From ‘Margaritas’ to Joose
A trip through the other beverages in the beer aisle
by Molly Templeton
We are beer drinkers and whiskey swillers, lovers of the old-fashioned and the Manhattan, wine sippers and lovers of summertime gin and tonics. We know what we want in the beer aisle.
But sometimes, we get curious. And sometimes, people say, it’s good to step outside your comfort zone.
It was with those thoughts in mind that a taste test was proposed and carried out: What about all those other beverages? Not beer, not cocktail, not wine; these beverages bear some distant relationship to beer, being generally malt-based, but the similarity is a mere technicality. What of coolers, Breezes, and those so-called alcopops? These are not our wonderful drinks. This is not our wonderful comfort zone. This is something different.
Sparks resembles fizzy Tang and smells of Mamba candy, Otter Pops and children’s aspirin. As for taste, “Maybe if you iced it and put three shots of vodka in it …” someone muses. Like the other vividly colored canned boozes, Sparks contains “certified colors,” which is just weird. It tastes, as one tester succintly puts it, like all the kind of flavors that anything that’s not meant to have a flavor have added in. Chewable vitamins, for one. “I think my fingers are quivering a bit,” a tester observes as we down our wee portions.
Bud Light Lime
“This is definitely supposed to make you want to take your shirt off — but you have a bikini on underneath.”
Whether Bud Light Lime smells simply of Bud Light or bears more resemblance to “a bad margarita” is up for debate, but its flavor is widely agreed upon: “This tastes amazingly similar to really cheap sparkling water with lime,” aka what someone calls “sparkling mineral beer.” You may find it tastes of Zima. “But at least Zima was clear,” a disgruntled drinker points out.
The Mike-arita smells like a margarita, relatively: “It’s like margarita mix; they just missed the tequila,” we theorize. “It’s kind of Gatorade-y.” “It’s so sugary, you need the cold,” a tester says, prompting another to note, “It is nice over ice.”
“If you salted the rim and put tequila in it,” it might more closely resemble a margarita. “It’s like a training margarita.” Two testers prefer this to the previous beverages; one prefers Bud Light Lime, but is certain that not one of the beverages tried so far actually contains alcohol. “I’ve had a lot worse,” someone muses.
The Miller Chill is “chelada style.” What does that mean? Millerchill.com helpfully explains that the chelada was born in Mexico in the 1950s: “light beer poured over ice with a squeeze of lime and a hint of salt for added refreshment.” Someone asks, “So this is the margarita of the champagne of beers?”
The Chill has more “beer flavor” than the Bud Light Lime, but shocks at least one tester into suspecting it of being Tequiza in disguise. “With a big gulp, it’s OK; with a little gulp it’s just gross,” someone says, but no one agrees: “I just got a bigger mouthful of disgusting.”
The flavor is temporarily narrowed to “green Froot Loops,” but someone immediately counteroffers “like a house party,” and it’s true: the Miller Chill smells intensely of that sour post-party aroma of spilled bill, left-out limes and cigarette butts.
Seagram’s Escapes Strawberry Margarita
This Escape is bright, bright, bright pink. The color is mesmerizing: “There’s a luminscence to it.” “What would happen if you shot this with a black light? You’d just start hallucinating.”
“It looks and smells like the stuff in automatic air fresheners in bathrooms,” someone notes. The next thing anyone says, upon tasting the stuff, is simply, “OH, JESUS.”
“It’s like rancid Jolly Ranchers.” “It IS an escape! I can taste the sand!” People are getting blunt: “This is awful.” One taster wants to try the Escape out on some grout or tile: “It’d take soap scum right off.” Time for a change of pace.
The Chelada is a source of excitement to some, and horror and fear to others. Tomato and clam juice? In Budweiser? What is the world coming to? To great things, for some: “Oooh, that is a good scent!” and “Oooh, the salt and lemon are already in it!” are immediate reactions — but so is a simple “I do not think I like this.” One side says, “It tastes like Bud with tomato paste dissolved in it,” while the other declares “It’s savory; it’s satisfying; it tastes like food. It IS food.”
“It smells like worchester sauce and Chicken in a Biskit crackers and all the fake savory flavors” is meant as a compliment — we think. Theories abound about recreating the Chelada with a different beer, maybe a Session, a PBR or an Olympia. “It’d probably be better with Mexican beer,” a tester notes. In the end, there is no concensus: “I am so sold on this!” declares one side, while the other decrees, “I think this is from hell, and I have no idea what all of these guys are talking about.”
Comparisons between Joose and the previous drink are met with skepticism: “We’re comparing clams and grapes.” For lo, Dragon Joose is grape flavored, and Dragon Joose is bright purple. A vivid, crazy purple that tastes like children’s Tylenol, grape crush, grape Jolly Ranchers and “original Dimetapp! From when it was still prescription!” Joose also smells like Pedialyte. “It makes my mouth salivate after I’ve had it,” a tester brightly notes. “You know, when your saliva gets really thin when you’re about to puke. That’s what’s happening to my mouth right now.” Another is delighted: “I could power through a can of this in 10 seconds. I could shotgun this. I have a serious weakness for grape soda.” Dragon Joose is declared “much nicer than Sparks.”
By the time Tilt comes around, the testers are getting unruly and don’t want to drink anything else. But shrieking results when we see the incredible neon green color that comes from the shiny silver can. “Are those certified colors?” someone snarks. “This Tilt looks fucking freaky.” Someone says it looks like antifreeze; someone else says it smells like antifreeze; a third person says antifreeze smells different. “It smells like arrow lime flavored vodka.”
Disturbingly, the vibrant green is not indicative of a lime flavor. Tilt falls between the horror of the “strawberry margarita” and the relative blah-ness of the mojito on the flavor scale. “It’s the jungle juice of melted jello.” Green Fla-Vor-Ice is considered as a relative in the taste scale, but rejected, as green Fla-Vor-Ice has more lime. “Saying something has more lime than this is a pretty easy claim to make. Apples have more lime than this.”
Bartles & Jaymes Original
Our stamina is gone. We’re barely holding on for the last few ounces we’ve got to taste: the original B&J wine cooler. One tired taster mutters, “It’s B&J. It tastes awful. Done.” Gamely, someone tries to rally with more specific comments: “Is there pineapple in here?”
“OK, pineapple flavor.”
“Certified pineapple flavoring?”
Is it soda gone bad? One drinker takes a sip and simply groans. Another complains, “I had a greasy film on my lip after one sip of this.” We’ve got the sugary booze blahs. Our taste buds have been brutalized. The things we do for you. We drank it all — or at least a few sips of it — so you don’t have to unless you want to. Of course, we might stare but we won’t stop you.