Now that its health benefits over traditional sodas are becoming nebulous, sugar-free sodas have become the vape pen of the beverage world. Adding new dimension to the metaphor, Diet Coke now comes in weird flavors.
Seeming to draw inspiration from young adults' fondness for mixologists and the cocktail resurgence these past few years, Diet Coke celebrated its 35th birthday with a new, slender 12-ounce can and four novel flavors. The fine folks at Coca-Cola Company apprently believe they're making the no-calorie beverage more appealing to that coveted range of 20- and 30-somethings who've all defected to Starbucks and LaCroix.
I'm not sure if NutraSweet's a vice yet, but I fancy myself a diet-cola connoisseur. I can taste the difference between silver-can Aspartame-Free Diet Pepsi (bleh!) and sky blue Diet Pepsi Classic Sweetener Blend, and I really miss Coke Zero — even though Coca-Cola Zero Sugar is so similar it's hardly noticeable.
I'd like to buy the world a Diet Coke, but it seems not everyone wants one. Owing to its blend of artificial sweeteners, I faced rejection getting colleagues to share their thoughts on new flavors Feisty Cherry, Ginger Lime, Twisted Mango and Zesty Blood Orange. I stepped up to the plate and finally arm-twisted others to try some.
In no scientific order, here's how I think they stack up.
1) Ginger Lime
I've long thought Coke Zero had no equal on the caffeinated no-calorie beverage front, but the green-striped can has a new place in my fridge — at least complimenting my favorite.
To me, it's a bit like a caffeinated ginger ale with a splash of Sprite, but the flavors work nicely together. It's an interesting combination, and the ginger flavor is notably strong. Similar to the Feisty Cherry variety, it has an intense, almost spicy tinge to my palate.
Mail Tribune news reporter Vickie Aldous, however, could taste a "diet" aftertaste more than I could, though she found the lime flavor mixed with ginger interesting.
2) Zesty Blood Orange
I'm particularly fond of the combination of orange and cola in all its forms because it reminds me of a trip I once took to Germany. There, Coca-Cola has sold Mezzo Mix soda since 1973 with a slogan translating to "Cola Kisses Orange."
There's not much cola flavor in Diet Coke's new variety, but it doesn't taste like Fanta. It's got notes of mandarin orange, but it's a dry, refreshing approach complemented by the aftertaste of orange zest.
My colleague Vickie liked it, and noted it had a quenching property that she'd find particularly refreshing after a run.
3) Feisty Cherry
As someone who still enjoys the occasional Roy Rogers and most forms of cherry cola, I'd expected the magenta-striped can to rank higher.
Replacing the old Diet Coke Cherry, I found this a surprisingly acquired taste. What makes cherry flavor feisty? Coca-Cola won't say beyond its "natural flavors," but it involves something spicy. It could be cinnamon or — perhaps taking a cue from the 2000 film "Chocolat" — cayenne pepper, but it's got a heat I almost wanted to wash down with something else.
4) Twisted Mango
None of the four flavors are subtle, taking on more of the flavor written at the bottom of the can than any cola taste. That said, for my palate the tropical notes of the yellow-can Diet Coke variety is super sweet.
To me, the combination of mango and papaya reminded me of the gummy candies I'd get at the store after taking back the bottles in grade school. There's a tinge of Midori, so some may like it as a mixer, but kids are gonna love it.
For reasons that likely have nothing to do with one of the biggest marketing blunders of the 1980s, Diet Coke repeats ad nauseum that it hasn't changed the formula.
That said, just as beers are best enjoyed with specific glassware, the original Diet Coke seems to benefit from its redesigned slender can. The drink seems to wash over my palate just a little differently — casting the very light flavors in a better light. Unfortunately, by very light, I mean bland.
Each of its colorful stablemates take the drinker straight to Flavortown, but sometimes we just need a fizzy lifting drink. Take my recommendations with a grain of whatever's in those blue Equal packets.