The intersection of the markets for bottled water and all-natural juice lies squarely in Boulder, Colorado, where the Izze Beverage Company
has been making its sparkling juice beverages for the past seven years. In an effort to find out whether that should be your starting point or the place you avoid, Fat City recently sat down with two twist-off bottles of Izze, Izze Esque Low-Calorie Sparkling Mandarin and Izze Sparking Birch. At $4 per four-pack (on sale at Whole Foods), these beverages had their work cut out for them. Izze Esque Low-Calorie Sparkling Mandarin
. This is Izze's healthful version of Crystal Light. At 60 calories, it has half the calories of a standard bottle. Under the twist-off cap was a weird surprise: This all-natural drink was an olfactory cousin to McDonald's orange drink.
The peach-colored drink (again, we're getting further from mandarin orange, here) was sweet up front, but that sweetness disappeared by the end of the sip. It had a slightly bitter aftertaste like the quinine in tonic water or budgety ginger ale. And though I was drinking a beverage, my tongue felt dry after several gulps.
All in all, this tastes like a regular Izze that's been poured warm over a massive amount of ice. It's probably worth it, tastewise, to spring for the 60 extra calories per bottle.
Izze Sparkling Birch. Izze purists are likely
disappointed by the birch beer flavor that launched this summer. It's the
first Izze product to contain sugar (most are naturally sweetened with
70 percent fruit juice) and suggests that the company may be looking to make
inroads into the soda market along the path blazed by Jones Soda. Instead of juice, the birch beer is flavored with birch oil.
Purism aside, with Sparkling Birch, Izze makes a strong case that it
should be making alternative soda flavors. The straw-colored beverage
smells like cream soda and the first sip reinforces the aroma. It has a
sharp bite at the end, which nicely counteracts the initial sweetness.
That bitterness is less pronounced a few sips in, which makes you want
to continue drinking. Here the difference between cream soda and the sparkling birch is the same as the difference between sasparilla and root beer: Less sweet, more bite.
While the diet-conscious Izze drinks aren't for me, the company's first attempt at brewing a version of a soda is a good one. It makes me excited to think about what they could do with another classic soda fountain flavor like a lime rickey or orange creme. Memo to Izze R&D: Please consider this a suggestion. We'll try the first samples.