Sunday, September 27, 2015

Nature's Nectar Berry Blue Smoothie (Aldi)

It's more of a "juice" than a "smoothie" and tastes pretty uninspiring.
I’ve already mentioned a few times that I go nuts for these Aldi-brand smoothies--I’m always sure to try them ASAP--so let’s take a look at their Berry Blue, which my wife was more excited to try than I was, berries being her favorite fruits, and all.

Unlike the strawberry-banana smoothie, this one is way more watery; its texture is much closer to a juice than an actual smoothie.  This put off my wife from the outset, as she prefers Naked’s version, which is super-thick.  The matter of texture doesn’t really bother me all that much, so when my wife was inevitably disappointed, citing it was “too sweet”, I eagerly agreed to finish off the rest.

All I have to say is, she’s right.  We tend to have totally varying taste buds, but we both were in agreement that Berry Blue falls well short of the mark.  On top of it being really sweet, it has a rather bizarre aftertaste; just like Nature‘s Nectar‘s Mango smoothie, which tasted peppery, this also has a spicy aftertaste that I found rather gross.  Ironically, I did drink this with dinner one night (I tend to sip these alone), and found that it actually complimented the flavors of the meal pretty well; I ended up chugging half the bottle with little problem.  Thinking maybe I was swayed by my wife’s opinion, I gave it another shot the next night, drinking it alone, only to discover that I was indeed right the first time, and that this isn’t very good at all.

Poor wife.  Both of her Nature’s Nectar smoothie knockoffs have been pretty bad, while both of the ones I’ve been looking forward to have been pretty good.  Maybe one of these days they’ll make one that we can both agree on!

Overall: 5.5/10.  It’s not quite as bad as the offensive terribleness of their mango smoothie, but Nature’s Nectar’s Berry Blue Smoothie is not very inviting.  It’s very sweet, and also has a weird “spicy” aftertaste that leads to a rather off-putting aftertaste.  The “smoothie” part of the title is rather misleading, as this has a consistency that’s more akin to a juice…it’s barely even thick.  Blackberries and blueberries are my wife’s favorite fruits, and we both agreed that, while you can kind of detect those flavors, they aren’t as front and center as they should be.  Even at $2.49 per bottle, substantial savings over the main brands, I wouldn’t waste the money.

Nature's Nectar Strawberry Banana Smoothie (Aldi)

Thick, and delicious!
A few weeks back we took a look at Aldi’s first smoothie offerings, which seem to be a takeoff of Bolthouse Farms products.  Imagine my delight when the Aldi ad revealed that they would be offering two more: strawberry banana (my favorite!) and berry blue; since my wife and I already had grocery shopping to do, I went ahead and scooped up the strawberry banana the first day it was made available.

I don’t think I’ve ever had the national brand strawberry banana smoothie, but I can’t see it being any better than this.  As with most of their smoothies, this features 100% juice; also as can be expected, strawberries and bananas factor in the most, though the juice from apples and pears also factor in to round out the taste.  The texture is perfect; it’s not too thin, not too thick, so it goes down easy.  Of course, just about anything with strawberry and banana is going to be pretty sweet, and this is no exception; there’s a relatively strong 29g of sugar per serving.  But I actually didn’t find the sweetness to be sickening, or over the top; I thought it was pretty evenly balanced between the two stars.  I’m not sure what purpose the apple and pear juices serve (maybe vitamin C?), as their taste can’t really be detected, but it’s common for these smoothies to have additional juices, either for coloring purposes, or to help round out the flavor.

Even though their “Super Green” smoothie is very good, it’s only fifty cents cheaper than the national brand that they carry all the time, and so I was faced with a bit of a quandary as to whether or not the fifty cents was really worth it.  Thankfully, Aldi makes the decision for this one much, much easier:  They do not carry the national brand strawberry banana smoothie.  When faced with the choice of buying it at Aldi for $2.49, or getting the same size at a supermarket for literally twice the price, THAT is certainly a no-brainer, and helps provide some excellent value.  Color me impressed with this one.

Overall: 8/10.  A delicious, refreshing smoothie with just the right texture; its titular ingredients combine evenly, without being too sweet.  Even better: Aldi doesn’t carry the national brand strawberry banana smoothie, so while I was torn between purchasing Aldi’s Super Green Smoothie vs. the-name-brand-green-smoothie-they-always-carry, citing a mere fifty cent difference, this decision is much easier, because there isn’t one.  Very delicious, and one I would get all the time, if they would offer it year ’round.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

PurAqua Juicy Peach Sparkling Water (Aldi)

Now THIS is more of what I was expecting from this line.
Well we’ve already experienced the White Grape version, which we found less-than-satisfactory; how does the Peach flavor stack up?

For starters, the smell is inviting, in a super-artificial kind of way; it does remind me of a juicy peach.  However, I must confess that I tend to like fake fruit flavors moreso than the average person (I can eat those terribly fake banana-flavored Runts all day).  There’s a good amount of carbonation here that I find refreshing; I sometimes get these as a cheap replacement for soda (and it can’t be any worse from a health standpoint).

