready to resume our duties.

I'm sure that you've been holding your breath in anticipation.

Today's review is the third of the Weird sodas we obtained at the Hawthorne Country Store in Escondido, CA. I didn't really detect a pattern in their offerings--a Lovecraftian grape soda, a Harry Potter-themed butterscotch cream soda, and this, some sort of Scandinavian holiday beverage. I present, for your edification and delight, Grandpa Lundquist's Christmas Soda.

In the foreground: today's Weird soda. Just behind: Vorlon tomatoes. No, I'm not kidding. You'll have to ask the Kibbitzer about it.

The label gives it the subtitle of "Scandinavian Julmust", and gives a short history. That "Jul" is Swedish for "Christmas" strikes me as a bit simplistic, so I've done a bit of looking into the matter.
"Yule" is a northern European midwinter festival. It has become associated with Christmas, but its roots are far deeper. Yule has been associated with the pagan legend of the Wild Hunt, a truly terrifying midwinter phenomenon. Sort of like Santa's sleigh, except pulled by the spirits of the dead instead of reindeer, led by a terrifying hunting-God instead of a jolly man in a red suit, and which will catch you and carry you off to Hell rather than bringing you toys. It's also associated with Odin-worship, and other pagan gods (who, in at least some old Scandinavian texts are described as Yule-beings).

Okay, maybe it's not SO different from the Lovecraftian grape soda.

In any case, though, this Julmust is (ostensibly) a Christmas soda, and supposed to be a friendly, family kind of drink, served at feasts and festivals of warmth and light in the cold of winter. Let's go with that.

Where and when: Purchased at the Hawthorne Country Store, Escondido, CA
Color: Dark brown, with almost no transparency. Quite foamy.
Scent: Oh, that's interesting. Sharp, sweet, ciderish, almost a bit citrusy. Very applelike. Pleasant and surprising.
K-i-C: "Grape beer. Smells like a grape shandy."
Taste: Quite sweet, more than I was expecting. I was anticipating something more musty or malty--this is quite clean. It's somewhere between grape and apple.
K-i-C: "Uuuuh." *shudder* "Oh, God. I'm going to go throw up now. It's got a very medicinal taste."
Me: "Really? I didn't get that at all."
K-i-C: "Well, you probably had a lot less grape-flavored medicine as a kid than I did."

The Kibbitzer finds this far more unpleasant than I do. She is visibly disgusted. I find it pretty nice. It's definitely unusual, though.

On a second sip, I get a bit more of a bitter, brewed undertone. Not really a bad thing, but it has a slightly more beer-like tone. It's still a minor component, and to me, it adds to it rather than being a problem.

Let's call it a grape-apple soda with a hint of beer, and just a hint of a link to pagan horrors of eldritch, ancient legend.

Quaff rating: 4.0. Pleasant and interesting, with some complexity underneath.
Cough rating: 0.5. While I don't find much to object to (maybe a slight distaste at the bitterness), the K-i-C is still shuddering and saying that she feels like it should be loosening phlegm.

*And my thanks to Neal Stephenson for that magnificent turn of phrase, as well as so much else.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Flying Cauldron Butterscotch Beer

In the Hawthorne Country Store, we managed to obtain several Weird sodas along with our new Buff Orpington chick (for the full, thrilling story, see our review of Squamscot Grape). Today, we'll be trying the second of the bunch.

Being geeks, we at the Lab are all extensively familiar with a certain very popular book series describing the adventures of a certain boy wizard in Britain (all of us except Nazgul, who has not yet read the sixth and seventh volumes in the series). We all enjoyed it, and I was especially happy when I discovered that the Wizarding world has its own peculiar Weird beverages. Several are described, but the one which the main character likes best is called "butterbeer". While it is never described in great detail, we do know that (1) it foams, (2) it is often served hot, (3) it is very popular with wizards and witches of all ages, and seems to serve a role analogous to sodas in Muggle America.
As an example, here is a brief quote from the protagonist's first experience with butterbeer:

"As the hot butterbeer trickled down over Gandalf's pale skin, Galadriel trembled with anticipation. 'I cannot deny that my heart has much desired this...' she whispered. Gandalf's staff rose..."

