In a summer that has already seen one Mountain Dew flavor extension (Mountain Dew Dark Berry) and the addition of 24 oz cans, Dew fans have to be pretty excited to be getting another flavor… albeit in select markets for now. And this one is quite different. Let's take a look at Mountain Dew Johnson City Gold!
When this drink was announced back in July, the unique attribute of being "malt-flavored" was highly touted. Reuters talked to Pepsi's Andrea Foote who noted that malt-flavored drinks are big in Latin America and the Middle East, but not so much here. She also noted that this wasn't a shift by PepsiCo to "craft sodas," but rather just giving Dew drinkers something unique. Of course, it's also mentioned that by being packaged in a larger 16 oz. can, the pricepoint goes up as well.
Initially, this drink is rolling out to just a few select markets, notably "select Kroger stores across the Midwest in mid-August, and in 7-Eleven stores in Denver and Charlotte starting in September." This release is being referred to as the "first batch," with a contest designed for the "second batch." (Seriously, I don't make this stuff up!)
Going for the regional angle, the same formula of Johnson City Gold will be released under 6 other names & designs tied to various areas of the United States. Names will be first vented through August via YourMaltDew.com, followed by a design element that will look match a visual with the regional name. Are you confused yet? In any case, the product will go national in 2013 with wide availability.
The folks over at Dew sent some cans of Johnson City Gold over for us to review, though they were production samples without artwork, so you'll have to rely on the press release visuals until we can follow up with the finished product. Curiously, the cans arrived in a package containing refrigerated packs to provide cooling. I followed up with Pepsi in regards to this, wondering if the malt element required that these drinks be kept cold. They noted that Johnson City Gold was shelf-stable at any temperature, but tasted best cold (well, of course!)
When you look at the artwork for these cans, you'll see the head of a person located above the phrase "Johnson City." I'm not really sure who this is supposed to be, but I wondered if it could be Henry Johnson, of whom the city was named after. I followed up with the folks at Dew and they noted that, "the character on the Johnson City Gold label was not created in the likeness of anyone in particular, but we did create him in an effort to pay homage to our rich history." Hmm. I'm not sure what he's really supposed to pay homage to. I thought maybe the character could be related to the classic hillbilly used in early Dew advertising (and revived with Mountain Dew Throwback), but a side-by-side look shows no relation. Anyone have an idea?
The old school "Mountain Dew" logo is also implemented vs. the modern (and personally hated) "Mtn Dew" variation. This drink does have the look and feel of a beer beverage, especially with its use of the phrase "Gold" as well as the corresponding color (including the top of the can). The fact that it has to be denoted as "Non-Alcoholic" is telling. Overall, the use of green, red, and gold produce a sharp look for the malt brand they are trying to pull off. PepsiCo first applied for the trademark on this product back on March 5, 2012 (#85559755), but later abandoned that application in favor of another on April 11, 2012 (#85594514). In both cases, among the design search codes used is 20.03.10: "Alcohol bottle labels; Bottles, labels for alcohol bottles; Labels, alcohol bottles."
So what exactly does a "distinctive malt flavored soda from the makers of Mountain Dew" taste like? In a word… different. First off, for those not familiar with the taste (i.e. you are like me and not a big consumer of alcoholic beverages), it's Wikipedia to the rescue: "Malt beverage is an American term for both alcohol containing and non-alcoholic fermented beverages, in which the primary ingredient is the grain, or seed of the barley plant, which has been allowed to sprout in a traditional way called "malting" slightly before it is processed." So there's that.
Cracking open our sample can, you definitely get that "beer scent" associated with alcoholic drinks. At the same time, there's a lemony "cleaning solution" element also at play. The drink itself is a light yellow color, much lighter than standard Dew look. It's definitely more yellow than green. Taking a sip, it's nothing like any Mountain Dew we've sampled before. There's a deep "baked bread" flavor that represents the malt taste. It's strong and rich, but bitter at the same time. The citrus sweetness is buried in there, but it's not very Dew-like. Carbonation is light. The syrupy finish continues a bitter, grainy aftertaste that seems to hang with you. This is a weird soda.
Overall, I'm not really sure about the audience or purpose behind this drink. Obviously, PepsiCo has done some research and testing to move this to market. But it just seems so… out there. Will this be a drink that catches a niche… or will we mock it someday like Crystal Pepsi and Pepsi Blue? We'll let the marketplace decide. Personally, I can't see this being a drink that I'd seek out to purchase repeatedly. When I think of Mountain Dew, I think of a sweet citrus base with strong carbonation and a bunch of caffeine. Johnson City Gold doesn't really fit that mold.
However, if it wasn't branded as Mountain Dew, would my perceptions be different? Perhaps, but then again, I'm not sure I'd know what to make of the drink then. Dew is a strong brand for Pepsi, one which its competitors still haven't been able to topple. It makes perfect sense for the company to try another limited time offering with this product extension. I'm just not sure this is the right one.
Mountain Dew Johnson City Gold will be available in 3 sizes: 16 oz cans, 24 oz plastic bottles, and 1 liter plastic bottles.
Mountain Dew Johnson City Gold
Carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, citric acid, natural and artificial flavor, sodium benzoate (preserves freshness), caffeine, sodium citrate, gum arabic, caramel color, calcium disodium EDTA (to protect flavor), brominate vegetable oil, Yellow 5.
A 16 oz can contains 230 calories, 80 mg sodium, and 61 g carbs (61 g sugars). Regarding caffeine, Johnson City Gold features 4.56 mg/oz, which is about the same as standard Mountain Dew (4.5 mg/oz.)
Official Website: YourMaltDew.com
Full Disclosure: This beverage was provided compliments of PepsiCo