Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Crisis of Our Era: Coke Zero Replaced by Coke Zero Sugar

So, it wasn't the crisis in Korea that spurred me to interrupt my vacation/retirement from blogging. It wasn't any other Trump insanity (after all, it's a challenge to find just one thing to bitch about there on any given day). No, it's the crisis of my tastebuds, and the willingness of big corporations, notably Coca-Cola, to screw around with them.

We went through this with NEW Coke! back in the 1980s, and it was a bad idea then. But Coke Zero, the company's alternative "more like real Coke" diet beverage was never the institution that the flagship brand, or even Diet Coke is. It's the difference between doing a remake of Friday the 13th vs. Gone With the Wind. With Coke Zero, you're not messing with a literal classic.

But, then again, people get wedded to their favorite beverages. I was always a Pepsi-Cola guy, dating way back. Even now, I prefer old Pepsi stuff to collectible Coke stuff. But when my youthful metabolism crashed into a tree, I had to switch to diet soda, if I was going to stay soda at all. And as a big soft drink drinker, I was.  But which one?

Growing up, there weren't many choices at all for my parents, facing a similar dilemma. You had basically, diet cola, or diet lemon-lime, whatever brand of each you preferred. That was about it. And they always tasted weird, not at all like the real thing, especially the colas. Diet Rite (the RC Cola derivative) was the cheap one and tasted like it. Diet Pepsi was the go-to diet soda, with some competition from Tab (the Coke variety), and there was the odd Fresca drinker, I suppose. All of them, to me, tasted like--as Bloom County once put it--like malted battery acid.

In the early 1980s, Diet Coke was released, and a whole new addiction swept America. I never really understood this, as it had all the flaws of the other diet colas. In fact, if forced, I'd choose Diet Pepsi over it. But they all just had that hollow feel, empty of something, with a strange aftertaste, almost metallic. I'd reach for literally any other diet beverage. Luckily for me, they were in the wings. Diet Mountain Dew was released, and was actually good. Better than the real deal, as far as I was concerned, which is sickeningly sweet. Diet Dr. Pepper was not bad, though trended more toward the colas with its ineffable emptiness. But there started to be more variety, and avoiding diet colas while getting diet soda wasn't difficult.

Then came the alternative colas. Pepsi One, Pepsi MAX, and Coke Zero. Coke Zero was it for me. By far the best diet cola on the market. To me, it was almost indistinguishable from full-sugar Coca-Cola, except that it didn't feel like you put little fuzzy sugar-socks on your teeth afterward. None of the tinniness, and thinness of taste at all. No particular aftertaste. I've loved Coke Zero ever since, and it holds a tie for number two in my list with Diet Mountain Dew. Code Red Diet Mountain Dew holds the number one spot, but it's hard to find.

Anyway, that's a long way to go to get to the meat of this story. I found out a week or two ago that Coke was discontinuing Coca-Cola Zero in favor of something new called Coca-Cola Zero Sugar. Which in and of itself is kind of odd, given that Pepsi replaced Pepsi MAX with Pepsi Zero Sugar some time ago. So, it's strange that they'd have virtually the same name, but whatever. Point was, one of my truly favorite drinks was going away, and being replaced by an unknown quantity.
So, I saw some today, and picked it up for a taste test.

I poured both over ice, got some nice strong cheese to nibble in between, and here are my findings...

Coke Zero: Full-bodied, with a bit of a bite. Sweet but not too sweet. No syrupy feel afterward, but no particular aftertaste. An excellent "Coke" flavor, without the stickiness, I still love it.

Coke Zero Sugar: Less full-bodied, less bite. Still sweet, but less robust. Maybe a slightly closer feel to having sugary soda in your mouth, so I think maybe an even better disguising of artificial sweetener. Seems less carbonated, so by contrast, flatter. Still miles ahead of Diet Coke.

Conclusion: As Dom DeLuise said as Caesar in History of the World, Part I,

"Nice. Nice. Not thrilling, but nice."

I can't say it's an improvement overall. It's sort of a lateral move, with a possible half-step back. Given the choice (which I'm not going to have), I'd take the original Coke Zero. As it stands, I'm sure I'll buy the new version if Coke is on sale as a brand, just like I do with the current version. But I can't say I'd reach for it as quickly, if that makes any sense. I might grab a Fresca or a Diet Barq's carton just as fast. I think it's fallen out of my top two. So, Coca-Cola Corporation, if you're listening? I prefer the old version. And I'm hoping the caffeine free one stays around a little while, because it's just as good!

Long story short (I know, too late), it's not the disaster that NEW Coke was. But it will make some people a little sad.
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