Vast armadas of marketing gurus, ad agency execs, PR operatives, and consumer strategy consultants all blast their foghorns waggle their semaphore flags about the same thing: that storytelling is key to launching and sustaining a successful brand. That very well may be the case.
But in the world of trendy, artisinal, idiosyncratic products shooting for an appeal higher than shoppers at WalMart, Costco, and Target, those “once upon a brand” storytelling themes and elements are getting pretty damnably one-note. Do we really need to hear another tale of plucky, young urbanites who have no special experience in the field, but who nevertheless conclude that benign consumer item x is played out? And that, day jobs, social lives, and pricey non-aligning undergraduate degrees be damned, they’re just the ones to reinvent it from scratch? And deliver us all from mediocrity into a shimmering new civilization where we can express ourselves with more creatively fulfilling choices of razor blades, mayonnaise, underwear, and eyeglasses?
Q: THE BRAND
The press on Q Drinks reads like any other hipster Horatio Alger tale. Brooklyn-dwelling Jordan Silbert cites that he was hanging around drinking with friends in his back yard, when a “strangely sticky” feeling on his teeth led him to the disheartening revelation that there was high fructose corn syrup in the tonic water with which he had mixed his G&Ts. The next thing we’re told, he was juggling the challenge of mail-ordering cinchona tree bark from Peru and “agonizing” over how to blend it with other natural ingredients to make the most complex and delectable tonic water. And look! Now Q Drinks — the “Q” is for the “quinine” of their flagship tonic water — are available from retailers nationwide. They offer a range of sodas including the ginger beer under consideration here. And the company is chalking up blurbs of approbation from the likes of Gourmet Magazine. Nice work if you can get it.
Much as I may enjoy sitting on the sidelines and styling myself Mr. Above-the-Fray, Cut-Them-Down-To-Size Mass Media Critic, I’m damned if this marketing approach doesn’t work on me aplenty. I mean, I’m way past having to hear the stories. But the pretty packaging and hand-picked, unusual ingredients, and refreshingly different flavors still have an appeal. Hang it all, upscaley items like Q Ginger Beer are still a great alternative to everyday consumables that, yeah, might make life a wee bit more enjoyable if they were of higher quality and more interesting.
Here’s the thing about Q Ginger Beer, though, that I genuinely didn’t appreciate. The producing company itself designates that this beverage is “a [cocktail] mixer and only a mixer” (emphasis mine).
Q: THE EXPERIENCE
My Q Ginger Beer came in a stylish but stingy 8 oz. glass bottle. (It’s also available in a larger bottle and even larger “slim can.”) The first impression it gives is of an almost black peppery flavor intensity. The ginger is quite nice and quite strong, but the pepper dilutes it a little. Q Ginger Beer is the only candidate so far flavored with agave nectar rather than cane sugar or HFCS. It ramps up like it’s going to be sweet, but then backtracks and plateaus. The result is a respectably balanced dryness that still flatters the taste buds with a bijoux of guilty pleasure.
Evidently, one of Silbert’s beefs with sodas not fully conceived as mixers is that their bubbles don’t stand up to the addition of booze. Well, no worries about that here. Q Ginger Beer brings a sharp, stinging carbonation — one that calls up childhood experiences with Pop Rocks from deep recesses of sense-memory. If only Proust had grown up in fin-de-siècle American suburbs he would have understood.
I would not hesitate to drink this again. It’s not as intriguing as Luscombe, neither is it as gratifying and thirst-quenching a quaff as the elite stuff: Goya, Cock ‘n’ Bull, Ginger People, Bundaberg. You can tell Q Ginger Beer is not conceived as a standalone soft drink. It wouldn’t be pleasurable in quantities any larger than it’s packaged in. But I’m looking forward to trying it with a few fingers of select hooch and getting back to you on how it partners up!