As someone who spent many childhood summers with family on Vancouver Island, I have a lot of life experience with blackberries. Ripe, freshly picked blackberries are spectacular, with sweet, sticky, jammy flavours that are utterly unlike the taste of the sad, hard, sour, underripe lumps that we get in plastic grocery store clamshells on this side of the Rocky Mountains. If you’ve lived in a tropical place and tasted a ripe mango plucked fresh from a tree, you’ll have a similar appreciation of how the Canadian supermarket version pales in comparison.
Because the blackberries we get in Alberta (and no doubt in much of the rest of the inside of the continent) just aren’t that great, it’s no wonder there’s been no rush to adopt blackberry as a mass-market food flavour.
This scarcity of blackberry-infused items makes each one that exists that much more interesting to someone like me, who loves the flavour and pines for the berries of my coastal youth. As such, when I find a blackberry product, I almost instinctively buy it. Many years ago, when the Clearly Canadian line of nouveau-pop landed in Alberta convenience stores, they had a wonderful blackberry flavour that I bought when I could find it. (It’s back, by the way. But that’s a topic for another day.) But other blackberry products are few and far between.
Something fizzy this way comes
As much as I’ve been aware of the trend toward flavoured, unsweetened sparking waters like LaCroix and Bubly, I hadn’t tried many of them because none had particularly piqued my interest. I get the allure of a cold, refreshing alternative to sugary pop or diet soda, but the flavours were nothing to write home about. Lemon? Perrier’s been on that for years. Strawberry? That sounds like a tricky flavour to pull off, given that even the real imported strawberries we buy in Alberta during most of the year hardly taste like strawberries anymore.
But then Bubly launched a blackberry flavour, and I suddenly had a reason to take the plunge. And brother/sister/non-gendered-sibling, let me tell you: I’m sold.
Berry, berry good
The trick to making a good unsweetened sparkling water is that you have to find a flavour that can stand on its own without needing the sweetness to taste both fruity and, for lack of a better term, non-chemical. This is no doubt why lemon and lime are such common flavours in unsweetened water — they’re naturally sour, not sweet, so they taste right even without any additional sweetness added. Even other citrus flavours like orange are harder to pull off, as they’re more closely associated with their sweetness than with their tartness. Without the sweetness, even water flavoured with natural fruit essences tends to taste like an artificial imitation. If the sweetness is an intrinsic part of the taste, it will taste fake without it, no matter how real the essence.
Somehow, blackberry finds a way to make this work. It has enough of a distinctive fruit flavour beyond sweetness that even without the sugar, it still tastes great. The blackberry flavour in Bubly is surprisingly fruit-accurate — it’s like you can taste the mouthful of seeds without getting any stuck in your teeth. The neutral lack of sweetness works perfectly, probably because it isn’t sour, either. Too many blackberries you find in Alberta are way too tart, having been picked before they hit the magic ripeness window. It’s not a fake or cloying taste, which makes it refreshing without being palate-exhausting.
Overall, I’m excited to see that someone is taking a risk on blackberry as a flavour, and I hope other companies start thinking of it as a taste that can have a broader appeal if people get to know it.
Price: $3.99 for a 12-pack of 355 mL cans at Safeway in Edmonton (on sale).
Value for Money: Fine. In the same ballpark as pop, which is the relevant point of comparison.
Calories: Zero calories per can. It’s unsweetened water with a flavouring essence added.
Verdict: I love it. Self-isolate yourself with a case of it today.