A look at three limited-time-only, artisanal soda offerings from Big Cola's No. 2 player ... plus the triumphant return of one of the greatest soft drinks EVER.
By: Jimbo X
Big soda is in big trouble. Per Fortune, cola sales are at their lowest levels in 30 years, with 2015 marking the eleventh consecutive year that pop purchases have been on the downturn. As to why the sugary, fizzy, carbonated soft drink business is in such turmoil, take your pick: the rise of energy drinks, an uptick in tea and coffee sales, concerns about the long-term health impact of cola consumption and yes, even fears of onerous taxation are all viable suspects. But probably the biggest factor, however, are the changing tastes - literally - of Millennial and Gen Z consumers.
By and large, the Gen Y masses ain't fans of Coca-Cola or Pepsi. Instead of chugging liters of Mountain Dew and Mr. Pibb, they much prefer to get their caffeinated kicks through overpriced, fair trade mocha latte cappuccinos and even MORE overpriced, fair trade herbal teas. And if they are really hardcore, they eschew the soda altogether for more potent, taurine-imbued options, and some of them even opt to consume caffeine in its natural - and extremely dangerous - powdery form.
Among the pro-Bernie, student-loan-saddled hipster set, soda is just unbearably uncool. To them, it's such a juvenile, Middle-America thing to do; I mean, what's more emblematic of "old-school" U.S. culture - and all that contemptible big business and mass media marketing propping it up - than Coke in a glass bottle?
Instead, they've turned towards alcohol consumption - a LOT of alcoholic consumption - and other, considerably more hazardous stimulants they've convinced themselves are safer than corn syrup. Soda is a baby boomer relic, they believe, a sign of American imperialism and shameless Madison Avenue pandering. It's what non-globalization-loving racists in Kansas drink, a toxic elixir for that hideous unclassed blue-and-no-collar socioeconomic sub-demographic they loathe more than Al Qaeda.
So how does America's No.2 cola manufacturer respond to these demographical consumer shifts? Simple: they have tried to "hipster-ize" their flagship products.
Over the last few months, PepsiCo has trotted out several variations of their two biggest-selling products, which are explicitly targeted towards the snobbier cola enthusiasts out there. Touting all-natural ingredients ("real sugar" being the common advertising rallying cry) the trifecta of so-called "craft-colas" attempt to bring a little more upscale "class" to the tried and true Pepsi brand - which, the marketers clearly assumed, would also reel in all of those vapin', gluten-avoidin', anti-capitalist-but-ironically-debt-laden 18-34 year-old assholes who think they're too "with it" to be seen sipping a Mello Yello in public.
So what have they given us to work with? Well, I'm glad you asked, fella, 'cause I recently took it upon myself to taste test all three of the newfangled beverages brought to us by the bastard sons of the Pepsi Generation. My thoughts - which, despite being mere opinions, might as well be taken as the carbonated gospel - are below...
Mountain Dew Black Label!
First off, let me start by saying "FUCK whoever signed off on the decision to label products as "Mtn Dew" instead of the longer, official moniker." I mean, shit, was "mountain" really that long of a word you had to take out all its vowels to market it? Seems to me that's just another symptom of the general "dumbing" down of the American populace, but asides, asides, asides. With can artwork that clearly harks to a certain "monstrous" energy drink (hint: it's "Monster") one would just assume that the product would taste all taurine as fuck. However, the product actually packs a pretty big surprise once you start gulping it down...
Notice how the product is described as "crafted dark berry" flavored? Although that would lead one to assume the drink tastes something like the almost identically named Dark Knight Rises tie-in beverage "Mountain Dew Dark Berry" from 2012, this "Black Label" variation doesn't have a sugary, artificial grape kick to it whatsoever. In fact, the beverage has a very thick texture and an almost bitter taste. So, in short, it's basically a Mountain Dew variation that tastes like the kind of wine you would buy half price at ALDI or something.
