In a desperate bid to capture the tongues of Millennial drinkers, Coca Cola recently unleashed a new lineup of Diet Coke flavors. You may have already seen the skinny cans around, along with their obvious connotation—drink skinny cans, become a skinny human being. Or something of that nature? Regardless, there are four new iterations of good old fashioned Diet Coke on the market: Ginger Lime, “Zesty” Blood Orange, “Feisty” Cherry and “Twisted” Mango.
This being Paste, a tasting was clearly in order. It’s certainly not our first time rating some sodas—in addition to our long-running series of blind beer style tastings, we also compared the new Coke Zero Sugar to the original Coke Zero, and conducted a blindfolded taste of several cola brands against the reborn Crystal Pepsi back in 2015. So we know our way around some colas.
So with that said, let’s put these in order from worst to best.
This one is not so much terrible as it is bizarre. In comparison with the other three new brands, it’s as if someone at the Coke plant forgot to flavor Ginger Lime as they did the others. On the nose, there’s almost nothing to speak of—if you put this in front of someone in any other context, they would just think they were being served a regular Diet Coke. On the palate, you might reallllly be able to strain and pick up some hints of ginger ale or citrus, but man, they are hidden way in the back, even when you’re actively looking for them. One would expect this product to be a fusion of Diet Coke and ginger ale with a twist of lime (which doesn’t sound half bad), but in execution it’s like they went 10% of the way toward their goal and then quit. It’s bizarre and wholly unexpected, because the other new efforts in this line are all quite assertive in their flavoring. Rarely would we ever criticize this company for not being brash enough in their application of flavorings, but here the final product is so similar to regular Diet Coke that there might as well not even be a new can for it. Very strange.
At first, this offering seems fairly safe—the most familiar and approachable of all the new flavors. After all, cherry has been on friendly terms with Coke and Coke variants for years. Hell, this company already sells both “Diet Coke Cherry” and “Cherry Coke Zero,” so why the hell did we even need a new one to begin with? It’s on repeated sips that its inherent weirdness starts to emerge, though—Feisty Cherry apparently is deriving the “feisty” part of its name from the fact that this stuff is genuinely spicy—and we mean in a corrosive way. The aromatics and first few sips are pleasant enough, with big, rounded black cherry notes and slightly sweet, syrupy texture, but as time goes by it starts to become clear that this stuff is also strangely spicy. Slowly building black pepper-like spice combine with carbonation to burn the back of the palate and especially the throat, in a way that feels not unlike a soda version of the experience of having Strep Throat. If that sounds unpleasant, it’s because it is. What’s odd is how subtle (but eventually bothersome) it is. The initial tastes might entirely miss the unpleasant aspects of Feisty Cherry, but by the time you drink half a can, you’ll be wondering what’s wrong with your taste buds. And once again: Why do we need this, with no shortage of other cherry-flavored Cokes variants? It’s simultaneously too familiar and too strange, which is a bad combination.
A marginal improvement is the Zesty Blood Orange flavor, which comes close to capturing something interesting but can’t quite complete the thought. On the nose this one is inviting, with a sweet but exotic citrus profile that reminds me of San Pellegrino’s aranciata rossa flavor, but the palate can’t match up with the aromatics. In terms of flavors, this one is articially orangey, like a watered down Sunkist mixed with Diet Coke, which doesn’t really do a favor to either. The character of the orange flavors is reminiscent of an orange Lifesaver, which might be a plus to some people, but it’s not quite close enough to the real thing to escape a soda uncanny valley. It’s also a bit drier than either the Feisty Cherry or the Twisted Mango, which doesn’t really work with the citrus profile, which needs a certain degree of residual sweetness to seem juicy and authentic. In some ways, this one comes close to an interesting potential, but it falls a bit short.
Of all the new Diet Coke flavors, this is the one I would least have expected to enjoy, which surprises me all the more that it’s easily the best of the bunch. The nose is very assertive with juicy fruit notes of fuzzy passionfruit, pineapple juice and mango. On the palate, the fruit punch profile rolls on, with a big, sweet, exotic but suitably complex melange of fruit impressions, and a slightly syrupy texture. The “Diet Coke” profile is pushed significantly further back, but isn’t that what you want in a flavored version of a soft drink like this? Improbably, the cola character somehow doesn’t clash with the tropical fruit impressions, and what we’re left with is a slightly decadent and decidedly exotic spin on a classic. I am as shocked as anyone to be writing this, but I genuinely like Twisted Mango, and it’s the only one of these new variants I can write that about. In particular, this version has some serious mixer potential—I can see it as a base for all kinds of island-inspired alcoholic mixed drinks. To prove a point, we tipped a little bit of rum into the Twisted Mango (what, your office doesn’t have bottles of rum in it?), and it was a thumbs-up combination.
Make of that what you will, but if I’m drinking any of these Diet Coke variants in the future, it’s going to be the improbably mango-flavored one.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident beer guru. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink content.