As the Super Bowl rolls into Atlanta, so do all its corporate partners, including the rival of our city’s third-largest and most recognized company, Coca-Cola. The NY state-based Pepsi hosted the NFL’s Rookie of the Year unveiling this morning (NY Giants running back Saquon Barkley) and celebrated the occasion at the downtown Ritz Carlton with the premiere of its brand new Nitro Pepsi and Nitro Pepsi Vanilla.
So while other guests dined on chicken and waffles, drank morning cocktails and hobnobbed with NFL greats like Barry Sanders and Franco Harris—all while supermodels Olivia Culpo and Chanel Iman greeted guests, Lil Jon DJed and Bryce Vine performed—I cornered Pepsi’s VP of marketing, Todd Kaplan, and asked him about the inspiration behind the new soft drinks. (Okay I did all of the above, too.)
“Cola has been the same for about 125 years,” he said. “While there’s been flavor innovations and packaging innovations, cola has been defined by carbonation. We thought, ‘What about bringing nitrogen into the mix?’ It’s a different kind of mouth feel, a different texture and it’s unlike anything else in the market right now.”
While the roll-out plans for Nitro are still in development, the soft-drink giant is planning on offering it at exclusive events, starting with this morning’s premiere.
The Taste Test:
First the caveats: Like most of Atlanta, I grew up drinking Coke, and like many adults who don’t want diabetes, I’ve pretty much given up sugary soft drinks. Pepsi was always a little too in-your-face sweet for me anyway, and unlike Steve Carrell in Pepsi’s new Super Bowl ad, my answer to “Is Pepsi okay?” has always been an emphatic no.
That said, Nitro Pepsi in both the Signature and Vanilla flavors offers a leap forward from regular ol’ cola. For anyone who’s enjoyed a nitro milk stout or a a nitro coffee, that first sip from a creamy head will be familiar—just a lot more sugary than you’re used to. It’s meant to be poured into a glass without ice and sipped directly (not through a straw), and the texture is super creamy and buttery. In fact, even the Signature offering was more reminiscent of the Butter Beer available at Universal Studio’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter than a typical can of soda. And the Vanilla flavor doubled down on that—cream soda with a frothy head. But the distinct Pepsi flavor still pokes through.
The tiny, cascading bubbles and the stable structure of the head with its stick-to-your-lip quality allows for clever branding videos like this one:
The flavor is still overpoweringly sweet unless “overpoweringly sweet” is a concept you just don’t understand—I could still taste the sugar on my tongue (and my mustache) on the drive back to the Paste office. But for cola drinkers, it’s a pleasing new twist on a century-old standard. Pepsi is still working out the overall presentation, but I’d wager they stick to small serving sizes meant to be consumed quickly, as once you get past that foamy head, the liquid is missing that expected effervescence that the carbonation usually brings. It’s a smoother, silkier texture that I enjoyed, but that can also feel slightly flat.
Before we finished, I had to ask Kaplan, who’s been navigating Pepsi’s “away game” this week, what it’s like being in the belly of the beast. His answer—much like the brand’s #ColaTruce yesterday—was nothing but diplomatic: “The Super Bowl is always a great time of year, and we’ve been an official NFL partner for years,” he said. “Coming to a town with Atlanta, we welcome this town with open arms. We’re really excited to be here and have a lot of fun, and we can’t wait for the game.”
Nitro Pepsi and Nitro Pepsi Vanilla are not yet in stores, and these were prototypes we sampled. The full roll-out will be announced at a future date.