Mountain Dew, in all of its forms, is the most fascinating soda to me, probably because it’s even more American than Coke. You know it as the yellow-green citrus soda that heavily panders to BMXers and gamers, but it’s so much more than that. In its many flavors—from LIVE WIRE to PITCH BLACK—the Dew can be unruly, it can be vicious, it can be loving, it can be pleasuring. It can hang with high-class burgers that don’t come with fries as well as 3 AM Taco Bell; it can be the best or worst thing you’ve ever imbibed. Dew is a diverse liquid. It’s always promised to be extreme in a world that pretends it wants moderation. I crave the extreme. We all do.
But ultimately, some Dew flavors are better than others. About a year ago, probably when I was blowing off a deadline, I decided to rank every Dew flavor. I informally shared the list with friends on social media, and I received a more enthusiastic response than to any serious music criticism I’ve written. I’ve put my health on the line to prove once and for all which Dews exemplify the best of us and are a blight on our existence. My blood will become dangerously acidic from drinking all this Dew, and since I’m not a xenomorph, my body will burn and crumble. It will be worth it.
(While this is a fairly comprehensive list, it is by no means complete, because there are some Dew flavors I simply never got around to. So if you’re a Pitch Black II or Green Label stan looking for validation, I can’t give you that. However, the below is still 100-percent correct given what’s included. Also, this list doesn’t include the Dew Energy drinks, because 1) energy drinks are a whole different thing from sodas and 2) in researching this piece, it’ll be amazing if I make it one second past age 37.)
25) MTN DEW ICE
They added caffeine to deadstock Sierra Mist. That’s all MTN DEW ICE is. Not only is it the most unoriginal and worst-tasting Dew, but the fact that they tried to Crystal Pepsi this is the most insulting thing of all. Dew is supposed to be defiantly neon, every sip a rush of sugar bros yelling “ARE YOU TRIGGERED” at your tastebuds. You’re supposed to look at a Dew bottle and feel a twinge of regret every gulp as the brightly colored monstrosity before you diminishes in grandeur, leaving behind a plastic husk—the bullet casings of your health’s demise. ICE doesn’t even give you that monstrous pleasure; it’s worse than useless.
24) MTN DEW ICE - Cherry
A smidge of cherry flavor adds a bit of much-needed definition to ICE. Still, it’s less of a soda and more like the runoff of a broken slushie machine.
23) Sweet Lightning
The weird, somewhat herbal flavor is as confusing as the name, and lies somewhere between Jägermeister and fake cinnamon. It’s advertised as a far more appealing synthesis of peach and honey. At least it’s unique? Which neither ICE nor Cherry ICE can claim…
Dew-S-A was a limited-edition drink from 2016 combining Code Red, White Out, and Voltage: red, white, and blue. Get it? Unfortunately, combining these flavors results in absolute trash (which happens to be a strange purple color). Drinking this is like drinking every Twitter thread re-litigating 2016—utter misery that feels longer than it actually is. Code Red is an elite Dew flavor brought down by the mediocrity of White Out and Voltage. Dew-S-A is void of sugar and resembles the pale glow of a half-baked idea—one that inexplicably made it into production. This is the Gatsby-esque flickering light of capitalist aspiration that drives America; the shine of the empire is dimmer the closer you get to it. (In related news, Mountain Dew will introduce a new product called the “Liberty Brew” in May, and allegedly will be a combination of 50 flavors. American hegemony’s end can’t come fast enough.)
21) Diet Mountain Dew
Artificial sweeteners lend an acrid bite that really doesn’t benefit the core Dew. At least Diet Coke’s metallic aftertaste kind of works in its favor: This is all pain, no pleasure. Also, why are you drinking Diet Dew? This stuff isn’t for people who have ever used the #thinspo hashtag with sincerity, or for people who plan to live for however long the butter coffee guy thinks we can live if we drink oily water. Dew is a drink for scumbags of all body shapes. It is the anti-Bulletproof coffee, save for their shared caffeine boost.
20) Game Fuel - Tropical Smash
I listen to a lot of Miami bass. Something named “Tropical Smash” should feel like a Splack Pack video in my mouth. This did not do that. There was a suggestion of pineapple, a flavor that has only been successfully harnessed by Mexican soda companies.
19) Game Fuel - Arctic Burst
I also listen to a lot of black metal. Something named “Arctic Burst” should hit me like Immortal’s Battles in the North to my face. This did not do that. For a brand that might as well get a majority stake in Twitch at this point, Mountain Dew’s “Game Fuel” sure didn’t deliver. They’ve rebranded it as their energy drink line, but as mentioned earlier, I have some concerns for my health, so I will not be unpacking that.
18) White Label
Vague Citrus. There’s a band name for you! That’s what this curiously fancy canned variety tastes like.
