Grubbin’ with the Boys: Soda Edition

Noah Conen, Director of Food Publications

Photo from The New York Times.

Intro:

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, irony is defined as a situation that is strange or funny because events turn out in a way that seems to be the opposite of what you expected. There have been some pretty ironic moments in history. There was this one time a Union General, John Sedgwick, remarked to his troops at the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse, “why are you dodging like this? They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance,” only to be shot in the eye before he could even finish his sentence. Or how about the time gunpowder was accidentally created by a Chinese alchemists seeking an “elixir of immortality.” Hell, knuckleheads living back during World War I called it the war to end all wars. However, I have suffered perhaps the most calamitous practical joke god has ever had the audacity to pull on someone. That is, of course, deciding to have a taste test for Grubbin’ with the Boys: Soda Edition, only to be diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes (T1D) not even a month later.

First off, let me clarify; Type 1 is the one you inherit, not the one that develops after stuffing your face with donuts and cheeseburgers. Second, if you’re wondering how I found out I had T1D, it was a variety of symptoms: increased thirst, increased appetite, feeling tired and, I almost forgot, losing 50 pounds in 8 months. I have gained almost half of that weight back already, so I’m starting to think insulin might be next on the MLB’s banned substances list. Not suggesting anything, but if you want your fix, you totally shouldn’t bring 100 dollars in cash to the nurse’s office during B lunch. Oh yes, third and finally, and this may shock you all, but other than injecting myself with a potential PED every day and being confined to cheese sticks and fried pork skins for snacks, I’m doing fine. Diabetes is surprisingly not really that big of a life changer, except when I’ll probably need to amputate my leg in the future. 

Now that that’s off my chest, onto the review!

Soda! If America had a national liquid, it would probably be soda. Actually, if edibleness wasn’t a factor, that would probably be oil but I digress. If you are slightly annoyed that I wasted my time on soda, I understand. A couple of my friends downright left the group chat for Grubbin’ with the Boys after learning the next food sampling was soda, while others begged me to do something like chicken sandwiches or fries. That’s for another day; however, please remember that there isn’t much else that can be purchased for less than 40 dollars, be easily shared, and not be too complicated as to interfere with writing 748 college applications. 


The Breakdown:

The way I organized this taste test was to divide the sodas into 4 categories and rank the sodas in each of them. The categories were colas, root beers, orange sodas, and lemon-lime/citrus sodas. The sodas we reviewed are as follows:

Cola:

Coca-Cola

Pepsi

Dr. Pepper

Root Beer:

Stewart’s

Mug

Barq’s

A&W

Orange:

Fanta

Crush

SunKist

Lemon-Lime/Citrus:

Sprite

Sierra Mist

7UP

Mountain Dew

Fresca

Reviewers:

Me (Noah Conen)

Jack Lohmeier 

Connor O’Sullivan

Gaven Williams 

Zack Barbarisi 

Danny Tropeano

Luke Curley 

Jack Condran 


Category 1: Cola

Cola refers to a type of soft drink with a caramel color and is commonly flavored with kola nuts (hence the name), vanilla, cinnamon and citrus oils. It gained worldwide fame after John S. Pemberton concocted the beverage Coca-Cola in 1886. If you look past the fact that Coke was created to satisfy a wounded confederate officer’s morphine addiction, hence the original formula having cocaine, you have the gold standard for most other soft drinks. Coke placed 2nd on everyone’s polls except for Zack (1st place) and Danny (3rd place). I feel that this represents the general attitude towards Coca-Cola in the modern day. Nobody says it’s their favorite soda, but there’s basically no-one who will refuse an ice-cold Coke on a hot summer’s day. The reviewers noted it’s carbonation being satisfactory, not too bubbly but crisp enough. The citrusy flavors were enough to be noticed, but not enough to overpower the other components. The mood seemed to do a full 180 once we tried the next soda, Pepsi. Created in 1893 by pharmacist Caleb Bradham, this drink doesn’t have as colorful a history as Coke, perhaps due to it being created to cure upset stomachs rather than drug addictions. It was also critically panned by the reviewers, finishing in last place in all but Danny’s rankings (2nd place). Compared to the mellow, gentle taste of Coke, Pepsi lobbed flavor grenades into our mouths. It was uncomfortably harsh on the palate, and the tasters also found problems with the pungent taste combined with the heavy carbonation to obliterate our senses of taste. Jack L., Connor and Zack all whipped out expletives to describe it, and Jack C. simply called it a “trashy, worse Coke.” Luckily for Pepsi, our next soda redeemed the Cola category and then some. Dr. Pepper, created by Charles Alderton in 1885, is the magnum opus of colas. This beautiful, sweet, gentle, crisp and refreshing elixir was adored by everyone who tried it. Only Zack placed it somewhere other than first (2nd place). This soda hits all the spots. It’s sweet cherry and marshmallow flavors made Gaven “feel child-like.” Dr. Pepper was so well liked, Danny said to “drink instead of water.” I don’t blame him.

