Explaining why I embarked on a quest to consume as many different flavors of Mountain Dew as possible is not an easy task. Why am I voluntarily drinking a beverage whose ad campaigns seem to vaguely suggest sexual violence? Why am I forcing my kidneys to undergo the aging technique used in that Benjamin Button movie to make Brad Pitt look like a testicle? Why am I doing this twenty-one times?
I’ve tried to find the logic in my actions, and as best I can tell, it’s this: sometimes, the world becomes a dark place, and you desperately need a distraction from all of it. Sometimes, you need to be reminded that your body is still yours, and that you can do with it what you want, no matter what anyone else says. Am I actually blaming my Mountain Dew escapades on the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade? No, of course not.
But like, those fuckers didn’t help. I’m not normally compelled to drink Mountain Dew Overdrive, which professes to have “a bold, charged citrus punch” flavor, and has a bear that looks like it’s an anti-vaxxer on the label. I can only assume Kavanaugh is somewhat responsible.
And so, I hunted down 21 flavors of Mountain Dew, or Mtn Dew, as it was recently and unnecessarily rebranded. You are probably saying to yourself, “I did not know so many flavors of Mtn Dew existed.” That is a reasonable response. If someone can name more than three flavors of Mtn Dew off the top of their head, they probably aren’t fit to live in society. What I’m saying is that this project has ruined me.
Mtn Dew has a following so devoted it makes Catholicism seem like a casual hobby. Fans of the drink post photos of their collections online, bottles and cans in a Lisa Frank array of hues. I stare at a picture taken in someone’s wood paneled basement, in a subreddit specifically for Mtn Dew enthusiasts (because the internet, for all its faults, has guaranteed us this: no matter how esoteric our passions, we need never feel alone). Meticulously arranged, some have been custom made, because the beverages in question are only available in fountain drinks. Other fans weigh in, inquiring where to purchase rarer bottles. I try to understand what would propel someone to buy a stale, questionably-stored bottle of Mtn Dew from eBay.
Three weeks later, I’m doing it myself.
I first crack into a bottle in a Florida hotel room, a setting where nothing good has ever happened. Under the guise of scientific rigor, I try Original Mtn Dew first. The taste is vaguely familiar, reminiscent of something, though I can’t quite say what that something is. Sprite claims to have flavors of lemon-lime, Crush is a saccharin orange, and Coca-Cola tastes like, I don’t know, cocaine? And while the soda has, for decades, claimed to “take flavor to the extreme,” original Mtn Dew never actually professes to taste like anything. There is something brilliant in this – if you aspire to nothing, you disappoint no one.
What followed was a journey deep into beverage purgatory, a strange sort of limbo where things taste like nothing but sugar, occasionally like bubble gum, and invariably like defeat. The focus groups for these products consisted of a cardboard cut out of Randy “Macho-Man” Savage and a beer koozie that says “Don’t Blame Me, I Voted For Titties”. I have listed the flavors in no particular order because there is no ranking system here. They are almost all equally bad, and half of them are the same drink. It is an egalitarian system of suckiness, wherein even the best variant of Mtn Dew is still just Mtn Dew. Also, “Mtn” isn’t even how you abbreviate the word “mountain.”
Maui Burst (pineapple) – Dollar General Exclusive. You know how, sometimes, those AI image generators create a Hieronymous Bosch visual of horrors based on a few innocuous prompts? That’s what Maui Burst taste likes. Instead of pineapple soda we got pineapples with eyeballs that feed on children’s nightmares.
It contains no juice and I’m pretty sure the label is racist.
Code Red (cherry) – Have you ever eaten a maraschino cherry and thought, “I want to drink the syrup that this was floating in”? Of course you haven’t. You’re not a toddler. This flavor has a sort of mythical status among Dew fans, and was briefly discontinued because rats that drank too much of it kept creating their own crypto-currencies. The mascot is a ‘roid-raging iguana.
Voltage (blue raspberry plus ginseng) – There is no such thing as a blue raspberry. The idea of making raspberry flavors blue started in 1958 as a way of differentiating it from other red flavors. None of this matters, because voltage doesn’t taste like raspberries. It does, however, taste blue. Like a melted rocket pop. My husband noted it had a faint amaro flavor, because he is lying to himself.
(At this point, four Mtn Dews in, my notebook simply reads, “I am so sad”)
Purple Thunder (berry plum) – Circle K exclusive. This was … not that bad? Had I actually rotted out my brain? It tasted a little like a purple Skittle, which I’ve been told is actually the exact same flavor as every other Skittle. Reminiscent of purple Kool-Aid. Husband said it had a “cola-like complexity.” I threated to make him drink more Code Red.
Major Melon (watermelon) – In the swirling abyss of garbage drinks, we found rock bottom. It tasted like liquified watermelon Bubble Yum. The mascot is a watermelon that does war crimes.
Spark Zero Sugar and regular Spark (raspberry lemonade) – There was only one bottle left of regular Mtn Dew Spark at the Circle K in Melbourne, Florida, and it was covered with an unidentifiable dark substance. At this point, my body had become a carnival ride, so it seems weird that I would care. But that’s how I ended up with this zero sugar flavor which tasted like aspartame and literally nothing else. As my husband put it, “It’s like someone made the diet in Diet Coke into a drink.” I eventually found the regular variant of Spark, which tasted like a wet pixie stick.
