Tuesday, April 24, 2007

POP OF THE DAY: Vitamin Energy Tropical Citrus

Category: Energy Drink
Ratings (out of 5)
Taste: 4
Fizziness Factor: 3
Bottle/Can Design: 5
Availability: 3

Like so many of my generation, I was once a Vitamin Water addict. Who was I to say no to those Warhol-bright colors, that Muderer's Row of vitamins, the understated hilarity of that bottle/can copy? After a few months of switching from the yellow one to the red one (and even a brief flirtation with the pink one), I beat my jones for ViWa and moved on to fizzier pastures. But now those wily French-sounding folks at Glaceau have outflanked me.

They've added fizz.

And now we have Vitamin Energy. The yellow can made me expect that VE would taste like the yellow ViWa, which it does—but it also has the chemical tang that you might know from Red Bull and which I think of as the taste of taurine (VE has 2000 mg). It also contains Vitamins B3, B5, and B12 (you sank my battleship!), along with caffeine, Vitamin C, and ribose.

I have to say I was initially put off by the size of the 16-ounce can. Can it be that good if you need so MUCH of it? However, now that I feel it kicking in, I think the buzz it delivers it well worth that extra trip to the bathroom. My major reservation about VE is that it is not listed on the Glaceau website yet, and I have only seen it in one place—but let's assume that Glaceau is going to do right by VE and give it wide release sooner or later. In closing, here's a tidbit from the can:
not recommended for children, pregnant women or people sensitive to caffeine.

recommended for people who have children, those trying to get pregnant or people in search of natural energy.
Funny, right? Now if they'd just learn to capitalize a bit...(Total Score 15/20)

Suggested Food Pairings: Spinach and radicchio salad with roasted beets and walnuts;

Monday, April 23, 2007

SODA SHOWDOWN: Cactus Cooler vs. Squirt

Category: Orange/Grapefruit Soda, Grapefruit Soda
Ratings (out of 5)
Taste: Cactus Cooler 3, Squirt 3
Fizziness Factor: Cactus Cooler 3, Squirt 3
Bottle/Can Design: Cactus Cooler 4, Squirt 4
Availability: Cactus Cooler 1, Squirt 1

Which dark horse bottled under the authority of Dr. Pepper/7UP will win the Obscure Grapefruit Soda Derby? First up is Cactus Cooler, a Southern California regional favorite (?) whose flavor purports to be "Orange Pineapple Blast." The truth is that it tastes exactly—and I mean molecule for molecule—like a mildly carbonated, liquid version of Bayer's Orange Children's Aspirin circa the late 1970s. It's astoundingly sweet, and it's even got that chalkiness that dries out your mouth and makes you want another one, even though you know it's gonna make you feel pukey and you'll have to go lie down.

Squirt, thankfully, is not so saccharine. It even tastes somewhat like a grapefruit (as interpreted by Willy Wonka). It's murky yellowish color makes it look more "natural" than the neon orange Cactus Cooler, and it does contain about 1% bona fide grapefruit juice. Another ingredient in Squirt (and Cactus Cooler) is something called esther of wood rosin. When I see the word "rosin," I immediately think of is the fiddle competition in "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," but apparently this rosin is more about stabilizing citrus oils than outplaying Satan. As for the competition between Cactus Cooler and Squirt, it ended in a dead heat. Both of them go to 11, but not in a good way. (Total Scores: Cactus Cooler 11, Squirt 11)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

SODA SCIENCE: Cocaine is a Drug

So remember back in the day when I tried and disliked an energy drink called Cocaine? It must have been because it is actually a DRUG, according to the FDA.

The Food and Drug Administration said Redux Beverages LLC is illegally marketing the drink as both a street drug alternative and a dietary supplement, according to a warning letter dated April 4 but publicly released Wednesday. The FDA cites as evidence the drink's own labeling and Web site, which include the statements "Speed in a Can," "Liquid Cocaine" and "Cocaine -- Instant Rush," according to the letter.

In addition, dietary supplements cannot carry claims to prevent or treat a disease -- something only drugs can do, according to the letter. The Cocaine Web site lists an ingredient called inositol and says it reduces cholesterol and helps prevent hardening of the arteries, among other health claims, the FDA said.

"Your product, Cocaine, is a drug," the three-page letter reads in part. It's also a new drug and as such cannot be sold without FDA approval. In addition, the FDA said the product is mislabeled since it doesn't include "adequate directions for its intended uses."

