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Reviewing the Retro Soda Comebacks


TaB


TaB is truly a soda that has no business existing in 2018*, yet walk into almost any grocery store chain and you will likely find at least two cases of it kicking around.  TaB is living proof that no number of health scares or clean eating movements can keep an iconic brand down. It continues to thrive in its own dark corner of the supermarket as both a cult symbol and an anachronism, and I’m quietly rooting for it from the sidelines. (*Update: Ironically, while searching for images, I heard TaB might be in trouble. There has been a nationwide shortage and people are stockpiling cans for the TaBpocalypse. You’ve been warned.)


DESIGN: Still retaining its vintage look and quite pleasing to the eye.

TASTE: A mix of Diet Coke and aluminum foil. 

DOES IT HOLD UP: I would probably reach for a Coke Zero instead.



SURGE


I remember when Surge was first introduced. My uncle worked at a Coca-Cola bottling plant and he had dibs on an early batch of the stuff, just before it hit mainstream markets. He gave me a full case of it and it very quickly had me climbing the walls. Following in the footsteps of Jolt, Surge was a sugar and caffeine kick that sent its core demographic (insanely hyperactive children) into a rabid frenzy. I loved the stuff. When it came back, I was very excited …at first. I ordered a case on Amazon in its new, larger 16 oz variety and couldn’t wait to crack one open. When I finally did, I had come to find it was MUCH sweeter than I remembered. Like, coating-my-teeth-in-a-green-film sweet. I also noticed my stomach was not happy and would likely refuse the full can. Some things are probably better left in our memories.


DESIGN: In-your-face grungy ‘90s typography in Nickelodeon-slime green

TASTE: Like Mountain Dew with an extra pound of sugar.

DOES IT HOLD UP: Not unless you are actively trying to get diabetes.




CRYSTAL PEPSI


I have no recollection of trying this soda the first time around, so I was able to go into the experience with fresh taste buds. The idea of a clear cola has sort of lost its luster over the years, but gimmicks aside, I wanted to give this one its fair shake. I bought a 20 oz bottle of the stuff and poured it into a wine glass to really open up all of its citrusy notes. (Ok, full disclosure: I think the wine glass might have been the only clean cup in my house at the time.) I proceeded to gulp it down, very quickly noticing that it didn’t taste like Pepsi. No, this was a Pepsi / Sprite Frankenstein monster. I instantly realized why it was discontinued in the first place.


DESIGN: Nothing to write home about.

TASTE: A weird mix of Pepsi and Sprite.

DOES IT HOLD UP: It never did, from what I can gather. This one is just a stowaway on the junk food nostalgia train, looking for a few Urban Outfitters shoppers to toss a few dollars into the bucket.




HI-C ECTO COOLER


Not a soda per se, but Ecto Cooler probably has just as much if not more sugar than most of the comebacks, so I’ll count it! Like most of these re-releases, finding it out in the wild was the most difficult part of the ordeal. I didn’t manage to find any Ecto in its original juice box form until the very end of the promotion (it seems most of it was sent to very random grocery store chains and bought up swiftly to be flipped on eBay), however when I did snag some, it was well worth the hunt.


DESIGN: No cartoon Slimer, but still classic.

TASTE: Like childhood.

DOES IT HOLD UP: Yes. But the juice box is truly the only way to go. The cans held too much of this stuff. Best to take it in small doses.



JOLT COLA


The OG energy drink we all remember from those late ‘80s / early ‘90s hacker movies, Jolt Cola is a very welcome return. I believe this stuff was still being made and sold in glass bottles at novelty shops, but it wasn’t until recently that it was given a full reboot. Now, if we could only get it in some 7-Elevens instead of the dollar store chain that seems to have exclusive distribution rights at the moment…


DESIGN: Perfection. I want it on a t-shirt. Jolt, please send me a t-shirt?

TASTE: Like a sub-par Coke. I guess an RC Cola?

DOES IT HOLD UP: Yes. And it provides a really nice caffeine boost.



ORIGINAL NEW YORK SELTZER 


I’m going to say it now: this soda wins. It is the champion. If you can only snag one soda from this list for diet reasons, make it an ONYS. Sure, it has a misleading title. In the Millennial world of La Croix (is this French for “the crap”?), most people these days probably assume a seltzer will be sugar free. But not ONYS! No no! There’s still some sugar in there, but thankfully not enough to make you dizzy. It also comes in many flavors and I have yet to try a bad one. They all come in 10 oz deli style glass bottles which, in my humble opinion, is the perfect sized soda.


DESIGN: A rainbow of soda.

TASTE: Like heaven.

DOES IT HOLD UP: More than any of the others. Buy it now.




Lastly, a quick word for our dearly departed: HIRES ROOT BEER. Rest in peace, Hires. I’m not sure why your parent company decided to finally can you (pun intended) but it is very sad to see you go.

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Superman Posted on Nov 16, 2018 at 12:00 AM

This was a fun read. I think the only one that I've personally tried is Crystal Pepsi, so I enjoyed reading your review of the others.

HalcyonDazed710 Posted on Oct 26, 2018 at 06:12 PM

Thanks for the kind words @Vaporman87! I need to get around to writing more stuff. I really enjoy reading the articles everyone contributes.

@jkatz Never tried Josta but I remember seeing it around. If they bring it back, I will definitely scoop it up.

@Hoju Koolander Yeah, I bought about three cases when I found it. It was on sale too, which was a nice bonus.

Hoju Koolander Posted on Oct 24, 2018 at 08:07 PM

You're right about Ecto-Cooler, the hunt for the green elixir was the real heart of the experience. It took me 3 months of searching until a friend finally tipped me off about an end-cap display at a local market. I drank my supply for 6 months straight and loved it.

For some reason the Original New York Seltzers were always being sold at frozen yogurt shops in my area as a kid and as a result, the soda and frozen yogurt are forever linked in my brain.

jkatz Posted on Oct 23, 2018 at 06:57 PM

I only know about Tab from a Simpsons episode("All this computer hacking is making me thirsty. I think I'll order a Tab."), I've never seen it in real life yet. One soda I wish they'd really bring back, even temporarily, is Josta. It had the coolest logo ever and was kinda like Dr. Pepper with extra caffeine.

Benjanime Posted on Oct 23, 2018 at 03:52 PM

i've always wanted to try surge, but now that i have prostatitis i guess that's not possible anymore.

Vaporman87 Posted on Oct 22, 2018 at 04:06 PM

Wow! Nice review here. I have to say, I agree with just about all of your statements on these drinks. A couple things:

Tab was something that only my grandma ever had in her fridge, and it was awful. But it was still better than the other option in there... Diet Rite. That stuff was like drinking a dead person.

I regret to say that I've never had an Original New York Seltzer, so it seems I will have to rectify that.

I enjoyed this funny and informative review. Keep it coming!

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