It's autumn, and I am here for it. If it's spiced, I will buy it. If it's warm, I will wear it. Pumpkin spice lattes? Check. Fluffy socks? Check. Buffalo checks? Check, check. Enter the limited-edition Bud Light Seltzer Fall Flannel Pack. With lumberjack-chic packaging, it promises warmth and nostalgia. Look at it. It practically screams bloody murder — I mean, holiday season. It's the flavors that are important, though. Are they cozy enough for a cabin, or do they belong in the bonfire?
First up: Apple Crisp
Just popping the can and waving it under my nose is a transcendent experience. I am pulled backward through time, helpless to resist. In a flash, I’m in a 1991 Bath and Body Works, trapped between two displays: Country Apple Shampoo and Cinnamon Bun Body Wash. There is no escape.
There is also no "crisp."
The only way out is through. Let's take a sip.
Good heavens, this is where potpourri goes to die. The cinnamon is warm, sweaty. It demands attention like a toddler in church. The apple flavor is hiding under the pews, but I can hear it whining. If I lose my page in the hymnal, my soul is lost. Oxygen! I need oxygen …
By aerating my palate, I do find apple flavor there, but once I get it, I want to put it back. More peel than pulp, only faintly sweet. That's not a criticism in my book, but the lack of sweetness leaves room for such an odd finish — it's baking soda, bitter high and low. Mid notes of amber, caramel and aluminum.
Suggested pairing: On the rocks, with whole-grain crackers and sharp cheddar, it's almost drinkable.
Second: Maple Pear
Honestly, the scent isn't bad. It's still fruit peel, but floral rather than fake, and the maple smells good-naturedly sticky. Anyone who has tried unaccompanied vanilla extract knows that aroma doesn't equal flavor, though. Onward.
As a pear-tolerant real maple enthusiast, I expect to be disappointed and am gratified. It's like eating a Canadian flag leaf-first. It's much sweeter than the Apple Crisp, because it and the remaining varieties contain stevia. I often find that blunts other flavors for me — happily, in this case, because it cuts the alkaline quite a bit. It's still more lumbering than jacked. Notes of nutmeg, ozone and aluminum. (You know what, let's pour the rest of them in a glass.)
Suggested pairing: I tried. I really did. Between the fickle fruit flavor and 10-foot-tall, bulletproof maple punch, it is … unpearable.
Third: Pumpkin Spice
It smells exactly like our old friend Apple Crisp, now with more clove and no apple! And also no pumpkin! In retrospect, I had a subconscious belief that this would be the best flavor. This was a real failure of my cynical imagination, and I'm ashamed. Nothing for it but to seek the pumpkin by tasting.
Utter chaos. My eyes water. Without any discernible vegetal essence, the baking soda returns in an ending that is literally bittersweet. It's discordant and confusing, evokes licking a car air freshener or decorative scented pine cone.
Suggested pairing: Curried nuts and self-loathing.
Lastly: Toasted Marshmallow
Put me in, coach! I can take it! Eye of the tiger!
That aroma, so familiar. I think it's … Tootsie Rolls? What on earth?
The flavor actually does have caramelized sugar and vanilla notes right up front, with an inexplicably cocoa middle. Then things get weird with a puzzlingly sour caboose. It's as marshy as it is toasty. The overall effect? Yoo-hoo Chocolate Drink, carbonated, and just this side of rancid.
Suggested pairing: If held hostage at a dinner party, you might be able to survive this one by pairing it with plain graham crackers and a very dark chocolate.
In the interest of public service, I tried each one again, attempting to find any redeeming qualities. Interestingly, though my husband and I split each one to sample and still never finished a single can, tasting them with food helped, and none of them were as bad the second time around. I suspect Stockholm syndrome and plan to seek treatment.
I usually suggest to nutrition clients that they limit alcohol more than most people do, but when you choose to indulge, hard seltzer is a reasonable choice, clocking in at about 100 calories and fewer than 5 grams of carbs. This particular iteration, though, is beyond all reason. Fall Flannel Hard Seltzer? Hard pass.