You can read the whole story here, including the part where the company is actually trying to trademark the word "cocaine." Geez, where do they get the energy to do all this stuff at once?

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

What Would Jesus Drink?

So there's an Italian movie called Seven Kilometres from Jerusalem in which a guy picks up a hitchhiker who turns out to be Jesus. The guy offers Jesus a Coke, and JC chugs it. Now if you were to guess who was peeved by this particular scene, would you say the Pope? Jerry Falwell? Enraged Mothers United Against Soda Sipping (EMU ASS)? Wrong, wrong, wrong. The aggrieved party is Coke.

...a spokeswoman for the international soft drink giant has said the company is "not interested in this kind of product placement" and has threatened legal action if Malaponti does not cut the offending scene from his film.

"We don't think it's appropriate to use the subject of this film to create publicity for our brands," the company said in a statement.

I guess we won't be seeing Holy Coke in summer 2008.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

POP OF THE DAY: Howling Monkey Energizing Cola

Category: Flavored Cola/Energy Drink
Ratings (out of 5)
Taste: 3
Fizziness Factor: 4
Bottle/Can Design: 5
Availability: 2

Two (2) reasons I absolutely could not walk past this soda:

1) the blue and orange color scheme; and
2) my love of the word "monkey."

I've always loved "monkey," and it has always been a part of my dreams of glory. My first (as yet unsold!) screenplay was called, in the tradition of movies named after songs, "Everybody Has Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey." It's about a guy who liberates six pygmy marmosets from a zoo—but wait, I have already said too much. I have always imagined that when I get my studio deal, my company will be Stunt Monkey productions, and our logo will be a monkey in a cape doing a wheelie on a motorcycle. Of course, somebody sorta got there first.

But on to the soda. Howling Monkey tastes like a slightly flat cola. It has green tea in it, which gives it a faint metallic aftertaste (kinda like licking a battery—and I mean that in a good way). It has all the hot-button energy drink ingredients: caffeine, taurine, ginseng, guarana, D-Ribose, L-Carnitine, J. Lo, and P. Diddy. It also has quinine in it, so it's nice to know that I probably won't get malaria in the next day or so. All in all, Howling Monkey was like haggis: I'm glad I tried it once, but I don't really see the need to try it again. Also, the website was really promising but wouldn't let me past the splash page. (Total Score 14/20)

Suggested Food Pairings: Screaming bananas

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

POP OF THE DAY: Orangina

Category: Adult Contemporary Soda
Ratings (out of 5)
Taste: 5
Fizziness Factor: 5
Bottle/Can Design: 5
Availability: 3

I first tasted Orangina at the only fancy food store that existed in Pittsburgh in the late 80s—but I didn't really appreciate it until I went to Paris as an exchange student. I had never been to bars or cafes before, and I couldn't get enough. When I wasn't gettind drunk on vodka orange with some English paratroopers or watching in amazement as my friend Joe Nocito tried to scuttle down the sidewalk with a cafe table hidden beneath his overcoat, I was doing my best to look mature, even going so far as to cough my way through a Pall Mall bummed from a girl on whom I had a monumental crush, and who repaid my affection by going to the prom with my best friend.

On that trip I sampled the delights of table wine, unrequited love, the Musee D'Orsay, and Orangina: the artistry of the potbellied bottle, the precision blending of the fruit elements (12% juice! 2% pulp!), and that inimitable taste. Yes, it's orange, but it's also tangerine, with a hint of bitter grapefruit to keep it all grounded. And you can shake it. Orangina is uniquely pleasing to all the senses, and in this age of energy drinks and fortified waters, I fervently hope that it has enough admirers to stay on the shelves. But if, some day, Orangina vanishes from the Whole Foods down the street, well, we'll always have Paris. (Total Score 18/20)

Suggested Food Pairings: Croque monsieur, steak frites

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

POP OF THE DAY: G Pure Energy Orange Blossom

Category: Energy Drink
Ratings (out of 5)
Taste: 4
Fizziness Factor: 5
Bottle/Can Design: 5
Availability: 1

In case you've never heard of the silvery Norwegian beauty at left (and I hadn't) here is what Beverage Industry had to say about it:

Voss Artesian Water from Norway created G Pure Energy, a clear and lightly carbonated energy drink. G Pure Energy combines natural sources of caffeine, taurine, amino acids and green tea extract (EGCG) with a crisp taste. The drinks aim is to help drinkers stay strong into the night or boost their energy throughout the day. Lending itself to be mixed with cocktails, the sleek 200-ml. glass bottle is available at select clubs, bars, hotels and restaurants for $2.99.
So how did I end up buying mine for $3.29 at a 7-Eleven? And why did that delectably curvaceous bottle look a little roughed up? Is there some sort of Underground Energy Drink Railroad running from Norway to West Hollywood?

