I have been wanting to try Dutch Fanta for at least a decade, maybe longer. For a while, it was my Holy Grail of beverages. On Friday in Amsterdam, I finally had the chance to drink from the aluminium chalice of Holland’s version of the Coca-Cola company’s primary orange soda product. In ~21 hours in Amsterdam (not 24, thanks to the aforementioned delayed flight), I tried it maybe six or seven times. What follows is my review.
My taste for European Fanta probably started when I was fiveish and my family went to visit my grandparents in Ireland. I vividly remember receiving an orange soda from an Aer Lingus flight attendant and experiencing an almost spiritual ecstasy on its account. It was an incredible soda. I liked orange soda – Minute Maid and the like – at home but this was better. In my then-limited flying experience, orange soda was never on planes’ menus; here was the best one I’d ever tasted being served on a Transatlantic journey. The next year, I went to Ireland again, and I drank the really good orange soda again. It was still really good. I’m not sure when I retained the name of the soda – maybe that trip, maybe during another visit to Westport or Ennis or Dublin in the next few years – but once I did, I spent all following years trying to recapture the pure bliss of those first experiences with orange soda, done properly.
When I finally retained the name, I screwed up said retention and confused Fanta for Faygo. This confusion led to some Insane Clown Posse-esque Faygo swilling (I didn’t spray it, I don’t think) and intense disappoint at Faygo not tasting like my memories of the really good orange soda from Ireland tasted. Of course, I eventually realized that Faygo was not the same thing as Fanta, and started trying American Fantas. Again, disappointment poured from orange cans and orange-labelled clear bottles. Did I remember the flavor incorrectly? Were my powerful, emotion-laden memories somehow skewed by the disorienting effects of sleep deprivation and exhausting travel on a confusable child? Had I built up this soda so much in my mind that it stood no chance of living up to my unrealistic expectations?
By the time I was a pre-teen or early teenager, I had figured out what I liked so much about Irish Fanta – and UK Fanta and Spanish Fanta, once I had the opportunity to discover and overindulge on those nations’ Fanta offerings: It is made with real orange juice. The same goes for Club Orange (and Lemon, etc.), which I think is a sort of generic Irish orange soda. In this case, generic soda isn’t worse than brand name: Club Orange has real orange bits! It even says so on the can. Once I became cognizant of the superiority of European Fanta, (and stopped lamenting the loss of Sprite Remix, which formed a different chapter in my soda drinking story; I ceased any efforts to track down remaining cans of a discontinued soda sub-brand), I became singularly fixated on obtaining Fanta, from Europe. There are plenty of other sites that explain at length the reasons for the “same” soda being better in one place than another, so I won’t get into that here. Suffice it to say that multinational drinks conglomerates work with local bottlers to produce their drinks in each country, and the local bottlers use their own recipes and ingredients. “Bottling” really describes the creation processes from ~start to finish. While researching this process from the computer lab at Marshall Middle School, I found an internet consensus that, of the good Fantas, Dutch was the best. So, from about ages thirteen to twenty-five, I pined after Dutch Fanta.
In the interim, some things held me over. The US has its own juice-based fizzy drinks – e.g. San Pelligrino and Izze – but these are specialty drinks, not widely available in vending machines and at convenience stores alongside your Diet Cokes and your Dr. Peppers. There’s something redeeming about common soda – the bane of Michael Bloomberg’s existence – containing real juice, and being genuinely and overpoweringly delicious as a result. I have been back to Ireland a number of times, and always consume Fanta to excess there. At my first apartment in Chicago, the 7-Eleven at which I did about forty percent of my grocery shopping inexplicably sold Club Orange – from Ireland! I verified its origin by checking the website on the can; it was a .ie. This 7-Eleven had all of your standard pop coolers in the back, and as far as I know was not an importer of any other Irish goods. In those pop coolers, there was, amidst all the twenty and twenty-four ounce and two liter bottles, one shelf of soda cans, and in roughly the center of those cans, which were all domestic Pepsi- and Coke-type products, sat a solitary column of the Club Orange. I loved to drink it in the afternoons. Sadly, when I returned to that same 7-Eleven months after having moved to the other side of Lincoln Park, I found that the Club Orange column was gone. Fortunately, the Irish-American Heritage Center slings Club Orange, Club Lemon, and even some other crazy hybrid flavors. But drinking Irish Fanta, drinking Club Orange, trying Fanta around the world, enjoying expensive American substitutes: None of these activities got me what I wanted. I wanted Dutch fanta.
The day finally came on the first of April. Somehow, I went at least four hours in Amsterdam without trying one . That is uncharacteristic Fanta-related behavior for me when stepping off a plane in a foreign country. Soon enough, though, I was heading from the ferry from my hostel (ClinkNoord, which was very nice) to the Anne Frank Museum and recognized an imminent need for nourishment. I stopped in at a little waffles and ice cream place – Del Gelato, I think the name was, south and west of Amsterdam Centraal – and saw that they had Fanta. I ordered one.
Frankly, my first experience with Dutch Fanta was underwhelming. It was good, but it didn’t blow me away. Since I came all this way to drink it, though, I didn’t give up. Cans are probably the worst soda delivery vehicle. During the remaining sixteen hours, I drank Dutch Fanta: Out of the bar gun (not directly out of it – it went from the bar gun to a glass to my mouth) at ClinkNoord‘s solo travellers’ meet-up; from glass bottles on Blue Boat‘s 10 PM Evening Canal Cruise; from plastic bottles at Amsterdam Centraal. I even tried a grape one. It was good, too.
Overall, my assessment is that Dutch Fanta probably deserves its title as the best European Fanta, but just barely. It certainly doesn’t provide the life-altering experience on which I was counting, though it might have changed my life had I only tried US Fanta previously. We’re talking something like 8% juice here – Irish Club Orange has like 10 or 11%, plus the bits – which is enough for some solid flavor. When the fizz was good – pretty much all containers except for the can at Del Gelato – this was a very solid orange soda.