The other day a friend asked me, "what's this Big Red I keep seeing on billboards?" Knowing that she was referring to the outdoor advertising campaign that the beverage brand had launched here in Chicago, I was about to shoot her a link to my Big Red review here on BevReview. Then I realized… I've never actually reviewed Big Red! How could I have not formally written about it after all these years? Well, it's time to make things right!
Big Red was created in 1937 as a type of red creme soda, originally under the name Sun Tang Red Cream Soda. The drink was first produced in Waco, TX. While it's been around a while, it hasn't had the national recognition and footprint that other beverages have enjoyed, especially outside of its home in the South.
Believe it or not, Big Red Inc. is actually the 8th largest carbonated soft drink company in the United State (per Beverage Digest, "Top-10 CSD Results for 2010"). If you are curious, slots 1-6 are owned by Coke, Pepsi, Dr Pepper Snapple, Cott, National Beverage, Hansen's, and Red Bull.
The company is independent, though Dr Pepper Snapple Group purchased a minority interest in 2008, and is currently Big Red's largest distributor, handling around 80% of the company's volume (per DPSG press release). Joining Big Red are other flavors, such as Big Blue, Big Peach, and Big Pineapple.
The parent company also has a few divisions, one of which is All Sport, the sports drink brand once created by Pepsi and then later sold when PepsiCo got their hands on Gatorade via purchase of Quaker Oats. Another division, North American Beverages Products, cranks out NuGrape, Nesbitt's, and other soft drink brands, which were acquired by Big Red in 1999. In that same year, Big Red made a $7.95 million offer to buy Jones Soda, which was later rejected.
Earlier this year, Big Red went through a packaging redesign to update their look (and frankly, they didn't change much). They also launched an ad campaign called "Tastes Good To Be Different," including their first television commercials in over 25 years. The TV ads are running in Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Houston, Indianapolis, and Tampa. It's obvious they are trying to get the word out to growing markets.
The bottle of Big Red used for this review still featured the older packaging design, but the stuff inside tastes the same. The red creme soda elements harken back to other bubble gum-like flavors we've reviewed, including Jones Blue Bubble Gum Soda, Barq's Red Creme Soda, and Pop Goes the Bubble Soda. Upon twisting off the cap of the 20 oz bottle I had, you can definitely smell that bubble gum/strawberry scent, specifically that type of gum that had a powdery residue inside the wrapper.
As for the flavor, your beginning sip is subdued, but as Big Red washes over your tongue, the extreme sweetness of the drink really stands out. At this point, the bubble gum-ness of the taste becomes apparent as it flows off into a sweet aftertaste. It's syrupy overall, attributed to the non-natural flavor selection and the use of high fructose corn syrup (another product from the company, Retro Big Red, uses real sugar). Overall, the experience is about what you would expect from a red creme soda-type flavor. Very sweet, gum-like, and syrupy. Those who are fans of the strawberry/creme soda experience will be pleased.
Unlike a lot of other fruit-flavored soft drinks, Big Red contains caffeine, 3.12 mg/oz or a little over 63 mg for the entire 20 oz bottle. Nutritionally, the same size bottle also contains 250 calories, 50 mg sodium, and 62.5 carbs (62.5 sugars). Ingredients are: Carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, natural and artificial flavor, Red 40, citric acid, and caffeine.