By now you must've heard all about the Jones Soda "Holiday Pack," a collection of five gag colas that liquefy classic Christmas dinner favorites. Receiving nearly as much publicity as the November election, the set has been featured on virtually every news outlet and was even downed by Regis Philbin himself on that show that's halfway named for him. So enormous was the hype that mere hours after the Jones Soda website began selling the things this past Thursday, the sets had completely sold out, while the site itself exploded into ten trillion pieces from the massive traffic. Limited to a run of only 15,000, the Holiday Packs were also on sale at a few department store and food chains, now likely out of stock or lifted off the truck by mobsters endeavoring in curious initiatives. Originally retailing for a little over twenty-five bucks, the sets are collecting bids of up to and over a hundred dollars on eBay -- a hundred bucks for potato-flavored soda.

Like thousands of others, I was blocked off from purchasing a set off the company's website because even simple tasks become difficult when 42 million people attempt to do them at the same time. I won't tell you exactly how I procured a Holiday Pack, but I'm down one genie wish, and when I die, I owe someone really evil my soul. Just a few weeks old and already a classic, Jones Soda Holiday Packs will be remembered and spoken about even many years from now, as the sentimental types debate over whether Turkey & Gravy Soda tasted more like cat piss or an owl pellet. Folks, it's the hottest gift this season.

The set looks irresistible, and though even Jones Soda higher-ups and spokespeople admit to not being able to choke the disgusting flavors down, it's hard to pass by something labeled "Green Bean Casserole Soda" without buying a dozen bottles of it. The sets are like those novelty jars of Over the Hill jelly beans on steroids. Packed in an oversized box with grooves in the cardboard to avoid any breakage, the only thing tougher than finding a Jones Soda Holiday Pack is bringing yourself to open it. Having tasted each flavor and spent a night wondering why I did that, I'm now confident that we're not really meant to unseal the box. It's more of a decoration; a conversational piece for your frequent guests who've already grown tired of probing for info on the tabletop ship-in-a-bottle and your dog's leg surgery. And, should you decide to hand a set over to someone on Christmas morning, at least there's no chance of anyone else in the family doing the same. Jones Soda has already made hundreds of thousands of dollars, and if they decide to fuck all prior customers over by disregarding the "limited to 15,000" thing, they'll make even more.

The soda assortment is both vegan and kosher, with no carbs or calories. The flavors are created from natural additives but very rarely from any the words in their titles, so no, you're not really drinking turkey juice. Everything is a facsimile, but when we're talking about facsimiles of green bean casserole in liquid form, it's still idea gross enough to warrant throwing up eight times with flailing arms.

Whatcha Get: Turkey & Gravy, Cranberry Sauce, Green Bean Casserole, Mashed Potato & Butter, Fruitcake. Suddenly those cuttlefish flavored corn chips you see at the specialty fruit shop whenever you're on the hunt for especially ripe pomegranates don't seem as lethally offensive. The Jones Soda alien robot chefs have done a remarkable job at recreating the flavors of the aforementioned dishes; not necessarily a good thing but nonetheless an achievement.

I knew going into this review that there had to be some kind of taste test, but I didn't want anyone thinking I was blasting the flavors for the sheer fun or ease of it. Other opinions were needed. You can search the web and find hundreds (okay, dozens) of reviews from other poor souls who would similarly prefer downing all of your hair before taking another swig of turkey punch, but if renegotiating your mouse pointer and typing in "Google" is way too much work, I've sought out four more unfortunates to tell you how awful the stuff tastes.

Meet, from left to right: SD, HG, VS and VT, four of my coworkers who perhaps in a split second of brain malfunction agreed to be part of this experiment. Handed plastic cups and Xeroxed survey forms (really!), my four brave friends marched through sip after sip of the most stomach-explosive tastes since the little known fad in 1972 Maryland where all the kids in the small city of Ashton decided to eat sandworms and form a club based on it. My coworkers weren't paid for their efforts, but the next time they need a fall guy when one of the top guns on the floor asks about a box of missing legal pads, I guess it'll be me. Soda by soda, we will now journey through the Jones Soda Holiday Pack and pray for a tastier tomorrow.

