A Cooler Coke: Grandpa Lundquist Christmas Soda - Scandinavian Julmust

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Other people's Christmas Traditions are weird. I mean, let's be honest, here. Nobody thinks that Catalonia's Caga Tió - an anthropomorphic, candy-shitting take on the yule-log - is normal. The same can probably be said for the Dutch Zwarte Piet, whose black-face shenanigans are as beloved in the Netherlands as they are shocking to, well, pretty much everyone else. Of course, odd as we may find some traditions, the other always breeds curiosity, and so I found myself trying Julmust, a traditional Swedish holiday beverage.

A strong part of Swedish culture since its creation in 1910, Julmust was originally intended as a non-alcoholic beer-alternative. It's not that. People in Sweden are serious about it, nonetheless, even putting it up to age for a year or more - to enhance the musty goodness, I suppose. I'm going to follow suit with my remaining bottle, stashing it next to my actual beer, to see if the Swedes are onto something with their vintage Julmust.

I found this year's batch in the Holiday Remainders aisle at Disco Kroger, although I kind of suspect it never made it onto the regular shelves in the first place. The bottle nearly tore a hole in my hand, its twist-off cap refusing to comply, behaving like a badly stripped screw. Once I got it open, I was confronted with a strident acetone aroma, creating some concern about what was to come. Like a properly stoic Swede, I pushed onward.

My Julmust poured a medium brown, like strong iced-coffee, producing a creamy, two-finger head. The acetone aroma did not abate. Fortunately (or not; I haven't decided yet), it was joined by canned peaches, the smell of the taste of Fruit Stripe Gum, and my wife's conditioner.

The flavor is much more restrained, initially coming across as a significant, but neutral, sweetness. Some caramel notes come on quickly, followed by a hint of citrus (perhaps from the hops included). Peach flavors come in underneath a malty middle, followed by a hint of bitterness. There's a slightly cloying artificiality that sweeps through, if you hold it in your mouth for a bit, but it washes out quickly.

For some reason, I was expecting a bit of spice, but it never manifested itself. I'm not sure if it was that unmet expectation, but the overall impression is rather flat. There are some interesting, even pleasant, flavors going on, but nothing really rises to the top or provides a striking character.

It's almost as if the soda is trying to be polite and inoffensive. I can imagine a Garrison Keillor sketch based on Julmust, in the vein of the Ketchup Advisory Board: "Julmust is a temperate drink, not like those shameless hussy sodas from America. Anytime you're feeling a bit less reserved, drink a Julmust."

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