Review: Retro Big Red

The “real sugar” phenomenon. This trend of plussing beverages seems to still be going strong, long after the likes of Jones Soda made the shift in the premium soft drink market, reflected later by mainstream brands such as Pepsi Throwback and Mountain Dew Throwback. We’ve seen Dr Pepper go that route not once (Heritage), but twice (… with Real Sugar). Sierra Mist went Natural. 7Up jumped in with Retro earlier this year. Smaller brands that haven’t made the switch have also toyed with the sweetener change to see if they can attract some new revenues, despite higher production costs. This leads us to Retro Big Red.

Retro Big Red

We reviewed Big Red not that long ago, and found that its passionate fans often disagreed with our take that it had a “strawberry bubble gum” flavor. Hey, that’s fine! I think we’ll all agree that Big Red’s marketing angle that it’s “Different” is valid. How you describe what that actually means seems to lead to much debate. The Retro take on Big Red adds yet another layer of flavor interest around the drink.

Retro Big Red
(Source Images: Big Red. Comparison by BevReview)

Retro is available in 20 oz plastic bottles, 12 oz cans, or the version we sampled, 12 oz glass bottles. All but the glass bottle version note that this is a “Retro” flavor, complete with more nostalgic-themed graphics packages. (Kudos for printing directly on the glass bottle vs. using a cheap sticker!) As we typically associate with these types of premium-priced products, the callout of “Real Sugar” is advertising the differentiator. However, just like Pepsi/Dew does with their Throwbacks, Retro doesn’t quite define what “real sugar” means. Is it cane sugar? Beet sugar? A combination? While it doesn’t say on the packaging, the press release for Retro Big Red states that it’s made with pure cane sugar.

I’d argue the flavor profile of Retro Big Red is pretty close to the original. As noted in our first review, “you can definitely smell that bubble gum/strawberry scent. 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.”

The primary difference is in the aftertaste and overall “cleaness” of the drink. Regular Big Red, sweetened with high fructose corn syrup, really felt syrupy and fake. The flavor hung negatively with you long after you sipped. Big Red has a very sweet flavor already, so that’s going to stick around, but with the use of cane sugar, it’s more of a crisp “cutoff,” if that makes any sense. Flavor is there, then it cleanly fades away. Thus, we’d argue that the primary Big Red flavor profile is still present, with vast improvement on the finish.

Retro Big Red
Carbonated water, sugar, natural & artificial flavor, Red 40, citric acid and caffeine

Our 12 oz bottle contains 150 calories, 30 mg sodium, and 38 g carbs (38 g sugars). Caffeine content breaks down to 3.12 mg/oz, or 38 mg for the entire bottle.

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Full Disclosure: This beverage was provided compliments of Big Red