Oops. Er...that's not it. Wrong file. I'm sorry, that's an excerpt from Hot Caras Galadhon Knights, by Edmund Wells, the well-known Dutch author. Just a it is.

"Harry and Hermione made their way to the back of the room, where there was a small, vacant table between the window and a handsome Christmas tree, which stood next to the fireplace. Ron came back five minutes later, carrying three foaming tankards of hot butterbeer.
"'Merry Christmas!' he said happily, raising his tankard.
"Harry drank deeply. It was the most delicious thing he'd ever tasted and seemed to heat every bit of him from the inside."

Butterbeer makes several more appearances in the story. In fact, I think one could write a scholarly paper exploring conflict over butterbeer reserves and supply lines as a contributing factor to the rise of Voldemort and the outcome of the war. Acquisition of butterbeer can be seen underlying many crucial plot points and character decisions in the books. I note, for example, that Harry used his invisibility cloak to escape from his school, risking expulsion, for the purpose of getting that butterbeer*.

Well, at the Hawthorne Country Store, they had "Butterscotch Beer", bottled by the Flying Cauldron.

See? See the Wizarding conflicts sparked by the mere presence of butterbeer? Dueling, elf hunting, unbridled's more than I can bear.

A slightly closer inspection shows that this actually comes from Reed's, who also bottle the Virgil's line of sodas and a series of ginger beers. Given the rather magnificent quality of their regular cream soda, I have high hopes for this.
The bottle is quite striking...the label at the top claims this to be "A Magical Brew". Between that and the logo of a cauldron riding on a flying broomstick, I can't help but feel that they're referring to something. Allow me to read from the informational panel on the side of the label:

"Since 1374, the Flying Cauldron has been making this magical brew for under aged wizards or wizards who are young at heart at their brew pub in Hogsbreath England. The recipe has changed little over the centuries. It has the perfect combination of spells and quality natural ingredients. Add a scoop of vanilla ice cream to create our Giggle Potion."

I can't imagine where they got these ideas! Ah, but that's OK...since the publication of the book series made the role of butterbeer in major Wizarding conflicts plain, there has been substantial effort among epicurean fans of the series to creating butterbeer. Actually, that's not the only thing people have taken from the books; Quidditch, the leading sport in the wizarding world (a sort of rugby/football game played on flying broomsticks), has been adapted for the Muggle world as well. There are teams, leagues, and everything. My older brother coaches a Quidditch team. No, I'm not kidding. Yes, there is clearly something wrong with my genetic line.
In any case, I approve of Reed's having a go at replicating butterbeer. Perhaps they'd like to sponsor my brother's Quidditch team.

Plus, it's gluten free!

Where and when: Purchased at the Hawthorne Country Store, Escondido, CA
Color: A nice dark amber, lighter than maple syrup.
Scent: Moderately strong French vanilla scent, strongly tinged with butterscotch.
Olorin: "Smells like buttery honey."
K-i-C: "Gaaah!" *grimaces*

Taste: Wow...very sweet. The vanilla cream soda is strong underneath it, with a very powerful taste of butterscotch on top. The butterscotch is much like that in butterscotch chips. Pleasant, if potent, and certainly interesting.
Olorin: "MMMMMM!"
Nazhul: "Mmmmmm."
K-i-C: *grimace* "Tastes like butterscotch. Which, I suppose, is appropriate.
You know, adding vanilla ice cream to this would make it *less* sweet."

The Kibbitzer seems to find this overwhelming. I guess I can see that, it's powerful stuff. I'm liking it pretty well, though, and the junior staff members are asking for more.

K-i-C: "In fact, why is the sweet lasting so long? What's in this?" She looks. "Ahhh...stevia."

