Friday, July 17, 2009

Too Old to Dew?

I am, admittedly, a man of quirky obsessions. Get me interested in or hooked on something and I'm usually in for a fairly long haul.

As a kid it was KISS and anything to do with PLANET OF THE APES, to such an extent (or so my parents thought) that our house was a KISS & APES-Free Zone for awhile. Considering all the things kids I knew from school actually were doing, the comic metal and questionable sci-fi of these two pop culture landmarks seemed pretty benign to me both now and then.

The older I got the more far-ranging my obsessions became – Atari 2600 games, JFK-abilia, drive-in cinema, LPs, vintage cookbooks and pamphlets, Klaus Kinski, the list goes on.

Typically, such fascinations followed a predictable arc as I flirted with something, threw myself into it headfirst, hit a point of critical mass and then trailed off, usually dispersing the flotsam and jetsam I'd collected along the way.

When it comes to food, though, my quirky obsessions tend to stick. Hell, every year or so I still have to hop in the car and drive down to Frederick, MD to scratch the Roy Rogers Double R Bar Burger itch I've been working for 30+ years.

Which makes it that much sadder for me to admit that at some point it all went wrong with Mountain Dew and me.

The Dew was probably my earliest romance, one-sided though it was. Discovered during the 1970s when it became increasingly difficult to find Pepsi Light (the lemon-flavored cola), Dew was readily available at the club where I swam and played tennis and while I probably didn't need a jolt of caffeine to keep me going in those days it certainly provided a little extra kick after a late night of watching NIGHT GALLERY on Channel 48 or trying to descramble porn signals on my bedroom tv.

Subconsciously, I probably also liked Dew because there was no generic equivalent for my Mom to buy. When it came to colas, our house was free of both prejudice and brand loyalty... Pepsi, Coke, Triple Cola... if it was on sale and there was a double coupon to apply that's what we were having with spaghetti that week.

The Dew, on the other hand, could not be duplicated. Forget imitators like Mello Yello or Mom's attempts to get me to consider Fresca, Dew and I soon became so inseparable, so connected in the matriarchal mind that even when I visited home long after I'd stopped drinking the stuff she'd make sure the fridge was stocked.

Or they were cans that were still left from my adolescence. Which is entirely possible.

Somewhere along the line, though, The Dew and I started drifting apart. I don't know if it was the change in can design (a traumatic moment for me if this article is to be believed) or if they actually had tampered with the formula I'd come to trust to get me through late night radio shifts and all-night movie marathons.

Oh sure, I still enjoyed my Mountain Dew Wine Coolers each summer at the shore (Mountain Dew and boxed white wine over ice) and I could count on it to get me through a night when I needed to stay awake but gone were the days when I could pound can after can with reckless abandon.

Frankly, Dew had become a young person's game, as evidenced by things like Diet Mountain Dew and Mountain Dew Sport.

Recently, though, I had a chance to flirt with that first love all over again. In their infinite wisdom, the fine folks at Pepsi rolled out "throwback" versions of both Pepsi and The Dew. Replacing the high fructose corn syrup that had become the trademark sweetener in both drinks, Pepsi Throwback and Mountain Dew Throwback featured "natural sugar" to give the sodas the kind of sweet flavor – without that harsh chemically aftertaste – that won me over in the first place.

Frankly, this wasn't all that big a deal for Pepsi lovers. After all, if they wanted a non-fructosed version of their beloved beverage, it could be had thanks to Kosher Pepsi and Mexican Pepsi. Dew fans weren't so lucky and I was excited to try the beverage (once I found it, that is).

It's hard to imagine that a drink could instantly transport me back 30 years, but Dew Throwback did just that. One swig of that crisp citrus flavor – accompanied by the trademark kick and frisky carbonation I always loved – and I wasn't hustling around the house trying to juggle work, social life and a lovable two-year-old. Instead, I was a 12-year-old without a care in the world, downing a can in the hot sun after swim team practice, waiting for my best friend Ed so we could hit the tennis courts.

Not surprisingly, years of writing about my Dew obsession has spread the word and I recently found myself on the receiving end of not one but two packages of new Dew flavors or brand extensions.

Giddy with the recent memories of my Throwback experience but saddened by its disappearance after an all-too-brief eight-week window of availability (now I knew how Danny and Sandy felt at the outset of GREASE!), I wondered if one of these new Dews on the block would help me forget the recent past and blaze a bold, new future.

Mountain Dew Game Fuel
Given its high caffeine content and reputation for helping you stay awake, it's no surprise that Pepsi has taken the opportunity to position Dew as a drink (or "fuel" in this case) for gamers. There was a Halo 3 tie-in a couple summers ago and now Dew is available in two limited time flavors aimed at fans of World of Warcraft: Wild Fruit (Alliance Blue) and Citrus Cherry (Horde Red).

Since my own video gaming stopped the minute they added buttons to the front of the controllers, I'm not familiar with WoW. Based on the website featuring the drinks and characters from the game it looks like the blue stuff is for the good guys and orange stuff is for the bad guys. My cans (shown at right) were actually generic "test cans" featuring computer-generated labels. (talk about feeling like you've "arrived" as a product reviewer!)

Both flavors are about as brightly colored as you can possibly get for a soda, with eye-popping hues that look like somebody melted a popsicle then dropped one of those glow sticks in it.

