I have a bottle of Crystal Pepsi! And it only cost as much as dinner for two!
I can’t imagine that many of you missed the news, but yes, Pepsi — inspired by an online campaign spearheaded by competitive eater L.A. Beast — has dusted off perhaps its most famously infamous soft drink.
Several weeks ago, they ran an online contest which supplied thousands of lucky fans with brand new Crystal Pepsi six-packs. By my math, 80% of them ended up on eBay. While Crystal Pepsi is rumored to make its official return next summer, I just couldn’t wait that long. Enjoy your 35 bucks, dude from eBay.
Crystal Pepsi was test marketed in 1992, before going national amidst mucho fanfare in 1993. How much fanfare? Well, it was introduced through a sixty second commercial during Super Bowl XXVII, which was a pretty freakin’ major way to promote soda.
For a moment, everyone was all about Crystal Pepsi. Honestly, you had to be. I’ve poked fun of the beverage over the years, but I lived through its introduction, and that shit was a MAJOR event. The idea of “clear Pepsi” is still novel today, but it seemed so delightfully alien back in the ‘90s.
Between the ad campaign, the uniquity and the fact that it was named after the secret best character from Roseanne, Crystal Pepsi was something that everyone had to try once.
Unfortunately, most people seemed to stop at “once.”
So what happened?
That newspaper clipping from 1993 hints at Crystal Pepsi’s many troubles. As clear as the drink was, its identity was far murkier. Whether as a strategy or by oversight, Pepsi never seemed incredibly forthright about what Crystal Pepsi was meant to be. Many people (myself included) assumed the beverage to be literal Pepsi with the brown stripped out, which was never the intention. At the same time, even today, I still couldn’t tell you precisely what it was supposed to taste like!
In retrospect, though, I see the beverage’s original failure as having less to do with “it” and more to do with logic. In everything from concept to title, Crystal Pepsi was a novelty. Not quite on the level of a funkily-flavored bottle of Jones Soda, but somewhere in that area.
Things like that may collect hardcore fans — and certainly Crystal Pepsi did — but they are more often sampled once and never again. Crystal Pepsi was a pop phenomenon, but for most people, it wasn’t the kind of thing to pair with a bag of chips and five hours on the couch.
There was perhaps another issue, too. You’ll notice that the bulk of Crystal Pepsi’s online supporters are roughly the same age. These are people who were — like me — kids when it came out. This is where I think Pepsi misfired. A wacky clear Pepsi with “Crystal” in its name seemed impossibly fetching to kids, and had they just rolled the dice and marketed it that way, it might’ve lasted longer. For Grandma, I imagine it seemed more like buying a toy.
…and if I’m right about that, then Pepsi chose the perfect time to bring it back. All of those kids who were the only ones in their families who wanted Crystal Pepsi now hold the wallets. And hell, with nostalgia being such a powerful drug, one needn’t have been a big fan of the soda to be way into its revival. For some, this will be less “a soda” and more a magic potion that acts as a window to so many lost memories from the early ‘90s.
When I took my first sip, I shot right back into my childhood friend’s kitchen, where we did blind taste tests and tried to guess between regular and Crystal Pepsi. His little sister would’ve been in the next room, dancing badly to That’s the Way Love Goes.
I don’t get to remember shit like that by drinking Snapple.
OKAY NOW WE’RE UP TO THE PART YOU ACTUALLY CARE ABOUT.
TASTE TEST TIME!
Now, full disclosure: My memories of Crystal Pepsi from the ‘90s are pretty muted. I’m in no position to tell you if it tastes exactly the same today. I know that Jay — a much bigger fan than me — swears that it doesn’t.
In any event, I quite liked it. To me it tasted like regular Pepsi with a teensy hint of vaguely lemony tonic water. Some of that assertion is psychosomatically based, I’m sure, but I think it’s a fair enough assessment.
Would I drink it all the time? No. Fittingly enough, I guess I feel exactly like I did during Crystal Pepsi’s original run: It’s great fun, and drinking it makes me feel like I’m somehow doing more than just drinking soda, but when push comes to shove and I gotta wash down the pizza, this ain’t gonna be my go-to.
…but will I be the first one at Stop & Shop if it makes its rumored full-scale return in 2016? You betcha! Soda so rarely gets to be an event, after all. I don’t need it to be my #1 favorite taste.
I mean, it’s not like I’m gonna set Larry up with his own “taste test center” over some Diet Coke, y’know?
Welcome back, Crystal Pepsi. Or welcome halfway-back. Whatever.
In closing, my umpteen bottles of vintage Crystal Pepsi are now worth 70% less than they were two months ago. If you’re gonna play the soda stocks, you’ll need a strong stomach.