She's right. This stuff is sweetened with cane sugar (quite a bit of it), with added vanilla and caramel, but then the bottler seemed to think that what it *really* needed was some extra sweet, so they threw in some Stevia. Because...why not? Plus, with the gluten-free aspect, I think it's now a health food.

K-i-C: "I like the kind we made better. With cider, melted butterscotch chips, and vanilla ice cream. This would be better with Johnny Apple Treats dissolved in it."**

To be honest, I don't like it as much as their regular cream soda, but that's all right. It's still pretty good, and I have to give them extra points for going to the effort of making a strong reference to a good speculative fiction series. Plus, it's butterscotch, and that makes for a good Weird soda. Well done!

Quaff rating: 3.5. Tasty, but not magnificent.
Cough rating: 0.5. Probably too sweet. Was the Stevia really needed? Plus, just kind of overwhelming.

*Well, that and seeing his friends, visiting Hogsmeade, and eavesdropping on conveniently-located conversations about critical plot information. But I think the Weird soda was his primary goal.

**Yes, the Lab did once get together with some other families and have a cooking party in which we made recipes based on the book series, including an attempt at butterbeer. It was good. We are not ashamed.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Squamscot Old Fashioned Beverages: Grape

Really, there's only one way for someone like me to do a review of something called "Squamscot".


Och, it was on the wild moors where I first saw Angus. 'Twas when the moon rose leprous o'er the heather that I first heerd the skirlin' o' his unspeakable pipes. The hideous pulsin o' the drone summoned visions o' vistas not meant to be seen by the likes o' man. E'en now, I shudder to think of it.
Through the cobwebs o' mist, I caught a glimpse of his form. The silhouette was slumped an' slippery, like a half-melted haggis icicle. I heard his hideous, croaking voice lettin' words o' hideous import dribble into the air.

"O my luuuuuve's like an ancient god,
That's can eternal lie,
O my luuuuve's seen the stars are right,
And now we're gonna die."

As he oozed into view, my mind tottered an' teetered on the very brink o'madness. That face...that voice...the squamous visage...N'gai'g'hroth...and God, O God...THAT BOTTLE O'DAMNATION IN THE HANDS O' THAT SQUAMOUS SCOT!

-from The Ballad of Angus Mac Nyogtha, music and poetry of Robert Burns*

This is one that I picked up from the Hawthorne Country Store, in Escondido.
The Lab** felt that our two noisy chickens were not causing nearly enough destruction and devastation at our facility, and so we needed four more chicks to raise. Not only that, we needed very specific of which is known as a Buff Orpington.
I have to admit--when I hear the name "Buff Orpington", I envision a wealthy but irresponsible British rapscallion noble, who moonlights as an international secret agent and model for romance novel covers.
In any case, our usual source for livestock didn't have Buff Orpingtons, so we called around a bit, and determined that the Hawthorne Country Store in Escondido had Buff Orpington chicks. When we got there, we discovered that they also had Weird soda.
I was more than a bit surprised.
But a Quaffmaster must always be ready to seize opportunities, and this was a good one. We picked up three bottles, one of which I will review for you tonight.

"Experience the Past"? That sounds an awful lot like "The Shadow Out of Time", and THAT didn't end well for anybody.

With a name like Squamscot, it really has to be New England-based. It comes from Conner Bottling Works in New Hampshire, so it seems legitimate. Or maybe that's just what They want us to think. In any case, it claims to be old-fashioned, and grape. That's good enough for me to try it.

Where and when: purchased at the Hawthorne Country Store, Escondido, CA in January 2012.
Color: A very dark purple.
Scent: Fairly mild, grape-ish, dark and a bit herbal. Pleasant.
Taste: Oh, that's nice. It's sweet--even quite sweet--but not cloying. The sweetener is cane sugar. Very clean. It's not actual grape, of course--it's almost exactly grape popsicle, which is a very good thing.

K-i-C: "*pffuh* That's sweet. That's very, very sweet."
Me: "It's grape popsicle!"
K-i-C: "No...well, maybe grape Otter Pop..."