Perhaps we will never know. What I can tell you is this: the 6.8-ounce bottle is almost magnetically enticing, and it feels great in your hand. The drink itself is exceptionally fizzy, with a light orange flavor that falls short of perfection only because it leaves a bit of a sugary aftertaste. As for the purity of G Pure's energy, let's just say that I am typing reeeeeallly fast right now. Only the lack of wide distribution and a website with irritating background music keep this from being one of the all-time greats. (Total Score 14/20)

Suggested Food Pairings: Lutefisk, meatcakes, dumplings

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

"Sparkling Beverages" Forsooth!

An article in today's New York Times begins thus:

Healthy soda?

That may strike some as an oxymoron. But for Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, it's a marketing opportunity.

In coming months, both companies will introduce new carbonated drinks that are fortified with vitamins and minerals: Diet Coke Plus and Tava, which is PepsiCo's new offering.

They will be promoted as ''sparkling beverages.'' The companies are not calling them soft drinks because people are turning away from traditional soda, which has been hurt in part by publicity about its link to obesity.

Two points:

1) I love the idea of soda as health food. It takes soda back to its roots, when it was Everyman's Elixir, the tonic of Johnny Lunchpail; when it aided digestion and pepped up sluggish livers. Sipping one of these sodas will be the perfect occasion for me to wear my seersucker suit. But:

2) "Sparkling beverages"? That reminds me of when I was in college at the height of the PC frenzy, when certain female undergraduates were unhappy that an individual of their gender was referred to as a "woman" because the word contained the word "man." So they tried "woperson," but that contained the word "son." So what did they end up with? "Woperdaughter." Catchy, right?

Let me just say that I will never change the name of this blog to Sparkling Beverages Pop Culture Online Reportage and Opinionation Vehicle.

Friday, March 02, 2007

POP OF THE DAY: Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray

Category: Ye Olde Soda
Ratings (out of 5)
Taste: 5
Fizziness Factor: 5
Bottle/Can Design: 4
Availability: 2

According to my extensive research (as always, conducted by reading the bottle) Dr. Brown has been making a celery soda since 1869. I imagine that those were simpler times: carbonated tonics were the lastest health fad, 7UP still contained lithium, and Coca Cola, for some mysterious reason, awakened the tired blood like nobody's business! In this context, a celery soda must have made perfect sense. Or, more accurately, a soda that combines celery seed, which is mildly peppery and reminds me of cumin, with a clean sweetness that makes the soda taste like it might actually be good for you. And Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray is certainly unparalelled in my experience at inspiring good, old-fashioned, health-enhancing belches. This is a soda that everyone should try once if you can find it. Apparently it's most common around New York and at Jewish specialty stores. And while you drink, check out this page of fascinating celery trivia, which includes the fact that sound effects artists crunch celery stalks to simulate the breaking of bones. (Total Score 16/20)

Suggested Food Pairings: Steamed broccoli, brown rice, and a square ol' timey fudge; a corned beef sandwich on rye

Monday, February 26, 2007

The Ferrell/Black/Reilly Musical Extravaganza!

As hipsters all over the world join in the annual chorus of "The Oscars Sucked, Dude, and Please Pass My Moustache Comb," I would like to offer a dissenting opinion. The Oscars were long, sure, but that lull at about the 1:45 mark gave me time to drive from a party in the Valley to another in Hollywood without missing anything more gripping than the tableaux vivants representing the Best Costume awards. But all the waiting and driving and sitting through the AMERICA!!! Montage was worth it for the chance to see this.

Unfortunately a bug in the new Blogger doesn't let me embed this video directly, but (even if you've seen it before) do yourself a favor and check out Will Ferrell, Jack Black, and John C. Reilly as they harmonize and—like every other male in attendance last night—put the moves on Helen Mirren.

