Drink Me: Sparkling water

Originally posted on July 23, 2018 at 0:01 am

Sometimes after a long ride, beer just isn’t the right thing, nor is more warm water from a hydration pack, gross drink mix in the bottom of your bottle, or a can of sickeningly sweet soda. Thankfully, we’ve learned to enjoy LaCroix. A blend of sparkling water and light flavoring, the LaCroix disappears from the volunteer coolers at Dirt Fest as fast as the beers.

LaCroix got its start way back in 1981, but it wasn’t until the last few years that it’s become almost as ubiquitous as Coke or Budweiser in coolers nationwide. LaCroix started in a small brewery in Wisconsin as a competitor to Perrier and was eventually purchased by National Beverage, which also owns sugar-bomb brands such as Faygo and Shasta. With soda sales at their lowest point in decades, LaCroix and similar drinks look like they will only rise in popularity.

Lacroix is just about as simple as it gets, just carbonated water and natural flavors. No sweeteners, no preservatives, no calories, no sodium, just flavors derived from fruits in water from one of the 12 bottling locations nationwide. LaCroix has 21 varieties, including six new Cúrate varieties with stronger flavors. I picked up the hipster-favorite pamplemousse, which is grapefruit in French. The flavor is very, very light, but the hint of grapefruit is just enough to be refreshing.

Not one to ignore a trend, Trader Joe’s recently started canning its sparkling water flavors. This raspberry lime was one of only a few choices at our local store. It has a little more kick than most LaCroix flavors, but it is still more subtle than strong. It has a sweet aftertaste, but it is pleasant, not cloying like artificial sweeteners.

Whole Foods has its own line of LaCroix-like drinks under the 365 brand. This can of grapefruit is similar enough to LaCroix’s pamplemousse that I couldn’t tell the difference in a blind taste test.

Target is in the game as well, playing the tall can game with its Simply Balanced brand. This mint cucumber flavor was the surprise of the bunch. The mint is immediately noticeable, with the cucumber coming on as the mint fades on the taste buds. I look forward to enjoying these during the dog days of summer. As refreshing as a mint julep.

I picked up the Waterloo watermelon at Whole Foods. Based out of the same town as Whole Foods (Austin, Texas), Waterloo has a seven varieties. The watermelon wasn’t a flavor I’d seen before, and it is certainly distinctive. It smells like candy (Jolly Ranchers, to be exact) and tastes that way too. The flavor is still understated, but for something with no sugar, it sure tastes sweet. A favorite of my 11-year-old son, this could be a great summertime treat for kids.

The Spindrift is by far the most expensive drink in this group, coming in at $4.50 for a four-pack, compared to $4 for a 12-pack on average for the rest. Rather than natural flavor, Spindrift uses 10 percent fruit juice. That juice accounts for the 15 calories per 12 ounce can, compared to about 150 calories in a soda or craft beer. The grapefruit flavor is front and center, but the carbonation seemed to be lacking the bite of the other drinks.

Giant Eagle is the largest grocery chain in the Pittsburgh area, and this can of Fruition sparking water is a good reminder of the importance of reading labels. While it has the same caffeine and calorie-free labeling as the other brands, this can of key lime is more akin to a diet Sprite than a LaCroix. Instead of the two-ingredient list of the other drinks, this has citric acid, potassium citrate, potassium benzoate, aspartame, acesulfame potassium and phenylalanine. Giant Eagle does sell cans of sparkling water without all this garbage, but there is little to signal that Fruition is not at all like LaCroix.

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