There is an aftertaste, but it's mild and pleasant. Just a hint of tartness.

The main taste is dominated by a fairly pure sugar taste, with faint to moderate fruit tastes at the sides. It reminds me a little of Dublin Dr. Pepper.
The K-i-C points out (correctly) that there is almost no tartness or tang in the main taste, which is interesting. It's a more pure taste than I usually get.
The K-i-C doesn't care for it at all, and thinks it's too simple a sweet taste.

K-i-C: "Even salt would be better. Maybe if you had a prosciutto soda to drink with it..."

So there we have it: an unusually simple, pure sugar with popsicle-y grape notes, and almost no tartness. I like it, but the K-i-C doesn't. But it's my Lab. MUA HA HA HA!

Quaff rating: 4.0, if you ask me. Notably good.
Cough rating: 0.5. Maybe too simple, but that's not all bad.

*Not intended to be interpreted as a factual statement of true things which aren't lies.
**To be more specific, one particular staff member. I won't say who, but her name rhymes with "Fribitzer-grin-Beef".

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

SOPA/PIPA and Weird Soda Review

By now, you've undoubtedly heard that the US Congress is considering various legislation ostensibly designed to help protect the owners of copyrighted material from the threat of online theft and piracy.

While we at the Lab do recognize that theft of copyrighted material can be a problem, and we do support the right of creators of works to have some control over the distribution of those works, we feel that the legislation being considered (known as the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect Intellectual Property Act, or SOPA and PIPA) are the wrong way to address the problem.

These bills would permit (or possibly mandate) that websites accused of inappropriately posting or linking to copyrighted material be "blocked", possibly by preventing DNS systems from properly directing traffic to the correct IP address and by forcing search engines to stop returning links to the accused offenders. These powers could be invoked by holders of copyright material.

One concern is that the legislation fails to provide sufficient due process, allowing holders of material to attempt to silence websites without having to provide proof of wrongdoing. In this way, individuals or organizations might attempt to suppress the publication of legitimate work (such as parody) or other "fair use" products by invoking a preemptive silencing of a website.
As an example of how it might affect the Lab, hypothetically, the Coca-Cola company might not approve of a review in which we claim that Coca-Cola tastes a bit like lemon Pledge. They could claim that this site had violated copyright by using terms such as Coca-Cola, and seek to have blocked for an indefinite period while the issue is resolved. It is possible to imagine this being used as a tool to suppress criticism or dissent, rather than combat theft.
This could occur despite the fact that it is perfectly legal to use copyrighted terms such as Coca-Cola in criticism, review, or parody.

In addition, the proposed mechanisms would be ineffective at deterring real piracy, as they are relatively easy to circumvent. Because of that, the bills are unlikely to actually deter theft, while making it easier to suppress legitimate use of copyrighted material.

Because SOPA and PIPA would make wielding such power too easy, but fail to actually accomplish their stated goals, we at the Lab do not support the legislation, and urge Congress to revise the bills to provide stronger protections for individuals and companies who are not actually violating intellectual property law.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sempio Honey Rice Black Vinegar

Sometimes Weirdness is thrust upon you.

The Kibbitzer-in-Chief and I were on our way to see Eddie Izzard at the Hollywood Bowl. If you've never been to the Hollywood Bowl, you're missing a treat. It's an enormous outdoor amphitheater, with seats ranging from private tables down near the stage (season tickets for these are desirable enough that people pass them on as part of their estates) to rows of benches up on the hill, far enough back that it is amusing to observe the delay between what you see and what you hear.
Guess which seats we always buy?
It's really no burden to have the cheap seats, though, because they're just as much fun. Part of the Hollywood Bowl experience is bringing a picnic dinner, which you eat at your seats before and during the performance. People bring anything from McDonalds to gourmet five-course meals on china and crystal. And at least in the cheap seats, it's not uncommon to lean over the folks in front and say "ooo, that looks good!" and end up sampling each others' food. It's a really fun, social atmosphere.
Well, we were coming up from San Diego, so we ran into traffic and ended up getting to the Park & Ride lot about fifteen minutes before the last bus to the Bowl. And, of course, we had no picnic dinner. What an unbearable arrangement! Fortunately, I am a technophile, and asked my iPod to find us the nearest grocery store. There was an Albertson's half a mile away.