Cola Rankings:

Name Ranking
Noah
  1. Dr. Pepper
  2. Coca-Cola
  3. Pepsi
Jack L.
  1. Dr. Pepper
  2. Coca-Cola
  3. Pepsi
Connor
  1. Dr. Pepper
  2. Coca-Cola
  3. Pepsi
Gaven
  1. Dr. Pepper
  2. Coca-Cola
  3. Pepsi
Zack
  1. Coca-Cola
  2. Dr. Pepper
  3. Pepsi 
Danny
  1. Dr. Pepper
  2. Pepsi
  3. Coca-Cola
Luke
  1. Dr. Pepper
  2. Coca-Cola
  3. Pepsi
Jack C.
  1. Dr. Pepper
  2. Coca-Cola
  3. Pepsi

Category 2: Root Beer

Personally, I despise root beer. I always think it tastes weird and can only be made acceptable for consumption via copious amounts of ice cream. Nothing really changed after trying all the root beers, I still don’t really like it, but now I know which one sucks the least. Stewart’s root beer derives from Frank Stewart’s restaurant chain and first appeared in 1924. I don’t really know what to say about this beverage, as it’s the blandest, least flavorful soda we had all day in my opinion. It was very gentle on the carbonation, and was all around just underwhelming. Stewart’s found itself consistently in the bottom half of the rankings, only finishing outside 3rd and 4th place with Jack L. (1st place) and Jack C. (2nd place). Jack L mysteriously gave this root beer 1st place because it tasted like fruity pebbles, which makes no sense but hey, to each their own. The next root beer we tried, Mug, was the only time all day I genuinely thought the soda was undrinkable. Mug made it to the top half of rankings only once (Danny, 2nd place), and one taste is all you need to see why. Created in 1942, I wouldn’t be surprised if the first Mug bottling plant was built next to where the Manhattan Project was being developed, since this beverage tasted heavily of chemicals and shame. Reviewers panned Mug for its peculiar taste and overall lack of quality. The only redeeming quality is the silly mascot, which is literally just giga-Chad if he were a dog. This soda was so atrocious that Jack C. just called it “trash,” and Zack called it “literal hot-dog water.” Next, we had the American Airlines of root beer, A&W. Why American Airlines? Because all root beer is disgusting, and this simply was the best of a terrible type of soda, kind of like how American is the worst airline you think you’ve ever seen until you take a flight on Spirit. All jokes aside, A&W’s 1919 recipe by Roy W. Allen is actually not bad, as it’s heavy vanilla flavor and rich notes make it closer to a cream soda than root beer, which is also probably why I liked it. Reviewers also noted its creaminess and richness, with Danny comparing it to cream soda. Overall, A&W was by far the best root beer in my opinion. Last but not least, we have Barq’s, which to be quite honest, could be best described as the Pepsi of root beer. Created in 1898 by Edward Barq, it was very strong and had a very licorice-y flavor. This was popular among tasters like Connor, who said its crispness reminded him of a “crisp summer day at Conestoga Swim Club.” 

Root Beer Rankings:

Name Ranking
Noah
  1. A&W
  2. Barq’s
  3. Stewart’s
  4. Mug
Jack L.
  1. Stewart’s
  2. Barq’s
  3. A&W
  4. Mug
Connor
  1. Barq’s
  2. A&W
  3. Mug
  4. Stewart’s
Gaven
  1. A&W
  2. Barq’s
  3. Stewart’s
  4. Mug
Zack
  1. Barq’s
  2. A&W
  3. Mug
  4. Stewart’s
Danny
  1. A&W
  2. Mug
  3. Barq’s
  4. Stewart’s
Luke
  1. A&W
  2. Barq’s
  3. Mug
  4. Stewart’s
Jack C.
  1. A&W
  2. Stewart’s
  3. Mug
  4. Barq’s

Category 3: Orange

I picked orange as a category to encompass all fruity sodas. First up, we have a soda with a backstory that rivals Coke. Fanta was created by Max Keith in Nazi Germany to satisfy soda cravings during the second World War. Personal disapprovals aside, Fanta was the favorite choice of the tasters, and the key was its delicious orange flavor. It finished in 1st place in all except Jack L. and Danny’s rankings, for which it came in second in both. Fanta had the perfect balance of orangey tang with deliciously bubbly carbonation, and was clearly the diva of the orange sodas in my opinion. Jack agreed, claiming that it “made him giddy.” By now you should be noticing a pattern. Flavor = good, unless that flavor is reminiscent of battery acid. The next soda was Crush, created in 1911 by Neil C. Ward. Ward must have never had an orange in his life, since this soda tasted nothing like orange or anything really. Crush had little to no flavor or carbonation, and this led to reviewers to call it out with fiery language and expletives. Lastly for the orange sodas, we have Sunkist, a divisive soda to say the least. Created in 1979, this soda was not lacking in flavor like it’s counterpart Crush, but unlike Fanta, this wasn’t a brightful, fruity taste, but rather one of straight up sugar water. This soda was so disgustingly sweet, or maybe it was fine and we all were just hallucinating after drinking 9 other sodas before. Reactions were mixed. On one hand, you had people like Connor, who claimed this soda suck. Zack, who cursed the soda in all-caps with some fiery language, and Danny, who gave it an 8.5/10 and liked it’s sweet and sour flavor. Nothing brings out the emotions quite like soda, huh?

