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The Great Canned Water Contest

Canned water is cool. Thanks to the rise of La Croix, from suburban dad drink to Whole Foods fare, canned, bubbly water is in. Seltzer is the new soda.

This trend has brought out the competition as big soda is getting in on the sparkly new business. As we start to see more and more canned sparkling water brands pop up in the “new age” beverage section, you need to know which are worth your time. Given price gaps, some might be worth checking out.

To see where you should spend, I assembled six of the top canned waters for a taste test. Because there was no unifying flavor available, I aimed to have as close to “orange” as possible as that seemed like the best bottom line (at least at my supermarket). All waters were judged on their price, quality of their bubbles, the authenticity of claimed flavor, the design of their can, and overall drinkability. The results are very interesting.

Place your bets—and may the best can win.

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Aquafina Sparkling™ Lemon Lime
PRICE: $11.29 for 12
BUBBLES: Soft and flattening, an easy entrance underlined by more forceful, fading bubbles.
FLAVOR AUTHENTICITY: Eh. It’s about as “lemon/lime” as gum flavored to the tune of “7 Up™ Soap.”
CAN DESIGN: Somewhat sophisticated, albeit faux futuristic.
DRINKABILITY: Not very. This seems very artificial and somewhat syrupy, which could actually be the case because Aquafina™ is owned by PepsiCo™…who make 7 Up™. Nice try, corporate America.

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Sparkling Ice™ Orange Mango
PRICE: $12.99 for 8
BUBBLES: A subtle cascade of angry child sized bubbles.
FLAVOR AUTHENTICITY: Orange gum meets chewy candy mango, neither of which last long but certainly is made from zero calorie artificial sweetener. This is diet bullshit.
CAN DESIGN: Awful. It looks like a dietary supplement or the memory of a fictional futuristic nineties, something sipped in the Super Mario Bros. movie.
DRINKABILITY: Zero. This is for people who like “flavored water,” i.e. they don’t want what they are drinking to “taste like water”: they want it to taste like soda that is healthy. Unfortunately, neither the flavor nor the bubbles offer anything credible to the “mock soda” claim. This is garbage and offensive to the canned sparkling water industry. Do not believe the ad marketed hype.

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Kroger™ Mandarin Orange Seltzer Water
PRICE: $2.99 for 12
BUBBLES: A swelling around the tongue, the bubbles hit like a wave until it falls down your throat.
FLAVOR AUTHENTICITY: Minimalist. This should be a bad thing but the saltiness of the seltzer seems to tumble over the hint of orange. It smells more orange than it tastes.
CAN DESIGN: Budget design. It’s sad.
DRINKABILITY: Very. This is more “water that is in the same room as something orange” which I can appreciate. For a “budget” brand version of a trend piece, this isn’t bad. I can get down with this. Moreover, if you do want something that does imitate soda instead of water, this is it: the consistency of the bubbles here are very much like a soda instead of a harsh sparkling water. The taste is closer to water than flavor but the consistency is very much like soda, making it an equal replacement.

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La Croix™ Orange
PRICE: $5.98 for 12 (formerly $3)
BUBBLES: Fierce. The bubbles are so strong that they continue to pop within you, tickling your esophagus, gassing your stomach.
FLAVOR AUTHENTICITY: Salted orange. Less seltzer than actual sparkling water, this flavor of orange feels true to what you’d expect from flavored sparkling water. The taste does escape, though, running away after announcing itself.
CAN DESIGN: Ironic iconic.
DRINKABILITY: Very. This is the more sophisticated version of the Kroger™ canned water but, as La Croix™ tends to be, it’s kind of basic. There is nothing flashy here: it gives you what you came here for, leaving not too long after. Just the sparkling water facts here.

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Perrier™ L’Orange
PRICE: $15.63 for 30
BUBBLES: A Parisian parade through your entire body. There is a force to these bubbles, a joy, that goes missing in most waters. They are harsh and soft at the same time.
FLAVOR AUTHENTICITY: Extremely accurate. This is the most well rounded an orange flavored water could be. It doesn’t dip into sweet, it doesn’t dip into fake, and it doesn’t under pronounce itself. The entire time you have this water in your mouth, you also have the flavor.
CAN DESIGN: Perhaps a bit too over the top? The sleek can does nothing for me nor does the bottle-on-can design. This could use some minimizing but it’s also cute in a “Look how bad this Euro design is!” fashion.
DRINKABILITY: Extremely. This canned water does it’s job—and it does it well. This is a very good conceptual breakdown of both sparkling water and flavored water. It gives you everything you want with a dash of sophistication, save for the canned being the “party” version of Perrier™’s bottled basis.

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Dasani Sparkling™ Tropical Pineapple
PRICE: $25.00 for 24
BUBBLES: Initially absent but then they all explode in your mouth, like friends hiding behind a couch at a surprise party.
FLAVOR AUTHENTICITY: Fairly true? The flavor here is quite natural despite it being obviously fake. “Tropical,” like the mango from Sparkling Ice™, is a front for fake but this actually doesn’t feel that bad. It doesn’t taste like bad gum or hand soap. It’s a pleasant idea of pineapple.
CAN DESIGN: Minimalist. It should be worse but it isn’t. The illustration of the fruit could be better but, hey, it’s good for a Coca Cola™ product. The font choices are nice, too.
DRINKABILITY: Very. This should be bad but it isn’t. It’s quite drinkable! I wouldn’t call this elegant but it suggests elegance. This is like being a child and dressing up in your mom’s heels: it’s that form of faux eleganza.

WINNER
A lot of these were very good. A lot of these were very bad. However, the winner is going to the classic. Not La Croix™ though: Perrier™. The Perrier™ has an unrivaled purity and strength that La Croix™ hints at, which Kroger™ succeeds at ripping off, Dasani™ rises to, Aquafina™ fails at, and Sparkling Ice™ never even touches. It’s great. No, it is not the most cost effective but it is indeed affordable. The cans are cheesy but, you know, they’re endearing in a Euro way. La Croix™ may have ushered in the new trend—but Perrier™ perfected it and continues to perfect it. It’s classic.

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