by Jim Ridley
In my experience, there are very few things that we want to taste like alcohol. At the top of the list: alcohol. Next on the list--honestly, I can't think of much else. Sure, it's nice to sneak a capful (or cupful) of Kahlua into a pecan pie, or to cook chicken in a bit of wine. Mostly, though, we want a gentle reminder of the alcohol flavor--a whisper of intoxication, not a drunk bellowing through a bullhorn and demanding to be recognized.
The brainchild of 22-year-old entrepreneur Cary Silverman, Pub-Corn is based on a dubious proposition: people want a snack food that tastes like whatever they drink to wash it down. The legend goes that Silverman, a student at the University of Missouri, saw some kids sneaking liquor into a movie theater. Voila! A dream was born: sacks of popcorn in various alcoholic flavors!
"Pub-Corn is a non-alcoholic way adults can enjoy their favorite beverages," says Silverman in the press material, positioning his product as a kind of popcorn methadone. "We developed Pub-Corn for fun-loving snackers looking for something delicious and out-of-the-ordinary."
Not to rain, or draft, on Silverman's inebriated parade, but there may be a slight misunderstanding here. Admittedly, I do not know the collegiate gourmands at the movie theater in question. They may very well have been craving the great taste of value-tub popcorn with the suave chill of Bailey's Irish Cream.
From my own college days, though, I would wager that a) the dudes did not particularly care about flavor; b) popcorn was the closest/cheapest thing at the concession counter; and c) taste was of secondary concern to getting so shit-faced you could horse-laugh through Schindler's List. Put it this way: Lots of college kids slip condoms into their wallets. That doesn't mean what they really want is a spermicide-scented wallet.
And yet here's Pub-Corn, at $2.50 per heat-sealed 10-ounce bag, to recapture the magic of the night we ate all that beer and popcorn and puked until dawn. "It tastes like beer after you've thrown it up," said the first of our tasters.
That's the first of Pub-Corn's problems: the flavor is inherently unnatural. Not only isn't popcorn supposed to taste like beer--let alone pina colada, a taste combo so dissonant it practically constitutes a psych experiment--beer isn't supposed to taste like a chemical additive applied to a cornfield from a cropdusting plane. It left a twangy, coppery aftertaste that ended only with swift intervention by a bag of Snyder's Jalapeno Pretzel Pieces.
It didn't help that the beer popcorn we received was dyed St. Patrick's Day green. And not a green found in nature, either. It's the green The Hulk would be if he'd resulted from a tragic tanning-bed mishap. Or the color of a leprechaun's suit, if the leprechaun were a Detroit pimp circa 1974.
The Irish Cream popcorn is darker still, but our tasters found it the most palatable of the three flavors. "It tastes like root beer!" said a supporter. "It tastes like Count Chocula," said a detractor. Regardless, it disappeared the fastest from the filing cabinet where Bites conducts its lab work. The cream-colored pina colada, with its faint taste of Coppertone, found the fewest takers.
And yet even that mismatched flavor couldn't suppress the sheer addictiveness of popcorn. "I can't help myself," moaned one commenter, his hand disappearing into the bag as if magnetized. "I haven't had lunch." Which means that Pub-Corn may have tapped into the fastest-growing niche market in our land: the desperate.
UPDATE: Want to try Pub-Corn? Become a Pub Crawler! You can receive free samples, a free mug and more. A new era in snacking awaits.