There’s no shortage of ‘90s nostalgia right now, and I can’t really argue. I mean, come on. If I offered you an evening of eating Dunkaroos, playing “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” and listening to TLC, would you turn it down?
Still, sadly, there are some parts of the ‘90s that are lost forever. Like the denim jacket you forgot at summer camp, there are treasures of the past we just can’t get back. Perhaps the saddest loss of all is Crystal Pepsi, the glorious clear cola that left the world all too soon, never to return.
Or so we thought.
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It looks like 2016 might be the best throwback year we’ve seen so far. Turn your frown upside down, Rashida Jones, because Crystal Pepsi is back in action.
Crystal Pepsi wasn’t with us for very long. It was released in the spring of 1992 and touted as a clear, pure cola, free of caffeine and artificial colors. Initially a success, the popularity of this new kid on the block quickly nosedived and, by fall of 1993, Pepsi pulled the plug. But what happened?
It’s hard to say, exactly. We know there was a slew of “clear” products at the time, from Clearly Canadian (which also made a comeback) to everyone’s favorite jelly shoes. However, shortly after Crystal Pepsi hit the scene, Coca-Cola responded with its own clear competitor. “But wait,” you’re saying, “I don’t remember a Crystal Coke.” You’re right.
Instead, Coca-Cola released Tab Clear. Yep. Tab Clear. A colorless, sugarless version of a drink no one even wanted in the first place. Why? Well, a CMO from Coke said this was actually a suicide move. The plan was to equate the lovely prismatic Pepsi with Coca-Cola’s terrible Tab, skewing the image and dragging everything down with kamikaze claws. It seems to have worked.
From that day forward, the masses wept. Until now. When our hero rises from the ashes.
The Comeback Cola
The push to bring back Crystal Pepsi began as internet chatter in early 2015. This was followed by a change.org petition that garnered tens of thousands of signatures. Add to that the growing noise on social media, plus actual billboard ads and public gatherings, and this thing started to look like a full-on revolution.
Well, Pepsi listened. After a very limited promotional rerelease in December 2015, Pepsi announced in June of this year that an eight-week Crystal Pepsi comeback would spread across the U.S., beginning on August 8. That’s right: as you read these words, Crystal Pepsi is sitting on a shelf near you. Don’t let this moment pass you by.
To kick things off, Pepsi threw a rager of a launch party in New York, and we should all be sad we weren’t there (unless you were, in which case, you win everything). There was a concert featuring Salt N Pepa, En Vogue, Biz Markie, and Lisa Loeb. Guests could visit a ‘90s salon for some bodacious hair crimping, then rock their new ‘do in a game of tetherball, four square, or yes, even Skip-It.
Crystal Pepsi Trail
It doesn’t stop there. Pepsi teamed up with the makers of Oregon Trail to give you a ‘90s-themed version of the classic game, The Crystal Pepsi Trail.
Embark on a road trip in your ’92 wagon to find the mythical Crystal Pepsi Fountain. Arm yourself with slap bracelets, fanny packs, and bedazzlers. Take on personas like Video Clerk or Beeper Salesman, and hunt for snacks in convenience stores, but watch out — you might get attacked by a horde of Creepy Crawlers.
So what does it taste like?
Now that we’re all up to speed, there are two important questions:
1. What does Crystal Pepsi taste like in 2016?
2. How can you make it boozy?
While Crystal Pepsi’s formula may not be exactly the same as it was in ’92, one thing remains unchanged: it’s still completely crystal clear. Take in the glory.
When you twist the top off the 20-ounce bottle and the aroma escapes … well, it pretty much just smells like Pepsi. So far, so good.
Here’s where you start to notice the difference. Crystal Pepsi has more or less the same signature cola flavor as regular Pepsi, but it’s more delicate. It’s a touch brighter with a seemingly more effervescent sweetness.
It could be a mind game of the “pure” image, but it does seem like it’s lighter on the palate. Right at the end there’s a tiny bit of a chewy, almost fruit-snack feeling.
As the bubbles clear away, you’re left with a citrusy, hard-candy finish.
Can Crystal Pepsi make its way into your cocktail glass? Well, since Pepsi has recently announced plans to open its first cocktail bar in NYC, it seems like the right question. Here’s are few concoctions you can try out with your own bottle of retro crystal tonic.
The Wildest Cherry
1 1/2 oz vodka
6 oz Crystal Pepsi
1/2 oz grenadine
Not quite a Shirley Temple, not quite a Roy Rogers, this is the grown up version of a Wild Cherry Pepsi, but oh-so-pretty in pink. Mix it all together in a cup with ice. Garnish with a maraschino cherry and toast to the Spice Girls.
1 1/2 oz white rum
6 oz Crystal Pepsi
1 T fresh ginger
1 drop vanilla extract
Muddle the ginger, lime and vanilla. Add rum, shake with ice, pour over rocks and top up with Crystal Pepsi. It’s kind of like a green Otter Pop. Or, if Country Time teamed up with Mike’s Hard Lemonade. It’s cool, it’s rude, it’s a party dude. Cowabunga.
3 oz chilled white wine
3 oz Crystal Pepsi
If you’re not familiar with the kalimotxo, we’ll give you a minute to catch up. You can make a white sangría, so why not a white kalimotxo? Pour white wine and Crystal Pepsi over lots of ice. Garnish with a lemon wheel, and invite some friends over for an afternoon of day drinking and Saved By The Bell.