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Five Up, Five Down: The Definitive SODA Rankings

Coca-Cola Post Strong Earnings Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Welcome back to Down the Drive, a Soda Blog Nation site. Soda is our passion at Soda Blog Nation and what better way to express that passion than to rank our favorite and least favorite sodas. Let’s get right to it.

Johnny’s Five Up

1. Diet Dr. Pepper

I’m a diet soda guy. They just taste so darned refreshing compared to the carb-bomb that is regular soda. Now, I’m not averse to the occasional sociable sugary soda, but I’m not somebody who goes out of his way for a glass of sugar with bubbles. Coke with real sugar, Pepsi Throwback, Canadian and European variants of Fanta and Crush are all pretty darned good, but I really dig the diet soda. Sure, I know there’s some research out there that says I might as well drink sugar soda, or Strontium Seltzer for that matter, but that research won’t slake my thirst. I want a 23-flavor parade through my gullet, and for me, it’s the hyped up Prune Cola (no, I’m serious) that is Diet Dr. Pepper. Any time it’s the summer, and I’m at a convenience store, I always go for the 2 for $3 deal, or the 2 for $3.50 that gougers are putting on this precious refresher from Texas.

2. Diet Canada Dry

Open the can, feel the bubbles, smell the ginger. If I don’t got to get things done, I’m reaching for one of these effervescent beauties. No caffeine means less productivity, but that doesn’t matter to me. It’s got more carbonation than that weak Swiss crap from Schweppes, and a better taste too. Canada Dry just sounds good to me. I like a beverage that isn’t afraid to confuse the mind by saying that it’s dry. On a hot summer’s day or a cold winter’s night, it’s got something for you. Refreshing bubbles for hot days, and ginger to warm the winter. Heat it up and make seasonal drinks. Give it to the babies to make them have more vigor. If I could have a tap of the stuff in my house, I would.

3. Diet Pepsi

We were a Pepsi family growing up. We took the cola wars seriously. My mom always had a large supply of the golden cans of Caffeine-Free Diet Pepsi in the basement next to the dehumidifier. Grabbing a couple of these, cooled only by the basement floor, is a cherished childhood memory, because I was a lousy athlete and friend.

4. Coke Zero

The new guy on the block for me, Coke Zero has the Coca-Cola taste that I enjoy, with the refreshing diet qualities I seek out like a sugar-substitute junkie. If you go to one of those Freestyle gimmicks they’ve got at the Five Guys or wherever, they’ve got all of these flavors that the bottling company doesn’t trust you with. Cherry-Vanilla Coke Zero? Absolutely. Jack and Coke Zero? Very Yes.

5. 7-Up

7-Up has seen fit to provide us with a variety of medicinal options for those of us who think of soda as medicine which is kind of weird in 2018. Regular: Stomachache. Diet: Fever. Cherry: Sore Throat. Diet Cherry: Flu-Like Symptoms. dnL: Being a stupid teenager who needs more spank and less Spock. Fido Dido is my doctor.

Johnny’s Five Down

1. Cherry Chocolate Dr. Pepper

I’d rather drink that Chocolate Rain that Tay Zonday sang about. Neither cherry enough nor chocolatey enough. A marketing ploy only enjoyed by people who pollute our precious Dr. Pepper. Geordi LaForge says: then let our powers combine. Earth! Fire! Wind! Water! Heart! Go Pepper! We’re the Pepper-teers, and you can be one too because saving Dr. Pepper is the thing to do. Looting and polluting is not the way. Here’s what Dr. Pepper has to say: Chocolate is not a soda flavor.

2. Graveyard/Suicide

Regional differences abound for the naming of this, but it’s when you take a little of each of the sodas in a soda machine and mix them all together. Or “pop.” Or “cokes” if you’re weird. The fatalistic name is appropriate, because they always taste like kind of orangey cola. They are gross, and if you make one after the age of 16, girls won’t talk to you.

I drank four of these at my friend Adam’s birthday party at Pizza Putt, a copyright-dodging pizza restaurant/miniature golf course/arcade/batting cage/laser tag emporium near the airport. I tossed and turned in my bed like Kenny Loggins in the Danger Zone until 4 a.m. on a school night and wept because I wouldn’t be ready for school in the morning. Other than the Sesame Street story about the girl who wasted food and then her dad lost his job, and she didn’t have any more food, nothing made me sadder for trivial reasons. Now I’m thinking about that too, and I’m bummed out. Thanks, Phil.

3. Surge, Mountain Dew, Mello Yello, a.k.a. “citrus” sodas

The nWo always stopped me from getting to the Surge cooler backstage at Nitro, and I couldn’t get any. Also used to great effect by Mark Borchardt to compel his Uncle Bill to film a scene of Coven where he yelled inanities in a freezing car for hours. I don’t tolerate elder abuse in my sodas, and I don’t tolerate Atlanta’s best shot at making yet another fake Mountain Dew. They already had Mello Yello, which was fine if you were in the deep south and didn’t have access to snowboarder sodas like Mountain Dew. We use words like refreshment, quench, beverage. “Citrus” sodas use them as a punchline. Mountain Dew Code Red? You’re gosh-darned right they should be given a code red.

4. Mug Root Beer

Potato water for suckers. If you want a dog-themed root beer, have a Barq’s. I’m pretty sure the dog is supposed to be a sly jab at Barq’s (say it out loud), but this bulldog has no bite. As for the root beer taste, it’s pretty much a pinch of Copenhagen wintergreen in a melted banana Laffy Taffy. No thanks.

