Have You Tried Sun Drop Soda?


[Photograph: Jed Portman]

If you were to define "clean" flavor, you'd probably begin with spring water. Then you'd move on to watery things—fruits, vegetables, greens. But before you reached any of them, you'd pass Sun Drop, which is very close to "clean" defined in a soda.*

*In a glass bottle, anyway—in cans, it's made with corn syrup, which can muddy flavors, I think.

Sun Drop is a citrus drink. The first four ingredients listed on the bottle—carbonated water, sugar, citric acid, and orange juice concentrate—account for most of the favor in a sip. The only major thing missing from that list is a grapefruit bitterness that must be accounted for under "natural flavors."

Despite its high sugar content, though (49 grams per 12-ounce bottle), the dominant flavor of Sun Drop is water. It's the breeziest of citrus sodas. You'd never guess that it's packing more caffeine than Mountain Dew—in fact, according to the records at energyfiend.com, it has almost double the caffeine of Coca-Cola Classic. And that's how its makers at Dr. Pepper Snapple have chosen to market it.

Sun Drop has spent decades as a regional soft drink, with fan bases in Tennessee, the Carolinas, and the upper Midwest, but last year Dr. Pepper Snapple decided to take it nationwide with a peppy, youth-focused new ad campaign and tagline—"Exhilarating citrus soda"—meant to put the drink in direct competition with its amped-up citrus counterparts.

I don't think that the adjective "exhilarating" does justice to Sun Drop's mellow flavor. But this isn't the first time that Sun Drop's marketers have misrepresented its appeal. Back when Coca-Cola was the only stylish soft drink in many parts of the country, Sun Drop was advertised as a "golden cola."

That label, poetic as it is, implies a heaviness that Sun Drop doesn't have. If Coca-Cola is a smoky sunset, Sun Drop is a warm fall afternoon. Like a ray of September sun on the sidewalk, its citrus flavor warms the palate and, just as quickly, slips away.

About the Author: Jed Portman is blogging his way to that cabin in East Tennessee, one six-pack of soda and barbecue platter at a time. Follow him on Twitter @jdportman.