Fresh off the trucks on July 1st, 2019, Pepsi has sucker punched us with another heavily caffeinated right hook as we’re still reeling from the unrelenting sugar shock of Liberty Brew. But unlike the limited edition Liberty Brew, Sweet Lightning isn’t sold in grocery stores: it’s only available directly from the freely flowing fountains at select KFC restaurants. I went through my nearest drive thru that also happens to share real estate space with an A&W, which is a restaurant I’ve never understood the draw of, since A&W food only serves up the kind of food you’d get at a failed Dairy Queen. I pulled up to an empty drive thru and impatiently relayed my order with childlike glee. The employee working the intercom tried to repeatedly assure me that Sweet Lightning was mango flavored, but I knew better because I had the internet. I ordered 4 large cups of Sweet Lightning and an ubiquitous K2 meal, made famous from the same deadly mountain it was named after.
As required by law, this newest itineration of Mtn Dew also has an wholly unnatural hue and scent, as most mysterious chemicals should. A warm, embracing amber glow resonates from the glass like a big corn syrup zen hug. Out of all the other Dew flavors this one feels the least “Mtn Dew-like”, since Sweet Lightning doesn’t on it’s own outright look like over the counter cough suppressant. When poured out of those ugly-ass cups, it looks like darkened apple cider, which is clearly a shade or two darker than all the online advertising has led us to believe. Out of the cup, this soda could be easily mistaken for a UA sample from a person that hasn’t drank water for a few days, so be careful if you work in the medical field.
This soda smells slightly fruity, and for some reason, there’s not a lot of carbonation. This could be the result of a shitty soda fountain or an improper mix of syrup and soda water, so your own personal fizziness level may vary. Sweet Lightning is supposedly infused with the trifecta power of peaches, honey, and an unbridled amount of the wild caffeine berry. The initial taste is insanely sweet and really heavy in the peach department, but after several tastes, rinses and swishes, as hard as I tried, I could not detect even the slightest hint of honey. At face value, Sweet Lightning is basically Peach Dew with a few extra teaspoons of corn syrup. It’s good, but it’s definitely not the most refreshing drink out there. I can’t see this fast food exclusive drink being offered anywhere outside one of Harlan Sander’s trademarked chicken shacks. Sweet Lightning just doesn’t have the staying power swagger of Baja Blast, the Dew flavor specifically crafted for accenting all of the authentic Mexican offerings at Taco Bell.
Even though I was disappointed in the initial tasting, I’ve been told that this flavor has been scientifically engineered to be paired alongside a greasy pile of fried chicken. Normally, I don’t usually eat KFC since it’s kinda messy and really inconvenient, but I do love their biscuits and the cups of “bangers and mash” (British readers- that’s the correct usage, right?). The K2 meal comes with a big ‘ol deep fried chicken breast, a single biscuit, and a thimble-sized tub of mashed potatoes and gravy. In retrospect, I wish I would have ordered more biscuits since I forgot that they are the shit.
I unboxed this bounty that was composed of 60% cholesterol and salt, and dug hungrily into the fried goodness, making sure to finish off every mouthful of chicken with a large gulp of Sweet Lightning. They were absolutely not kidding about this combination. The magic of the fryer grease that encases the extra crispy chicken unlocked all of the subtle notes of the Lightning and made them sing like Lynrd Skynrd ripping the Freebird solo. The addition of this soda to a typical KFC meal is not unlike having a delicious Southern meal on the edge of a sunlit creek with a one-eyed Bible salesman.
I finished off this entire plate with a huge smile on my face, and if you take anything away from this review, you gotta use Sweet Lightning to wash down some fried chicken and biscuits. It’s a far superior pairing than Baja Blast and the five ingredients available at Taco Bell. Let’s hope this soda is a permanent addition to the KFC menu for years to come, as it really does make the food shine (almost as much as the paper box that you’re eating out of).
As I finished off my meal, I began to ponder the most important part of the soda blogging review process, deciding what alcoholic beverage to pair with this newly-released soda. As this soda was brimming over the top with Southern hospitality, the only type of spirit I possibly considered adding to it was bourbon. My first attempt with straight Jack turned out okay, but the alcoholic champion inside me knew that I could do better. I went back to the liquor cabinet, with the gumption of a man on a mission, and found something even better to mix with.
Honey. Fucking. Bourbon.
Now, before you jump into the comments section for berating me about how this tastes different to you or why I failed to mention bands from twenty years ago, hear me out: You’d think this combination would just make nothing more than an unpleasant tasting Southern Comfort, but that’s where you’d be mistaken. The honey in the bourbon brings out the hidden flavors tucked away inside the chemical compounds of Sweet Lightning, and in turn makes one of the most electrifying alcoholic beverages you’ve ever tasted. Equal parts dangerous and delicious, here’s my own personal recipe after multiple rounds of tinkering with the ingredients:
Screamin’ Electric Unicorn
5 parts Sweet Lightning Mtn. Dew
2 parts Evan William’s Honey
Mix drink components together over ice, preferably inside an always-classy drinking jar. Put some Creedence on your Spotify, and slowly use the liquid courage to get the nerve to attempt cooking yourself up some Civil War era delicacies.
On its own– “This is way too fucking sweet, and there’s no discernible honey flavor in it at all!”.
With chicken– “Dude, this is really tasty stuff!” This combo is totally craveable and is strong enough to actually convince you to eat KFC!
With booze – You’ll be screaming “Fuck sobriety!” at the top of your lungs as the spooky pink elephants and three-headed blurry people welcome you to the party.
Teh Ben is a professional soda taster, aspiring burrito wrangler, and part-time codpiece model. Visit his terrible YouTube, Insta, or hate funnel if you have a strong stomach, or literally have no other access to humanity.