Booze | July 26, 2021 6:11 am

Review: Is the Revamped Coca-Cola Zero Sugar Any Good in Cocktails?

We compared it to the old formula — both alone and paired with whiskey, rum and tequila

A glass and a can of new Coca-Cola Zero Sugar on a table
Coca-Cola Zero Sugar has a new taste. Most importantly, does it work in cocktails?

What we’re drinking: Coca-Cola Zero Sugar, a reformulated take on the iconic brand’s zero-sugar, zero-calorie soda. 

Wait, isn’t this a place where you normally review booze? Usually, but sometimes we go booze adjacent. Also, we’ve written about Coke products as mixers before, so for this review, we’re not only going to examine this reformulated zero-sugar Coke, we’re also going to try it as a mixer with whiskey, tequila and rum.

Why we’re drinking this: The history of Coke changing its formula is not a good one — “New Coke” being considered one of the biggest marketing fiascos in history.

Emily Ratajkowski drinking the new Coca-Cola Zero Sugar
Coke is using Emily Ratajkowski as a spokesperson for the new Zero Sugar.

And as one InsideHook editor recently opined, “I hope they fuck up the new Coke Zero so badly it becomes undrinkable, freeing me from the oppressive yet seductive normalcy of being a Coke Zero drinker so I can return to downing Diet Coke and hating myself, as god and nature intended.”

Still, Coca-Cola Zero Sugar already went through a reformulation in 2017 and barely anyone noticed. I was curious if the company was really going to make a big change a few years later — particularly because there are massive fans of CZ out there, including myself. My two-person household goes through several two-liter bottles per week, but, annoyingly, Coke Zero products are really difficult to find in Brooklyn. For a while (and sadly as no joke), I was basing weekly shopping trips and supermarket/bodega choices on the likelihood that they’d have my soda in stock.

So, let’s test this out, against the old formula and also as a mixer for three basic drinks.

tasting glasses and bottles of new vs. old Coca-Cola Zero Sugar
Taste testing the new Coca-Cola Zero Sugar (on left) vs. the old one (on right)
Kirk Miller

How it tastes: There are differences between old and new Coke Zero. Tasting them sans ice after one hour in the fridge, the old version had a bit more of a chemical tang to it, both on the nose and palette. The new version, a bit less astrigent to start, actually veered a little more toward Diet Coke in the mouth. I also found it had a slightly thinner mouthfeel. On ice, the two converged a bit more, and the cola nut, cinnamon and vanilla notes were modestly present.

Overall? If you liked the old version, you may not love the new one as much … but if no one told you it had changed, you might not notice. And Diet Coke fans might have a reason to switch (mainly because Diet Coke is dreadful). 

The new version made me more excited for cocktails, however — that slightly drier mouthfeel suggested that the mixed drinks might not be overwhelmed by artificial sweetness. 

  • Whiskey & Coca-Cola Zero Sugar: Since I find a regular Jack and Coke way too sweet, I went with a Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Special Release 2020 Barrel Proof Rye (65.4% ABV). That was a mistake: the power and kick of the rye actually needs something much sweeter to counterbalance. Don’t drink this. Switching to Wild Turkey 101, I was left with a pleasantly sweet drink where the cola nut elements dominated and the alcohol kind of … disappeared. Good, albeit dangerous.

  • Tequila & Coca-Cola Zero Sugar: I thought the subtle vanilla notes of Siempre’s excellent reposado tequila would bring out similar notes in my twist on a batanga (here with Coke Zero, fresh lime juice, salt and tequila). I was slightly correct, but the lime took center stage here — oddly, it was like drinking a key lime pie. Not bad, but I would use a blanco if I were to make it again.

  • Rum & Coca-Cola Zero Sugar: Nothing fancy here, just Bacardi Añejo Quatro and the cola. If you’ve had a dive bar’s rum and cola (from a gun), this is a pretty good approximation. If anything, the sweetness profile of the Zero may overwhelm the rum’s flavor.

Overall? The new Coca-Cola Zero Sugar won’t cause the mass protests of New Coke. And while it won’t improve your booze, it’s adequate as a mixer, but maybe just for your cheap bottles (where it’ll serve more as a masking agent).

Fun fact: It almost goes without saying that regular Coca-Cola is a better choice for boozy drinks (or even something more artisanal like Fever-Tree Distillers Cola). And while most people would go further and suggest Mexican Coke — which arrives in a bottle and features sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup — is truly the best cola mixer, the Food Lab at Serious Eats suggests that we may secretly prefer the American version of Coke.

Where to buy it: You’ll probably still see the old Coke Zero Sugar in stores if you go out now, but look for cans and bottles with black typeface on a red background if you want to try the new version.