Look let’s be real. You shouldn’t be drinking soda. It has more than 80% of your daily allotment of sugar, it strips the enamel from your teeth staining them yellow and causing cavities, and it dehydrates you. But also… f*ck that noise.
Because some days, especially in summer, few drinks can be more refreshing and enjoyable than a nice cold soda (or pop if you’re one of those). It also works as a great mixer. Not the most complex mixer perhaps, but it adds a sweetness that pairs perfectly with the earthy tones of a good whiskey. And you won’t find a better beverage to join with a slice of pizza or a classic cheeseburger.
The debate over which you prefer: Coca-Cola or Pepsi has been raging for years. Pepsi tried to claim the upper hand once by holding a taste test across America, but without a palate cleanser you can’t trust the results. Plus they lit Michael Jackson’s hair on fire in the 80’s and that’s much worse than Coca-Cola and their active campaign to trick us into thinking that Polar Bears and Penguins don’t just live together (they don’t) but they’re best friends. This argument will probably continue on indefinitely.
But what of the Jill Steins, Gary Johnsons, and (for you Gen X’rs out there) Ralph Naders of the two party cola system? We’ve scoured the local markets in search of all the colas to rank so we can fill you in how the third parties compare to the big two. Here is a power ranking of the best colas (beside the two you’re thinking of), measured in pure, virgin, untouched-by-sugar molars.
9. Shasta Cola
Shasta Cola has about 10 more grams of sugar than the other colas on the market, and your teeth will feel it after the first drink. We’d describe this cola as sticky, it latches on to your teeth like industrial cleaners fizzling the enamel away, its watery, metallic tasting, and goes flat very quickly. It’s pretty much the meth of colas: just tacky and dangerous.
There also is something very uneventful about opening a can of Shasta Cola, gone is the appetizing sound of fizzling carbonation and instead all we are left with is a sound akin to what your car’s gas tank door sounds like when you pop it open.
1 VIRGIN MOLAR: Not worth the cost of the can it comes in. It rots your teeth and doesn’t give you anything in return. If you’re ever put in charge of running a “scared straight from soda” workshop, grab a can of Shasta.
8. Love Potion # 69
Everything makes us cringe about Love Potion #69. The cheesy name, the horrid purple color, its grape smell despite the lack of any grape in the ingredients, the really bad Gen-X humor (Nine inches of wetness, really?) but mostly the flavor. A lot of people would argue this isn’t a cola at all, and at first drink, cola is the last thing to come to mind. But the ingredients list two different Kola nuts — that’s two more than Coke — and, eyes and nose closed, it does have a cola tinge to it buried underneath artificial grape.
It’s also full of herbs like Siberian Ginseng and damiana leaf because it’s marketed as an “arousing beverage.” Wait what? Who is this drink for? Not only is the flavor abhorrent but we have a hard time imagining who is associating soda with sexy time.
1.5 VIRGIN MOLARS: Who made this, why did they make it, and who for? We aren’t sure if it’s purely a novelty drink or if the creators truly intended to make something delicious AND arousing. If you’re wondering if it worked… no.
7. Inca Kola
Inca Kola calls itself the golden cola. It looks like urine and it smells like juicy fruit, it has to be the most unappealing cola we’ve ever seen. And wait — is this even a cola? What makes a cola a cola? You can argue that the presence of the kola nut is mandatory, but A LOT of colas don’t actually have kola nut, just an approximation of the flavor. Are you tired of reading the word cola yet?
If you drink Inca Cola with your eyes closed and without smelling it, you’ll realize its very much a cola, and that makes it even more bizarre. We’d still take this over Shasta though! The carbonation level is high, and opening a bottle of Inca is sonically quite satisfying, but aside from that nothing jumps out at you, its nothing but a budget cola.
2 VIRGIN MOLARS: Less sweet and metallic than the Shasta, but its off-putting scent and color make us ashamed to be seen with a glass.
