Operation: Soda Pop

On or around 12.30.2005, Agents Bladerunner, Renegade, and I infiltrated Galco’s Soda Pop Stop in Los Angeles. Posing as regular customers, we obtained many different varieties of sodas, and even held discussions with the owner, without ever being suspected as agents of The Crack Team. We were on full alert, and brought along two civilians to enhance our cover.
     This storefront contains possibly the largest selection of carbonated beverages, including sodas, energy drinks, beers, and everything in between. It is owned and operated by soda savant John Nese, who whenever possible stocks beverages that are flavored with real cane sugar and are bottled, not canned. There is a dizzying array of beverages, including many that have had large gaps in production, and have only recently been revived. They also have a selection of classic candies, such as Beemans Chewing Gum, the official gum of the astronauts of The Right Stuff. The store has been featured in many articles and on the History Channel’s Modern Marvels (When Renegade pointed out to Nese that most of his products were not modern, Nese countered with, “Well, they are a marvel.” The Crack Team agrees.)
     Overall, the mission was a great success. This was expected, since “Soda Pop” has three syllables. Sufficient time has passed for me to analyze the results of this Crack Team reconnaissance mission. I had assistance from Agents Hulagun and Assassin for a few of these.

This is an energy drink flavored by a highly caffeinated berry known as guarana (Go ahead, make a guano joke. It will only be the millionth time I’ve heard it.) Some people find guarana doesn’t make them jittery (or bother their stomachs) like caffeine, but still keeps them awake. I admit, it was a much gentler stimulant, but I usually go for an energy drink when I want to WAKE UP NOW. I first heard about it on ThinkGeek.com, they’re big on energy drinks. Frankly, I thought it had a strange medicinal taste, and the guarana fruit flavor is hard to describe. Tolerable, sure, but I wouldn’t drink it again. The diet version tastes very similar, but again, not very good. I do dig the cobalt blue bottle, though.

Belfast Original Sparkling Cider
Created in San Francisco in 1849, the label claims it is California’s first soft drink. Tastes just like a carbonated version of the apple juice I drank as a kid. I noticed it is artificially flavored and contains no juice, so I was surprised how they got it to taste just like that apple juice. Then I realized I probably grew up on artificially flavored apple juice. If you really liked that stuff, you’ll like this, too, but I prefer Martinelli’s Sparkling Cider. That’s made with 100% real juice, and you can taste the difference.

Bubble Up
An old time lemon lime soda originally introduced in 1920, it’s glass bottled and sweetened with cane sugar. To me, most notable was the light, tiny bubble carbonation style. Good overall, with a cool retro bottle, but not a big standout.

Clearly Canadian Blackberry
A special soda for me. For a couple years in college, I had one just about every day with my lunch. Back then they had really interesting (and surprisingly delicious) flavors like Loganberry, which I just found out is a rasberry/blackberry hybrid. In 2004 they changed their formula from sugar flavored to a 50/50 cane sugar/Splenda mix. I tried the blackberry, and it’s still pretty good, but not as good as the original. Big surprise. They also cut down on the number of flavors. I just wish I knew about the switch beforehand so I could have stocked up on the original.

Coca Cola
A standard, but note that Galco’s only stocks Coke and Pepsi from Mexico, flavored with real sugar in glass bottles. Tastes a little different, but good. In SoCal you can also get them in most Mexican supermarkets like Ranchito. It is important to note that like in America, the label says it might contain corn syrup, but it does not (like ours never contains sugar because corn syrup is always cheaper).

Jeff’s Amazing New York Egg Cream
An egg cream is chocolate milk and seltzer, usually heavy on the chocolate syrup. Get them at a good Jewish deli and they’re damn good, despite the off-putting name. Finding the bottled version was pretty rare when I was in HS, so they were something of a treat. I can recall the label warning you not to shake them, but the chocolate syrup had settled to the bottom, so you had no choice. The syrup still settles, but now I realize you can gently tilt it back and forth, or move it in a swirling motion, to mix it without having it spray everywhere when you open it. Unfortunately, they don’t taste as good as I remember them. More of that artificial flavor creeping in. I tried chocolate and coffee, and Bladerunner tried chocolate and vanilla. Just didn’t do it for us. Stick with the delis, you can’t go wrong.

Manhattan Special Espresso Coffee
I was pretty skeptical of this one, even though a journalist doing a story on Galco’s said it was his favorite. Overall, it’s mixed. It does taste good, just a sweet, carbonated coffee taste. For the record, I don’t drink straight espresso or brewed coffees, they’re too strong for me. I stick with the lattes, mochas, etc., but down them daily. The problem is that over the course of the bottle, the flavor kinda got to be too much for me. Maybe I just drank it too slowly. Nese claimed that Manhattan Special is a very hands on bottler; they even roast their own beans. It just came off as too much of a good thing. Ooh. I bet this would make a great vanilla latte ice cream float.

