Despite the seemingly never-ending craze for all types of sparkling water, there’s a growing chain that appeals to our double-dog-dare sensibilities. California-based Rocket Fizz forgoes the naturally flavored water trend in favor of concocting unapologetic sugar bombs in flavors you’re more likely to see on the menu at a sports bar than in a soda bottle.
Rocket Fizz was founded in 2007 by Robert Powells and Ryan Morgan in Camarillo, Calif. In its 10 years in business, it’s made a big splash as the largest and fastest growing soda and candy shop franchise brand in the country, with nearly 100 locations, according to the company website.
I stopped by one of its newest locations in Grand Rapids, Mich., about 150 miles west of Detroit, to see what the big deal was. Stepping into the shop, you see that it’s no wonder why Rocket Fizz gets such buzz. The curb appeal—shelves filled to capacity with oversized lollipops, throwback gag gifts, pastel-colored salt water taffies, and sodas in just about every flavor imaginable—is enough to pull on the strings of your long-lost childhood as you’re getting out of your car.
Store employee Jonah Nelson gave me an unofficial tour. Near the door is a refrigerated section with about half dedicated to Rocket Fizz-made products. In the rest of the store, the sodas are organized by style. Toward the back of the store are shelves of ginger beers, followed by root beers, colas, fruity flavors, celebrity sodas—Kiss, reality star Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, Jimi Hendrix, and Farrah Fawcett, to name a few—and then of course the big draw comes under the chain’s brand names Lester’s Fixins (which are savory) and Melba’s Fixins (sweet). Think supper at a Southern Grandpa and Grandma’s house.
Customers can purchase one or two bottles or in packs of 6, 8, or 12. I sprang for a 12-pack so I could get a good range—from ones I thought could legitimately make a good flavor, to hard-to-find vintage, to savory and flat out bizarre. After getting some disturbed looks from a bus driver who thought I was trying to smuggle booze on the bus (no, the barf flavor does NOT have alcohol) I was able to make my back home to Detroit.
Nuclear Orange Bomb
I wanted to start slow, working my way up to the more radical flavors as I went along. So Nuclear Orange Bomb made the most sense. Aside from the infamous Kim Jong-un donning the label, there’s nothing really explosive about this one. It’s got a mild fizz to it and is really rather enjoyable like a Creamsicle. Quite the opposite of what one would associate with the North Korean dictator, who would strike me as more of a mystery flavor with a hint of burning.
Key Lime Pie
A key lime pie flavor struck me as just a more scrumptious version of 7-Up, so really, a no brainer, right? Oh, if only that were true. First of all, the smell was more chemical-y than pie-like. The flavor itself missed that pucker you get from the tangy lime. Also missing was the sweet from the graham cracker crust that balances out the dessert.
Nelson tells me Moxie is the oldest continually produced cola made in the United States. Created around 1885 by Augustin Thompson, described as a homeopathic physician, Civil War veteran, and playwright, Moxie was marketed as a beverage with cure-all properties. These days, it’s mostly only available in Maine, where it originated. As far as taste goes, it certainly has that medicinal quality to it and is lacking in the carbonation department. It might be the oldest, but I would still go for a Coke if given the choice.
Red Velvet Cupcake Cookie Dough Bites
By far the most sugary of these sodas, this one came in a not-found-in-nature bright red hue and a migraine-inducing cotton candy aroma. I did get some of that rich batter essence, but ultimately I thought this must be what that snow cone syrup tastes like straight.
This soda looked like what you would expect if you diluted water with a spoonful of peanut butter. The taste was more like if you poured water on your Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup cereal-—overly sweetened and lacking in the creaminess you would want.
I used to love drinking the pickle juice straight from the jar after all the pickles were gone. Something about that vinegary flavor that gets my mouth watering. In that bright green, translucent pickle juice color, it definitely smelled on point. Going down, it also had a dill flavor, but again with that sweet, syrupy aftertaste. I would dig this flavor if the sugary aspect was cut and it stuck with the classic pickle taste, but fizzy.
Buffalo wing sauce is another one of those flavors that makes me salivate. Like the pickle, it had that telltale vinegar thing going when I brought the bottle to my nose. It too had the sweet notes to it, but thankfully, it also had a bit of a kick to it going down, reminding me slightly of a spicy wing.
I decided to chase Buffalo Wing with Ranch soda, which Nelson says is the biggest seller. For better or worse, it’s the truest to flavor among all my selections. Not only does it smell exactly like ranch dressing, it tastes right on point, but with bubbles.
Bacon with Chocolate
This one definitely sounded too good to be true, and sadly, it was. I’m big on dunking my bacon in maple syrup, so the thought of mixing the cured meat with chocolate seemed like a logical leap. I definitely picked up on the chocolate, it reminded me of those chocolate-flavored Cokes you might find at a ‘50s-style diner. Just not enough fatty bacon to make the cut.
This was surprisingly my favorite flavor. Since it would be pretty damn hard to replicate the taste of puss that oozes out of a freshly popped zit, Rocket Fizz did the next best thing: create a grotesque graphic and make the drink itself marshmallow flavor. Delicious, if you get the nasty image on the packaging out of your mind... I’m actually making myself sick just writing this.
You know that horrible film of bile and food that sticks to your mouth after you throw up? I was anticipating that, but what I found was a fizzy drink without a specific flavor. The best way to describe the puke-inducing effect would be to liken the after-taste with having acid reflux. So like a slight burn down your throat.
Candy Cane Train
It's like Listerine for kids. With about 40 grams of sugar added. And carbonation.