Sunday, August 28, 2016

Pepsi Cola 1893: New Old-Fashioned Soda Pop For The Cool Kids; A Tasting And Review

I've got another confession to make and it's not a Foo Fighters song. (Foo Fighters cover band Goo Gighters?). The cold hard truth is that I've been figuratively sitting on this review for literally months. Deletes, re-writes, procrastination, fear. In fact, by the time this is published this soda might have already failed in the free market economy and been scrapped by PepsiCo for something more tuned-in to today's soda drinkers.

The trouble has been that I want to write a comprehensive review, but soda pops come with so much baggage. I would have to start at the beginning of soda in America to really convey my great and well-reasoned points. I would have to cover the entire history of beverage marketing for this article to really make sense. And this includes The Cola Wars--no small topic in itself. And then I would have to examine current trends in culture and lifestyle choices. You guys, I have a 200-level college course about cola trapped in my head. Sure there are a lot of familiar faces/students taking my class just because they loved me so much in my "Gossip Girl & Modern Ethics" course last semester. But can you begin to see how daunting a simple cola review becomes?

So I will write this abbreviated review with the understanding that you have a firm foundation in the cola market and are familiar, in general, with pop culture (get it?!). (In case you're wondering, I read Freakonomics, so yes I am as knowledgeable as an actual economist)

Well, anyways. Let me dig out my tasting notes from May 20, 2016 and get back into this review. I could just buy new cans and re-taste for today's review, but (spoiler alert) nope, no thanks.


Drinking soda-pops is a pastime as American as apple pie baseball. It's a drink for the young and carefree before they become the hard-working labor class and switch to patriotic Lite beer. There are, however, some awkward in-between years (aren't there always?) in which soda-pop manufacturers strive to retain their user base and create an addiction that lasts for a shortened, diabetic, obese lifetime. These in-betweeners are TheCoolKids, and boy-oh-boy are they a fickle crowd.

With so-called disposable incomes and ever-broadening horizons these perennial TheCoolKids are the wet dreams of marketing teams in nearly every major consumer industry. This is where personal identities are created and life-long brand loyalties are formed. If you can get them on the hook at this stage of life--regardless of moral or ethical consequences (see: cigarettes, soda-pop)--then you've got a reliable micro-revenue-stream for your corporation for a least a few more decades. And that, children, is the American dream.

Hey now, let's not get too down and cynical so very early into the tasting and review. Drinking soda-pop (henceforth referred to as either soda or pop (app idea: it's like the cloud-to-butt plugin except it functions for all of the user's regional dialects)) like I was saying, drinking pop should be a fun and exciting experience. Scintillating, effervescent, and titillating even--just like Pepsi Cola 1893??? Maybe. Can there be any way to find out for sure?

Generation Next

We should start the same way any good thing starts: with an advertisement. Unlike Hulu, I only have this single advertisement (for now!) and you don't have to watch it if you don't want to. But it's vintage so it's more like a memory than an advertisement. Just like there are those TV specials that are 2 hours of commercials with other commercials in between and whose purpose is to get you pumped for watching commercials at the big yearly sports championship match.

In this 1991 Pepsi TV spot, we see Jamie Foxx giving an inspirational performance as a blind pianist. While I was thinking about this commercial earlier in the day (months ago) and before I looked it up, I wasn't sure which blind pianist it was and thought that maybe it was Stevie Wonder. And so I was thinking of all of these teasers that I might be able to use for this article, like "Stevie Wonder wonders, does his infant possess the correct one? uh-huh." Much like Crystal Pepsi, it didn't work out.

Generation Next!

Oh yeah. We're talking about The Pepsi Generation. This is what PepsiCo has been calling their groupies/users/target audience since 1963. That's right! You, your dad, your kids, maybe your grandpa (also all of the other gender identity variations of these familial relations) are all The Pepsi Generation. In 1984 (#orwell #obama #dystopianreality), Pepsi drinkers were The New Generation; then finally settling on GenerationNext in 1997. So basically Millennials.