As for the peach flavor, I love it.  It’s really on par with just about every unnatural peach flavor I’ve ever had, but as I said earlier, I don‘t mind my fruits fake.  It’s very sweet, courtesy of the supposedly cancer-causing sweetener aspartame, so if you prefer the more natural-tasting sparkling waters, like my wife does, then you are totally not going to like these.  But it’s an easy beverage to swig down on a hot summer day, and even though those seem to be winding down, there’s bound to be a couple of them left before fall arrives, and then makes way for the depressing, bleak coldness of winter.

For 59 cents for 33.8 ounces, the price is pretty much on-point for any budget, too.  There’s quite a bit of liquid refreshment to be had for well under a buck, and since it’s mostly water, I like to think it’s at least somewhat good for you.  I don’t get these all the time, but these are a good change of pace from overly-sugary drinks.

Overall: 7/10.  The peach flavor is very fake (courtesy of the zero fruit juice contained within), and there’s plenty of sweetness, courtesy of aspartame, which is rumored to cause cancer (for what it’s worth, the American Cancer Society and FDA refute these claims, so if you believe a large charity that uses donations to pay its CEO over $2 million annually, and shady government organizations, then you have nothing to worry about).  However, I like these, and while I rarely ever purchase them, they make a good replacement for soda every so often.  At a mere 59 cents per 33.8 oz. bottle, the price is right, too.  See?  Who needs real ingredients when chemicals are so much cheaper?  Seriously, though, for some quick refreshment for dirt cheap, you can do much, much worse.

PurAqua White Grape Sparkling Water (Aldi)

Meh...not much to get excited about inside this bottle.
I think I might have mentioned this before in a previous review, but I hate water.  I absolutely abhor it.  I drink it, simply because of the little fact that I will die if I don’t get it, but unless I’m dripping sweat, I literally have to force it down.  Literally.  My body cringes just thinking about it.  Sometimes I like to put in the little flavor packets, but I’m sure those have so many chemicals in them that they’re probably bad for me, so I keep that to a minimum.

Another thing I rarely buy is the flavored sparkling water.  I’m not talking the bitter stuff that tastes like someone just put a teaspoon of actual fruit juice inside a large container of sparkling water.  That stuff is even worse than normal water.  I’m talking the artificially sweet, completely artificially-flavored, calorie- and vitamin-free sparkling water.  Even though I don’t buy them very often, I really enjoy them, and at 59 cents for a 33.8 oz bottle, it never breaks the bank.

Surprisingly, on the last visit, it was my wife that decided to give them a try.  What made it so shocking is that we have completely different palates--she’s the one that usually hates sweet stuff, yet loves the crappy bitter sparkling waters that I can‘t stand--and so I wasn’t expecting her to purchase these.  Needless to say, she wasn’t very impressed, so I swooped in to take them off her hands.

Today we’re looking at the white grape variety.  Typical of most of these types of beverages, PurAqua’s White Grape Sparkling Water has absolutely no fruit juice.  It does have “natural flavor”, which is essentially FDA-speak for “something, or a combination of some things, that create a flavor very close to the flavor you think you’re drinking”, so that doesn’t really reveal too much.  Aside from that, we have aspartame, some acids, and clearly the most natural thing in the ingredient list, carbonated water.

There isn’t much authentic white grape scent in the smell--it smells kind of…cheap.  Which it is, so I guess I can’t complain.  The taste doesn’t fare much better, as it doesn’t taste much like white grape, either, instead coming sorta close, and then just kind of veering off into a kind of diet-ish blandness.  Speaking of diet drinks, there’s also a rather tart, annoying aftertaste that’s similar to the aftertaste you get from diet sodas.  The culprit is probably aspartame, an artificial sweetener that people are up in arms about, because it supposedly has been linked to cancer.  I’ve also noticed that some diet beverages are removing it from their drinks due to public demand, so they can replace it with a new, different artificial sweetener that will also be linked to cancer in a few years.  My biggest complaint isn’t the whole cancer thing, but that it often tastes like crap, which is the case here.  I’m not sure I can even justify the meager price tag for something that tastes so…boring.  I guess it’s a notch above regular water, but not something I would get more than once a year.  Pass.

Overall: 3/10.  The sixty cent price tag is enticing, and at least most of the bottle is made up of water (if we can believe the nutrition label), but PurAqua’s White Grape Sparkling Water tastes like crap.  The chemically-induced white grape flavor is nowhere near crisp or inviting enough to be considered believable, and there’s a rather gross aftertaste, courtesy of the aspartame (an artificial sweetener).  The peach isn’t bad for what it is (see below), but I can’t see myself buying this variety ever again.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Summit Gridlock Original Flavor Energy Drink

A Gridlock energy drink, in its native habitat.
One thing Aldi seems to be pretty well stocked on, are energy drinks.  They have a private label version for every can size and preference, from the small cans that “give you wings” (see above review), to the tiny multiple-hour energy shots; however you like to stay energized, they have you covered.  Well, what if your preference are the 16 oz. “tall can” energy beverages?  I’m happy to say they have that, too, in the form of Gridlock.