Saturday, February 24, 2007


Category: Energy Drink
Ratings (out of 5)
Taste: 5
Fizziness Factor: 5
Bottle/Can Design: 5
Availability: 3

I first tasted Bawls back in the late 90s. I had just discovered the guarana-powered soda Antarctica and was yearning to recapture the first blissful buzz that I had gotten from the Brazilian alternative to caffeine. Bawls tastes like an effervescent liquid creamsicle, although slightly less sweet. It comes in a nubby, cobalt blue glass bottle that holds a reasonable 10 ounces. And then there's the name, which opens the floodgates to an endless stream of homonym jokes. But Bawls is so uniquely tasty and invigorating that when Anita, my sassy Australian paramour, tells me to "go to the shop and buy yourself some Bawls," I'm more than happy to do it. (Total Score 18/20)

Suggested Food Pairings: Feijoada, fried plantains

Friday, February 16, 2007

POP OF THE DAY: Enviga Peach

Category: Energy Drink
Ratings (out of 5)
Taste: 2
Fizziness Factor: 5
Bottle/Can Design: 4
Availability: 4

Enviga is here! I've been waiting months for this sparkling green tea beverage (a joint venture between Nestle and Coca Cola) that allegedly has NEGATIVE CALORIES! How does it work, you ask? As far as I can tell based on my extensive reasearch (which consists of reading the can), it's the holy alliance of caffeine and Epigallocatechin gallate, everybody's favorite antioxidant found in green tea. As you can read here, every can is supposed to increase your calorie consumption from 20 to 33 1/3 calories, provided you're in the coveted 18–35 demographic. Think that sounds spurious enough that you should maybe sue the manufacturers for trying to dupe gullible behemoths into adopting a soda-based diet plan? You're not the only one.

But what does it taste like? Befitting its hybrid status, my Enviga tasted like the kind of drink a six-year-old might make by mixing together leftovers from the fridge, if the fridge in question contained Coke, green tea, a slice of peach, and a handful of freakin' aspartame. In short, a taste to be tolerated, not celebrated. (Total Score 15/20)

Suggested Food Pairings: For a negative-calorie snack, try Enviga with 1 package active, dry baker's yeast (20 calories); 1 pat margarine (20 calories); 1 cup mung beans sprouts (30 calories); or 1 cup cooked common cabbage (30 calories).

UPDATE: I tried the Green Tea flavor and it was a tad tastier, but for me the "negative calorie effect" consisted of a stomach ache that made me avoid food for a few hours.

Hey, maybe they're onto something.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

What's Cooler Than Being Cool?

So I went to Sundance for the first weekend of the festival and saw all sorts of movies and famous people. 'Cause that's what you do at Sundance. That and wait in line. A lot. That's what we were doing when I took this picture of my friends Sean and Wendy looking appropriately cool and detached even though we were all celebrating the fact that we had graduated from the outdoor wait list line to the indoor wait list line. I think we were in hour 4 of waiting to see the Mike White film YEAR OF THE DOG, which turned out to be kinda meh.

Other movies that I saw were AN AMERICAN CRIME (super spooky, stars Catherine Keener), ROCKET SCIENCE (hilarious story of a stutterer who joins the high school debate team), GRACE IS GONE (fat John Cusack made everyone but me cry as a father trying to avoid telling his daughters that their mom had died in Iraq), GREAT WORLD OF SOUND (a Glengarry Boiler Room-type deal about the music business), and WAITRESS (where else can you see Keri Russell dance with Andy Griffith?).

A partial list of the famous people I was thisclose to:
Steve Buscemi
Julien Temple
John Cusack
Steve Jones (former Sex Pistol)
Harvey Weinstein
Heather Graham
John C. Reilly
Mia Farrow
Kevin Bacon
Molly Shannon
Keri Russell

I list these people not for name-dropping purposes, but in hopes that some naive fan googling one of them will end up here and develop a taste for Piehler.

Peter O'Toole Came to Me in a Dream

Last night, I dreamt that I was Peter O'Toole's assistant. He needed me, but I was asleep on the sofa. So he threw a cricket ball at my naked feet to wake me up.

Then I woke up, and couldn't get back to sleep for 2 hours. And now, nothing will ever be the same again.

