116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
It’s not often we’re privileged with so many new flavors and varieties of soda in such a short period of time.
In the past two months, Pepsi has released two flavors of Nitro Pepsi — a brand-new type of soda experience — and four flavors of Hard Mountain Dew being piloted only in Iowa, Tennessee and Florida.
I also managed to get my hands on a can of Maple Syrup Pepsi that was only part of a limited time sweepstakes with IHOP.
Buckle in for the good, the really good and the ugly.
Maple Syrup Pepsi
If my readers are any representation of my social circles, just the name and image of this can of Pepsi, not available to the public, evokes knee-jerk, visceral reactions.
With syrup graphics dripping down from the top of the can, a stack of pancakes next to the Pepsi logo, and an IHOP logo at the bottom of the can, it was bound to call for strong reactions. I went in excited to try something unusual and withheld my judgment, unlike my friends.
From the first whiff, the syrup already is large and in charge. It smells like I’ve walked into a pancake breakfast fundraiser. Unfortunately, that’s where the pleasantries ended.
The description sent out by Pepsi’s public relations team gave a charming description of this, convincing me that maybe the flavor would be so wrong that it was actually right — sweet syrup working in tandem with the caramel notes of cola that are as American as apple pie.
It was meant to combine “the indulgent flavor profile of maple syrup with the crisp, refreshing caramel notes of a Pepsi,” I was told via email in late March as Pepsi promoted the sweepstakes partnership with IHOP called “Show Us Your Stack.”
The first couple of sips left a burnt taste in my mouth. It tasted as if I had poured some innocent, unsuspecting syrup on a hot skillet, let it scorch, then scraped the burnt remains off the skillet and into a glass of Pepsi. The smell of the cola was more pleasant than the taste, for me.
There are some sweet things that I happen to find pleasant when burned. Every time my mother makes a pie, she rolls pie dough scraps together and layers them with butter and sugar. As they baked in the oven, some of that sugar and butter would leak out from the edges, burning with a dark caramel brown color almost like Pepsi itself.
But Maple Syrup Pepsi was not a reminder of a pleasant childhood experience. It got slightly better after a few sips, but I’m more about promoting acceptance than tolerance. I couldn’t finish the can, and I’m a prolific fan of free refills.
From the first pop of the tab, the sound of opening the Nitro Pepsi startled me slightly — like I had released the Kraken. It was much more reactive than the typical soda, and I’m guessing that’s the namesake nitrogen introducing itself.
I invert the can directly over a glass, as instructed, to give a hard pour for a foamy experience. After a few seconds, a rich, bubbly texture of espresso brown cascades around the glass, suspended above the typical cola tones. With the name “Draft Cola,” it mimics the pour of beer from a tap.
Although a decent amount of foam comes out, it doesn’t last too long. The layer at the top of the glass shrinks within a minute.
The first whiff of the glass gives that classic Pepsi scent — markedly sweeter than Coke with a sweet zip on the nostrils that is one of Pepsi’s signatures. Now for the first sip.
Nitro Pepsi, for regular and occasional soda drinkers alike, will be a much different pop experience than its traditional, carbon dioxide counterparts.
From first sip, you’ll notice there’s none of the crackling in your mouth or effervescent burning on your tongue from the carbonation. That’s all replaced with an uber-creamy mouth feel, complemented by the foam at the top.
The texture reminds me of the experience with root beer floats, after you pour some of the root beer on the vanilla ice cream and let it sit for a moment. That rich, velvety foam that you gather in the first few sips is a microcosm of drinking Nitro Pepsi.
After drinking most of these two cans, which are available in tall 13.65-ounce cans, I noticed there was none of the carbonation trying to float back up, which I expect from other sodas.
The Nitro Pepsi Draft Cola and its vanilla sibling both had the flavors of their traditional carbonated cousins. But with a revolutionary new feel for soda, they’ve earned their place in the distinct new lineup.
Each can has about 63 grams of sugar and 230 calories. Nitro Pepsi is available at local retailers.
Hard Mountain Dew
Iowa was one of only three states chosen to pioneer the new Hard Mountain Dew — “the end of Dewhibition,” as its makers told me. The other two states are Tennessee and Florida.
This is widely available at local liquor retailers in four varieties: original, Baja Blast, watermelon and black cherry. Each 12-ounce can has 5 percent alcohol by volume and is explicitly labeled as an alcoholic beverage to differentiate it from its soft drink counterparts.
Let’s start with the original. You’ll smell the malt right away. If you don’t care for the taste of alcohol and were looking for a hard drink that tastes almost exactly like your favorite soft drink, the original flavor isn’t what you’re looking for.
It tastes a little bit like what I’d imagine Mountain Dew would be like mixed with vodka. I’m well acquainted with vodka Red Bulls from my college days, and this original gives me similar vibes with a much sweeter taste.
The carbonation, to me, is also noticeably weaker than the Diet Mountain Dew I drink regularly.
Up next is Baja Blast, which I had high hopes for after many a Taco Bell run with the soft drink in my cup holder. Immediately, the smell is very similar to the Baja Blast soft drink, which gets my hopes up higher.
Thankfully, I was not left high and dry — this one is right on the money. Unlike the original, you can barely taste any alcohol. It has all the sweet, tropical impressions of Baja Blast with a beautiful aquamarine color that’s almost too pretty to drink. Of the four flavors, this was by far my favorite and one I would pick up again.
Watermelon also was a delightful treat with a flavor profile similar to Jolly Rancher candy. Of course, it does not taste like an actual watermelon, but it tastes about like I expected — like the cartoonishly sweet candy version of the popular summer time fruit.
Black Cherry brings Hard Mountain Dew’s wins to three out of four — a nice flight after the impression I was left with on the original flavor. It tastes slightly more sweet than black cherry flavors in most competing black cherry hard sodas, and manages to mask the alcohol masterfully. If you didn’t know any better, you might think this was a regular soda.
Hard Mountain Dew contains no caffeine, and that choice probably saved us from a lot of chaos.
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