I actually prefer these larger cans.  Whereas most people seem to down them all in one sitting, I can generally make them last two days, which makes them a better value than spending two dollars on one serving.  Well, we just saw in the above review that the small-canned energy drinks are stellar representatives of the beverages they were trying to emulate, so how do the tall cans stack up?

The smell is very strong, but inviting.  It has a “typical” energy drink scent, but even stronger, with a little hint of tartness that’s missing from most.  I was pretty eager to dive in at this point, and that is just what I did.

The taste starts of pleasant and “familiar”, but then suddenly takes a turn for the worse.  There’s a tartness (hinted at by the scent) that sneaks in--but it’s not a pleasant “citrus tart”--it’s like a strong blast of fake sweetener that is not pleasant on the tongue.  It tastes similar to if you boiled a shoe into a liquid, and took a swig…it’s very off-putting.  Once you get it down, you’re still not out of the woods just yet, because there’s another taste you have to deal with…the aftertaste.  It’s very similar to the aftertaste you get after drinking something diet, a metallic flavor that sits in the back of your throat.  Only, this isn’t diet.  According to the label, there are no artificial sweeteners, with “sugar” being the only listed sweetening agent (and second on the ingredient list), so it’s weird that the sweetness goes down so awkwardly.

Onto the whole energy thing, which is the point of drinking these:  It did give me a kick that lasted for a couple hours, but that of course leads to the typical crash, so I usually feel even worse off than I did before swigging it.  Of course, that’s pretty standard with these kinds of drinks, especially ones where sugar is so high on the ingredients list, so it’s pretty much to be expected.  What it all boils down to is a matter of taste, and this one just completely, horrendously missed the mark for me.

Overall: 4/10.  It does what it’s supposed to do--give you a kick of energy--but the taste has an overly-aggressive “rubbery” tartness that I find to be a complete turn-off.  It’s like liquefied shoe remnants mixed with a blast of artificial sweetener that gives way to a diet-like metallic aftertaste, only this isn’t anywhere near a diet drink, being loaded with actual sugar.  Honestly, this has to be one of the worst-tasting energy drinks I’ve tried, which is truly shocking; Aldi’s other offerings have been pretty much spot-on.  Even at 99 cents (the price was recently raised from 89 cents), I’d pass this one by and stick to either their Red Thunder, or energy shot options.

Summit Red Thunder 4-Pack (Aldi) (Re-Review)

Only available in this here four-pack.
In my original review, I'd harped on how this was the perfect energy drink knockoff, and at one time long ago, it was. It even won over my wife, who's a name-brand energy drink connoisseur and couldn't tell the difference between the two. Things were looking good for Red Thunder; but just like the prom queen turned drug addict, time can do a lot to a person--or, in this case, a much-loved energy providing beverage.

What an individual can looks like, when removed from the box.
The original version, which had a smooth flavor that went down easy, has been replaced with a Grade-Z knockoff that misses the mark entirely. We're not just talking a minor tweak of the flavor: we're talking a major overhaul that puts it almost on the same plane as their own godawful Gridlock energy drink series. It has a hideously metallic taste that just begs to be spit's so bad, that anyone who buys it should just be automatically refunded, and issued a statement of apology.

Although the change is so severe that nothing can save it, the smart thing for Summit to do would have at least been to completely redesign the packaging, so that it didn't carry a single shred of similarity with the name brand that it's so miserably imitating. While that wouldn't alter the fact it's a terrible product that should never be purchased by anyone, it would at least make it slightly less of a bomb by not inviting comparisons between the two; likewise, it might have lead to lessened expectations from unsuspecting folk suckered into purchasing it.

The only thing saving it is the price: I haven't actually checked them in a while, but they used to be $1.99 for the 4-pack. The price of Summit's other sodas have gone up since then, so I would guess these probably would have, too, probably somewhere in the $2.29 - $2.49 range. Even on the high end, a $2.49 price point would still make it a mere $.62 per can, which is an insane deal compared to the national brand, and a pretty good deal for an energy drink in general. In other words, if you do fall for it, and are too lazy to request a refund, at least you aren't out a whole lot of money.

Bottom line: avoid at all costs. If you head to Aldi looking for a drinkable energy beverage, their extra strength energy shots are an excellent combo of price versus performance; for those deadset on larger cans, I'd recommend Gridlock Ultra White, which goes down smooth, and comes in 16 oz. cans that retail for $.99.

Overall 10/10. 3/10 (-7 pts.)  A once flawless recreation of a popular energy beverage has been ruined thanks to a changed formula: one that has resulted in a hideously deformed metallic taste that borders on the undrinkable. This used to be one of the best deals within Aldi's four walls; now it's on the list of things that should be avoided at virtually all costs. If you really need a caffeine boost, Red Thunder energy shots are a great-tasting, fully functional alternative.