This summer, all of us who lost our innocence in the 90’s were blessed with the resurgence and re-release of an amazing summer classic. No, I’m not talking about that fucking Ghostbusters reboot, I’m talking about the rebirth of the clear choice in cola. Pepsi executives decided to revive Crystal Pepsi from the soda graveyard to make a quick buck as sales continue to decline. For some crazy reason, the majority of people these days willingly choose to spend their $1.50 on bottled tap water instead of bottled high-fructose corn syrup. I cannot fathom what the hell is wrong with these folks.
Crystal Pepsi was marketed as a cola without all the extra colors and additives, during a time when popular marketing was willing to try out-stupid each other in order to outsell the competition. The market was soon oversaturated with all sorts of insane drinks during this time period. We got to enjoy Orbitz, the clear drink with the gimmick of having little globs of floaty plastic suspended in it. Surge and Jolt Cola were sold as a liquid replacement for low-grade blow. We even had OK Soda, which was nothing but all the leftovers from the soda processing plant that were mixed together and canned and marketed using the bitterest of ennui. The 90’s were a great time to be coming of age if you had five spare bucks in your pocket and an addiction to questionably flavored sugar water.
Crystal Pepsi had a pretty good run on the shelves, and managed to stay relevant for around a year. As a consumer, you either loved it or you hated it, as it was not a replacement for “normal” cola drinks that were embattled in the blood-stained trenches of the Great Cola War. Crystal Pepsi looked like Sprite, but tasted faintly like New Coke Jr. with a slight lemon aftertaste. I remember buying cases of Crystal Pepsi repeatedly as a teenager, but oddly enough, it wasn’t enjoyed with the same frequency that I mainlined Mountain Dew (by the gallon). But for me, Crystal Pepsi will always be associated with that glorious endless summer where I got my driver’s permit and learned how to repair a rusty Volkswagen using nothing but duct tape and a prayer.
But enough wading through the history of this failed product. The road to continued production and existence is littered atop the corpses of other failed ideas. For every successful sugar drink, there are the forgotten victims like Green River, Kentucky Nip and OK Soda. Progress only comes from squashing out the flavors that can’t corner 5% of the market. Personally, I miss every one of these delicious turn-of-the-century elixirs of sugar, carbonated water and Red 40. Wouldn’t it be a modern miracle if these companies would revive the brand…even for a short time and in limited quantities?
And that’s what we got in the middle of the blistering summer of 2016. Pepsi chose to bring back the clear choice in cola for the summer. I live 20 miles away from a Pepsi bottling plant, so I was guaranteed to score at least a few bottles of the stuff. Crystal Pepsi snuck in under the radar and graced us with its presence this summer, and it came as a surprise to me when I finally found it. And I had the added bonus of finding it while filming a YouTube video when I took a short break from irritating strangers. After having my last can 23 years ago, I most definitely filmed myself downing a bottle in ecstasy. I was instantly transported back to a simpler time. A time when smartphones didn’t exist, you only had a pager if you dealt drugs, and every 9 out of 10 popular songs were written about heroin. Here’s that magical moment, captured forever on film and embedded in the middle of my strange Pokémon Go-themed video in which I (tastefully) rip off Steve Irwin..
Hell to the yes. Crystal Pepsi was back on shelves, and for some annoying reason it was only sold as a single 20 oz bottle. There was no way to buy 12 packs of cans or a bunch of bottles held together with one of those dolphin strangler things. You only had one option: raid all available stock from the deli section of the grocery store and look like a complete weirdo in the process. I would go for morning breakfast runs with Shorty and we would end up with a box of a dozen donuts and 20 loose bottles of clear Pepsi, which was considered to be a complete and total victory. It was the Crystal Pepsi future that we had been promised. Crystal Pepsi as far as the eye could see. Grocery stores, gas stations, liquor stores…all stocked to the ceilings with the quintessential drink of the 90’s. It was a dream come true. I could almost hear Kurt Cobain whispering gibberish off in the distance.
I made sure my kids got to enjoy it repeatedly. I brought bottles to work to share with co-workers so that they could relive the same wonderful memories I did. I savored every nostalgia-filled sip I could get my hands on. I was handing out more Crystal Pepsi to people than the Pepsi delivery guy was. It had made it’s triumphant return, and I made sure that everyone around me monetarily supported this wild throwback to the good old days of flannel lumberjack chic and Tamagotchi.
But alas, TWO WEEKS later, the river of Crystal Pepsi had completely dried up. Gone. Vanished. My video was published on August 13, and by the time August 27th rolled around, Crystal Pepsi was nothing more than a foggy memory in the rear view mirror. At the supermarket, tumbleweeds lazily drifted by me in the wind.What the fuck just happened?
I know this was going to be a “limited time engagement”, but a limited engagement of ONLY TWO FUCKING WEEKS? That is a ton of work to go through with the manufacturing, printing and distribution process to only make enough Crystal Pepsi for the masses for a fourteen day supply. Who thought that was a decent window of availability? What was the point of all that online marketing? Is summer really only two weeks long? So many questions need to be answered, Pepsi.
In retrospect, I wish I would have squirreled away a lot of bottles, but I foolishly assumed that it would stick around for a while and I could bide my time, consumption and supply. Judging by how fast it would wiped out at retailers, I was convinced that Pepsi had a bona fide hit, thus rejuvenating sales in their corner. Boy, was I wrong. And now, after a couple months without it, I missed it dearly.
The only options you have now to sample Crystal Pepsi are held firmly in the firm grasp of the Pepsi scalpers. You can purchase it a single bottle at a time on Amazon for the low, low price of $13.41 a bottle (+5.22 shipping).
You can also try fishing on eBay, but prices tend to skew to the higher side, and you run the risk of buying a vintage 23 year old bottle of Crystal Pepsi (tip: it’s undrinkable). The only other option is to go Optimus Prime on Amazon, even though it is still an obvious scalping ploy. It’s 99 bucks for the Prime subscription, and then you can get an 8 pack of Crystal Pepsi for 12 bucks, but you also have to fork over the “pantry” premium as well. No matter how you look at it, you are still getting screwed over. You are basically spending $119 for the privilege of getting a drink that was stupidly only available to the general public for 14 days.
What the fuck, Pepsi? You really dropped the ball on this one. I hope you read my diatribe as I wait impatiently for those little NES Classic consoles to get restocked. I swear, nobody understands the laws of supply and demand anymore.
…and if you’re listening, Coke, I’d be happy with some OK Soda too….