“You know what ice cream soda shouldn't taste like? Getting sprayed in the mouth with a nursing home's collective perfumes.” So say the Thirsty Dudes of Pakola Ice Cream Soda.
Avoid Quick Beverages’ Sleep because you might wake up, “in a tub full of ice with a note that you're kidney has been removed.” About Hansen's Smoothie Pineapple Coconut: “Hey, you know when you throw up and then try to cover up the taste with old popcorn? You do? Then number 1) I'm sorry. Number 2) you don't need to drink this.”
Derek Neuland, Jason Draper and Mike Literman are three, thirty-ish, “straight-edge” (drug- and alcohol-free) guys from Buffalo, NY who write deeply personal, highly idiosyncratic and yet strangely relevant reviews. “We’re just three guys who love to drink. We’re not ‘critics,’” says Neuland, a self-employed writer who founded thirstydudes.com. Draper owns a T-shirt printing shop and plays in a band while Literman designs web sites. They’re genuinely surprised by the small but ardent following for a site that’s essentially a public service for guys who guzzle.
They’re liquid foodies who strenuously avoid “fine” beverages. Of the up-and-coming coconut water genre, Draper says, “they’re great ice cold but disgusting at room temperature, because they come off as spoiled fruit.” Hajoori's Kashmira tastes like someone “stirred a packet of taco seasoning into a glass of sparkling water” making “the worst drink ever. Condolences to India.” While Skeleteens Love Potion No. 69 Purple will make you feel “insanely caffeinated,” as of that writing Draper had yet to experience “any sexual stimulation, so I'm calling their bluff.” TMI, yes, but news you can use.
“We write the way we talk,” says Neuland. “We don’t pretend we know what we don’t know. We don’t use weird, fancy food critic terminology,” he says. Or, write “short, uninteresting paragraphs like real reviewers,” adds Draper. Instead, they use free-association, run-on sentences and non-standard non-sequiturs to make a point. Like lowbrow Marcel Prousts, if a drink reawakens a long-buried memory, they run with it.
Take Literman’s Deerfield Trading Company Old Fashioned Root Beer entry: “When I was in my fourth college I took a class called ‘Media Analysis.’” Media Analysis he explains, “was some garbage class about ‘what does it all mean,’ which is not a class that can be taught and for that reason, it sucked.” Further digressions include Morrissey, a Lamborghini Countach and model cars, before he concludes: “This is the root beer you would give someone who has never had root beer before but decides that after thirty-seven years it's time.”
Buffalo isn’t exactly a hotbed of new, innovative quaffs, and has no Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s - good resources for mom-and-pop sodas producers and interesting juices. The guys scour local ethnic markets, rely on family and friends (Neuland’s father is currently harvesting drinks for them while on business in Taiwan), and wait for whatever Draper brings back from when he’s goes on tour.
You can search by company, flavor, country or sweetener, or by category. There are the normal ones like “soda pop” and “iced tea” off-the-wall ones like “chunky,” “odd/weird,” and “aloe vera,” as in Woongjin Graceful Nature 790 Days Aloe. Yes, that clear, gummy stuff you slather on sunburns is popular is a popular additive in drinks from Asia. For aloe, grass jelly drinks (grass-flavoring is also big in Asia) and gelatinous ones like Wonderfarm White Fungus Bird’s Nest Drink, Draper suggests straining the chunks through your teeth while downing the liquid, then chewing the solids. “They’re not for everyone,” admits Neuland adding, “It’s not every day you find a drink with chunks in it.” At least one that hasn’t curdled.
They dismiss soda- and sweetener-taxes as “government cash-grabs” that will never deter hardcore devotees. While they enjoy their off-the-grid status, Literman jokingly speaks of a day when “thirsty dude” reviews “are incorporated into daily news broadcasts,” so they can extol their love for Mr. Q Cumber and Weeping Radish. Until such a time only a few will get to read things like “it has nata de coco but is more like an aloe vera than say, a Mogu Mogu drink. It's also way less ‘stingy’ than that but, in exchange, way more potent.” And even fewer will understand them.