Serious Eats: Drinks

Calorie Free: R.W. Knudsen Sparkling Essence Drinks

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[Photograph: Robyn Lee]

Sometimes we're tired of just drinking water, but also don't want a super-sweet soda—whether it's sweetened with HFCS, or sugar, or something artificial and calorie free. So we were curious about R.W. Knudsen's new(ish) line of flavored sparkling drinks. Would they be lightly flavored, refreshing options? Or oddly-infused experiments?

Here's how they fared.

The lemon version is the winner of the bunch. No, it's nothing earthshaking (what happens when you add lemon extract, lemon flavor, and lemon juice concentrate to carbonated spring water? You get...lemon water) but tasty and well-balanced, with just enough lemon tartness and bitterness. It's a bit more like sparkling water with a twist than sparkling water with lemonade, but that's fine with us. No fake sweetener, mildly interesting flavor. We sometimes get bored with plain seltzer, but we'd happily drink this, especially on a hot day, and the flavor tastes a bit more natural than most lemon-flavored seltzers we've had.

The lime flavor is a bit more robust, with a strong limey aroma that reminded us more of lime peel than fresh juice. It's more zesty than tart, and we wished for a sour kick.

But that's where this lineup started going downhill. When we cracked open the cucumber flavor, one of our tasters immediately said, "Whoa. This is uncanny." It's pretty intensely cucumbery, which is sort of refreshing but sort of bizarre, and some tasters found it a bit too vegetal and bitter.

We'd definitely skip the rest. The blueberry flavor smells exactly like the blue Mr. Sketch markers, which is kind of fun. ("Those were the best markers!" reminisced AHT editor Robyn Lee.) But the flavor is a little weak and tart, unsatisfying in the way that fruit-flavored teas often are. The mint version is oddly sour and spearmint-scented. Unless you feel the urge to swallow your mouthwash, this mint water is not for you. (Has anyone found an actually delicious mint water, really? This is a trend we just don't really understand.)

Finally, the coconut flavor has a blast of coconut (suntan lotion) scent, but the addition of lemon extract makes it for a confusing beverage. You expect coconut water or something sweeter, but the drink is pretty sour and not very coconutty. We couldn't finish a glass full.

About $22 for 24 cans, sample provided for review.

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