Monday, June 25, 2007

Drink like a hipster

I must say, I'm very pleased with the direction in which the beverage industry is headed these days. When I was little, we all just drank soda and that was the way it was (my teeth cringe at the thought). The "healthy alternative" was that nasty Minute Maid faux lemonade (only 3% juice, yum), or—gods forbid—Hawaiian punch and SunnyD.

Then there was the whole "energy drink" phase, in which someone decided that the only thing more desirable than [caffeine + sugar-rush in a can] had to be [5x as much caffeine + sugar-rush in a can]. But I doubt we're in danger of energy drinks taking over the market (any beverage that can kill me in 25 cups is automatically limiting its own market share), so I'm not too worried if they want to peacefully coexist in the drink cooler. What I'm excited about is the wave of new ideas I've seen springing up in the last few years: finally there are some worthwhile alternatives to oversweetened teas and sodas, marketed to the "young and adventurous", each with some quirky flavor or packaging or reason why they're healthier than soda and cooler than tapwater. Here's a rundown of some of the best I've seen in the past month:

  • Honest Tea
    It all started with Honest Tea. At least, that's the one I first noticed, right around the time I was getting damn tired of Snapple and its high-fructose corn syrup overload (not that I'm some big organic health nut—far from it—but sometimes I just want to drink something refreshing, not pour a bottle of syrup down my throat!). Honest Tea bottles lightly sweetened, natural-tasting iced tea (a much-needed alternative to Nestea, which doesn't even taste remotely like tea) in a variety of flavors (greens, blacks, reds, whites and herbals). Highly recommended if you like Snapple but think it's about 3x too sweet.
  • VitaminWater & SmartWater
    [Note that I have to review these two together since Glacéau decided to do their whole website in Flash in a way that prevents me from linking in to the product-level pages for either of these brands... though that's a story for another day.] VitaminWater is another excellent less-sweet alternative. Not really a soda, not really a juice, they've gone after the hipster/cool-nerd market with their bright colors, minimalist branding, and tongue-in-cheek little blurbs about each flavor ("Each one of our 15 grab-health-by-the-horns varieties offers a unique blend of nutrients to help you shine on those gods-have-forsaken-you days, yada-yada-yada conference calls, wind-sucking workouts and chasers-are-for-weenies nights."). You get the picture. Drink VitaminWater if you're cooler than everybody else around you (the very definition of hipsterism, no?).

    In the less-sweetener-is-more vein, SmartWater is great for anyone who's been drinking Gatorade during workouts and feeling like it leaves a sugary film in your mouth. SmartWater = water + electrolytes, end of story. It looks like water, it tastes like water. And (thanks to the hipsters at Glacéau) it even informs you that you're better than your spring-water-drinking peers, because SmartWater is "vapor-distilled from clouds" and therefore not full of rocks or fish pee like those "other" bottled waters.
  • Metromint
    While we're talking waters, Metromint makes a great mint-flavored water. Again, no sweeteners, so it's refreshing like water, but with a minty twist. Caveat emptor: while the spearmint flavor is excellent, trusted sources tell me that the orangemint tastes like dentistry.
  • Jones Soda
    Just so you don't think I hate sugar, here's some good old-fashioned soda. But they make the list because their brand image is very new wave: you can vote on new flavors they should add, submit your own photos to go on their bottle labels, or create your own custom 12-pack of soda (labels, flavors, etc.). They even featured RCRG on one of their bottle labels!
  • Dry Soda
    Currently only available on the West coast, these folks are pushing the envelope of what soda could be. Their flavors are very subtle, barely sweetened, and totally weird: lavender, lemongrass, kumquat?? Their website also recommends cocktail recipes and food pairings for each flavor (lemongrass goes best with goat cheese, kumquat with duck or risotto). Any soda that recommends serving in a champagne flute is a must-have.
  • Hint
    Hint : VitaminWater :: VitaminWater : Snapple. Once you've started to find even the drinks above too sweet, it's time to graduate to Hint. It's so minimalist that they don't even call it 'water', 'juice' or 'soda'... just drink. (It took me a few tries to find a search query that would trigger any relevant results.)
  • Vignette Wine Country Soda
    Yes, that's right: wine soda. Right now they have pinot noir and chardonnay versions. I haven't actually tried either one, and my sources tell me it's basically just grape juice in a fancy bottle, but I had to throw it in for the novelty factor.

All this of course begs the question: what other drinks belong on this list?

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