My Review of 10 Lesser-Known Sodas from Cracker Barrel
During a recent visit to Cracker Barrel, I decided to buy up some bottles of lesser-known sodas out of curiosity to see how good they really are.
If you’ve never visited a Cracker Barrel restaurant, you can’t help but notice the country store-style gift shop. And as you browse, you’ll find an entire section of lesser-known sodas alongside more familiar names like Coca Cola and Pepsi. So I decided to give several of them a try and see what I thought.
1. Grape Nehi
The Grape Nehi was the favorite of character Radar O’Reilly from the CBS series M*A*S*H in the 1970s. I’m sure I must have had a Grape Nehi at some point when I was a kid. But honestly, grape isn’t exactly a favorite soda flavor of mine, so I didn’t really remember anything about how it tasted.
One of the first things I like to do when I open a soda bottle is to take a whiff of the aroma of the drink before actually tasting it. The biggest surprise was that a Grape Nehi has no aroma. It literally smells like nothing.
The taste is the classic grape flavoring that has been used in everything from soda to cough medicine to bubble gum. Again, it’s not my favorite, but if you like that flavor, a Grape Nehi should hit the spot for you.
2. Olde Brooklyn Coney Island Cream Soda
I really like cream sodas when I’m in the mood for one. This one was a light-colored soda that looked like the traditional cream soda everyone has seen.
It has a very pleasant taste. But it’s sweet. Very sweet.
I don’t mean that in a bad way, but if you like your cream sodas to be sweet but with a crispness in the carbonation, you might find this one is a bit too syrupy.
The flavor, for me, reminded me of different cream sodas I’d had in my childhood, so I found it to be more like a trip down memory lane.
This curious concoction was the one that actually inspired this entire taste test. Over the years, I’ve heard many people talk about having tried Moxie, which was once known as an “elixer,” and the reviews were mixed at best.
It had a pleasant root beer-like aroma, though it didn’t smell exactly like root beer. Tasting it was quite the experience.
It first tastes like bubble gum, then quickly morphs into a cross between root beer and a hint of something close to sassafras tea. It finishes with a slightly bitter, biting aftertaste. The aftertaste isn’t unpleasant, it’s just unexpected.
Did I enjoy it? I enjoyed it enough that I bought a couple of additional bottles of it. It’s not the kind of drink I’d consume often at all. But it’s different enough that once in a while, it might be nice to have one.
4. Double Cola
I was a bit leery about this one because I wasn’t certain whether the “Double” referred to the amount of sugar or caffeine. It turns out, it refers to neither: in fact, the name came about when it debuted in 1933 because it was sold in 12-ounce bottles — twice the size of most cola bottles at that time.
Can you imagine being handed a 6-ounce cola bottle today?
Aside from the name, it’s a solid cola. Coca Cola is still my favorite because it has a distinctive taste that’s better than the typical regular cola. But in the absence of Coca Cola, if Double Cola was there, I’d have no hesitation in having one. It doesn’t stand out particularly with a flavor as distinctive as regular Coke, but honestly, I don’t find that most colas do.
5. Orange Nehi
The orange flavor common in sodas like Crush and Fanta Orange is much more to my liking than the grape I mentioned earlier, so I liked the Orange Nehi better than its grape sister.
Unlike the Grape Nehi, the Orange Nehi actually does have an orange soda aroma. It’s a worthy contender in the orange soda market. I’d put it close to Crush in flavor. It might be a bit more sugary, but then if you’re drinking orange soda, you might not care much about the sugar.
6. Caruso’s Dark Cream Italian Style Soda
The idea of a “dark cream” variety definitely sounded intriguing. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting, but what I tasted was a very sweet, very rich take on the classic cream soda.
If you’re a fan of it, you’d definitely like this.
7. Dr. Enuf
There’s more than one variety of Dr. Enuf, but for this little experiment, I tried the classic lemon-lime variety. Dr. Enuf bills itself as a soda and energy drink. It was originally marketed as a vitamin-fortified tonic to give you a boost. It contains more than double the daily requirement of Thiamin and 80 of that of Niacin. With caffeine and sugar, it’s certainly an energy boost.
When it comes to lemon-lime drinks, I can’t help compare it to better-known options like Sprite, 7-Up and Mountain Dew.
I would put Sprite and Fresca at one end of the lemon-lime spectrum: they tend to have a slightly less sweet, more crisp flavor. I’d put 7-Up and Mountain Dew on the opposite end with their more sweet flavors.
Dr. Enuf seems to fall closer to the Sprite side of things for me.
8. Swamp Pop Praline Cream Soda
In Charleston, there’s a wonderful little candy shop downtown that makes praline candy. You can smell it down the street as they keep it under hot lamps to help the aroma waft outside. I love that candy and I love cream soda, so I was sure I’d love this stuff.
Well…not so much.
Aside from the praline and cream soda flavors, it’s overwhelmed by this toasted butter flavor that seems like one flavor too many. It gives it a taste that too closely resembles molasses.
Next time, I’ll drive downtown and get the candy and leave the soda alone.
9. Caruso’s Maraschino Cherry Cola
I definitely have to be in the right mood for a cherry-flavored soda. I like Cherry Coke pretty well, but I rarely order it. If I’m going to go with a cherry soda, my go-to would be Cheerwine, which I understand is limited to only the southern United States.
But I was definitely curious to try Caruso’s take on the cherry cola and it didn’t disappoint.
I was a little concerned that it might be too sweet. I suppose all cherry colas have that famous Maraschino syrup flavor, but with Maraschino in the title, I worried it might be a bit over the top. It actually wasn’t at all. It was a very pleasant cherry soda that, like Cheerwine, was all about the cherry flavoring and not at all about cola.
If you like cherry colas, I think you’d like this one.
10. Dang Butterscotch Root Beer
This is the one I saved for last because it was the one I was most intrigued by and the one I feared the most.
I like root beer, and when I’m in the right mood, I like butterscotch. But the idea of putting them both together in one drink seemed like a horrible idea. The cashier at Cracker Barrel said several customers had raved about it so she tried it and liked it. So as I opened the bottle, I was hoping they hadn’t led me astray.
Well, they hadn’t. I actually liked this drink very much. But the strangest thing about it was that I could smell a hint of butterscotch, but I couldn’t really taste it independently. It tasted like a more well-rounded creamy root beer with a richer flavor profile without being overwhelmingly candy-ish.
If I hadn’t known that butterscotch was part of the mix, I may not even have immediately recognized what was different from regular root beer. At various points, I could detect greater hints of butterscotch specifically, but mostly, it was really a nice root beer variety.
None of these, it’s worth noting, were “diet” varieties, so I had the benefit of sugar — in some cases, cane sugar — for the flavors.