- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Is America ready for electric orange soda pop flavored by essence of big fish with sharp teeth?

“It’s too early to tell,” says Peter van Stolk, president of Seattle-based Jones Soda, which manufactures the new fish fizz. “I don’t know if even I’m ready for it.”

Out of respect for the nation’s palate — and perhaps that of grizzly bears — the drink’s official name is Smoked Salmon Pate Soda, the crown jewel in a recently announced Thanksgiving collection of irreverent soft drinks for those who either want to save calories or alarm guests.

“We may be a small company, but I am proud to say at least we’ve cornered the market on meat-flavored beverages,” said Mr. van Stolk, who concedes he has not been able to down the salmon soda — yet.

The collection of long-necked bottles also includes the flavors Broccoli Casserole, Turkey & Gravy, Corn on the Cob and pie of course — not pumpkin, but pecan.

Pumpkin Pie Soda is part of the company’s alternative holiday collection, which includes Brussels Sprouts with Prosciutto, Cranberry Sauce and Wild Herb Stuffing.

Each drink has no fat, no calories and no carbohydrates — a boon to those hoping to avoid the 1,300-calorie, high-fat culinary experience found on the typical Thanksgiving plate. The $13 collection is becoming scarce at Target and other stores, and hopeful sellers on EBay already are asking upward of $50 for an “unopened” set.

“Look, we make delicious stuff, too,” Mr. van Stolk says. “Melon, bubble gum, green apple. But we’re also meeting the American challenge to be outrageous, have a little fun, laugh at ourselves.”

Though imbibers can choose among 450 soft drinks, there’s always room for more, apparently. Odd flavors resonate with a cola-weary nation: The marketplace also includes such specialties as Tommyknocker’s Key Lime Cream Soda, Drizzle’s Banana Soda, Plantation’s Mint Julep and Skeleteen’s Brain Wash — which boasts caffeine and red pepper.

Coca-Cola has not overlooked this trend. After Jan. 1, the company will introduce Black Cherry Vanilla Coke, described by Senior Vice President Katie Bayne as “an innovative fusion … that is complex and delicious.”

Some soda-sippers don’t want complex, though. Old-fashioned regional soft drinks are also part of Americana, generating fierce loyalty among fans who enjoyed such brands as Cott’s, White Rock, Dr. Nut, Nehi or Moxie back in the day.

Such sentiment inspired Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton to bring back Grapette, a deep purple soda pop locally manufactured in Arkansas and listed in official state historic records as former President Bill Clinton’s childhood drink of choice. The brand disappeared 35 years ago after the original company was sold.

Mr. Walton began his campaign to resurrect Grapette in the 1980s. Wal-Mart succeeded in buying the rights to the brand in May; the drink is now sold in Wal-Mart stores with Orangette, its sister brand.

“We’ve seen this retro interest in cars, clothes, music,” observed Peter Rice, president of the new Grapette International Co. “And now, soft drinks.”

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