With its old-timey packaging, retro feel, and "enough to quench a cowboy's thirst" slogan, you might think Sioux City (a subsidiary of White Rock) was just as grizzly as a 19th-century prospector; in fact, it wasn't founded until 1987. Sioux City's excellent sarsaparilla is famously name-checked in cult favorite The Big Lebowski, but in reality, the movie's 1991 setting would have made it practically a brand-new product, and not the weathered and time-tested brand the mustachioed cowpoke narrator seems to be looking for.
Goodness knows what Sam Elliott's seen-it-all range rider would think about Sioux City's latest additions to the line. Initially tested in various markets in 2011, these two flavors were successful enough to make it into wider release and are only just now appearing in some locations; they shift substantially from the rugged, olden-days vibe of Sioux City and bring into the mainstream a pair of flavors usually reserved for craft sodas, micro-bottlers, and home brew experimentation. I bought a pack of each at my Central Market, put on a ten-gallon hat and mounted up.
Prickly Pear at least has an Old West connection, as the cactus from whence the flavor springs dots the American southwest and has long been valued for its juicy, fruity flavor. I've tried a few prickly pear sodas before, but Sioux City's Prickly Pear soda was a pleasant surprise, cactus-fruit sweet without being wince-inducing, with a nice crisp finish with no sour aftertaste or problematic undercurrents. Cowboy Sam Elliott might have called it kid stuff, but I call it delicious.
On the other hand, Sioux City's Cherries 'n' Mint was hard to figure out, both conceptually and practically. If anyone—particularly scraggly old rustlers from the old west—was crying out for a combination of cherry and mint, I'd never heard about it. The soda's rendition of cherry was more the sweet, light version found in cherry limeades and cherry lemon-lime than the darker, fuller version of black cherry sodas, but it was a perfectly good cherry flavor. The mint that kicks in almost immediately was strong without being overwhelming. The problem was that cherries and mint don't really go together in most contexts, and here, it wasn't really so much something to be enjoyed as it was something to be tolerated. After I finished the bottle, I could see Cowboy Sam Elliott shaking his head sadly at me.
Thematically appropriate or not, Sioux City's Prickly Pear was a big success in the flavor department. Cherries 'n' Mint, though, felt like a failed experiment to me; but then again, the buyer at my grocery store says it's a solid seller, so maybe I'm the weird one. The next time I see a cowboy rocking a pale green bandana, I'll be sure to ask him.
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