After exploring the various flavors of Cola, Cherry, Pepper, and Cream sodas paired with vanilla ice cream, we have arrived at the largest and most diverse round of them all, what we’re going to call the Fruit Round. Now not all the sodas here are technically fruit flavored. For example, Big Red is technically a red cream soda, but we are not going to explore a round of that specific type, and it didn’t really fit the regular cream soda round either, so here it goes, alongside the other bright rainbow-esque colors and flavors of the fruit sodas. Our possibilities were almost endless here, but we settled on eight and only eight, partially so our hearts don’t stop beating from diabetic shock.
The sodas include Big Red, Stewart’s Key Lime Pie, Grape Nehi, Orange Nehi, Flathead Lake’s Huckleberry, Coke’s California Raspberry, Coke’s Georgia Peach, and Swamp Pop, a strawberry flavored soda popular in Louisiana.
Yeah, that’s a lot of fruit soda…
Before I get to the results, let me once again 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 Dr. Pepper flavors. 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 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 and deliciously sweet. 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 and an appealing color. 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 Harry Potter and Half-Blood Prince. It was pretty dark for a round so bright and cheerful as this one. But anyway…bring on the next delicious horcrux!
Round Five: Fruit Sodas
At this point in the competition, we decided to skip the blind taste test method we used for others because the coloration really gave each of these sodas away. Instead we made all the floats at once and moved from one to the other at the same time, but we still kept our detailed thoughts about each to ourselves until the end to avoid influencing the other too much. Our rankings and scores for each varied a bit, but here are the combined results, which I think we’re both satisfied with.
Swamp Pop: On its own, this mildly sweet and strawberry flavored soda was pretty good, and I can see how it would be refreshing on a hot day on the bayou, but let me tell you, it doesn’t go with vanilla ice cream nearly as well. It looked pretty at first but its texture was a little watery. The flavor was a bit chalky and the strawberry came on too strong. It just didn’t mix right somehow. Alas.
Stewart’s Key Lime Pie: I knew this one would either be a shocking delight or a supremely weird gag-fest, but I wanted to give it a shot. I mean, key lime and vanilla might mix, right? And to be surprise, it kinda did, but the flavor was juuuust strange enough that I wasn’t sure if I could drink a full-sized float and not feel ill afterward. The carbonation tasted strong, bubbly, and clean, so that was a plus. But we both thought it looked milky, tinged with a green hue, which was not at all appealing. So while the initial sips were surprisingly good, it’s not a strong enough candidate to go the distance.
Coke’s California Raspberry: We opted to bring in two of those new fruit flavored Cokes to mix things up a bit, and while I thought this one was slightly better than the other, my co-scientist Amelia felt the opposite, and this one lost out by a hair. To be frank, both tasted artificial, a little flat, and too sweet, and this one’s flavor was just a little too tart. It’s a pass. If you want Coke, go for Mexican Coke!
Coke’s Georgia Peach: Amelia thought the peach worked better than the raspberry. While I thought both failed, this one gets the edge between the two because there was just a hint of that delightful peaches & cream thing going on. Amelia noted that the flavor was subtle and a better combo with vanilla, and I can see that in retrospect. Still, it was oversweet and a bit flat compared to others.
Grape Nehi: I expected more from grape soda. I love grape and I thought it would be a fun flavor combo, but it was just kind of…meh. I had one of these with soft serve ice cream 15 years ago and it was better, so maybe it’s an ice cream thing, or maybe I just want to imagine that. Anyway, the appeal was not…appealing. It looked gray and watery, and the flavor tasted a bit sour. I thought it had a nice carbonated zing to it at first, and while I liked the flavor better after the ice cream melted, it never quite hit the spot, at least not enough for either of us to love it. Bye bye, grape.
Big Red: Confession: I fully expected Big red to steal the show. I love it and grew up on it, and I have enjoyed it with ice cream in the past, but my co-judge did not dig this one at all, and that tells me that this southern treat isn’t for everyone. That’s what this study is all about, finding what works across the board! Only the strongest survive. The carbonation was a bit flatter than we expected. As the ice cream melted the taste became creamier and more flavorful, at least to me. We both thought it was very sweet and visually appealing, but our opinions on the flavor differed too much for this one for it to pass the test. Fare thee well, sweet sweet Big Red.
Orange Nehi: We both knew orange and vanilla would create a flavor combination that could truly compete for the top slot. I mean, who doesn’t love a creamsickle? While this soda definitely had that going for it once the vanilla ice cream melted, it still tasted a bit thin (maybe not enough ice cream?) and had a lingering chemically aftertaste I didn’t enjoy. It was bright and pretty, looking the role, but my notes also say, “Too sweet? Too carby? Not sure.” I guess something was just a hint off and it kept this one from going all the way. Coulda, shoulda, woulda, didn’t.
Flathead Lake’s Huckleberry Soda: Wow, we did not see this coming. When my mother brought this soda back as a gift from her trip to Montana, I figured it would be a good but middle-of-the-pack contender. Not bad, but not a winner. I was wrong. This tasted fantastic by itself and even better with vanilla ice cream. It was still a bit tart but in a good way, a balanced way, with just the right amount of sweetness to keep it on track. It had a distinct flavor shared by no other soda, and we didn’t tire of it after a few sips like we have with many other “odd” flavors. It had a nice color and retained just enough buzzy carbonation to put it over the top. Congrats!
WINNER: Flathead Lake’s Huckleberry Soda
Post-decision notes: It was close, but Huckleberry came out of nowhere to win it all. Now the challenge is figuring out how to get another bottle for the finals. For those of you who can find this soda in your state, consider yourselves lucky and go make a float right away. Next round is the big granddaddy soda float flavor of them all…Root Beer!