The Starbucks® Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL) launched in 2003, and over the next 12 years sold 200 million units. One of these was to you. At least one of these was to you. You: squishy mittens and a thick pink scarf, PSL cupped cosily between two hands. You: the sky is grey and the leaves are ombré and the wind whips hard against your face, and the matte white lid of your PSL is smudged with the kiss of your lips.
In recent years, however, the PSL has taken a bit of a shoeing, because… how to say this? It seems like the sort of thing Zoella would get really excited about. As the autumns of recent years have become season-long odes to trendy hygge and straight-to-camera Christmas excitement, so the PSL has been dragged into it, a sort of totem of basicness, the drink Fiat 500 Twitter would be if it were a drink. I think we're a little bit past that – things people commonly like are normally liked because they're good, because not everything is about roll-ups and listening to King Krule – but it's hard to keep with what stage of PSL discourse we're currently at. Is drinking one now ironic, or post-ironic? Is it post-post-ironic? What if I use the Starbucks® app to order it so I don’t have to queue as much? Is that more ironic or less? I just want the autumn drink. I don’t want to have to think about it.
Which is all a very long-winded way of saying: listen, we got a litre of the PSL syrup and put it in as many alcohols as we could find within a two shop radius of the VICE office, and judged which – if any – the iconic addition of cinnamon, nutmeg, pumpkin and clove flavouring would improve. Are we basic bitches now? Friends, let us find out:
We collected as many samples of alcohol as we could find on our desk(s), as well as one can of VICE's own "Old Blue Last" beer ("As refreshing as it is cheap!") – which was, absurdly, actually quite hard to get hold of in this office, the fridge they were in locked with a key because we apparently work in prison – as well as three to four single-portion units of alcohol bought from the newsagents up by our office with £10 slush money from the kitty. Here Are They (Mostly):
We also bought a one-litre bottle (too much, far too much) of Monin-brand Pumpkin Spice Latte syrup from popular employee exploiters Amazon (£14.00). The plan was to pour a bit of that into a plastic champagne flute we found in a kitchen cupboard – for birthdays, I guess – then top it up with the above alcohols. This would then be passed around the group, with each participant taking a sip and pulling a face. The PSL syrup was not measured, only eyeballed. This was not a scientific test.
PARTICIPANTS IN THE SCIENTIFIC TEST
Pumpkin Spice Joel, Pumpkin Spice Lauren, Pumpkin Spice Emma, Pumpkin Spice Jack, Pumpkin Spice Dipo, Pumpkin Spice Nana, Pumpkin Spice Jamie. An intern came upstairs to watch, but chose – wisely, as it turned out – not to participate. She has therefore not earned the nomenclature "Pumpkin Spice Intern", and has been excluded from the test.
NOTES & SCORES
I would be keeping the notes, because I was the only one who cared enough. After each drink was tasted, a score out of five was demanded. Nobody was allowed to deviate outside of the test bar in a fun way ("Minus one! Six out of five!"), because what’s the point of having a scoring system if you’re only going to break it? Hmm? Is one to five not enough for you?
PUMPKIN SPICE JACK & COKE
This actually tasted good, which almost makes me sad to say. It makes sense: Coke is sugary, the caramel-y Jack Daniels flavours complement that, and an extra glug of what is essentially "wet orange sugar" only blends into the melange. PSJ&C came closest to feeling like an actual drink, in an actual bar: as if some extremely clean £8-a-pint place where everyone dresses up and no one actually gets drunk started doing a "seasonal whiskey and coke". We shouldn’t have started with this, really – it set us all up for failure. Notable exclamations: Pumpkin Spice Dipo actually said the word "yummy" out loud, about this drink. Yummy.
Scores: 5, 5, 4, 4.5, 5, 5, 4, for an average of 4.64
No… no. This was the point where, already, it was clear that we had made a mistake. Pumpkin Spice Rum is like rum (already an intense, acquired taste) but made more powerful and sugar-sweet, to general repulsion across the board.
It tasted like that destitute time at a house party, where the adjacent shops are all closed and the beer has run out, and you’re desperately trying to come up with some sort of combo or cocktail of alcohol with the ingredients available to you – gin and… water? Blackcurrant and… vodka? What if I put whisky in milk and pretend it's Baileys? Would that work? – and this is how you find yourself, wedged on your own sofa with a dirty glass half-full of neat rum, people smoking around you and dropping ash on the carpet, someone chatting very intently to you about conspiracy theories, and you are filled with that dreadful, aching feeling of knowing that you have to clang about the house with a recycling bag before you go to bed, picking up cans. It's… not a nice drink.
Scores: 2.5, 2, 3, 2, 3, 4, 4.5, for an average of 3
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Did I ever think this would work? A small part of me sort of supposed it could: a shot of Tabasco in the top of a crisp Mexican beer; a jigger of blackcurrant in a grimy pink Snakebite – adding unusual elements to beer has previous and successful form. Also, I thought a small shot of PSL syrup in the bottom of a champagne flute would act a little like Chambord in prosecco: class it up a little, give it the overall effect of a sort of syrup-y craft ale. The reality? As per Emma Garland, VICE writer and the office's tame emo: "It tastes like sick!"