Just in terms of the feelings evoked from reading the soda titles, "Mashed Potato & Butter" fell smack dab in the middle of the five. It was offensive, yes, but there were two others much more offensive. It didn't seem like it'd kill us, no, but there were two others that seemed far less likely to break our hearts. It was a natural first pick. Though the beverage smells quite like real mashed potatoes, the flavor relates more to coconut oil mixed with popcorn butter. With a pale hue not unlike lemonade, our taste testers' first mission was one of indiscernible danger.

It didn't take long for our guinea pigs to question their involvement. Everyone likes mashed potatoes, but choking down the juiced form reminds me of the time I got a rare spider bite and was told by the witch doctor that the only way to live was by drinking the relived liquid of his parrot. I still can't believe I fell for it, the guy so didn't look like a real witch doctor.

Disgusted as they were, my coworkers tried to stay reserved and levelheaded, fully knowing that the worst was yet to come. Check out their thoughts...

OVERALL: If you're the type who'd bring a cooler of these to the beach, I hope a shark eats you and everyone you love.

Fruitcake juice wouldn't normally be considered such a concession, but considering the other options, this was indeed one of the chaser flavors. Looking much like dark root beer, the bottle of Fruitcake Soda taunted us with claims of a thousand juiced candy bits and a sticker label cute enough to make us forget what an awful experience this all was. Truth be told, it's the best of the bunch. On a stretch, a really huge stretch, you could almost maybe conceivably see a company marketing it as something other than a gag gift. Arguably better tasting than Pepsi Holiday Spice and infinitely more festive, the Fruitcake Soda isn't something I'd ever drink again, but on the flip, I don't feel the need to confess said drinking to a priest with my head hung in shame position. It's also one of the few Holiday Pack flavors that doesn't smell like a lawsuit in wait.

Of the five colas, Fruitcake was met with the least amount of pain and suffering from our beloved testers; they too were shocked. Keeping in mind that the opinion forms were filled in after trying all of the Holiday Pack flavors, here's what they thought...

OVERALL: There's a certain amount of pride involved with drinking cola flavors so few citizens will ever experience. While the turkeys, green beans and potatoes are just too disgusting to make you feel anything but guilt, drinking Fruitcake Soda is the kind of thing I know I'll end up bragging about in the months to come. Mostly to Roy, our next door neighbor who insists that he's the only person in the whole word privy to Tab Cola. Roy ain't gonna be so smug tomorrow.

Okay, here it is...the big one. Without Turkey & Gravy Soda, the Holiday Pack would not exist. See, Jones had released the stuff singularly last year, and demand grew so large that they finally had a use for the guy they erroneously hired to write press releases five years prior. Bottles of Turkey & Gravy Soda had settled their dregs onto eBay, often fetching over fifty bucks a pop. Now joined by his four awful brothers, Dark Lord Turkey & Gravy has returned to make your holiday season as putrid as possible. The aroma is that of any storebought gravy mixed with Pine-Sol, while the soda's color makes it well camouflaged in environments of organic sewage. Even the label suggests terrible tales, featuring a boy staring at a wild turkey in a way that just screams "I'm going to steal you, kill you and juice you." The undefined leader of the Holiday Pack scared our taste testing team far more than his subordinates...

It was begged that the swigs of Turkey & Gravy Soda be of less volume than our previous entries, and to that I said..."just this once." Though honestly not as bad as we were anticipating and not even the worst of the Holiday Pack, just knowing that some mad soda scientist spent weeks concocting a beverage flavored like dead cooked turkey meat created an ambiance of "last day on the planet" amongst us. Some of us confessed our darkest secrets, others called their lost high school sweethearts to tell them they still carried a torch. What did it matter? It's hard to imagine life after Turkey & Gravy Soda.