The Problem With Millennials

This is a section that needs its own weekly show on Fox News.

With regards to pop, however, the problem with many Millenials is that they have been brought up in a world where society at large has begun to question the virtues of high-fructose-corn-syrup (HFCS). The anti-penultimate (not ante (I mean like "first loser" (second place is the first loser (AND1!)))) ingredient in most soda-pops, however, is HFCS.

The soda corporations tried different (cancerous) tactics like phenylalanine and acesulfame and those were fine for your mom's diet cola addiction, but the kids weren't having it. Some where at some time there was a TV DR that said something like "I'm not eating that I can't pronounce it!" (which is a difficult way to live if you're an idiot or illiterate). And so the soda companies started re-branding their artificial sweeteners with "natural" names like Splenda and Stevia and printing pictures of plants on the box. Because it's healthy.

So it's hard to get thoughtful TheCoolKids to drink pop, despite the addictive nature of sugar. But do you know what it isn't difficult to get them/millennials to drink?


Getting crunk is totes cray, amirite bae? Young professionals and pre-young-professionals will do anything for a few hours of sweet release from this hellish nightmare-scape that the Boomers have left for us them. Heroin use is on the rise, but that's illegal and TheCoolKids don't do illegal things. (Don't look at me! They're the Uber generation (I mean like the transport service, not Hitler's ├╝bermensch!)). And let's not even talk about that Devil's Lettuce in Uncle Pete's jazz cigarettes. No, you guys, it's booze that's cool!

They drink booze in Miller Lite commercials. They drink booze in Bacardi commercials. There are images of attractive people on boats in print ads in Time Magazine drinking Bartles & James (a type of booze popular with your cool aunt). James Bond and Archer both drink tons of booze. Think of a cool movie: booze has played a central role to a really cool part. Booze is the cigarettes of today (with regards to how cool it is made to look without any of the negative health consequences ever being addressed (yeah, right hangovers are sooo bad, we just made 3 movies about how hilarious and fun they end up being for everybody)).

This is where Pepsi 1893 begins to make sense.

The Ron Swansonization of Masculinity

For eons, men have grappled with the question "what is it to be a man?" In our complex hyper-sensitive egalitarian society this question becomes even harder to answer. It turns out that not all men love sports or know how to fix mechanical things. Some men even exhibit emotions.

Yet despite the continually and progressively morphing ideas of gender roles, there are masculine archetypes that pervade. Hard-working, emotionally-stoic, alcohol-loving, cigar-smoking, gun-shooting, flannel-wearing, boots, trucks, facial hair, meat eating. You get where I'm going.

The character Ron Swanson on hit TV show Parks and Rec was created as a John Everyman of masculine ideals. Ron Swanson is either a direct influence, or satirical reflection, of young men trying to define their personal identity.

Facial hair is so in right now. So are handy crafts like artisinal woodworking. And don't forget the Scotch whisky. The Ron Swanson Youth (no! totally different from Hitler Youth!) are the goal demographic for Pepsi 1893. Swanson is a man ripped from the past and displaced into a totes cray artifical world inhabited by a bunch of Tom Haverfords. Pepsi 1893 is an authentic flavor ripped from the good-ol-days of real-men-sodas and displaced into this wiggity-whack world of Sweet'n'Low hoverboard-riding-sodas.

Pepsi 1893

A bold spin on an original cola. The whiskey of sodas. Perhaps it's even heavily implied that you should buy this cola to use as a mixer for your whiskey (maybe as a gateway, if you're too much of a kid and don't take your whiskey neat).

This 123 year old cola comes in a tall, slender can like a RedBull or Michelob Ultra. While none of the ads indicate that I should do pushups or jump off of a tall thing before drinking this, I might be required to have a library with many leatherbound books. The can is black and the font is olde tyme in some places and hip and modern in other places.

