A Cooler Coke: Almdudler

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Each Tuesday and Thursday for the next few weeks, we'll be taking a look at alternatives to cokes for the sticky Houston summer that lays ahead.

Through the course of drinking various soft drinks and reporting back to you on them, I'll occasionally discover beverages like Vimto: something I feel that I should be familiar with, but somehow am not. It's vaguely frustrating.

In the case of Vimto, I've spent plenty of time in northern England and was even married to a Mancunian for quite a while, but had never heard of what is apparently the most popular soft drink in the cold, industrial north. I also have a legion of Middle Eastern friends who had somehow never clued me in to the fact that Vimto is pretty much the Coca-Cola of that region, complete with hilarious commercials.

In the case of today's beverage, Almdudler, I somehow managed to get away with spending a significant amount of time in Austria and even minoring in German. (Seriously? Don't do this. Save your money.) Yet I had never seen a bottle of Almdudler until laying eyes on it in a Spec's last week.

All this to say that sometimes I'm at a loss and end up relying on Wikipedia pages to figure out exactly what I'm drinking and where it came from. And Almdudler has one of the strangest Wikipedia pages I've seen yet.

Almdudler is the most national soft drink in Austria, second in popularity only to Coca-Cola. We learn this from its Wikipedia page, as well as other completely random tidbits like this:

It is available in the United States at Jungle Jim's International Market in Fairfield, Ohio.

There are no other mentions of U.S. distributors. Just Jungle Jim's. I wonder if they have monkey bars there...

We also learn this interesting piece of information:

The slogan of the Almdudler advertising campaign, in the Austro-Bavarian dialect, has become a well-known phrase in Austria: Wenn die kan Almdudler hab'n, geh' i wieder ham! (Standard German: Wenn die keinen Almdudler haben, gehe ich wieder heim! English: If they don't have Almdudler, I'll go back home!) This advertising slogan was written by advertising creative legend and Englishman Simon North whilst in Austria.

Not getting into the general weirdness of the Austrian dialect, I think it's a pretty huge stretch to call anyone who wrote that a "creative legend." Leo Burnett, David Ogilvy, Phil Dusenberry -- these are advertising legends. The guy who came up with the equivalent of "I'm taking my ball and going home!"...not so much.

Anyway, after tasting it Almdudler, I both understand why it's the national drink of Austria yet am still slightly confused. I get the whole "flavored with mountain herbs" aspect. Austrians are big on their mountains. But it's still a bit like Sprite being the most popular soft drink in America. There's nothing inherently wrong with Sprite; it's just a bit boring.

Almdudler is similarly inoffensive. It tastes just fine, like slightly less fizzy Canada Dry ginger ale. But why would ginger ale be the predominant soft drink in your beverage market? This is why: Austrian palates run toward the plain and inoffensive. Take their country's signature dish, wiener schnitzel. (It's not a German dish, FYI. Wien is in Austria; the dish is schnitzel prepared in the style of Vienna, or Wien.) It's a piece of veal, pounded flat and just barely seasoned with salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon. Yes, it's wholly delicious. But it's not exciting.

In this sense, I can understand how Almdudler would capture the collective consciousness of the Austrian people. But on the other hand, Austrians are also responsible for creating beverages like Red Bull (yes, Red Bull!) and some of the most delicious desserts on earth. Extravagant cakes like Sachertorte and Linzer torte came from Austria, so one would think the taste for sweet things (like beverages) would run toward the similarly extravagant.

I don't know if I was expecting an apricot-caramel flavored soft drink or maybe a cherry-poppyseed soda instead of what is basically ginger ale -- what we give sick people that can't drink anything else -- to be the "national drink" of Austria. I just know that now I have an idea for conquering the Austrian beverage market with my line of apple strudel-flavored cokes. Watch out!

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