Mtn Dew Flaming Hot (spicy citrus) – I’m an old-fashioned gal. I like my sodas cold, my Cheetos flaming hot, and my sodas not to taste like my Cheetos. This flavor, inspired by, yes, hot Cheetos, is either the apex or the nadir of our society. Scientists kept asking if they could, but they never stopped to ask if they should. My husband noted that the flavor was “aggressively nasal” (the spiciness feels like extra carbonation). If you drink this, be warned: you may start crying, finally confident in the knowledge that humanity is done for.
Note: The following Mtn Dews were purchased in a gas station in Philadelphia, where my friend Wil insisted we get fried chicken that came with a sodium warning. While we were there, two women and a man inside were shooting a video on a flip phone, and I heard a phrase that will live on in infamy: “Go back to the hot dogs and we’ll take it again.”
LiveWire (orange) – Am I losing my mind? Is LiveWire not that sweet? (No, it has 1.5 times the amount of sugar an adult human should consume in a day.) Is my body merely growing accustomed to the Dew, the way we do to heat, to pain, to the loneliness of existence?
Baja Mango Gem (mango) – The mascot is some sort of sea demon, it smells like liquid penicillin, and tastes vaguely of marshmallows. The bottle tells me to grab all the Baja flavors to win a treasure. Perhaps the treasure is the Mtn Dew itself. If it is, I will set fire to my rental car.
Baja Gold (pineapple) – This is just Maui Burst, repackaged. No way around this: I now have “Mtn Dew Maui Burst vs Baja Gold” in my search history.
Baja Blast (tropical lime) – Have you ever wanted to taste something the same color as Windex, but allegedly less likely to make you go blind? This tastes like bland fruit punch and is somehow vaguely vegetal. Later, I look at my notes. “Meaningless,” I’ve written. I’m not sure if I’m referring to the drink or my own Dew-ridden existence.
Dark Berry Bash (berry) – Applebee’s exclusive. The great thing about Philadelphia is that no one gives a fuck, so when you walk in to a bar at Applebee’s at noon on a weekday and order a Mtn Dew to go and no food, they’re like, “Fine, whatever.” According to the website, Berry Bash will “take your tastebuds on a trip” “in the depths and darkness of space” where “flavors collide” and for a second I’m confused as to whether you’re supposed to drink it, or space-fuck it.
It tastes fine.
Note: Upon finding out that we needed to hit up a Buffalo Wild Wings to track down an elusive Dew, my friends Scott and Lizzie, in a show of friendship that warms my brittle heart, decided to join us. They also helped us take photos with Mountain Dew and friggin lasers (Scott is a food science geek and you should definitely check out his weird adventures). Also, we ate a lot of chicken wings and now my blood is pudding.
Legend (blackberry citrus) – Buffalo Wild Wings exclusive. It is a strange thing to find yourself in a Buffalo Wild Wings for the first time, and the reason you are there is for Mtn Dew, something which you do not actually enjoy. It causes you to take stock of your life as you stare into the inky depths of this drink. Others described the taste as “a melted popsicle”, “a less sweet Blue Gatorade”, and “a depressed grape.” It tastes like Berry Bash, and Purple Thunder. Either it’s having an existential crisis, or I am.
Overdrive (citrus punch) – Look, does it even matter what I say here? Do you actually care what Overdrive tastes like? No. It tastes like every single other Mtn Dew, and it tastes like nothing. At this point in the project, I have a scorching UTI, because I’m pretty sure my kidneys have shut down. This is my urethra:
Baja Punch (tropical punch) – Discontinued. Have you ever thought to yourself, “I wish my teeth were softer”? Because I have a solution.
Baja Flash (pineapple coconut) – Discontinued. In every project, there is a point where things get so bad, they become a truly spectacular kind of awful, and that is what Baja Flash is. It smells like sunscreen, like the liquid hedonism of spring break. There is something illicit about drinking it, like eating an entire tube of Chapstick. “This is rad,” I whisper, cackling, as I take another sip.
Thrashed Apple (green apple) – The flavor of this drink is fleeting and crisp, like a fall day. At least, I thought it was, until everyone else at the table told me I had Mtn Dew-induced scurvy. It tasted like carbonated apple cider. This was the clear winner for me, and by winner, I mean “It doesn’t make me want to cry.”
VooDoo 2021 (mystery flavor, revealed to be fruit candy chews) – Discontinued. Apparently, every year for Halloween, Mountain Dew creates a mystery flavor with a candy theme (past flavors include candy corn, and, I don’t know, razor blades tucked into apples, probably). The only way to track this down was to purchase an expired can on eBay. This brings up an important question: does Mtn Dew demonstrably degrade over time? And friends, the answer is: please let this project be over soon.
White Out (citrus) – This is apparently the white whale of all Mtn Dew flavors, nearly impossible to find, and another item that I got from a stranger online (sorry, Mom!). I could no longer tell you what I was tasting, perhaps in part because I’d decided to use flaming hot Cheetos as a palette cleanser between sips. (My body is a decaying temple.) Everyone else said that this iteration of Mtn Dew was inoffensive, and not unlike Squirt, though with less of a overt grapefruit taste. I don’t know. Honestly, does it matter? Does anything matter?
The Roman emperor Nero was said to have played the fiddle while his city burned. It’s a myth, of course – the fiddle would not be invented for another 1,500 years. It’s just an allegory for when the devastation around us is so bad that we do nothing. While I worked on this project, the news ticked steadily on with a litany of terrible headlines. My foray into the depths of Dew was a welcome distraction – a technicolor, carbonated parade, a symphony of sugar water. If this was America at its worst – terrible beverages, in unnatural colors – we would live in a wonderful place.
This is the fiddle I play as the flames encircle me. It is super extreme.