Putting the pedal to the metal in my 1994 Ford Aspire*, we pulled into the parking lot...but there was no Albertson's. There was, instead, something called "Freshia".

Hmmm. Must be some sort of Whole Foods-like place. We eat lots of that kind of thing. No problem.


After entering Freshia, our first hint that there would be a minor difficulty was that we couldn't actually read anything. All of the labels were--as far as I could tell--in Korean. As we wandered the isles, acutely aware that the few minutes we had left were running down, we realized that we were faced with a scenario in which we would have to buy packages of unknown substances and hope that they were tasty (that they were, in fact, food and not auto parts).
The Kibbitzer, being a much better cook than I, took on the task of identifying edibles. In such a situation, I felt that it was my duty to find some capacity in which I could help resolve our emergency--some way in which I could provide help, solve problems, and get us to the bus with a delicious dinner.

"I've never had Korean Weird soda before!" I thought, and headed for the aisle which looked as though it had liquids.

I ended up paralyzed with indecision, having realized that I was not sure whether the brightly colored bottles with engaging (but, to me, illegible) labels were some sort of fantastically Weird soda or kids' shampoo, when the Kibbitzer found me. At a glance, she could see that not only I had been distracted from my mission, I was incompetent. I hung my head in shame.
She grabbed a couple of bottles, said "These might be interesting," and led me gently to the prepackaged food section.

Have I mentioned how good this woman is to me?

We ended up grabbing something which looked like pasta in sauce labeled "Platycodon" (which, as it turns out, is a fibrous vegetable with a rather strong scent), something which looked for all the world like Klingon gaghwith garlic labeled "Fern Bracken", and something which we chose to believe was chicken.
Nobody wanted to share our picnic dinner***, but we had a wonderful time and a fascinating culinary adventure. And, as it turns out, had soda Weirdness thrust upon us.

The Kibbitzer had grabbed two bottles: a carbonated rice wine and a drinkable vinegar. I'm not up for wine tonight, so let's try the vinegar.

The setting is quaint and picturesque, reminiscent of midwestern Americana. Note the watering can, wood siding, and homely brick. And the Korean drinkable vinegar, of course.
The label does bear a helpful English translation underneath the (rather dramatic) Korean writing. The picture suggests that it contains honey, a supposition which is borne out by a quick look at the ingredients list. Apparently, it contains honey black vinegar, fructose, apple juice, glucose, dextrose, resin. Acids, sugars, and semiconductors...that's a Weird beverage for sure.

Where and when: purchased sometime in 2011 at Freshia, which might have been in Torrance, CA.
Color: Brown and translucent, about the color of the malt vinegar you find at fried fish places. Pours as if it were more viscous than wanter, seems a bit thick.

Scent: The main scent is sweet, but with a lot of earthiness and a strong vinegar. Can something smell like body odor, but in a good way?

Taste: HoowwwAAAAA...*sputter*...holy crud.
It's massively, overwhelmingly sweet, almost like sipping straight honey. Thicker than it looks, too, like a thin glue. How much sugar is *in* this stuff?

Ah, that explains it. This has 17.86 grams of sugar per fluid ounce.
Compare that to Coke Classic, which has 3.25 grams of sugar per fluid ounce. This stuff is roughly 5 and a half times more concentrated sugar than Coke. By my calculation, assuming the sugar is glucose, this is about a 3.3M sugar solution, which is pretty impressive in a beverage.

