I am the drink consumer that beverage companies love to see walk into the corner store. Several times per week I peruse the back row of fridges with a plan to pick up my usual carbonated can of choice, but then without fail, something colorful will catch my eye—a strange new flavor of a drink I’ve had before that’s just intriguing enough. “I have to try it,” I say out loud, to myself, in the gas station. Five familiar words I told myself as I picked up a Flamin’ Hot Mountain Dew yesterday. Five words I now regret.
Flamin’ Hot Mountain Dew does what it says on the
tin plastic bottle. The drink concocters at PepsiCo (who I presume come up with new products by swishing different flavors around in a toilet bowl until it turns a solid green, red, or blue) have injected bog-standard Dew with “a blast of heat and citrus.” You’ll recognize the branding from Mountain Dew’s chip-shaped corporate cousin, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. A former love for Flamin’ Hot Cheetos was my main motivation to give this Dew a shot—back in middle school, “flamin’ hots” were a universal currency that could buy you anything from a less-deflated basketball to brief admiration from an older kid.
I eventually had to stop eating flamin’ hots as I got into high school. At some point my body’s tolerance for the super-salted spice plummeted. A few cheetos were all it’d take to give me a stomach ache that lasted for hours, so I gave up the flamin’ hot life and never looked back. Now returning to Flamin’ Hot with this cursed, blood red Mountain Dew, I was prepared for a kick on the level of Cheetos. To my surprise, Flamin’ Hot Mountain Dew mostly tastes like regular Dew. At least at first.
I wasn’t detecting the presence of hot flames at all until I swallowed. “This is some regular Dew,” I thought. Then bam! Spices smacked me square in the tongue, a clear punishment for doubting its legitimacy. “This ain’t no normal Dew,” the devil’s antifreeze whispered. True, but it’s not very ‘Flamin’ Hot’ either.
It’s weird. There’s definitely an amount of spice in this drink—you can even smell it among the usual sugary Dew fragrance, but its activation is so delayed that it’s almost a separate experience than drinking the actual soda. The kick itself is also muted: far milder than eating a regular Flamin’ Hot Cheeto.
There’s something missing in the composition of the Flamin’ Hot flavor here. It’s hot enough that I had to cough my way through gulps three and four, but I couldn’t detect the distinct lime salt flavor that overwhelms the body of a Cheeto and makes the hairs on my arm stand up. It kinda tastes like the time my friend sprinkled pepper into my water cup. It’s spicy, but not lip-puckering, which is like half of the reason to eat something with the words “Flamin’ Hot” on it.
Now over an hour later, I can still feel a bit of pepper in the back of my throat. My tongue is nonplussed. Unlike cheetos, this Dew definitely won’t make your mouth sting for 30 minutes. At first my instincts told me mildness is a knock against Flamin’ Hot Dew, but then again, why? Did I really want a bottle of soda to screw up my stomach for the better part of a workday? Do I want to choose between chugging milk or sitting through tongue torture as reward for consuming something I bought for $3 plus tax? The whole idea of Flamin’ Hot started to unravel in my head, and I remembered why I put down those crunchy devils in the first place.
My answer was there on the label all along—this sentient cartoon flame with fingerless gloves is not my friend. He’s excited to hurt me! Thrilled that I bought into my own demise! He’s so into burning innocents that he’s holding a lit torch, despite himself being a ball of fire. Don’t let this little jerk win. Don’t be like me. Don’t drink Flamin’ Hot Mountain Dew.
Unless, I don’t know, you’re curious. It’s fine.