Food & Drink

We tried Pepsi's fancy new Caleb's Kola with chili lobster and venison

Two months ago, Pepsi launched Caleb's Kola. The artisanal soda boasts Fair Trade cane sugar, brown spices, and a glass bottle -- making it significantly ritzier than the sad canned carbonation in your office vending machine. But does it live up to its intriguing name? To find out, we stopped by a special lunch hosted by the Caleb's people and Marc Forgione that promised a taste of the cola along with a taste of chili lobster. Unsurprisingly, it was kinda awesome. Here are our field notes:

Caleb's Kola at Marc Forgione
Kristin Hunt

Each of our place settings included a Caleb's glass that was always refilled, as well as a personalized bottle for us to take home after the fact. (I know my name is not Elizabeth. Don't worry about it.) Caleb's has a much lighter taste than your standard Pepsi, and you can definitely detect a hint of their spices in every sip. You also won't get the "sugar-stuck-to-my-teeth" feel present in most sodas, so props on springing for that Fair Trade stuff, guys.

Of course they served a fancy bread basket, plus some little bagel bites stuffed with cream cheese that are tragically not pictured, and tragically not available at all wedding cocktail hours.

Marc Forgione kampachi, avocado, sechuan button
Kristin Hunt

This "button" was way tastier than the ones on our cardigan, and it came with individual spoons of spices we were supposed to sample first to awaken our taste buds. Plus chips, for scooping.

Marc Forgione chili lobster
Kristin Hunt

The chili lobster was nestled delicately in between semi-shells, with a thick piece of Texas toast on the side to soak up all the extra sauce. A sauce, by the way, that was wisely made with Sriracha. We like your style, Forgione.

Marc Forgione venison in Caleb's Kola gastrique
Kristin Hunt

Then came the real all-star. This venison was the only dish to draw directly on Caleb's, and it was probably the best of the bunch. Its cinnamon, and clove-heavy spice rub referenced the cola's own spice blend, while the gastrique (that's food snob speak for a reduction of vinegar, sugar, and whatever else you like) straight-up sampled the soda. It was gone before Forgione could even give us the ingredients breakdown, which is always a good sign.

Marc Forgione s'mores
Kristin Hunt

Finally, the dessert that killed us (in a good way!): the s'mores. Or rather, a chocolate ganache tart with a graham cracker crust and scoop of ice cream, plus a specially smoked 'mallow. It was decadent as hell, and went excellently with all the Caleb's and espresso we were double-fisting. It also might've put us to sleep for a minute when we returned to our office, but don't tell our boss what you heard.

Caleb's is currently conquering New York City one market at a time, but it's also available in cases at Costcos in Virginia, Maryland, and DC. They plan to target other major US cities in the new year, so keep an eye out for that blue glass bottle wherever oddly-spelled sodas are sold.

Kristin Hunt is a Food/Drink staff writer for Thrillist, and is still disappointed in herself for leaving two bites of tart on her plate. Follow her to shame and self-loathing at @kristin_hunt.