The massive, brain-melting sweetness is nicely offset by a remarkable spike of appleish vinegar through the frontal lobe. The two are actually in excellent balance, and the resultant flavor is quite pleasant--just completely overwhelming. I'd be afraid to put this in a hummingbird feeder, lest they all develop instant diabetes.

Nazgul: *sips, shrugs, nods* "Mmmm. I don't know why you don't like sweet stuff."

This from the boy who would happily eat straight cake frosting. I love sweet stuff. This is to conventional sweet stuff as Mighty Cthulhu is to a plate of fried calamari.

Olorin: "Eeeeewwww. That's disgusting."

K-i-C: "Smells like apple cider vinegar with honey." *sips* "Lots and lots and lots of honey. But it's actually very nice. You need that sweet to balance out the acidity."

So we have a quandary. The taste is quite pleasant, complex, and very well balanced, just about ten gazillion times too strong. I wonder if some of the untranslated Korean text on the label reads "Warning: For the love of God and insulin, do not drink this stuff undiluted."

Quaff rating: 3.5. The taste is lovely, and it's certainly interesting.
Cough rating: 1.5. I might have done a spit-take, except given the viscosity, it would have come out more like a loogie than a fine spray.

* Doing so can--given a good tailwind--push you above the speed limit**.
** In school zones.
*** Or sit within fifteen feet

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Irn Bru

"He should try Irn Bru!"
"We need to get this guy some Irn Bru."
"It is only by the intervention of Irn Bru that you can be saved."

Since I began this blog, I have heard of many legendary sodas. Rumor has reached my ears of beverages for the quaffing in Japan in flavors too bizarre to mention. Some of my readers have spoken of elusive and unspeakable drinks whose names and flavors will not suffer their names to be spoken. Among these, one has been mentioned more than once; I have been told to seek out Irn Bru.

The very name festers with numinous wonderment. Is it an acronym? A fragment of an incantation in Hyperborean, to be chanted in certain disquieting stone circles on nameless hilltops? Does it imply that it is a beverage brewed in funerary ash containers? Is it the preferred beverage of Ernie, companion to the longsuffering Bert?

Oddly, among those who have recommended it, its characteristics are not entirely consistent. There are those who say it originates in Scotland; others place it elsewhere in the British Isles, while there are whispers which say it owns hypothetical and rumored Leng or Lomar as its home.This made it hard for me to find.

And yet it came to pass that I found myself (along with the Lab staff) on Massachusetts Avenue in Lawrence, Kansas. I was born and raised in Topeka, and the Lab was making a New Year's journey to my ancestral homelands. This was not a soda pilgrimage, but a Quaffmaster must be ever-vigilant; the six-foot cardboard Dalek in the storefront window suggested the possibility of Weirdness inside.

While the rest of the Lab staff was distracted by the chocolates and DVDs of "Lark Rise to Candleford", I was drawn to the refrigerated cabinets near the back, in which there was indeed British Weirdness to be found. Poking through the offerings, I selected a few likely candidates (which I will review soon), but then I spotted it: Irn Bru. Right there in front of me.

There it stands. Proud. Unafraid. Orange.

It's at times like this that I hear voices in my head. Some hear angels, or the voices of beloved relatives, guiding them to wise actions and noble needs.
I alternate between Ming the Merciless and the Wicked Witch of the West.
"SEIZE IT, YOU FOOL!" shrieked the voice in my mind. So, naturally, I did. I seized it with vigor.

The bottle of Irn Bru was carefully carried back to Topeka , lovingly packed into a suitcase nestled in warm woolen socks, armored above and below with nice thick role-playing-game rulebooks, and borne westward on Amtrak to the Lab. And now I can, with trembling anticipation and unholy glee, open it and experience the eldritch bubbliness of the far-famed, stong-greaved Irn Bru.

