September 28, 2017

The Great LaCroix Taste-Off

The Great LaCroix Taste-Off

I remember when I was thirteen or fourteen and used to babysit for the kid across the street and his parents’ fridge was full of LaCroix. The mom would offer me one when I came over and I would turn up my nose, disgusted—bubbly water? No sugar? No flavor? No thanks. I’ll take seven of those sodas instead.

Fast-forward about ten years, and club soda is all I want to drink. It helped me drink less beer because it was something else to hold in my hand and crack open with the cold ssssssssssss sound of the carbonation rushing out. I know it’s trendy, but it’s delicious. I’ve had opinions about the stuff: coconut isn’t good and lime is pretty delicious, but every other flavor kind of fell into a void of “sure, it’s water, I’ll drink it.”

Until I read a couple articles that tried to rank every flavor from best to worst — Thrillist and Paste, for example.

I read through them faster and faster, getting angry and yelling at my computer screen “but this is all wrong—how could someone say this about my special LaCroix?” The more I sent the articles around, the more I got conflicting responses. Friends said that Coconut was in their top 10, for example, and were excommunicated immediately.

I decided the only way to solve this was to do a completely blind taste test with as many friends as I could fit in my house.

Photo up top by Jess Winchester (www.ladyflashback.com)

THE SETUP:

I’m sorry about the fridge.

I purchased a case of each LaCroix flavor I could find. At the time of the taste test, there were 20 (including the funny and more expensive Cúrate flavors. The only one I couldn’t find in Atlanta was the LaCola flavor).

DISCLAIMER: It feels important to mention here at this point that I did reach out to LaCroix corporate to see if they were interested in sponsoring (in the form of just sending me the cans) and they wrote back kindly informing me they weren’t even remotely interested.

ANOTHER DISCLAIMER: This was before they released the Key Lime flavor (rematch, anyone?)

Before putting them in the fridge, I spent two full movies-worth taping five tops of each can with numbered opaque tape, slipping them inside custom koozies screenprinted for the occasion.

My boyfriend Ryan helped me develop the seeds and the bracket (he knows Sports Words), and I numbered the cans appropriately.

We had the bracket up on a white board so people could follow along.

THE LACROIX ROUNDS:

QUALIFIERS:

There was an odd number of LaCroix flavors, so first up was a qualifying round. Based on the seeds, we pitted Lime against Lemon, Cran-Raspberry against Pure, and Orange against Coconut. I had originally wanted to pit all similar flavors against each other (Lime/Lemon, Orange/Tangerine), but Ryan pointed out that’s not really how it works in sports.

I pulled the qualifying round cans from the fridge, placed them on paper plates, and set out bowls of bingo chips. Each participant was sampled both cans of each match-up using those little paper medicine cups, and then dropped a bingo chip into the winning LaCroix flavor’s plate. My friend Brandon’s daughter Carys was the official judge, counting each plate of chips and designating winners.

Unsurprisingly, Coconut was knocked out in qualifiers (suck it). It never even moved on to the sweet sixteen. Take that, nerds.

The voting mechanism.

SWEET SIXTEEN:

I rang my bell to start the next round of LaCroix tasting—now we were getting to brass tacks. Cerise Lemón slammed Orange out (so I suppose in that way, Cerise Lemón is better than Coconut as well), but Tangerine beat Mango for the next round. Peach-Pear matched against Berry seemed like a dead tie (considering both are nasty), but Peach-Pear eked out a win in that match-up. Apricot beat Pomme-Bayá, which makes sense because Pomme-Bayá is one of the weirder Curate flavors.

On the left of the LaCroix bracket, Passionfruit lost to Lemon (which makes sense; Lemon is a staple but I’m surprised it beat Lime). Grapefruit (dubbed lovingly “pamp” by friends and a certain Facebook group I’m in) smacked down Melón Pomelo, and Muré Pepino easily coasted past the abomination that is Cran-Raspberry. The only match-up of two Cúrate flavors left Piña Fraise standing.

There were so many LaCroix cans at this point. They were spread across the dining room table and the breakfast bar, people carefully maneuvering around mysterious open containers full of liquid.

The judges.

ELITE EIGHT:

Tangerine held its own for a round against Mango, but was swiftly defeated by the strange yet delicious Cerise Lemón. I was glad to see Peach-Pear knocked out by Apricot in this round, and Lemon continued to dominate its corner of the bracket, handing a heartbreaking loss to fan favorite Pamplemousse/Grapefruit. Muré Pepino (cucumber blackberry for those of you who aren’t sure what flavors the names represent) tossed Piña Fraise out of the running and moved on to the….

FINAL FOUR:

At this point, the crowd was getting excited. There were enough people that I had to awkwardly get on a chair and use a knife and glass bowl to ding-ding-ding everyone, signaling the beginning and end of each round. At this point there were only four solitary LaCroix cans sitting on the dining room table, their tape and koozie masks revealing nothing to the crowd. People asked me if either Coconut or Pamp were still in the running, I smiled and said I wasn’t sure (okay, I wasn’t).

The voting was so contentious at this stage some people in the crowd demanded a recount. We slowly dropped each bingo chip from the plate to the table, counting out loud. Lo and behold, there was a miscount! Lemon was about to squeeze out a win in this round, but we realized that two bingo chips got stuck together from all of the water. Muré Pepino moved on.

♫  THE FINAL COUNTDOWN ♫

FINALS:

We’d been changing LaCroix out cans as they were emptied throughout the round, but for the final round I pulled out two totally fresh ones from the fridge. I wanted them to be judged at their best, not after they’d been handled and passed around by warm hands all day. I thought it was amazing that a Cúrate flavor had made it all the way to battle an original flavor in the final round. People murmured to each other in the crowd, asking each other if they knew what the final two flavors were. I thought it would surely be grapefruit, my favorite flavor, the one I always kept stocked alongside Lime in the tiny can-fridge in my office.

Were the Cúrate flavors truly better, I thought? Or did I just like them because they were funny-shaped? Would the crowd choose the skinny LaCroix can, knowing it was the more expensive (and surely more delicious) flavor? People circled the table slowly before going in to taste, it was like they were preparing themselves for the task ahead. Some took a deep breath, stepped in, and started pouring.

There’s a video of me announcing the winner—I don’t see it coming, I wasn’t following the masked numbers and it was as much of a surprise for me as everyone else. I called out, “and the winner is…” and looked down at the numerical guide “aaaaaaaapricooooooot.” The crowd gasped in unison. A champion was crowned.

The results (click to englarge this image)

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