The Natural Cola Contenders

11 Oct

Way back in 2008, I decided to switch from frequent slurps of diet soda to rare indulgences in all-natural colas, because of my fear/hatred of high fructose corn syrup. With my taller half at my side, I tried a quartet of cane-sugar-sweetened “dark pops” and wrote little reviews. Recently I decided it would be fun to revisit and add a fifth variety. So let the Cola Contenders please step forward.

Contender #1 – Virgil’s

This brand is the most appealing visually in its neato glass bottle. It also has a fun twist-off cap that I can use for craft projects. Unfortunately, it’s nearly a dollar more expensive than the cans for the same amount of beverage. Taste-wise, this drink was quite good. It has a complex flavor more akin to Dr. Pepper than Coke or Pepsi. The clove and vanilla are noticeable but not overpowering. What this soda is missing is bite. The carbonation is a bit lacking, which is too bad. If it were stronger, this may have been an early winner. Rating: Out of 5 bubbles, my co-tester gave it 3 bubbles, and I was a little more generous with 3.5.

Contender #2 – Blue Sky

This soda comes in a pretty can with lots of lovely blue, but it’s not nearly as cool as the bottle. It cost me $.69 at Whole Foods, and I think you can get a six-pack there for about $3, so it does win the price war. The cola had a decent flavor but was much less complex than Virgil’s. No particular flavors stuck out to us. Grey and I both remarked that it tasted a lot like RC Cola. I think Coke drinkers will be more likely than Pepsi drinkers to enjoy this soda. Like Virgil’s, it has low carbonation, which is a definite strike against it. Where’s the bite, natural soda manufacturers? Rating: I gave it 2.5, but my love gave it a 2. Virgil’s was a clear winner over this one, giving it a second-day advantage.

Contender #3 – 365 All Natural Cola (aka Whole Foods brand)

This brand was somewhat similar to Blue Sky in flavor. It was similar to RC again, but its flavor was a bit more complex and interesting. It wasn’t too sweet nor too bland. 365‘s biggest advantage over its competitors so far is bite. Yes, this soda actually has adequate carbonation! That’s a really important cola quality for me. While the RC-like flavor doesn’t do it for me the way Virgil’s more organic notes did, the presence of amped-up carbonation is an important factor.
Rating (out of five bubbles): We both concur it’s a 3.

Contender #4 – Jones Pure Cane Cola

PhotobucketIt has a crisp, complex flavor and plenty of delicious carbonation. Unlike its competitors, it has caffeine, so that may explain the extra bite. Whatever the case, this was a joy to imbibe. It is its own cola — not a Coke, Pepsi, Dr. Pepper, or (God forbid another) RC Cola rip-off. It was refreshing and tasty from the bottle, and as I discovered over the weekend, it’s quite wonderful from the can, too. You can buy 12 packs of it from Reasor’s for $4 (I think). I am very happy to have found the perfect Diet Dr. Pepper replacement. Though this one has calories, I’m happy to spend 160 of them on something tasty and not totally chemical-laden.
Rating (out of five bubbles): He gives it a 4, I edge it up slightly to a 4.5.

Contender #5 – Boylan’s Natural Cane Cola

We are both big fans of Boylan’s Cream Soda, so I was interested to try their cola. It was surprisingly tasty, with plenty of bite from the carbonation and caffeine. Again, it’s sort of like RC (what’s that about?), but this time in an interesting, natural-tasting way. Though I think Jones’ does the best imitation of junky cola, Boylan’s has created a great natural flavor with impact. Rating: He gives it a 3.5, and I give it a 4.

Conclusion: Jones definitely came in first, with Boylan’s a close second, while Blue Sky was the least appealing. Of course, none can overtake my favorite cane-sugar cola of all time, the German-produced Afri-Cola. Oh how I miss thee.

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