Saturday, June 24, 2006

Fentiman's Mandarin and Seville Orange Jigger
275 ml
glass bottle
Fentimans Ltd, Newcastle-upon-Tyne
cold, no ice

I must admit, I bought this for the bottle--it's got a very pleasing Edwardian typography to it. Plus, it's called a "Jigger." Very Jeeves and Wooster.

The smell, upon uncapping, is exactly that of off-brand orange juice, the from-concentrate cheap-o kind you buy when you're in your first apartment and have vague notions of taking care of yourself, but want to save money whenever possible.

The taste is quite similiar to Orangina, but as Kate said, "Orangina from some other country, like black-market Cantonese knock-off Orangina that isn't quite right." Fentiman's is murky (all-natural), and the ginger kick is weird and unexpected. But unlike a lot of orange-based sodas, at least it has some relationship to the round things that grow on trees. The ingredients include something called "speedwell" and juniper extract. I noted, after drinking it, that the label says, "Not more than 0.5% alcohol by volume." Anything to hook in the preteens, I guess. "Dude, I am SOOOO drunk." "You are not." "No, really--I'm wasted! I just drank 34 Fentiman's!" "Shut up!" "You shut up!"

"This just in:" Kate emails me, "an aftertaste strongly reminiscent of citrus-flavored vitamin C pills. After a small glass, my tongue feels weirdly desensitized. After a whole bottle, I think my tongue would be completely numb to any kind of sweet/tart flavor. Not ideal." Having consumed a whole bottle, I can attest to this: my tongue is lolling in my mouth like a dead cod. (Then again, maybe I'm drunk.)

Final verdict: Kate says, "I can imagine drinking it again, but I can't imagine wanting to."

KP: 5 of 10
MG: 4.5 of 10

Friday, June 23, 2006

Red Ribbon Root Beer
12 fl. oz.
glass bottle
Natrona Bottling Company, Natrona, PA
cold, no ice

A globe-trotting friend of mine said last week apropos of root beer, "Isn't it funny that Europeans consider it to be like medicine?" At the time, I didn't quite follow him--Sprechers, Virgils and Thomas Kemper Root Beer are no strangers to our 'fridge, and none of those worthy concoctions ever struck me as mediciney.

Red Ribbon, however, is exactly that kind of prescription-strength root beer: dark, nearly black, with no head to speak of, and carbonation that attacks the soft tissues of your mouth like angry piranhas. The flavor is licorice and nothing but, which intensifies the more you consume, until licorice occupies your entire consciousness (which is just as pleasant as it sounds). Kate detected a very sweet aftertaste--I detected the beginnings of a stomach ache.

There are some sodas that you have to grow up drinking to enjoy, and I think Red Ribbon Root Beer is one of them. Does anybody know anyone from Natrona, PA? Are they a little...weird? Tetched in th' haid? Do they stink of licorice? Is Red Ribbon a foot-soak and they're not telling us?

Final verdict: Red Ribbon had better be curing something, because as a soda it tastes like ass.

KP: 4 of 10
MG: 4 of 10

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Pangleheimer's Gourmet Blush
12 fl. oz.
glass bottle
Pangleheimers, Charlotte, NC

pretty cold, no ice

Kate's not here tonight, shirking her soda-tasting duties for a night of debauchery with the Ladies of USC Film School. So the burden falls upon my tongue alone. I will not let you down--THIS I SWEAR!

Gotta be honest: I've totally forgotten what kind of soda this is, and the blush color gives me little clue. Raspberry? Cherry? Or maybe they've gone wacky and made it birch beer? Let's open it and find out...

Okay, the cap twists off with a pneumatic puff you'd expect from a carnival ride or other piece of heavy machinery. The smell that comes out is exactly like the "red" color of those long, plastic tubes of frozen sugar-water I'd always beg Mom to get me in the grocery store. Then she got me one, and it burned my mouth it tasted so awful. Not exactly sweet, just sort and cough-inducing.

This soda is much better than that. Maybe I was bracing for a punch in the tongue, but I have to say I was surprised at how little flavor there was. It's vaguely berry--sometimes so vaguely that I tasted a lot more carbonation. When I took a really, really big gulp I think I tasted a tiny bit of cinnamon, but don't hold me to that. Pangleheimer's Gourmet Blush is not bad--but it's not really anything. If I poured this on the ground, I doubt any ants would bother.

The berry flavor does intensify as you continue drinking, and I would have no problem finishing the bottle. This is a soda for an adult palate, with the lack of intensity you usually find in the natural sodas at Whole Foods. It's the NPR of sodas, and if you gave it to a kid, he'd probably spit most of it at his friend. There's a reason why Orange Nehi is still in business.

Final verdict: Berry-ey. Inoffensive. Carbonated like they were trying to get rid of the gas.

KP: AWOL, possibly drunk
MG: 5.5 of 10

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Apple Beer
12 fl. oz.
glass bottle
Apple Beer Corp, Salt Lake City, Utah

pretty cold, no ice

To indulge in a stereotype for just a moment, it doesn't surprise me a bit that famously teetotaling Salt Lake City would come up with some great sodas. Apple Beer ("Non-Alcoholic") boasts that it is made from a Bavarian brewing process; Bavarian-Schmavarian, all we know is, it's yummy. It tastes a little like everyone's favorite 12-Step friendly champagne-substitute Martinelli's carbonated apple juice. Apple Beer's quite fizzy, and the flavor is very clear: apples, with a hint of vanilla smacking you in the ass on its way out.

Kate called it "an artisanal fruit cooler...something like you'd get at Charlie Trotter's" (a frou-frou restaurant in Chicago where the chef likes to make his own drinks and ice cream). Apple Beer is made with 100% pure cane sugar, which is reputed to give a special mojo to sodas that use it instead of high-fructose corn syrup. Time and tasting will tell.

Apple Beer has a charming little website here. Their slogan sounds kinda dirty ("The soft drink with a head"), which may explain why it's celebrating its 100th birthday. I'll let Kate have the final word: "Next time we go to Galco, I'm getting some more!"

KP: 6/7 of 10
MG: 7 of 10

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Nehi Orange
12 fl. oz.
glass bottle
Royal Crown Bottling

slightly cooler than room temperature

We decided to ease into our Summer, starting out with a bonafide classic. Upon opening, this sneakily carbonated soda (more about that later) gives off a powerful whiff of candy. Kate said, "It's so orange, it could be melted jello." Then she drank it and was even more convinced. "I'm troubled by how intensely orange it is." Kate's right--this orange does not exist in Nature.

I found it sort of "bitey" on my tongue, probably from the carbonation, which doesn't seem too heavy, but leaves a gassy, slightly bitter taste. "The flavor is gone almost immediately," Kate observed, but then later noted an aftertaste that "seems like it'll leave a coat of crud on my teeth." For some reason, it tasted much better out of the bottle than from a glass; that's probably just psychological. I can't imagine Orange Nehi tasting very good under any circumstances.

The final verdict: "I'll never drink it again," Kate said with great conviction. I probably could, but only under some really specific circumstances, like on a really hot day, when the soda's really cold, or with a hot dog at the ball game. But with that much sugar in my system, I'd probably toss the empty bottle at an ump...and Orange Nehi certainly isn't worth going to jail for.

KP: 3 of 10
MG: 4 of 10