The rules of the game were simple: Acquire, taste and evaluate some of the most unusual offerings in bottles and cans found in the beverage aisles of several Houston grocery stores. Which ones would live up to the packaging hype, which literally fell flat and which were downright weird?
Four brave testers sampled 17 offerings, which barely scratched the surface of options for sale at Whole Foods Market, Fiesta Mart, H-E-B, Randalls and Foodarama. Here's our take on them:
Whole Foods Market
High Brew Cold-Brew Coffee in Salted Caramel
An immediate hint of sweet caramel and fresh coffee hit the nose with promises of a delicious drink but failed because of overall blandness and an off-putting calorie-free sweetener aftertaste. Testers agreed that using whole milk instead of reduced-fat and subtracting the Stevia would vastly improve the coffee’s appeal and allow the flavor of the beans to blossom. $2.79 per eight-ounce can
Bragg Organic Apple Cider Vinegar All Natural Drink in Limeade
For those accustomed to consuming apple cider vinegar, or potent elixirs in general, this drink will seem pretty standard. Plus it is bright, juicy and citrusy thanks to a generous hit of organic lime juice. That said, as the name implies, vinegar plays a starring role and it is not subtle. Reactions like “Oh my gosh, no” were countered with guarded optimism as in “For what it is, it’s actually good.” Go forth and vanquish the vinegar! $2.69 per 16-ounce bottle
Steaz Unsweetened Iced Green Tea in Unsweetened Dragonfruit
The distinct yet understated sweetness of this drink is derived entirely from its namesake fruit. Its lush and refreshing flavor was a unanimous win and everyone thought it would make a great cocktail mixer if one were so inclined. $1.69 per 16-ounce can
DRINKmaple Pure Maple Water
Sip…silence. “It’s not good, it’s not…it’s just ‘blahh.’” Well, there you have it. Maple water is just what it sounds like: water with a slight hint of maple, which reflects its origin as sap tapped directly from maple trees. It’s not particularly tasty, nor is it bad. It just is. According to the bottle, it contains more manganese than a cup of kale, offers a solid source of hydration and has a slew of nutrients. You’ll have to decide if this warrants the $2.50 price tag for a 12-ounce bottle.
Bai Antioxidant Infusion in Costa Rica Clementine
Despite the telltale aftertaste of stevia extract, the fresh citrus flavor of this water came through in a rush of orange-y charm. Clean and light, it was particularly good chilled over ice and would make for a nice alternative to juice so long as nutrition isn’t your goal (although one serving provides 25 percent of your daily Vitamin C. Win!).
$1.98 per 18-ounce bottle
Marley Beverage Co. Marley’s One Drop™ Coffee in Banana Split
You know that decadent syrup left over at the bottom of a melted banana split boat? Add a drizzle of cool coffee and you’d get the flavors of this blended creamy concoction. Like reggae music, it was equal parts upbeat and relaxing, though everyone agreed it would be even more peaceful if blended with rum. Pretty sure Bob would approve. $1.97 per 11-ounce can
Boots Beverages sodas in Caramel Apple, Picture Show Red Hot, The Ultimate Caramel Cola, and Coconut Cream Soda
When choosing which of Boots’s inventive flavors to try, just go with your gut and get them all. How else can you compare and contrast the nuances of two caramel-themed sodas or determine whether you prefer traditional cream soda to the coconut variety offered by Boots?
Research for this article delivered the following consensus: The caramel apple soda smelled like the rich burnt sugar of Halloween candy, but the mild apple flavor was lost, resulting in a light soda without much depth. The red hot soda was also a bit of a disappointment in that its aroma evoked visions of small boxes of red hot candies but it was not very sweet and fell short of the bite of fiery cinnamon of its namesake, instead tasting more like a dud fireball than anything else. Its enticing red glow wasn’t enough to offset the odd soapy aftertaste. The “ultimate” caramel cola was a big winner with its dark aroma evocative of molasses and baked goods – it just smelled homey and warm, which is fitting seeing as how the flavor was reminiscent of the syrupy sauce of a good Mexican flan. Also in good favor was the coconut cream soda that oddly enough reminded tasters of Brach's Sundaes Neapolitan Coconut Candy with a welcome wave of nostalgia. $4.97 per four-pack or four single 12-ounce bottles for $5
This soda was perhaps the highest crowd-pleaser with its natural familiarity: It looked and tasted like fizzy apple juice, and who wouldn’t love that? The drink was lush and perky, and even though it contains only 1% juice, it had a decided apple-ness that was hard to beat. $3.49 per six-pack of 19.9-ounce bottles
Arizona Rx Energy Herbal Tonic
Not only did this “tea” (its first ingredient is green tea) look more like a sports drink with its eerie yellow color, it tasted like a mat shot – you know, the collection of spills and drips that end up behind the bar after a long and busy night? No bueno. There was an underlying mango essence that could have been good had the rest of it not been tainted with medicinal-tasting herbal additives. 88 cents per 20-ounce bottle
D&G Sof Drink in Kola Champagne
This soda was very light, mild and bubbly – surprise? It was hard to distinguish any decisive flavor, as it was just mainly sweet and carbonated, the way you’d expect any soda to taste like prior to getting its flavor injection. The simplicity was not a negative, however, and one taster suggested reducing it in a pan as a glaze for cooking. 99 cents per 12-ounce bottle
Big Bamboo Jamaican Irish Moss Peanut Drink
Like a nutty milkshake cloud, this most-intriguing drink poured from the can exactly as though it had just been released from a blender. It was thick and rich and foamy, smelling like the inside of a peanut butter cup and tasting nearly as good – betcha adding a swirl of chocolate syrup would seal that deal.
$1.69 per 11-ounce can
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The sparkling sangria looked pretty on the shelf in its slender green dress and pretty label sash. It beckoned with encouragement that was impossible to resist. Carbonated wine – even without the alcohol – sounded scrumptious. No. Just no. This version tasted “like cherry cough syrup,” said one taster, while another commented on its fermented quality in a way that was not intended as a compliment. Unlike at a typical gathering featuring fruit-soaked red wine, no one here asked for a refill much less a bottomless pitcher. Enough said. 69 cents per 11.16-ounce bottle
Half the fun of drinking this suntan-glow beverage from Honduras was trying to pronounce the name, giving up and yelling B-A-N-A-N-A! Despite its radioactive appearance, it smelled delightfully like banana Runts, banana-flavored Laffy Taffy and even a banana daiquiri. The flavor was mild, which was a pleasant change from the bolder artificial banana flavors that are the norm, though the makers could have increased it just a tad without risking overload. Also, the bright green and yellow label adorned with palm trees and tropical fruit was adorable and fun. Lots to love with this drink! 99 cents per 2-liter bottle
ALO ORIGINAL – COMFORT in Watermelon + Peach
Smelling this juice was like taking a bite into the white rind of a watermelon – the aroma/taste connection was spot-on. If chewing your juice makes you happy, then you’ll love the quantity of floating aloe bits, enough to ensure that every sip required a chew or two. The peach flavor was less pronounced but still rounded out the watermelon nicely, giving the drink an overall summery appeal.
$1.79 per 16.9-ounce bottle
Neuro Bliss in White Raspberry
Some folks meditate to reduce stress, while others go for long runs on deserted streets. If activities like those are too taxing for you, try sipping on this infused water that supposedly helps with stress reduction and increased focused – isn’t that contradictory? In any case, it also smelled like an air freshener but tasted like beloved gone-but-not-forgotten Clearly Canadian. Those who tasted it felt it was a winner, though, similar flavor profiles could be found in other brands for a lot less dough. $2.49 per 14.5-ounce bottle