This Jones Soda Company Holiday Pack made the rounds as a gag gift again this year after a successful 2004 debut. We got a hand-me-down box a few weeks ago and promptly stuck it beneath the tree. It sat there menacingly: Brussels sprout soda, wild-herb-stuffing soda, turkey-and-gravy soda, cranberry soda, pumpkin-pie soda. The longer it sat, the louder the box taunted us: "What's the matter? You afraid to take a trip to the other side?" We knew we had to drink it. We had no choice. Pale green soda. Foggy white soda. Soda the color of turkey flesh. It's our job.
When the tree came down, the five bottles went into the fridge to chill. Now they stand before us on the desk like sharpshooters in a firing squad.
We as humans have a natural aversion to cold salty liquids. What we sip is, by and large, sweet: From mothers' milk to juice to soda to beer to spirits and wine, the fluids that pass across our tongue must tickle it, must leave behind a little thrill. Mostly though, the aversion to salty liquid is primal. Don't drink salt water. It will kill you. The idea of meat soda, or buttered-sprout soda, is doubly unsettling.
And, predictably, this soda tastes like ass. Nasty, nasty, nasty. But not in the way you'd expect. Rather, Jones Soda didn't go far enough. The turkey-and-gravy is way too light on the poultry, and there's very little salt in it at all. What's gravy without salt? The wild-herb-stuffing soda recalls old-school Fresca mixed with onion juice, soy sauce and lots of saccharine. It nestles into the nasal cavities like skunk-stench. But there's absolutely no bread in the flavor, and little herb.
The Brussels sprout soda is the beast of the bunch. One huge gulp, then another, and the world might be ending. It tastes like your mouth five seconds before vomiting, and then like stubbing a toe. The pain sustains itself for many minutes. The memory remains forever. It arrives sweet, then expands with a sauerkraut tang that races around in mouth and nose. It consumes your whole head and smells like the vegetable drawer of a post-Katrina refrigerator. Then it hits the stomach, which groans in agony.
Tellingly, the two more "normal" flavors, pumpkin pie and cranberry, are pretty terrible, too. The former lacks the spice of a pumpkin beer, and the cranberry is way too sweet. Which is surprising, because Jones makes some good soda. But these aren't.
Seattle-based Jones Soda is kind of like the Sam Adams of the soda world, a tier lower than your Cokes and Pepsis. What it lacks in name recognition, however, the company makes up for in inspiration. They issue limited-edition flavors, move from watermelon to blueberry to "fufu berry" and beyond, and solicit their customers' photographs for use on bottle labels. At any given time, Jones sells a few dozen varieties. The holiday gift pack, which was offered exclusively at Target, is no longer available there but can still be had via eBay, where the collectors' market is prolonging the life of this truly horrifying creation.