Taste Test: Polar Seltzer’s Winter 2018 Flavors

What does "vanilla zen" actually taste like—and how best would we spike it?

Polar Seltzer's limited-edition winter 2018 flavors

Polar Seltzer’s limited-edition winter 2018 flavors. / Photo by Jacqueline Cain

Besides the later sunrise and the impending end of beer garden season, October brings another sure sign that the cold season is setting in: Five Polar Seltzer winter 2018 flavors debuted last week. The latest, limited-edition lineup from the Worcester beverage makers features three bubbly new recipes, and two reprises. As is tradition at Boston magazine, a crew of editorial staffers tried them at our offices and present to you, dear readers, our extremely thorough and informative tasting notes.

Cocktail-inspired flavors ginger lime mule and cranberry cider are back from winter 2017. The new concoctions are fruit-forward: hibiscus cloudberry, blackberry clementine, and vanilla zen.

For the record, a cloudberry is not a Harry Potter reference, but instead a very real fruit with slightly less punch than relatives blackberries and raspberries.

But what, exactly, is “vanilla zen?” It’s “secretly inspired by our new American Princess the magnificent Ms Markle,” Polar revealed in the winter 2018 collection announcement. That correlation might come from a 2015 interview, one blog notes, in which Meghan Markle said her typical breakfast was either a vanilla shake with blueberries, or an açaí bowl with berries. The seltzer flavor is “resplendent… with serene touches of pomegranate,” says Polar, and it was my personal favorite—but I was alone in that opinion.

“It has a bit of a grandmotherly quality to it,” said food editor Scott Kearnan. Associate editor Madeline Bilis didn’t like the sourness.

“It’s nuts that we’re doing a taste test, sure, but this flavor is nuts,” staff writer Spencer Buell said. “[Polar is] with us here.”

For its part, Polar Beverages says, “We think the full collection of 2018 Limited Edition Polar Seltzer is bright and hopeful, a gift from New England where winter sparkles.”

These five, limited-edition flavors shipped out at the beginning of October, and will be available in liter bottles until they sell out. Polar Seltzer’s VIP newsletter also included renderings of the new recipes in the slim, 12-ounce cans the company debuted with the summer 2018 flavors, so look out for that sleek packaging option, too.

Polar Seltzer winter 2018 flavors slim cans

Images via Polar Seltzer

Without further ado, here are the rest of our off-the-cuff comments while sniffing, sipping, and thinking about spiking the Polar seltzer winter 2018 flavors.

Ginger Lime Mule

  • This one is less good than [regular] Polar lime. It’s not as clear or effervescent.
  • Sprite
  • The bouquet is enticing. I like ginger beer a lot [and it smells very gingery]. But then you taste it and it’s like, meh.
  • It leaves a little something on my tongue.
  • My tongue feels weird. I don’t like it.

Jackie Cain’s At-Home Bar Tip: Polar ginger lime mule calls for a fragrant gin.

Cranberry Cider

  • Honestly, I’m surprised they brought this one back.
  • It smells like if you melted a Starburst in regular seltzer.
  • Green apple
  • I’m smelling artificial cherry, like a cherry popsicle.
  • Pink medicine [Pepto Bismol]
  • Robitussin
  • Oh, the aftertaste is a little Robitussin-y
  • Starburst
  • It tastes super fake.
  • I wouldn’t have been able to tell you this is cider.
  • There is bitterness, but also juiciness.

Scott Kearnan’s At-Home Bar Tip: Polar cranberry cider would take the edge off of swill vodka, and the vodka would cut the strong bouquet of the cider.

Blackberry Clementine

  • I hate that smell.
  • The purple-scented market
  • Kool-Aid powder
  • Crystal Light. Definitely a drink powder.
  • Hi-C you get from McDonald’s. Like, watered-down Hi-C
  • There is a weird childhood-comfort flavor to it.
  • All of these taste vaguely like childhood.

Senior editor Tom Stackpole’s At-Home Bar Tip: I want to mix Polar blackberry clementine with a sweet rosé for a wine spritzer.

Vanilla Zen

  • First off, I want [the label as] wallpaper.
  • Smells like marshmallow
  • Smarties
  • Malted milk balls! Whoppers
  • Cream soda
  • Charleston Chew
  • Somehow there’s chocolate in there.
  • This one leaves more of a film in my mouth than any one else.
  • It’s a little sour. Why is it sour?
  • It has a bit of a grandmotherly quality to it.
  • Yankee Candle

Jackie Cain and Scott Kearnan’s At-Home Bar Tips: Polar vanilla zen would come together with a rich, spiced rum, or could make for a festive bourbon lime rickey.

Hibiscus Cloudberry

  • I get a lot of berry on the nose. Like, fake blueberry.
  • It’s very fragrant.
  • Blue cotton candy
  • A grape freeze pop
  • Soap
  • Juicy berry
  • The hibiscus makes it a little more tart.
  • It’s gentle.
  • I don’t taste anything.
  • I find it pleasantly bitter.
  • This is flowery wallpaper.

Jackie Cain’s At-Home Bar Tip: Bring on the tequila to complement Polar hibiscus cloudberry.