Tag Archives: soda

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.

Diet Sodas That Don’t Taste Like Ass

For most of my life, I’ve hated diet sodas. Sacharine/Sweet & Low tasted especially horrible, but Aspartame/Nutrasweet didn’t taste great, either. Diet Coke and other colas taste pretty foul to me, and I love Coke. Friends have told me that all I have to do is choke down the stuff daily for 3 months, then you can stomach it no problem. I’ll pass. However, a few diet sodas have managed to taste really close to their non-diet counterparts:

  • Diet Minute Maid Orange The first diet soda I really enjoyed, very close to the original, but almost impossible to find in can form these days. I occasionally see it in 2-liter bottles.
  • Diet Sunkist A very good substitute for Minute Maid Orange.
  • Diet Sprite, aka Sprite Zero Nearly identical to the original. They are getting on the low carb bandwagon, rebranding it as “Zero”. Great for me, as it’s carried in 7-11 now, and I’m occasionally seeing in vending machines.
  • Diet Cherry 7-Up What I like to call a Shirley Temple in a can. Not very manly, but tastes great. Note that I have not included Diet (regular) 7-up, that misses the mark.
  • Diet Wild Cherry Pepsi This is pretty groundbreaking for me. I’ve long been a champion of Coke in the cola wars, and I’ve outright hated all diet colas (only Diet Rite came anywhere close, and still not close enough for me). Regular Coke meant less sweet, more carbonation; Pepsi tastes too flat. But in diet sodas, less sweet tastes wrong. Diet Wild Cherry Pepsi still needs the carbonation of Coke, but flavor wise it’s an achievement. Almost no diet taste. Can’t say the same for Diet Cherry Coke, which still has a ways to go. As for carbonation, if you’re just drinking a can, there isn’t much time for it to get any flatter. Worth it just for the caffeine, which none of the other sodas in the list have.
  • Coca-Cola C2 This is great while it lasts. I think this tastes very close to regular Coke, and makes an excellent substitute. Unfortunately, it looks like both this and Pepsi Edge (never tried it) have lost millions for their companies. The problem is, they wanted to capitalize on the various low carb diets, which prescribe zero sugars, not just lower carbohydrates. Half isn’t close to zero. Still at the supermarket, but my local vending machine has been sold out of it for some time, and it doesn’t seem to be getting replenished.
  • Coke Zero and Cherry Coke Zero Nowadays, I probably drink more Cherry Coke Zero than anything else. There is just something about cherry that masks/softens the aftertaste of artificial sweeteners. Coke Zero isn’t bad, and it’s finally arrived in a few soda fountains, most notably movie theaters.

Now, if we could just get more of these into vending machines, instead of the foul Diet Vanilla/Lemon/Lime Coke/Pepsi/Dr. Pepper permutations that currently fill them.