The sales pitch is printed right on the side. It reads: "Boldly blended cola made with: Kola nut extract, Dark brown malt flavor, A touch of aromatic bitters, Sparkling water, Real sugar."

Let's do a breakdown of those things to find out what we are putting into our body. I imagine that Kola nut extract is a liquid extracted from a Kola nut. Kola nuts are the fruit of the kola (cola) tree. They have a bitter flavor and contain caffeine. Most colas are based on the cola nut, though have moved on from the plant to artificial flavors. Presumably this cola has real kola flavor and real kola caffeine.

Dark brown malt flavor. In beer making a malt is a cereal grain that has been germinated and dried. The dark brown would probably come from roasting. This just says "flavor" though, so that could mean anything. Probably a syrup based on roasted malted grains. It would add flavor and sweetness.

A touch of aromatic bitters. "A touch" is an industry term for "barely any." I wonder if a spectrometer could isolate any bitters in this cola. Bitters is kind of a generic term and could be any sort of plant-based concoction. 

Sparkling water. They say this to imply water from a naturally carbonated spring like Perrier. The main ingredient to regular pop is "carbonated water" that is force carbonated and this is probably no different. But it sparkles and sounds more natural and un-artificial!

Real sugar. Get outta here with that fake sugar bull snap! Again, sugar can be anything sweet. They probably mean, like, cane sugar though i.e. table sugar. 

The contents get a little more intense, however, if you read the ingredients label.

The ingredients: Carbonated water, sugar*, caramel color, phosphoric acid, sodium citrate, natural flavor, potassium sorbate (preserves freshness), caffeine, gum arabic, kola nut extract. 

The asterisked "sugar" later states "fair trade certified....excluding water, more than 80% fair trade certified ingredients." This is probably over 90% water, so 80% of 10% (or 8% total) ingredients are certified fair trade. And if you compare the ingredients to a standard can of Pepsi, they have remarkably similar ingredient lists. This is basically standard pop.

We use Blood Kola, but no Blood Sugar!

I'm thinking that I should probably drink this at some point. Luckily I own cups that are roughly the same size and shape as the can (this is important).

Better put some "rocks" in there. That's what they called ice cubes back in the Victorian Era, when this soda was popular.

You can't see it in these pictures, but I used my sweet bird talon ice cube tongs to place the ice in the glass. It was like totally straight up baller af.

Up to this point I have successfully 
  • Purchased the soda
  • Photographed the can of soda
  • Found a nice glass
  • Filled the glass with ice
  • Opened the soda
  • Poured soda into the glass
That is pretty much the best way to start a soda review. That is like a review of this review so far. Which gets the grade of A+ for reviewing sodas. And we're just getting started!

You've presumably read this far because you want to read actual thoughts on the Pepsi 1893 soda. Well I've got news for you: if you think you can read thoughts then go have successful relationships and learn how others secretly perceive you!

Appearance: You've seen my pour. This soda pours a nice cola-brown color. Presumably it gets its color from the "dark brown malt (flavor)" or perhaps it's the "caramel coloring" used in all brown soda pops. There is visible carbonation sparkling in the glass. So far this is meeting my expectations for a cola.

Aroma: Pepsi 1893 smells oddly cola-like. It smells vaguely like normal Pepsi, but somehow different. Like maybe it's Pepsi that's been in your grandma's garage refrigerator for 123 years. I dunno, what do I look like, a cola sniffer?

Sound: I hear bubbles popping. The sound reminds me of the bubbling mineral springs in Vergeze France.

Handfeel: I didn't touch the liquid. The cup is cold. I refrigerated the soda overnight beforehand and also filled the cup with ice cubes. Cold seems like the correct handfeel.