Manhattan Special Vanilla Cream
A winner in my book, and I’m starting to wonder how a company like this can stay in business for over 100 years without anyone knowing about them (yes, I’m anyone). I am not really a fan of cream sodas, but this tastes just like vanilla ice cream. Again, all natural ingredients, flavored with pure cane sugar and real vanilla beans that you can see in the soda (but just a tiny bit). Assassin, who is a big cream soda fan, didn’t like this one too much. Go figure.

Moxie Original Elixir
Another one of those old time sodas (“Since 1884”) that Renegade could remember seeing in billboard ads drawn in Mad Magazine cityscape cartoons. I also read that it’s very big in New England. Unfortunately, it took a very short time to discover why this is an elixir and not a soda. It has a strong medicinal aftertaste, which comes from “gentian root extractives”. Nese explained that gentian root is the secret ingredient in Coke, but obviously Coke uses way less. Hulagun and I gave it a big thumbs down, but Assassin said it tasted like root beer. It is important to note that Assassin had just finished 3 regular (non-root) beers, and that might have affected his taste buds.

Original Nehi Grape
After seeing Radar O’Reilly constantly order them on M*A*S*H, I was excited to try it. However, the words “Artificially Flavored Soda” are prominent on the label, and you can really taste it. Kind of reminded me of those tiny wax bottles of syrup you’d bite the top off of and drink, and it almost had a waxy taste to it. I wonder if it was artificial when it was created in 1924.

Plantation Style Mint Julep
This has a great, real mint flavor that reminds me of the strong scent that would burst from the ground when I’d hit a mint patch with the lawnmower. Smooth and not overpowering; in other words, it doesn’t taste like carbonated Scope. One of my grandmother’s favorite desserts is vanilla ice cream with a little Creme de Menthe poured over it. I’m thinking this would be great for a vanilla/mint ice cream soda, kinda like a Shamrock Shake (which is just McDonald’s artificial vanilla milkshake with mint syrup). So, on second thought, maybe a lot better than a Shamrock Shake. The web site has a recipe listing.

Red Rock Premium Cola
This was one of the best of the bunch. Nese tells us it was Babe Ruth’s favorite cola, and that unlike Coke, the formula is pretty much unchanged from it’s introduction in 1885 (also in Atlanta). It had a very subtle vanilla flavor to it, but don’t think vanilla coke. Just a smoother flavor, and yet another flavored with pure cane sugar. I would easily take this over Coke.

That’s all for now, I’ll report again after our next mission.

4 thoughts on “Operation: Soda Pop”

    If anyone’s got some frequent flier miles to burn off, could you donate them to me? I really need to get to this place with you guys.
    The Mexican Coke is something I’m embarassed not to have known about. Although ANYTHING that comes in glass bottles always tastes better than plastic. Cans being the bottom of the taste scale.

    Oh but the things I could learn from this place…
    Keep up the good work.

  2. You’re in luck – they deliver! You just need a $15 minimum order. The link to Coke is here: http://www.sodapopstop.com/products/detail.cfm?link=36

    I’ve suggested our next mission be a root beer taste test. Compare the standards like Stewarts and A&W against some of the “microbrews” like Doc Brown, Henry Weinhard, and Dad’s. Nese told me he’s trying to get them to brew Hires again (which I didn’t realize they stopped), that’d be pretty cool. I can still remember the Hires jingle, and referring to it “Hi Res”. What a geek.

  3. A coworker was at a Mexican restaurant recently. They offered the Mexican glass bottled coke. He saved one for me.
    Here’s my take;
    First off, they measure in MLs. A 355ml glass bottle is just retarded. Who says “Honey, can you grab me a 355ml bottle while you’re in there?” Give me a break.
    Second, the bottle is slimmer than ours, but higher. This gives the illusion that there is a good amount of liquid in there, but with every swig, the level drops dramatically. Also you need a bottle opener because the top will not twist off like most glass colas do here.
    Third, there is no ingredients on the bottle. Gotta love those third-world-country public safety guidelines…
    Fourth, everyone who is serious about there cola, knows that glass bottles are generally the best tasting of the container choices (sometimes a “tap” supplied drink can taste better if the people stocking the bar know what they are doing, but this is almost never the case) however there was a big letdown in taste from this bottle – and an after-taste lingering in the top/back of my throat that made me want to breathe out of my nose.
    Final score Mexican Coke in glass bottle: C-

  4. On the bottles you buy in stores here, they all have a nutritional info sticker that also marks it as a product of Mexico. I hadn’t fully realized it before, but you’re right – that’s a hefty bottle! On my nutrition sticker, it notes that 355mL is 14oz., so it’s a little more than a can, but the glass is so thick it appears bigger than a 20oz. It’s also 140 calories, and has the same ingredient listing as US Coke. I didn’t get an aftertaste on mine, at least nothing I can remember. Some of the people who swear by these grew up with sugar flavored Cokes, unlike us. It definitely tastes different, but I like it.

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