Monday, February 05, 2007

POP OF THE DAY: Coolah Energy

Category: Energy Drink
Ratings (out of 5)
Taste: 5
Fizziness Factor: 4
Bottle/Can Design: 4
Availability: 4

I first tasted Coolah while waiting for a friend to pick me up at the Salt Lake City airport, and its energy boost got me through that dicey first day at the Sundance Film Festival (more on that later). Coolah is the first energy drink I've tried that's based on another soda—in this case an Australian lemon soda called Solo. Coolah is also the only energy drink I know that contains boronia, an Australian flower that apparently gives the drink its unique citrus tang. It all adds up to an energy drink that tastes less like a stew of chemicals and more like bubbly lemonade. It's marketed by Dr. Pepper/7 Up, so it should be pretty widely available, but even if you have to venture into the Outback to find it, it will be worth your while, mate. Coolah also get bonus points for its upside-down website. (Total Score 17/20)

Suggested Food Pairings: Toast with butter and Vegemite

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The $100,000 Pepsi

Well, even though the mighty Picksburgh Stillers failed to make the playoffs this year, I guess I still have to watch the Super Bowl. Why? The Super Can, of course.

Viewers watching the Super Bowl XLI in early February will get the chance to win the Super Bowl Edition Pepsi can, made of sterling silver and inlaid with diamonds, rubies and sapphires, and estimated to be worth US$100,000. The winner also gets two Super Bowl tickets for life.

“The audience will not only watch the great entertainment during the halftime show, many will also watch to see if they’ve won these two incredible prizes,” enthuses Cie Nicholson, VP and CMO of Pepsi-Cola North America.

I like the phrase "the Super Bowl XLI" because it makes the whole thing seem like a sequel that never, ever should have been made and features Steve Guttenberg as an unkillable, knife-wielding maniac who wreaks havoc at halftime.

I entered here. Will you? By the by, they make you set up a Yahoo! address if you don't already have one, but a few moments of your time are a small price to pay for a chance to own a can bedazzled with 300 diamonds, 100 sapphires, and 100 rubies. And in answer to your next question, no, there's no soda in it.

Thursday, January 04, 2007


Category: Citrus Soda
Ratings (out of 5)
Taste: 7UP 3, Sprite 4
Fizziness Factor: 7UP 4, Sprite 4
Bottle/Can Design: 7UP 3, Sprite 3
Availability: 7UP 5, Sprite 5

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the beverage battle royale between The Uncola and Lymon! Since 7 comes before S in my alphabet, first up is 7UP, which, if you have a moment, has a pretty quirky history. Highlights include the fact that it was originally called "Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda" and that its first formula contained the mood-stabilizer lithium citrate. Sadly, the lithium is gone, but 7UP has recently been reformulated so that it can carry the "100% natural" label—though it still contains the dreaded high-fructose corn syrup. I have to admit that, until today, I hadn't had a 7UP in a long time, and I found the first sniff of it alluring in a Lemon Pledge sort of way. The taste, however, was a bit of letdown. It's fizzy and citric acid-y, but even though the new bottle design features both a lemon and lime wedge, the contents of the bottle don't taste like either one. Given a choice between 7UP and plain seltzer, I would take the 7UP by a nose.

Sprite has less fragrance but more flavor than 7UP, thanks mostly to a limey (the fruit, not the Brit) aftertaste. Although the two citrus contenders are nearly identical in every other nutritional category, Sprite has a lot more sodium—110 mg per bottle versus 65 for 7UP. Sprite's history is not as compelling as 7UP's, although it did come from Germany and give birth of the word "lymon," which as an English major I find perplexing because it's supposed to be a combination of "lemon" and "lime," neither of which contains a "y." Oh well, maybe Fergie used to work in their ad department. Both sodas are light, caffeine-free, and refeshing, but your winner by a TKO is Sprite, for now the World Champion of Mass Market Citrus Sodas. Please proceed to the exits in an orderly fashion, and join us next week for the Root Beer Rumble. (Total Score 7UP 15, Sprite 16)

Monday, January 01, 2007

POP OF THE DAY: Fizzy Lizzy Concord Grape

Category: Adult Contemporary Soda
Ratings (out of 5)
Taste: 5
Fizziness Factor: 4
Bottle/Can Design: 4
Availability: 2

Happy New Year! I had such a swell time toasting the end of 2006 with a bit of the old fizzy grape that I thought I'd keep the ball rolling for my first post of 2007. If you're looking for a soda to help you keep to your New Year's resolution of eating heathily, check out the Fizzy Lizzy line, which boasts an average of 65% actual fruit juice. Fizzy Lizzy Concord Grape only has 51% juice, but it tastes a whole heck of a lot like a concord grape. And that's a damn fine taste, if you ask me, with a good burst of sweetness tamed by a touch of tang. Added bonus: apparently, concord grape juice can help lower your cholesterol. (Total Score 15/20)

Suggested Food Pairings: Stone ground wheat crackers and brie