17) Merry Mash-Up
Dew’s Christmas flavor last year was a combination of pomegranate and cranberry, two previously uncharted territories in their quest to prove that every fruit can channel the guy who gets kicked out of Irish bars every day but St. Patrick’s Day. The cranberry is muted; the pomegranate doesn’t make a case for its undeserved exceptionalism. It’s a bold vision with a limp execution. Cranberry just can’t be made obnoxious enough for Mountain Dew. Have you ever had a bunch of cranberries call you a cuck? Didn’t think so. An ambitious failure, but still a failure.
16) White Out
Dewmocracy is a sham. As white Arctic Blast, what’s advertised as a blizzard is a pathetic puddle in a bottle. It’s citrus flattened out to no distinction: no real bite, no juicy tang, nothing.
It’s blue. It tastes like “blue.” It also contains… ginseng? If I was electrocuted while drinking this, God would laugh at me.
14) Citrus Cherry
The best of the Game Fuel flavors, but that isn’t saying much. More so than most Mountain Dew flavors, it has a “melted Jolly Rancher” flavor profile, similar to that of purple Red Bull, but it’s bright red and less caffeinated. I can’t imagine how this tastes warm—probably like a bag of gummy candy left on your car seat on a hot day.
13) Pitch Black
I didn’t have a strong memory of Pitch Black, which didn’t bode well for its initial ranking. Upon a recent re-tasting, I have a slightly more favorable impression of it. It’s a less complex version of Black Label, one of the finer Dew flavors (we’ll get to that later), going all in on a dark Concord grape flavor. It’s the soda equivalent of a gritty reboot for a film franchise—but darker isn’t always better.
12) Mountain Dew
Dew branching off into a myriad of different flavors is probably the best thing to happen to it, because the core product is pretty mid-tier. All of the other mutations drive home that this artificial citrus beverage is really nothing special. We’ve come a long way since Mountain Dew pushed Appalachian stereotypes to sell itself. Soda’s a much bigger world now.
11) Mountain Dew Throwback
As with most sodas, using real sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup makes it taste better. But if you’re really concerned about HFCS, you’re not drinking Mountain Dew in the first place. Go sip on some Fentiman’s, jerkweed. (For the record, I love Fentiman’s Cherry Cola.)
10) Berry Monsoon
You can only get this flavor at Sam’s Club, which makes it sound much worse than it actually is. It’s essentially a Baja Blast that aims for a deeper berry flavor, and being weighed down is not what Baja Blast is about. Still, it’s not bad! However, the thing about Baja Blast is that it will make an otherwise decent, sober, God-fearing person go to Taco Bell. Berry Monsoon doesn’t have that same effect for Sam’s Club. But if you have to scarf down a couple exploitatively cheap hot dogs while your parents buy cheeseballs in an oil barrel alongside the collected works of Mike Huckabee, there are much worse ways to slowly kill yourself. (During “research” for this story, I witnessed someone asking an employee, in total seriousness, if Monster drinks had any artificial ingredients. They are really not ‘bout this life.)
9) Holiday Brew
For Christmas 2016, Mountain Dew brought us Holiday Brew, mixing together Regular Dew and Code Red. Code Red doesn’t live up to Regular Dew so much as Regular brings Code Red down. Even if it’s basically a Dew-S-A Christmas colorway, it’s one of the more solid fusions they’ve come up with. Chug this before uploading your cover of the Starcraft “12 Days of Christmas” to YouTube, and you, too, will end up with a brand new S-C-Veeee!
8) Zero Sugar Baja Blast
Taco Bell recently rolled out a diet version of Baja Blast, and unlike regular diet Dew, it’s surprisingly faithful to the original. Sure, there is some of that artificial sweetener bite, yet this is still one of the smoother diet sodas out there. Drinking diet soda is a charade in and of itself, but at least this tastes a whole lot better. You weren’t having much luck trying to impress that vegan you’re crushing on by getting everything Al Fresco anyway; you can quit the act now. Do we have to say again that Dew isn’t for your health?
7) Solar Flare
Given that I am getting paid to write about the junkiest of junk drinks, it shouldn’t surprise you that I spend a lot of time in 7-Elevens. I am not peddling schwag or mysterious pills à la Jay and Silent Bob; I am merely a freelance writer who might want a chocolate doughnut and a rib-shaped sandwich at 3:37 AM. Solar Flare, which you could only get at certain 7-Eleven stores for a limited time, beams Dew’s overbearing light upon fruit punch. If it were a Jarritos or Topo Sabores fruit punch with caffeine—just a touch more tannic, with fruit punch flavor—it would easily make the top three. One of the better flavors, nonetheless. Tasted great with meats of ambiguous origins. It will be missed.