Scores: 1, 0, 0, 1, 2, 1, 2, for an average of 1
Smirnoff Ice gets a bad rep because it's a very "park bench, fingering, waiting at a train station for a lift off your dad" kind of drink, which you left behind as soon as you started mixing those aggressive 80:20 vodka-cokes at pre-drinks before Pryzm, but they are due a resurgence: refreshing, sweet, very much something you could enjoy on the Overground or a bus on your way to an actual party, just a mellow little buzz to get you in the mood. Anyway, PSL doesn't do much for it: Smirnoff Ice is basically already a diluted sugar drink, and adding more diluted sugar to it neither raises nor lessens its sweetness, so you’ve basically made a Smirnoff Ice that doesn’t quite taste as nice as an actual Smirnoff Ice. So you’ve made WKD. Well done.
Scores: 2, 2, 2.5, 4, 5, 4, 5, for an average of 3.5
I don't think any commercially available canned drink has a vibe as sinister as Magners Dark Fruit. You know in Lord of the Rings, whenever anyone touches The Ring, they see sudden visions of hell and violence: rushes of orcs, the swinging of axes and clubs, the sound of the wind around a projectile as it whooshes towards your face? That’s sort of how I feel when I grasp a can of Magners Dark Fruit: suddenly a man in sunglasses is shouting over music at me in a tent, or I’m bustling through a rigid bar queue to retrieve the one pint I couldn’t manage to carry out of a round of four, or the fluorescent light flicks on, then off, then on, above the cloakroom while the sober door girl, at 3AM, tells me they can’t find my coat and they’re not responsible for the loss. Magners DF tastes like the notification you wake up to saying you’ve been tagged in 12 pictures from the night before. It’s like a blackcurrant panic attack. It made me feel like hell itself.
Scores: 0, 0, 3, 1, 3, 0.5, 3, for an average of 1.5
Don’t really have any notes for vodka, beyond the fact that two people refused to score, Lauren O’Neill just very sadly shaking her head (I put this down as: a 0!) and me just drawing a sad face, which I don’t really remember doing but sounds about right. I also wrote down the words "MADE ME FEEL HOT" (which is also: 0!). Seems we discovered something, here: vodka is classically known as a very chameleonic drink, a neutral-leaning spirit that can take on any flavour, meld with it, make it its own. Apart from Pumpkin Spice Latte syrup, which tasted absolutely vile in it, like vodka someone had already sicked up in a toilet.
Scores: 0, 0, 1, 1.5, 1, 4.5, 1, for an average of 1.28
You ever end up eating food cold that is designed to be consumed warm because you are feeling very lazy? A cold Pop Tart, perhaps, or some shards of undercooked pasta. Just beans, from a tin, from the fridge. You have done this, right? This is not just me? Anyway: if you ever fancy mulled wine – very, very, very bad mulled wine – without the sheer rigmarole of studding an orange with cloves and warming it slowly in a deep pan while children sing carols around you, then I can sort of recommend that you add a dab of PSL syrup to some Merlot before chugging the whole lot down.
Scores: 4, 3.5, 3, 4, 1, 2, 4, for an average score of 3.07
Very cursed. The PSL syrup mixed with the wine the way oil and water blend together in a jam-jar salad dressing: inelegantly, repelling away from each other like opposing batteries, a cursed swirl. I don’t want to talk about it any more. Was it nice? No. Was it as bad as you’re thinking? Also no. If someone served this to you at a dinner party you would be polite about it.
Scores: 4.5, [extremely long sigh which I have interpreted as a "0"], 3, 2, 4, 3, 0, for an average of 2.35
Don’t really have any notes for this one, because by this stage we were all very tired of drinking small sugary gulps of alcohol – the floor below us, on the Friday afternoon, our colleagues were laughing and joking and helping themselves to Friday Beers, none of their drinks sullied with syrup – and all of us buzzing with that kind of angry half-drunk, not drunk enough to be drunk exactly but drunk enough to have a headache and be angry about it, and soon after this we all stomped back downstairs and sat at our desks in silence, seething at one another, morale completely shot, and I’m not saying a single sip of Magnum Tonic Wine mixed with Pumpkin Spice Latte syrup was the reason, but: it was definitely the reason. Low scores all around.
Scores: [long, quiet exhale that has been interpreted as a 0], 1, 0, 0.5, 2, 5, 5, for an average score of 1.9
A pretty good way of simulating the aching feeling of a hangover and the physical effects of drunkenness without the mental upshot is to drink a lot of sweet short shots of alcohol over the course of an hour while grading it as you go; Nana, our Junior Staff Writer, has a palate completely inverted to everyone else with a sensible or normal tongue or mouth; I hate all my colleagues and I hate drinking, too; if you absolutely, absolutely have to, put Pumpkin Spice Latte syrup in a supermarket can of Jack & Coke. But also: don’t do that, because it feels like sobbing at a house party. Autumn is cancelled this year. We’re revving on right through to winter.
This article originally appeared on VICE UK.