With the results from the Cola Round and the Cream Soda Round now tallied, we move on to the Pepper Round. Now this name might not quite fit since a couple of these sodas aren’t in the same exact vein as Dr. Pepper, but they share some traits and fall into that pepper/medicinal/spiced soda realm in one way or another. And we had to cluster at least four sodas together somehow, so this is what we ended up with: Dr. Pepper, Pibb Xtra, Maine Root Sarsaparilla, and Moxie.
If you know Moxie already, you might be wondering what in the world we’re thinking adding it to a round with sweeter sodas, but hey, it had to go somewhere, and we weren’t going to exclude “the champagne of sodas,” to paraphrase the honorable John Hodgman. (For accuracy, he was talking about Diet Moxie, but it applies.)
Also, I need to point out that I couldn’t find Mr. Pibb products anywhere in upstate NY (anywhere I looked, that is) and the Mr. Pibb website product location function said the only place to find it in my zip code was at my local Chipotle, so I cleaned a Coke bottle, went over there, bought a large fountain soda of Pibb Xtra, immediately drove home, filled the old Coke bottle, and put it in the fridge. We used it less than 24 hours later. If this somehow affected the results, so be it. We did what we had to do in the name of science.
Before I get to the results, let me give you a quick recap of how we’re doing this challenge.
We use one brand of ice cream for a control: Stewart’s Vanilla, a local favorite.
As for the sodas, we chose six categories: Cola, Cherry, Root Beer, Cream, Fruit, and today’s round, the Pepper Round. Each round gets a night, spaced apart by a couple of weeks to give our bodies a break, and the winners of all six rounds move on to the semi-finals, and then the finals, where we’ll showcase the best three sodas, to be ranked in Olympic medal order of Gold, Silver, and Bronze.
We decided to rate each float based on the five metric categories below. We used a “1 through 5” rating system for each category, hoping that would keep our feelings from skewing the results too far out of proportion. This creates a max of 10 points per category when we each combine our scores. We then add up all categories for a max combined score of 50.
Flavor: A 5 might be that right balance of sweet, rich, creamy, and bubbly. A 1 would be when the flavor is muted or when either the soda or ice cream overpowers the other in a way that feels unsatisfying.
Sweetness: A 5 would be something noticeably sweet, but not disgustingly so. A 1 would be not sweet at all or OVERKILL sweetness.
Carbonation: A 5 would be when it retains some bubble and bite even after it melts the ice cream. A 1 would be when it falls totally flat.
Texture/Cohesion: This one is the most subjective, but we decided a 5 means it has a nice blend of creamy melting ice cream in the middle, a foamy head, and some soda holding out on the bottom. A 1 might be when it doesn’t mix much or the mix just seems…weird. See? Subjective. Science is hard, gang.
Visual Appeal: A 5 would be the visual equivalent of what we used in Texture/Cohesion, showing a nice balance. A 1 might be something that looks like we’re drinking sour milk or soda with a scoop of cottage cheese on top. No thanks.
Oh, and we’re also going to watch all the Harry Potter movies while we do this, one for each of the eight nights. Tonight we watched one I hadn’t seen a single minute of prior to this challenge—Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. It felt like the least consistent of the films so far (and this is the least consistent round of matching sodas, so it fit), but hey, at least I got to see Future Batman take a crack at old Voldy. (Non-Spoiler: it didn’t go well for the Bat.)
And now, bring on the next delicious horcrux!
Round Three: Pepper Sodas
The pepper, spiced, and/or medicinal sodas, or what have you, that we chose this round include the vaunted and esteemed Dr. Pepper (the front-runner), its non-occupationally determined associate Pibb Xtra, Sarsaparilla (Maine Root brand, though I tried desperately to get my favorite, Sioux City), and Moxie, the aforementioned champagne of sodas.
Again, we attempted to disguise our bias toward any one flavor by creating the floats “blind,” where I make the floats for Amelia and she makes the floats for me, we mix them up, and don’t tell the other which is which until the end. It didn’t really work this time, as you could see and taste the differences right away.
Moxie: Ye gods, this did NOT go as I hoped it would. I had forgotten what Moxie tasted like and I thought that might help give it the surprise factor in this challenge, but to put it politely, the slightly tart and bitter flavor of Moxie (which I don’t dislike on its own) does not pair well with vanilla ice cream. At all. It looked great and the texture was fine, but that taste and lack of sweetness doomed poor Moxie from the start.
Maine Root Sarsaparilla: I’ll always wonder if Sioux City Sarsaparilla would have done better, but alas. We both initially loved the flavor and it had a strong, unique kind of sweetness to it. But after a few more sips we both agreed it wasn’t a flavor we could drink for too long. It just felt too sweet. Too distinct. Like a rich meal that you just can’t finish. We kept the high scores for sweetness but we warm you: drinker beware. It was also an interesting pale color, but once it blended with the ice cream it became watery in texture and milky in appearance. Not terrible, but not ideal.
Dr. Pepper: As Ewan McGregor once lamented in some Star Wars movie, “You were the chosen one!” I thought DP was going to run away with this, but it didn’t knock us out as much as we thought—it was very, very good, but not great. Granted, it looked fantastic and the flavor was spot on, but Amelia found the carbonation and texture a bit flat and watery after a while, so it lost some points there. Maybe I poured it wrong, or maybe her taste buds were less biased than mine, who knows? But this was the good Doctor’s fight to lose, and it just barely lost.
(Mr.) Pibb Xtra: Well, well, well, I guess a college degree doesn’t mean everything these days. Despite the strange circumstances in which I had to acquire this soda (see above), it did the job and scored consistently across the board. On my own score card it scored high in flavor and texture but came out just a hair below Dr. Pepper, but Amelia found it to be surprisingly bubbly, sweet, creamy, and flavorful. It hit all the right spots for her and because of that it edged out the expected champ and earned the right to move on to the semi-finals. I guess that means another trip to Chipotle!!
WINNER: Pibb Xtra
Post-decision notes: I’m still a bit surprised by these results, but science is science and data is data and the winners who move on are the winners who move on. Congrats, Mr. Pibb. Maybe fountain soda has some sort of magical x-factor appeal that puts it over the top? Whatever it was, it worked. Next round is…who knows? Cherry, Fruit, and Root Beer are left. The true overall champion may yet lie in wait…