6) Spiked Raspberry Lemonade
It’s not woke to blame the public because collective action is vital and we shouldn’t tear each other down and capitalism makes fools of us all, blah blah blah, but screw y’all for letting Spiked Raspberry Lemonade (and its sibling drink, Spiked Lemonade) get discontinued. Lemonade was more made for Dew’s bite than regular Dew itself, and both of these were pleasurably harsh. Raspberry knocks this one down a couple notches—there is no lemonade flavor that’s better than straight lemonade—yet this is still in the upper tier of Dewdom.
5) Live Wire
WHO LOVES ORANGE DEW? Orange soda is naturally gregarious, and Live Wire is even louder. It succeeds where Pitch Black fails: It’s proud to be fake orange; it talks over you in every conversation, and goes down smoothly while doing so; it forgoes any kind of notes for one brash, overwhelming flavor. Live Wire does its job simply, and it does its job well.
4) Black Label
Trying to sophisticate the Dew seems like one of the dumbest ideas ever. And somehow, PepsiCo’s flavor warlocks, demented and likely overworked they are, pulled it off. Black Label is the only Dew flavor you could describe as “complicated.” And like nearly all great art, it’s quite complicated. What’s described as “dark berry” is really grape mutated into a pan-berry—you know it’s berry-adjacent, but what kind of berry? If a berry could be invented that tasted like Black Label, then genetic engineers have their next mission cut out for them. "Dark berries" don’t grow in the woods or else they would have been a food trend three Twitter cycles ago. And while there isn’t an identifiable herbal flavor per se, it does taste as though it would appeal to those who enjoy herbal tonics. Confusion has never been so delicious. Also, as far as products offered to me at SXSW, it’s far, far superior to a CD-R mixtape bouquet or bunk cocaine.
3) Spiked Lemonade
Again, I am truly ashamed at the American soda-drinking demographic for sleeping on Spiked Lemonade. They made a fizzy lemonade! With caffeine! That was extremely delicious! How sick are we? I’m not an Arnold Palmer guy—golf is the sport of uninteresting oppressors, and moreover, why do you want lemonade to be less sweet?—but we could be living in a society where we’re casually guzzling jacked Arnold Palmers. Maybe Mtn Dew Spiked Lemonade’s true downfall was that its makers had to explicitly state that it was non-alcoholic. It had a brief but beautiful life at Taco Bell before getting replaced by Zero Sugar Baja Blast, and while I can’t blame the Bell for that decision, they did not keep the faith. I cannot abide.
2) Code Red
Informally sharing this list with friends, Code Red as number two has proven to be my most controversial decision. My comrades may live longer than I will, but my taste buds tell richer stories. Code Red wasn’t the first Dew spinoff—there was a Mountain Dew Red that came out in 1988, sold only in Alabama—but it was the first one to best the core product, the sign of a thousand unique Dews to come. Make no mistake: This is strong, HFCS-stricken cherry—the best kind. “It tastes like medicine,” some of my friends told me. Wrong! Code Red doesn’t taste like medicine, as there’s no bitter, dextromethorphan afterbite; in fact, medicine should strive to taste like Code Red. If Code Red-tasting medicine isn’t in your Medicare For All plan, I’m not supporting you. Better red than dead.
1) Baja Blast
You knew Baja Blast would be at the top of the list. It’s not even close. Sodas are not sentient, and thus cannot have cults of personality, but it’s the only Dew flavor with its own cult nonetheless, and for good reason. I would worship Baja Blast if it were a living, omnipotent entity. Baja Blast has components of lime and berry, but tastes of something else entirely, like a creation of a more demented Willy Wonka. It’s as if summer waves tasted of sugar water instead of saltwater, its smoothness belying its awesome force. If you could X-ray your chest and look in your esophagus while drinking it, it’d be like watching a miniature, light green Niagara Falls, beautiful and intense all the same. In fact, you don’t drink it so much as you let it glide through your body. Baja Blast is the only appropriately named Dew, as its might is no exaggeration. Even so, it’s the only Dew that doesn’t need braggadocio to justify itself.
Code Red and Live Wire, as great as they are, have their roots in familiar flavors outside the Dew world. There is nothing that tastes like Baja Blast; it singlehandedly pioneered an uncharted realm of sodadom. Other Dews are not its contemporaries; Baja Blast belongs in the elite domain occupied by Vanilla Coke and Dublin Dr Pepper (DP’s real sugar variant formerly produced in Dublin, Texas). You don’t put Prince with Cameo and Hall and Oates; you put him with Kate Bush. Baja Blast is the king of sodas, and it is also its Prince. Taco Bell needs it more than it needs Taco Bell, and frankly, that’s saying a lot.
Follow Andy O'Connor on Twitter.