"If you took gravy, melted it, made a candle, melted that and then added water, you might have this. Gross, but not as bad as the potato."

"Definitely doesn't taste or smell like turkey. Tastes like gravy. Whoever drinks this or green bean is like, woah."

"Turkey should never leave the table to become a drink. The End."

"Seriously, who likes this shit?"

OVERALL: I think I've been trained to throw up whenever a Boar's Head commercial comes on TV.

Everyone assumed that Turkey & Gravy would be the worst of the bunch, but Green Bean Casserole took the title by far. Absolutely, unforgettably disgusting in every facet from color to smell to taste. Looking like the contents of a prop beaker in a sci-fi movie, its smell seemed at first similar to anything you'd grab at a juice bar, but the aroma soon intensified to the point where we were certain another coworker has slipped into a closet to satiate a private fetish involving burning his own flesh. And the taste? Unimaginably terrible. It was the only soda in the pack that truly had me worried, as my reflex gag stepped forward in ways I haven't experienced since trying ostrich jerky on a dare. I can't comment on its authenticity since I'm not a green bean casserole kinda guy, but if this is a realistic portrayal, it's an argument for going strictly carnivorous.

"I will never drink this again. Ever."

"This just should never happen to vegetables. It smelled like walnuts and tasted like something dead from the bottom of my fridge."

"One of the worst tastes. Made me gag. The color reminded me of some kind of science experiment."

"This one was, by far, the most gross. I gagged. Smelled like celery and tasted like !&@&!&."

OVERALL: Words cannot express the torture endured. I can't say I'd be completely surprised if someone figured out a viable way to sue Jones Soda over how terrible Green Bean Casserole Soda tastes. The thought, the very thought of drinking this again makes the part of my body that produces tears really work hard for its hourly wage. You will NOT be able to down an entire bottle of this, and if you say otherwise, I bet you always catch the biggest trout in the lake, too.

We saved Cranberry Sauce Soda for last (don't be confused by the bottle labels, the box gives the complete title of each flavor), obviously thinking it'd be the least offensive of the bunch. Though cranberry soda in of itself is an odd idea, we're all familiar with cranberry juice and this doesn't seem the least bit horrifying. The first clue that something had gone awry was the soda's color, a red more shiny and bright than any red we'd seen before. Nothing this red could be good for drinking. In appearance alone it was like the liquid version of a big stop sign, but we refused to acknowledge these warnings with anything more than passing interest because hey, we just drank turkeys and beans and there was no way in Hell Cranberry Sauce Soda would be worse. Indeed it wasn't the worst, but it wasn't very good, either. Perhaps serving it lukewarm wasn't the best way to go, or maybe the idea of cran-cola was flawed even in its inception. Regardless, it was nice to close up shop on a cola that didn't inspire nightmares.

Our testing team was completely frustrated to find Cranberry Sauce Soda nearly as wretched as the rest, but they still gave it the best reviews...

OVERALL: It wouldn't have been right for Jones Soda to make one of the five colas "good" and the others so awful, so in some odd way, it's totally justified that Cranberry Sauce Soda tastes really bad. If I felt like writing a poem verse right now, it'd be "No need to worry, Ocean Spray / You're still the best cranberry juice today." The poem is so gonna rock when it's done.

I'd like to thank my coworkers for sacrificing their lives for the good of a soft drink review. Jones Soda made a brilliant call on these Holiday Packs, rightly believing that America at large will buy anything you sell so long as it's a limited edition affair snuggled in a nice, sequentially numbered box. And, while the flavors on display here are meant in jest and taste accordingly, Jones Soda makes plenty of good stuff -- click here for their official site. Not recommended in a literal "eat this" way, but if you want to give Aunt Gracie a gift that'll make her go all "Hey Trudy, get a load of THIS!" on Christmas morning, look no further. Happy Holidays. I'm off to run veal through our Juiceman.

-- Matt (11/14/2004)