Taste: The moment for which we've all been waiting. 
This is not good pop. It tastes watery and thin. Not in a good "i'm drinking healthy pop" way but in a "is this a dollar store Coke Zero knock-off" kinda way. Maybe they skimped on sugar to make it taste more like kola flavored mineral water. (LaCroix is all the rage these days afterall). This is bland and falls flat in every way except bubbles.

Mouthfeel: You know when you swallow a swig of soda pop and get a strange empty feeling in your mouth. I'm talking like a vacuum. More empty than if you just drank water. Like a bad Coke Zero. This drink does it. Yet it still leaves your teeth stinging with its acidity and sugar combo.

Cost: A can cost me $1.69 at the grocery store. For comparison, a 2-liter of cola (Pepsi) normally goes for around the same price. This is most definitely not a value buy. I have seen it for less after buying these cans but the price was still in the over $1 range. 

Overall: I'm trying to figure out why they made this and how it got past the food scientists in its current iteration. Granted, I am not a soda drinker so maybe I don't know what the heck I'm talking about. Or maybe I didn't have it during the correct circumstances. For instance a cold glass of lemonade on a hot summer day is a godsend, but try drinking that same cold lemonade in the dead of winter.

I mean, I tried to recreate a little set--a diorama--of what I pictured their ideal 1893 drinking setting might be.

(Not pictured: Chesterfield style leather chair)

I've got dusty old books, fine art sculptures, cigar boxes, bird talon ice tongs, wood grain furniture, fresh ginger roots. What more can I do? Maybe I'm not taking their hint. Remember how I mentioned this wasn't intended to be consumed plain? Do you see any secret vials of possible unknown substances in my setup? Maybe the secret to unlocking the full potential of Pepsi 1893 is...

Liquid Courage, Mother's Milk, Nectar of the Gods, The Brown Stuff, Uncle Pappy's Whistle Juice, Daddy's Medicine, The Wizard's Sleeping Potion, The Ol' Boot Stomp Betty. That's right. Bourbon whiskey.

Don't go getting your panties in a bunch about wasting good bourbon on bad soda. I used bad bourbon too! Obviously this occasion necessitated a new glass. 

And obviously: I have to apply a ye olde tyme photographic filter to make this appear 123 years old.

We're having fun now, right?

[Side note: My computer keyboard ran out of batteries and the sun is no longer charging the batteries (it was solar powered...) so I had to switch to my backup keyboard which has very stiff keys so it is very difficult to type fluidly with ease. For your my weak fingers' benefit, this review will be moderately abbreviated henceforth.]

1893: 4/10
1893 with whiskey: 7/10
1893 with rice: 0/10

Adding booze improved Pepsi 1893 by three points, nearly doubling its score to seven (7) out of ten (10)! And this might just be the booze talking, but I think I might be able to finish the can now. You look pretty. The complementary flavors of whiskey elevate the taste of Pepsi 1893 to that of a bad cocktail at a cool corporate event. That's exactly the demographic Pepsi wants to nail, I think. Maybe I should have used rum.

Maybe a dive bar would serve a drink with this taste. Except they wouldn't use a $1.69 can of trend soda. They'd use CVS Cola or whatever was nearby and cheap. That might even taste better.

If Pepsi really wanted to be cool and reach that The Youth demo, they would do something "outside the box" to engage the cyberminds of Millennial soda drinkers--like, for instance, they could literally print large emojis on their labels. Hey, printing common names on the labels worked for Coca-Cola, this is sure to land!

Pepsi 1893 Ginger Cola

I originally planned to make this into two separate reviews, but I'm pretty fatigued with Pepsi at the moment and decided to make the Ginger Pepsi 1893 a footnote to the main review. Because it's basically the same review except it tastes a little bit like ginger.

Ginger is a cool herb that is really popular. The ginger root is used in Chinese medicine for health because it is shaped like a little man. Maybe you've gotten some slices of pickled ginger in your tray of grocery store sushi and it sits there in the corner all pink and wet and you're not quite sure what you're supposed to do with it so you waggle it around a little with your chopsticks and pretty much save it for "dessert." Ginger is also used in the popular Millennial cocktail "The Moscow Mule" or as cool places call it "Russian Donkey." 

