Maple syrup is not a side dish.
It shouldn’t be, at least. My love-hate relationship with nature’s caramel springs from its chronic misuse. The common practice of leaving a short stack absolutely swimming in it is criminal even when it’s the genuine article, and poor-quality imitation maple flavoring is a far worse offense: harsh, overwhelming and deserving of expulsion from polite culinary society. But a properly calibrated maple glaze on doughnuts, meats or carrots? A little baked into breakfast muffins or whipped into frosting? Heaven.
I’m also not the biggest soda fan, finding it too sweet and frankly a tremendous bore. When I find a fun one, like craft root beer or a real blood orange seltzer, I’m thrilled, but otherwise, I’m rarely willing to add a ton of calories for very little interest.
Somehow, though, despite the fact that I still have nightmares about a previous foray into maple-flavored beverages, when I heard about Pepsi’s partnership with IHOP to make Pepsi Maple Syrup Cola, I couldn’t wait to try it. This very limited-edition flavor is available only through the #ShowUsYourStack social media sweepstakes, and a mere 2,000 cans are on their way to winning entrants who posted photos of their pancakes with the hashtag. The first recipients are just beginning to turn up on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, and we feel very lucky to have scored a can. I sense real potential here — it’s either going to be novel and interesting … or a hilarious catastrophe. Let’s find out!
First, unboxing the box. I wasn’t even expecting that part, but they really nailed it. Look at this absolute towering masterpiece of marketing:
And inside, the can. I love that it has a little seat, almost like a throne, and it’s dressed to impress with a shimmering golden tiara of syrup. The matte cream background with that metallic drip and sticky retro font is beautiful, and I can already feel my expectations shifting from gimmicky disaster to genuine celebration.
The kicker is the clever inclusion of a pour spout just like the ones on the table at IHOP. It pops onto the can, fits securely and it works properly.
This is the complete package — iconic logos artfully placed, graphic design that walks the fine line between clean and cartoony with ease and a truly fun concept.
I’m almost afraid to pop open the can after having my heart broken by the promise of good marketing pasted over a terrible product too many times, but I steel myself for disappointment and muster my courage. The scent is mostly Pepsi, but I’m actually happy to report the maple aroma does not bash one about the head with its mapleyness. A sip ... and it’s the familiar Pepsi with a acceptably convincing maple finish. I was curious about whether it would be heavy or syrupy, and it really isn’t — it has 150 calories per can just like the regular cola — but it does have an impression of richness, almost like a memory layered over the flavor, successfully pouring syrup over the flapjacks of my heart without coating my tongue. It reminds me of other indulgences I love without being cloying, and that’s something of an achievement. I notice that it has a quality that soda often does, where the first sip is a bit too aggressive and then it fades into a more even keel as you keep drinking it. I think that’s used to good effect here, especially over ice, but I’ll bet some others will wish for a more prominent maple kick in the teeth.
A specialty flavor like this requires sipping solo or attentive pairing: chili nuts, a butter croissant, sweet potato chips. It would also make a spectacular ice cream float. A sprinkle of cayenne would be perfection.
Today, though, I decided to try something else. If you look at the box without knowing what it contains, you might wonder whether it’s maple syrup-flavored Pepsi or Pepsi-flavored maple syrup. Given the former, who could resist trying the latter? I boiled down about 1/3 of a cup of the soda, added a tablespoon of real maple syrup, and blended it into the flavor palindrome that is Maple Syrup Pepsi Maple Syrup. I opted to serve it with my favored homemade maple syrup vehicle: French toasted tortillas.
The salty-sweet aspect of French toast just sings with the joy of cola. It’s maple, it’s Pepsi, and I inhaled it.
Unfortunately, Pepsi and IHOP say this is a limited edition with no plans for production outside the sweepstakes, but I hope there’s wiggle room enough for it to come into their flavor rotation from time to time, at least at IHOP locations or for gift-giving. Only time will tell. If you can’t stand the suspense, you can always boil down some regular Pepsi to add to maple syrup for your home-based breakfast enjoyment. If you can’t have Maple Syrup Pepsi, Pepsi maple syrup will have to do.