The fine folks over at have confirmed that the Horde Red/Citrus Cherry flavor is actually the same formula that was used back in 2007 for the original Game Fuel/Halo 3 promotion. Given the drink's cough syrupy/crused baby aspirin flavor that's too bad. You'd think somebody would have said something or tweaked the formula in the last couple years.

The Wild Fruit/Alliance Blue, however, is – once you get past the eye-popping neon color – a far more palatable drink. Sorta like you might get if you mixed regular Dew and some kind of fruit punch. While you might be expecting a blueberry taste (I know I was) the drink is actually pleasantly fruity and quite drinkable.

Featuring 6 mg/oz of caffeine, the limited-time-only drinks feature more kick than regular Dew and – thanks to the high fructose corn syrup sweetener – a harsher, more lingering aftertaste, too. Both drinks will be available until early-to-mid August.

Mountain Dew Voltage & Mountain Dew Supernova
While getting ready to taste the WoW Mountain Dew Game Fuel flavors I remembered that I still had some cans of the "Dew Drinker Designed" flavors that were part of the election-oriented Dew-Mocracy promotion from last fall.

Mountain Dew Revolution was the third flavor but I couldn't find it in our fridge which means that I must have drunk it at some point and it left no impression on me.

Mountain Dew Supernova fared just slightly better than the drink I couldn't remember at all. The aroma – that of stale laundry – didn't call to mind the Strawberry Melon and Ginseng that the can promised, but the taste actually wasn't bad. Not great but not like stale laundry, either.

Not surprisingly, Mountain Dew Voltage turned out to be the people's choice when the balloting was finished this spring. Touting Raspberry Citrus with Ginseng flavors on the can, it actually tastes like a milder, slightly weaker version of the Wild Fruit/Alliance Blue Game Fuel Flavor described above.

I can say with some conviction that none of these new flavors is going to make me a regular Dew drinker again. In fact, the taste test gave me a little bit of a belly ache and I had to go sit down.

What they did, do, though is reinforce just how good the recent Mountain Dew Throwback was and how sad I am that the promotion is over and the product has disappeared from store shelves.

I thought about stocking up – okay, hoarding it – when it was on the shelves but feared that I'd be doling out cans to Ryan when she came home for a visit in 2034.


Rachel said...

I wish they would make "throwback" Coke. Kosher Coke is only available3 weeks of the year and in 2 liter bottles (too large for us to consume before it goes flat and I love cans) and Mexican Coke is difficult to find locally and even if found, too expensive to be a replacement for regular Coke. Why do Pepsi lovers get all the fun??

Dan said...

I always view Pepsi, much like Burger King, as the little engine that could. When's the last time Coke or McDonald's really pushed the envelope? With Pepsi and BK maybe not everything is a slam dunk but when they get it right (Holiday Spice Pepsi, Throwback, etc.) it's memorable and worthy of kudofication.

Douglas A. Waltz said...

We have a retro candy store in town here and I can get either Pepsi or Coke. I actually go for a flavor called Green River which is the only lime flavored soda out there. Notice I didn't say lemon lime. Nope, Just lime. It is a bright green and we used to get that at the local roller rink here in Kalamazoo. Okay, it was actually more like Portage, but close enough. Anyway, it is bright green and has that definite lime taste to it. It packed quite a punch at the roller rink soda fountain when you ordered a suicide. That's when you get a squirt of each soda from the fountain all in one glass. I still can't believe that I used to drink those things.
Anyway, I loved the Mountain Dew Throwback and hope that it generated enough numbers for Pepsi that they will do it again or make it permanent.
And wans't it Pepsi who did those cerry vanilla chocolate thingies one year. Those were pretty good as I rmemeber.

Dan said...

I'm with ya Doug. If its quick disappearance from stores is any indication I'd say the Throwback promotion was a hit. I still have a few cans of Pepsi but I recently drank my last Dew. I keep scouring store shelves, though. If they don't bring it back it won't be the first time Pepsi teased me and then pulled the rug out... every holiday season I go looking for Holiday Spice Pepsi... alas...

Rachel said...

Pepsi does seem to like launching new flavors and variations which must be fun if you like Pepsi or just really like trying new soda. Unfortunately, Pepsi products always taste too sweet and of artificial vanilla to me.

I think Coke has come out with a fair amount of new if not terribly innovative flavors/variations in the past few years and a few of them have stuck around. The variations that I have tried (cherry, lime, lemon, vanilla, black cherry, orange, BLAK, cherry vanilla, black cherry vanilla--with all but cherry launching within the past 8 years) haven't appealed to me at all but they must have fans because I still see more than half of them for sale. Pepsi (like Burger King now that I think about it) seems to focus more on seasonal or promotional flavors and then doesn't necessarily bring them back each year or add them to the general product line. Which would drive me crazy if I actually liked any of them! Coke (like McDonald's perhaps) seems to focus more on expanding their flavors on a more permanent basis unless they really don't go over well and are discontinued.

I think I am just a Coke purist. One of my earliest food & drink related memories was when I was 5 and they launched "New Coke" and my mom had us do a blind taste test between Pepsi, New Coke and the original Coke and I picked out "classic" Coke as the best. If only they'd get rid of the HFCS (which is now more expensive than sugar!) for good!

TaraMetBlog said...

I never got into dew, but I remember the boys growing up were more into it. Have you tried Pepsi Natural with real sugar too? it also has other natual ingrdients-