Kent Bernhardt: A little cola history

  • Posted: Wednesday, November 28, 2012 7:42 p.m.

As I sit writing this, there is a can of Diet Coke open beside me, along with a styrofoam cup I pilfered from the break room, and a pack of opened Lance peanut butter crackers. It's one of my standard mid-morning snacks.
I will probably drink two-thirds of the Diet Coke that I will pour in several small amounts into the styrofoam cup. Why a cup? To me, drinking directly from the can tends to give the Coke a more metallic taste, which I don't like.
The Lance crackers prepare the palate and taste buds to experience the full richness of the Diet Coke.
This careful analysis is all part of my life as a soda connoisseur. Hey, we have wine connoisseurs. Why not a soda connoisseur?
I'm well suited for the job. Since straying from my parents at a carnival in search of a grape Nehi at the age of five, I have continuously demonstrated my fitness for this highly specialized field of study.
There was something about the careful combination of carbonated water and grape flavoring that called to me then, and it calls to me still today.
I was raised in a Coke house. Actually, let me rephrase that for the sake of my parents' reputation. I was raised in a Coca-Cola household.
Weekly trips to the grocery store always included, at the very least, a six pack of 16 ounce bottles of Coca-Cola. They were usually reserved for Saturday nights, though we kids were known to sneak a swig or two from a bottle that had mysteriously opened itself inside the refrigerator. The contents of that bottle would disappear a swallow at a time for no apparent reason.
Growing up in the 1960's, a lot of my friends were part of the "Pepsi Generation", and a few belonged to the RC Cola club. The latter paired remarkably well with a moon pie.
Pepsi, I always found, was gentler on your sinuses when it shot through your nose after watching your neighbor wipe out on an icy sidewalk.
I might also mention that Cheerwine was practically the unofficial fifth food group, and found in abundant supply in most households of the day.
However, in many of those households, there were strict rules about where Cheerwine could be consumed. Cheerwine stains were nearly impossible to get out of white carpet in those days.
Coke has retained most of its popularity through the years, though not without a brief period of turmoil known as the "What the Heck Were They Thinking" incident in the 1980s.
In 1985, some corporate genius at Coca-Cola, who is now cleaning monkey cages in a research laboratory in South Dakota, decided that we really didn't like the taste of Coke, and came up with "New Coke".
Someone even let it slip that we would probably like New Coke better, because it tasted more like Pepsi. Ah, there's your slogan right there: "New Coke. It Tastes Just Like Pepsi".
Our love affair with New Coke lasted about a nanosecond, and soon we were screaming for our old Coca-Cola back. Coke responded by rolling out "Classic Coke" until New Coke mysteriously disappeared without a trace, as did that corporate executive.
A few observations: I still prefer Coke products to the products of the other major manufacturers, though I give high marks to Diet Cherry Pepsi, and Diet Cheerwine, which has improved remarkably since its introduction in the 1980s.
The Diet Coke sitting on my desk, which now tastes flat by the way, doesn't taste as good to me as it used to anyway.
My theory on that one is another corporate genius decided that there should be a more stark contrast between Diet Coke and the more recently introduced Coke Zero. So they removed something from Diet Coke; probably the healthy body-building nutrients.
Meanwhile, Cheerwine just keeps rolling along as an ever expanding regional favorite. And I'm told that if you pour some club soda on a Cheerwine stain, let it sit for a while, and blot it up with a towel, the stain comes right out.
If that doesn't work, at the very least it's fun to watch the club soda fizz in your stained carpet.
Kent Bernhardt lives in Salisbury.

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