Lots o’ Soda: Diet A&W Cream Soda
Despite precedent, and with the exception of some future installments of Lots o’ Soda, I normally drink diet pop. The reason for this is that (a) I am addicted to soda and (b) I weigh six thousand pounds, so in order to extend my life beyond the time it takes to finish typing this sentence, I generally have to stick to sugar-free. While this will be an issue from time to time, it’s not as big a deal as it used to be: for the most part, soda manufacturers have, through a long, painful, cancer-causing and hideous-aftertasting process, gotten diet pop right. It doesn’t taste like a regular soda; it lacks the bite of sugar or the strength of corn syrup. But it’s no longer a swallow-smile-and-suffer proposition like in the old days of saccharine and cyclamates. Most diet sodas, like our friend A&W Cream Soda here, now use aspartame, and while I prefer the new jack hustle of Ace K, which more naturally apes the taste of sugar, it works just fine here without the chemically afteryuck of a lot of aspartame drinks. Cream soda has no real resemblance to cream; it’s basically just vanilla-flavored soda water. But it has a certain retro appeal, and a lot of cultural cachet (check out Robert James Baker’s excellent Hollywood novel Boy Wonder; among its many other virtues, the main character, Shark Trager, delivers a book-long celebration of cream soda). It’s not as syrupy as vanilla cola or vanilla cola variants like Dr. Pepper; done well — by which I mean without the tampering done to stuff like Big Red — it’s crisp and refreshing instead of heavy and thick. (It’s also superior to root bear in float-making, in my worthless opinion.) A&W’s is probably the best; though they’ve only been at it for 25 years, they’ve got the formula just right, and win bonus points by adding a dash of caffeine. Order up a hot dog and feel the nostalgia for an age you never lived through.