Where and when: Purchased at Brits (929 Massachusetts Ave., Lawrence, KS) in January 2012.
Color: Oddly orange, with an ever-so-slight pink tinge. Sort of a dark melon color.
Scent:Strong bubblegum, weak berry, very weak citrus. I need to figure out what it is which gives some of these sodas that powerful cotton-candy/bubblegum flavor.
K-i-C: "Smells like Bazooka." I'm assuming she means the bubblegum; if not, there are aspects to my dear wife which I had not suspected.
Taste:The bubblegum is there, and strong, but not utterly overwhelming. There is a fairly potent orange-ish taste under it--but not an orange soda flavor like you find in Crush or Fanta. It' if there was just a bit of peel included. Just that hint of bitter.
That bitter citrus is stronger in the aftertaste, which is intense but short-lived, fading rapidly a few seconds after it appears. It's ever so slightly reminiscent of Abbondio Chinotto, but only in the aftertaste, and not nearly so strong. This is mostly a moderately sweet, somewhat biting orange-ish soda; it's just got an interesting hint of something more. Sort of like being married to someone for fifteen years, thinking you understand them well, and then they let slip something about the smell of bazookas, and it makes you wonder...

K-i-C: *shudder, pause...* "Tastes like really pointy bubblegum...very sharply carbonated, that hurt...I feel like I should be chewing."

The tangy-bitter citrus aftertaste is still persisting, inobtrusively. It *is* very sharply carbonated.

Well, it's interesting stuff, and reasonably good...but to be perfectly honest, I'm not sure what all the fuss is about. Really, I need some sort of ritual for disposing of sodas which do not live up to their rumored stature. I think it was Ming the Merciless who said it best:
"I call upon the great god Dy-Zan, and for his greater glory...and our mutual pleasure...I destroy it utterly."
Could there be any greater ritual incantation for such an occasion? I think not.

Quaff rating: 2.5. Pleasant but uninteresting.
Cough rating: 1.0. That aftertaste is STILL there.

UPDATE: Just after writing this review, Nazgul came out from his sleeping compartment. He said he felt a bit hungry. After consuming a glass of milk, one and a half slices of vegetarian baloney,  a banana, a handful of almonds, a piece of colby jack cheese, and some tossed green salad, we had a little talk about proper nutrition during waking hours (apparently, sunlight makes him allergic to anything other than yogurt and Cheez-Its). In the course of this discussion, we discovered the hidden truth behind Irn Bru's name. To my astonishment, this truth also explains why we found it in Kansas.
This is the only soda I've had which supplies an appreciable amount (5%/8 oz.) of the RDA for iron. It contains ferric ammonium citrate.

Hence the name, a corruption of "Iron Brew", I suppose (although I don't remember Ironbeer having the same qualities). As to it being found in Kansas: if you imagine a Kansan saying "Iron Brew", you can imagine it coming out sounding more like "Aaaahhhhrrrrn Breeeuuuuwww". A literal transcription might render it "Ir'n Bru".

Nazgul: "Do I need to brush my teeth again?"

Monday, January 2, 2012

Happy holidays!

This one isn't a review (although I will have some holiday-themed beverages coming soon). I wanted to make this a warm-hearted holiday post.

This holiday season (whichever winter-solstice-adjacent holiday you may observe, if any) has been a season for family. We at the Lab have made a journey to my ancestral home in Topeka, Kansas to visit my ancestors (amongst whom I include the illustrious Rotalmomska and Rotalpopska). I have a brother as well, who does not yet have an alias in the Lab, but whom the Kibbitzer thinks should be "Rotalbroska". We'll see.

This gathering has, to date, produced several things of note:
1) Warmth and togetherness
2) A highly vocal game of Mexican Train Dominoes, which involved a variety of new and creative interpretations of the written rules
2) The realization that--according to Google--the phrase "eldritch hootenanny" has never been published on the entire World Wide Web.

Thus, let me offer the following holiday sentiment:

May you and yours have a marvelous holiday eldritch hootenanny!

(Update: Nazgul would like to add this: "ELDRITCH HOOTENANNY! IA!")
Sincerely, the Quaffmaster, Kibbitzer-in-Chief, Nazgul, and Olorin.
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