5. Dr. Thunder

Get off my lawn.

Clayton’s Five Up

1. Store Brand Orange Soda

Is there anything better on a summer afternoon than drinking a room temperature orange soda outside the only grocery store within walking distance of your junior high while you wait for a 5 p.m. basketball practice on a rainy November day? Probably.

2. Rondo Cola

Before there was Surge. Before there was Mountain Dew Code Red. Before there were Rockstar Energy Drinks. Before there were half-sugar, iced Starbucks frappucinos. There was Rondo Cola. This was the original soda aimed at the sleeveless shirt, aging muscle car, repeatedly rewinding back to “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” in the corner of your high school parking lot crowd. It was mighty citrusy.

3. A Treat’s Blue Raspberry

August 1991. My mom took my brother and I to a baseball clinic being put on by the great Bill “Spaceman” Lee, the eccentric Red Sox lefty who always won 17 games and spent much of his major league career thinking of ways to piss off Don Zimmer. Lee adopted Vermont as his home following his 1982 retirement.

We brought our gloves to the gathering, but it turned out there was no reason to. Bill must have been feeling old that afternoon. The “Spaceman,” along with his longtime running crew of Bernie Carbo, Dalton Jones and Rodney Scott, lectured the 300 of us on how the game wasn’t played right anymore. I don’t recall the specifics of why that was the case, only that Lee concluded his speech by talking about the wooded area surrounding the field. He said back in his youth, if he wanted to cut down those trees, he wouldn’t use a chainsaw. He would have used an ax. Lee sprinkled this life-lesson with references to Carbo’s large belly. The “Spaceman” dismissed us after signing a few gloves and a few more forearms.

A bit disappointed by the baseball clinic, my mom treated my brother and I to sodas out of a Winooski corner store. In the bowels of a well-aged walk-in cooler sat two alien twenty ounce bottles of blue soda-pop. The labels said “A Treat: Blue Raspberry, Allentown, Pennsylvania.” I recall squealing with glee at the sight of the blue soda and punching the bags of Wise potato chips on the adjacent shelf, Clubber Lang style. My dad let me watch Rocky III earlier in the summer. For the next few months, I reacted to anything that excited me like I was Mr. T letting loose on the Italian Stallion. While I was pummeling the store’s merchandise, my brother retrieved the sodas and handed them to our mother. She placed them on the clear plastic top of the front counter. Visible through the plastic were all the bad checks passed at the store in the last year.

“You sure you want your kids drinking this,” the man behind the counter in the zubaz Miami Dolphins windbreaker asked my mom. She didn’t respond.

“Stuff looks like windshield wiper fluid. I wouldn’t drink it,” he told her as he rang them up. Mom handed him a dollar and told him he didn’t have to drink it, so he should keep his comments to himself. Then and now, she doesn’t take guff from anyone, especially if the situation involves her kids.

I guzzled my blue raspberry soda in the span of the Four Tops’ “Baby I Need Your Lovin,’” the first song that came on the radio during the car ride home. It tasted like a melted Flavor-Ice. My brother nursed his over the course of the day, finishing the drops in the bottle’s four feet right before he went to bed.

As of June 25, 2018, I haven’t seen another A Treat Blue Raspberry in a convenience store cooler, just pictures of them online. I’m considering a trip to Allentown to find myself another bottle.

4. Mug Root Beer

Johnny’s right. It’s pretty good and always on sale.

5. Caffeine Free Diet Pepsi

It’s as crisp as an apple and it won’t keep you up at night.

Clayton’s Five Down

1. Coca-Cola

If I want a soda from the great state of Georgia, I will be drinking some RC Cola, the finest thing to come out of Columbus, Georgia since Otis Sistrunk.

2. All of Those Sodas They Sell at Whole Foods

I don’t want your “real cane sugar,” comrade. I want some straight out of Iowa high fructose corn syrup, m’self.

3. Sprite

I don’t like the new can. And by “the new can,” I mean the one they adopted in about 1994.

4. Tab

Tastes like green baloney.

5. Fanta

It is unclear to me whether or not this brand actually exists.

Phil’s Five Up

1. Orange Fanta

Orange soda is the best and orange Fanta is the best of the best. Call me Kel sponsored by Fanta.

2. Sprite

Most sodas are liquids that are not so much a way to make me less thirsty as a way to feed my insatiable need for sugar. Sprite is the exception. A good, cold Sprite is as hydrating as any other drink I have ever consumed.

4. Grape, all brands

Unlike orange, I do not have a favorite brand of grape, which just means anything I get is a pleasure, particularly since it is so rare to find it out in the wild. In Philadelphia, there is a bar/burger spot called Lucky’s Last Chance that always has grape soda on the menu. Every place should be more like Lucky’s.

4. Coca Cola

This falls directly in the sugary liquid for the sake of being sugary liquid. This is the OG cola and still the best.

5. Barqs Root Beer

If I’m hankering for a root beer, the can better be silver.

Phil’s Five Down

As always, in descending order.

5. Mountain Dew

The only neon-green liquid I believe in is the kind that turned Raphael, Michelangelo, Donatello and Leonardo into the greatest crime fighting foursome in New York.

4. Dr. Pepper

My friend RJ is a doctor. Mr. Pepper is not.

3. Cream soda

Who is this for?

2. Pepsi

Second place is just the first loser.

1. Any non-Sprite lemon-lime soda

No. Sierra Mist is not fine.


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