Critical Thinking Exercise: Why does the author place so much emphasis on "cool" and "popular?" (5 pts)

The Moscow Mule is made with ginger beer, vodka, lime/juice, and consumed from a copper mug not entirely dissimilar from the pepsi1893gingercola can in aesthetic. I'll bet that was intentional--those jeniouses over at Pepsi.

Tito's Handmade Vodka is a delicious and affordable way to create high quality cocktails like the Russian Donkey. Look for it in the vodka aisle of your favorite alcohol store.
So that's what I think Pepsi is going after here. Designer artisinal soda pops are picking up in general and many of them use root plants as a base. Sassafras, sarsaparilla, ginger, carrot, potato, etc. But at the same time they don't want to alienate their bread and butter, the good ol' traditional American folk who want an ice cold cola after a long hard day of work. These good ol' Americans don't go for none'a that fru-fru stuff. Just gimme a regular ol' Pepsi from a can that's how I like it thankuverymuch. I see you Pepsi. I know you in your heart. Hire me. No, for like the meetings and brainstorms, not for stacking the boxes in the store to look like a pokemon.

How Does It Taste?

Good! Not like good-good, but like compared-to-the-plain-flavor-good. It tastes essentially the same as regular Pepsi 1893 with a hint of ginger flavor. But I tell ya, they got that ginger flavor right. It tastes like real fresh grated ginger. It's just a touch of flavor and not over powering and makes the soda ever so slightly more refreshing and unique. 

I would buy the orange can version over the black can version if someone forced me to buy one of these again. Pepsi should expand upon this and make Cherry Coke, Vanilla Diet Dr. Pepper, Lime Coke, and so on but all in small expensive single-unit cans. And they should print QR codes on the can and when you scan them with your Apple iPhone 7 the code takes you to a website with adorable kitten gifs. Oh, and you know how like there are those birthday cards that when you open them they play a song? The cans should be like that except when you pop the tab it starts playing a song. I dunno, like Katy Perry or Raffi or whatever kids listen to.

Let me show you some pictures of the orange (gold?) can. (Black and Gold, huh, are these sold at Heinz Field for probably $9 a can?)

Remind me to fire my photographer for messing up the shoot by putting a thumbprint in the condensation.

As you can see: quite similar.

Final Thoughts

I applaud the Pepsi company for trying to stay relevant in what surely is a doomed market (see: NY soda ban). However, this is a miss. Honestly, who even drinks Pepsi? They must stay alive through corporate deals with restaurants like KFC. I don't want to take sides, but have you ever been to an All-You-Can-Eat-Buffet and asked for a Pepsi and the manager politely informs you that she's sorry but they only have Coca-Cola, will that be alright and then your eyes glaze over a little and you answer with a quiet sight and a dejected yes?

And for all the people who do willfully purchase cans of Pepsi, this is probably not on the shopping list. I don't know, maybe I don't know as much about pop drinkers and The American Consumer as I think I do. After all, obesity statistics seem to indicate that soda pop is a staple in the American diet. That aside, either get real small batch artisinal soda from your local ma&pa shop or just keep getting standard cola.

I do see this as an interesting half-step in drink trends. La Croix is huge right now (maybe because a Kardashian drinks it on tv?) and the bubbled water craze is hitting a new peak, the likes of which we haven't seen since Perrier and Andre Agassi. And just as alcoholic soda pops are getting a couple seats on the beer bleachers, so too are alcoholic sparkling waters. I want to get into those in depth so will save all of my clever musings for a future article. The beverages market is great--huge and diverse--and it excites me.

Pepsi 1893 Black Can: 4/10
Pepsi 1893 Gold Can: 4.5/10

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