If nothing else, Kickstart—the new breakfast beverage from Mountain Dew’s fortress of extremitude—wins points for sheer ambition. Positioning itself as “a fresh alternative to the age old morning question of ‘coffee or juice’” (for people who have never heard of every other beverage in the world, I suppose), it promises to provide a highly caffeinated spike to your usual morning routine of ski-jumping, body-surfing, or radical commuting.
Claiming, with dubious earnestness, to be the result of intense consumer demand, Kickstart (not to be confused with the crowd-funding website Kickstarter) comes in two flavors: Orange Citrus and Fruit Punch. I got hold of a sample of the former, which is probably enough; the prospect of Mountain Dew’s interpretation of fruit punch evokes both curiosity and deep-rooted terror. Containing a micro-portion of actual fruit juice (5% total of orange and an undetectable white grape), Kickstart is mostly water, corn syrup, and sweet, sweet caffeine, bolstered with vitamins and highly important multi-syllabics like sodium hexametaphosphate and sucrose acetate isobutyrate, just like your mom used to industrially extrude. To top it all off, it’s served up in a 16-ounce tallboy can that relaxes those who might be concerned about drinking a soda for breakfast by making it seem like they’re drinking a beer from breakfast instead.
But at 80 calories a can, Mountain Dew Kickstart is actually far lower in calories than the equivalent amount of regular soda or juice would be. It claims to feature “just the right amount of kick”, which translates to 92 milligrams of caffeine per serving; that’s well north of coffee and into energy drink territory, and therein lies the problem.
I’m a fan of Mountain Dew as a soda; I even like the various flavor iterations that have cropped up over the last decade or so. But this isn’t Dew trying to broaden its flavor range; it’s Dew trying to invent a whole new beverage category—or pretending it’s doing something innovative when it’s really just giving us a veiled energy drink. And the great weakness of Kickstart is that an energy drink is exactly what it tastes like: it has almost no fruit juice flavor, a recognizable but diffused Mountain Dew flavor, and a whole lot of the harsh, chemical taste of energy drinks.
The orange juice—and even the more-familiar Mountain Dew “citrus” flavor—is flattened out by the strength of whatever lends Kickstart its kick, and what remains is a rather unpleasant muddle. It’s lacking the crispness of a normal carbonated soda. I tried my sample of Kickstart on a morning when I was mortally exhausted, and it definitely fulfilled the promise of waking me up and giving me an energy boost, but the flavor was a real let-down, and that made it hard to get through an entire 16-ounce serving. It’s hard to fault Dew for attempting a whole new take on breakfast drinks, but in the flavor department, they’ve lost everything that makes their regular product so appealing.