Now, as a proud 30-something non-drinker/recovering teenage alcoholic, it's probably not too surprising that I wasn't that big a fan of the acidic vino flavor. Yes, it's fairly robust and if you dig wine coolers, you'll probably enjoy it, but for me? It was just too non-cola-ish for my liking. It didn't have that satisfying fizz or that classical Mountain Dew aftertaste that makes your breath feel like a lawnmower just backfired in the back of your throat. Outside of being a non-alcoholic alternative for those with a fondness for the Jesus Juice who don't want to get sloshed (seriously kids, this stuff is pretty much what real wine tastes like, minus the extra three or four teaspoons of artificial sweetener), I'm not really sure who this cola is supposed to appeal to. It doesn't have enough kick to satisfy the energy drink crowd, it's too bitter for the regular soda crowd and if you enjoy fruity alcoholic beverages, you'll just drink a real damn fruity alcoholic beverage instead. This is less-than-well-though-out soda that'll just have to carry on without a country, I reckon.
Pepsi 1893 Original Cola!
As in, 1893, the year the first Pepsi Cola was purportedly produced, in case you were wondering. As the ritzy, black and gold lettering would insinuate, this thing is supposed to represent genuine class. This is old-school, all-natural soda, through and through, with all-natural sugars and all those other non-man-made ingredients (save, of course, those precious, precious preservatives) that make your tongue tingly as a motherfucker (well, that, or you are experiencing a stroke.) Alas, does this "just like your great, great-grandaddy made it when he wasn't marginalizing minorities" hook lead to, you know, a product worth giving half a hoot about?
Similar to the aforementioned Black Label Dew, this product, interestingly, also has a very alcoholic kick to it. When I was a no-good punk high schooler, me and my chums used to mix gin with regular Pepsi, and this permutation - as the Almighty as my witness - tastes nearly identical to that 11th grade concoction. It even does an uncanny job replicating that idiosyncratic burning sensation - a marvel of modern cola engineering, indeed.
Alas, does tasting like something ne'er do well crackers circa 2003 chugged after school in between bouts of Soul Calibur II naturally translate to a refreshing novelty beverage? Well, not really. Sure enough, the product tastes enough like Pepsi that it's familiar, but the thing is just way too caustic to be enjoyable. The fizzy mouthfeel is pretty cool at first, but after awhile the chemical brushfire on your tonsils becomes a bit too much to weather. Granted, it does have a much crisper, almost ginger-ale flavor than your standard Pepsi, but frankly, I'd rather stick to the viscous, corn-syrup doused sludge that I'm used to. A nice try, but it's not going to win anybody - anywhere - over to Team Artisanal Pepsi Bullshit.
Pepsi 1893 Ginger Cola!
Well look at that sumbitch: if it ain't a Pepsi cosplaying as a can of Miller Genuine Draft! Alike the "Golden Bullet" of beers, I can't say I've ever been too big a fan of the whole "ginger cola" deal, though. Keep in mind, that's not the same thing as ginger ale, which is an altogether different type of carbonated good. What we're looking at here is really more of a ginger beer, which is fundamentally the same thing as root beer except it tastes a whole lot more like ... well, I guess you can figure this one out without any help, can't you?
As the urine-colored cup would suggest, this here "1893 Ginger Cola" ain't exactly an enjoyable sip. Indeed, if you asked me, it go as far as to say that it's one of the worst sodas I've ever tasted, and this is coming from a motherfucker who drank all of those Halloween-flavored Jones Sodas from a few years back. Where does this product go wrong, you might be pondering? Oh, let me count the ways.
First and foremost, ginger, all by itself, tastes like utter and complete shit. You, I know it makes your mouth warm and it's all tingly, but you could get the same sensation from licking a 9-volt battery - and surely, such a sensation would taste better than wrapping your lips and bicuspids around something that looks like this out in the wild. Still, that's not the cardinal sin of this newfangled (perhaps "ill-fangled" is a more fitting term) cola. The problem is that it doesn't even taste like authentic ginger, it just tastes like ginger salad dressing pulped into liquefied form. It's way too thick, way too sludgy and way too overpowering. Unless you're the kind of person who enjoys tossing back things that smell like the autumn selections at Yankee Candle, I don't see anybody with functioning taste buds getting down to this mess.