Orange Rankings:

Name Ranking
Noah
  1. Fanta
  2. Sunkist
  3. Crush
Jack L.
  1. Crush
  2. Fanta
  3. Sunkist
Connor
  1. Fanta
  2. Crush
  3. Sunkist
Gaven
  1. Fanta
  2. Crush
  3. Sunkist
Zack
  1. Fanta
  2. Crush
  3. Sunkist
Danny
  1. Sunkist
  2. Fanta
  3. Crush
Luke
  1. Fanta
  2. Crush
  3. Sunkist
Jack C.
  1. Fanta
  2. Sunkist
  3. Crush

Category 4: Citrus/Lemon-Lime

By this point in the soda rankings, the sugar got to our brains and we stopped being rational human beings. Instead, we delved into soda faction based fighting. The main combatants were the anti-Mountain Dew coalition and the Mountain Dew loyalists; it was a brutal fight with heavy casualties on both sides, but no clear winner emerged. First, we have the main opposition to Mountain Dew, Sprite, which claimed 3 first place finishes. Created in 1959 as a flavor of Fanta, Sprite is usually my go-to for sodas (until I got diagnosed with diabetes) and for good reason. Reviewers loved the classic lemon-lime taste and perfect levels of carbonation that perfectly compliment the crisp flavor. It is a quintessential thirst quencher (say that five times fast) that nobody will dislike, not even NBA superstar Lebron James, who just an FYI would get destroyed by Larry Bird but that’s for another day. Perhaps Lebron’s Sprite endorsements are why Jack C. simply wrote the word “ballin” and drew a little basketball for his description of sprite. Next, we tried what Jack L called “walmart sprite” — 7UP. Created as Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda in 1929 by Charles Leiper Grigg, this soda might have been misbranded, as the real name should have been Bib-Label Plutonium Lemon-Lime Soda, since it was so harsh on the throat. 7UP consistently ranked towards the bottom for its extremely harsh carbonation, and overall lack of that delicious lemony-lime flavor Sprite was packed with. Connor called his soda “a**-trash spicy,” and Zack called it “Poopoopoopoo acid.” Next we sampled Pepsi-Co’s 1999 creation, Sierra Mist. Yeah, this was basically the same as 7UP, both were garbage. Just like 7UP, it finished near the bottom for most of the rankings, and was panned for its lack of flavor, intense spice, and mind-numbingly harsh carbonation. It was so bad that Gaven compared it to laundry detergent. Now we have the most divisitive soda tasted yet: Mountain Dew. Mountain Dew was created in 1940 by brothers Barney and Ally Hartman to be a mixer for whiskey, and was a very mellow, citrusy blend that had very defined notes of orange juice. It finished 1st four times, and 4th two times. Some absolutely despised it, calling it “car-battery acid” and “filthy.” Some absolutely loved the soda, garnering comments such as “Peak Soda, Nelk.” I thought it was overrated, just like Nelk (now that I’ve lost all of my male audience, anybody looking for a date to Senior Semi?) Then you have Luke, who described it as tasting like a battery but still gave it first place. The final soda we tasted, Fresca, was created in 1958 as a sugar-free beverage for all to enjoy. It’s probably for the better that I included a sugar-free soda in this taste test, since I had previously been unwittingly committing sugar suicide and felt disgusting. Fresca received a very diverse rating and brings back great memories for me so I placed it first, then you have Jack C. who placed it last. The rest of the time, this sparkly, grapefruity, and refreshing concoction finished around the middle. Danny compared it to crack cocaine and claimed he was addicted, while Jack L called it a “British Wanker,” for some unknown reason. I guess somebody has been watching too much Ted Lasso. 

Citrus/Lemon-Lime Rankings:

Name Ranking
Noah
  1. Fresca
  2. Sprite
  3. Mountain Dew
  4. Sierra Mist
  5. 7UP
Jack L.
  1. Sprite
  2. 7UP
  3. 3-way tie for last (Sierra Mist, Mountain Dew, Fresca)
Connor
  1. Sprite
  2. Fresca
  3. Sierra Mist
  4. 7UP
  5. Mountain Dew
Gaven
  1. Mountain Dew
  2. Sprite
  3. Fresca
  4. 7UP
  5. Sierra Mist
Zack
  1. Mountain Dew
  2. Sprite
  3. Sierra Mist
  4. Fresca
  5. 7UP
Danny
  1. Mountain Dew
  2. Fresca
  3. Sierra Mist
  4. Sprite
  5. 7UP
Luke
  1. Mountain Dew
  2. Sprite
  3. Fresca
  4. 7UP
  5. Sierra Mist
Jack C.
  1. Sprite
  2. 7UP
  3. Mountain Dew
  4. Sierra Mist
  5. Fresca

 


Well, we’re at the end now. I would just like to say a thank you to all of you who waited so patiently for me to write this, I know it came really late. However, when about an hour of your day alone is dedicated to injecting insulin and other diabetes related distractions, time is kind of a precious commodity. Just be thankful I put my body on the line for this review.