6. Jack Black’s Blood Red Cola
Okay, lets get this right out of the way. This cola is not red. It’s advertised as such, it has red 40 in the ingredients, but we’ve shone various lights through it, worked with different volumes, and this cola is fucking brown. It’s not even as red as some of the others on this list, so we don’t know who they’re trying to fool or why!
Flavor-wise it’s about average. A middling cola that is a fine substitute for your favorite brand but not worth a double take of the label.
THREE VIRGIN MOLARS: Meh. Doesn’t have anything that makes it distinct or noteworthy, it’s neither good nor bad and if you can’t tell we are left puzzled by the whole “blood red” thing.
5. Trader Joe’s Vintage Cola
There isn’t really anything to complain or praise about this cola, its made with real cane sugar (which most fancier colas are) but aside from that, it doesn’t really have anything going for it. It tastes to us like they were just trying to meet market demand rather than truly craft something good. It’s not as maddening to us, since Trader Joe’s doesn’t make lofty claims about the color, as Jack Black’s Blood Red Cola, but Trader Joe’s cola has no noteworthy smell, or flavor.
3 VIRGIN MOLARS: As bland and generic as the label that’s slapped on it. This is another mediocre cola that probably only sells because Trader Joe’s doesn’t carry the big two. Skip this one.
4. Royal Crown Cola
R.C. Cola has a long history. Once neck and neck with Pepsi and Coca-Cola the last few decades have seen R.C. Cola far eclipsed by the big two. And frankly, it’s a shame.
R.C. has a darker and richer cola taste more akin to Coca-Cola and we’d like to see it at more fountains to add a little bit of variety. It has a nice level of carbonation giving a strong fizz that counteracts the sugar for a less sweet aftertaste.
3.5 VIRGIN MOLARS: Pretty solid. Finding out an establishment doesn’t have your cola preference can lead to a different beverage choice entirely, but if Royal Crown Cola was an option neither a Pepsi nor Coke fan would scoff!
We aren’t totally sure Moxie is a cola, but if Moxie isn’t a cola, we also aren’t sure what exactly it’s supposed to be. It touts itself as “distinctively different” and it definitely does taste unique. The aroma off this pop is similar to listerine and the flavor profile has a dirty bluntness to it that lingers on the tongue like honey. It tastes and looks like it was marketed to put a “pep in your step” and it definitely has a kick to it, perhaps the only soda that would be appropriate first thing in the morning.
FOUR VIRGIN MOLARS: Moxie’s taste lands somewhere between a cola and a root beer but you’ll find its unique flavor strangely addicting before you finish your first bottle. With deep flavors and a dark color, Moxie is the stout of the cola world.
2. Virgil’s Real Cola
We are big fans of Virgil’s Real Rootbeer, so we popped open the cap on this bottle with high expectations and Virgil’s didn’t disappoint. The vanilla, clove spices, and cinnamon all mix to produce an enticing aroma that activates your tastebuds seconds before the cola actually hits your tongue. The ingredients list makes mention of orange and lime and although those aren’t the exact notes we taste, there is an undeniable citrus tinge.
Our only beef: The carbonation level isn’t high enough for this one to get the top spot.
4.5 VIRGIN MOLARS: Not as good a Virgil’s Root Beer but a clear attention to detail and craft was put into this beverage, earning it high marks. Its emphasis on vanilla and clove give it a sweetness and complexity that blows most of the competition out of the water.
1. Boylan Cane Cola
As soon as you twist the top off of this bottle, you’re greeted with the sweet earthy aroma of kola. The liquid has a deep reddish tinge like rosewood, and you can smell the cane sugar mingling with the other ingredients. The flavor profile is deep and bitter with a slight medicinal quality that gives the drink an old-world vibe. The aftertaste is not dissimilar to coffee.
Boylan Cola is packing a lot of complexity. As such, it works perfectly with some whiskey and just fine on its own as an after meal treat. In fact, it tastes essentially like a carbonated amaro.
5 VIRGIN MOLARS: This is a craft beverage if we’ve ever had one, the bottle is unassuming but the flavor profile is unlike the other colas on the market. With deep and rich earthy flavors that are sadly missing in other colas, this is one we will not only remember, but return to!