So yeah, all in all, I'd have to say it's a pretty disappointing trio of products, especially considering this is the same company that gave us Paradise Mango Pepsi Next and Mountain Dew that was designed to look like bootleg hillbilly liquor. I hate to be a negative Nellie, but honestly, I expected way more from PepsiCo. I mean, really, what self-respecting soda enthusiast out there wants a more refined craft taste anyway? The whole point of liking mass manufactured soda is to revel in its syrupy uniformness, knowing exactly what to expect every time you twist upon a bottle or snap open an aluminum can. These hipster sodas, I am afraid, are just too bourgeoisie, too urbane, too ... well, too not what we're accustomed to. Indeed, after a brutal three and out like this one, Pepsi is going to have to do a lot to win back this jaded cola consumer ...
...BUT WAIT A MINUTE, HERE COMES A NEW (OLD) CHALLENGER!!!
Holy goddamn mother fucking shit tits, it's MOUNTAIN DEW PITCH BLACK - quite possibly the single greatest limited-time-only Mountain Dew variation of ALL-TIME. Yes, after a good five years away from store shelves, the exquisite sorta-grape-flavored Dew is once again on sale as part of the DEWcision 2016 advertising campaign. Oddly enough, it's running against Mountain Dew Baja Blast, which was the much ballyhooed, L-T-O flavor from 2014, if I am not mistaken. Alas, you can get you a dose of Baja Blast every time you go to Taco Bell - we've had to wait HALF A DAMN DECADE in my neck of the woods to try out Pitch Black again. As far as I'm concerned, making a selection in this year's competition is about as easy as determining if you want $5 back or $5,000 in taxes (or, if you are a Bernie Sanders supporter, determining if you want $5 in federally-subsidized student loans or $5,000 at the beginning of the semester.)
Just look at that beauty, why don't you? I just adore everything about the can, from the purple and black galactic whirlpool backdrop that brings to mind many a Twilight Zone episode to the very, very Elm Street like font used for the "Pitch Black" branding - which, on second thought, bears an almost uncanny resemblance to the font used for Prince's Purple Rain, too. Hey - at least the majestic purple one theoretically had an opportunity to try this stuff before he kicked the bucket, which to me at least, nullifies at least some of the tragedy.
As a general rule of thumb, I try not to sound too hyped on commercial goods. But folks, if your taste buds still work and for some stupid ass reason you haven't tried this heliotrope-hued wonder, you need to step away from the Internet, find your nearest grocer and buy up as many Pitch Black cases as you can. There's just some X-factor here that I can't explain - it's just pure, artificial flavor excellence, and quite possibly the finest of any mass-produced, mass-marketed and mass-adipose-tissue-forming cola in the North American market today.
So as much as Pepsi fucked up with their crappy "craft colas" that probably cost them a good $100 million in squandered revenue and probably resulted in a whole bunch of factory workers being laid off, you can't condemn the company one iota because they brought back this superb soda. Now, I've never been one to endorse any political candidate, but folks, you HAVE to get on the Webs and make sure Pitch Black is named the winner of the DEWcision 2016 contest. I mean, how bullshit is it that Mountain Dew White Out and Mountain Dew Voltage remain omnipresent consumer goods, but we have to beg and plead and blowjob to get our Pitch Black back? Simply put, Pitch Black needs to be a full-fledged product on sell year-round (or, at the very least, an annual limited-time-only offering released to coincide with the Halloween season.) So what are you waiting for, lug nuts? Head on over to the official Mountain Dew website and make your support for Pitch Black known. It's far and away the most important election ANY of us will decide this year, for sure...