Once upon a time, Hershey's Kisses were pure. They were simply milk chocolate, shaped sort of like a big chocolate chip, and wrapped in foil. Your grandparents didn't fear them, because they'd been around since 1907. (The candies, not necessarily your grandparents.) But a good thing is never enough for greedy candy companies these days, and they continue to bastardize your childhood favorites in order to expand the brand and lure in the youth market. (See Snickers Charged, etc., etc.)
But here's the thing about most varieties of Hershey's Kisses: They aren't all that different. They're just strange enough to pique curiosity (and satisfy a variety of taste buds), but not strange enough to drive away the neighbors. Some of you—those who dare us to try Pork Brains In Milk Gravy on a weekly basis—won't find this week's Taste Test nearly extreme enough. But sometimes we have to inform you about foodstuffs you might actually want to eat, and the holiday season tends to bring those out. Thus: Cherry Cordial Crème, Candy Cane, Hot Cocoa Crème, Raspberry Special Dark, and Mint Truffle Kisses.
To keep things exciting, though, I asked some of our Taste Testers to sip some Candy Cane-flavored Jones Soda afterward. Jones, as some of you may know, has been known to make ridiculously disgusting holiday flavors in the past—basically joke gift packs, with flavors like ham, turkey, and Brussels sprouts. This year, the only new Jones holiday flavors we knew of besides Candy Cane were Mele Kalikimaka (a coconut-pineapple blend) and Pear Tree—which I couldn't find in any stores. Alas. Maybe next year they'll be back with Broccoli Casserole. (Though they are still selling the Hanukkah Pack of sodas we taste-tested last year.)
The taste: Let's start with the Jones Soda, which is more notable for its color than its taste, to be honest. It's a super-hot pink, achieved with Red 40, that looks like Pepto-Bismol or poison. Small children will be enthralled. As for the taste… Lots of Jones flavors are insanely sweet—I'm a fan of cream soda, and theirs is ridiculous—but Candy Cane takes the sugary cake, so to speak. A bottle of this stuff has 47g of sugar, as compared to Coke's 39g. Take a sip in the mirror and watch your face screw up in sugar-induced agony. (Then try letting a candy cane-flavored Kiss do battle with it in your mouth—that's sorta fun.) Remarkably, though, the soda tastes pretty much exactly like real candy canes, except cold and in liquid form.
And on to the Kisses: It's best to let the numbers do the talking. Five bags of Kisses were left in a public, high-traffic area (a.k.a. Tasha's desk), and the Mint Truffle bag, which was larger than all the other bags, was gone quicker than all of the others. The clear loser was Candy Cane, which was nearly full after sitting out in the open for three weeks. And I'll tell you why: that flavor is the least like a Hershey's Kiss. It's bad white chocolate with candy-cane-flavored jimmies mixed in, and a red stripe running through it. It looks and tastes like a Grandma candy, and all kids know that Grandma candies are lousy. (You'll still eat them, but you won't enjoy them.)
By and large, though, the rest of the flavors were hits. Raspberry Special Dark found the fewest fans (the biggest complaint: all artificial raspberry flavor tastes like medicine), but the dark chocolate made up for it. The Mint Truffle, also made with dark chocolate, was the best. It should be noted, too, that Mint Truffle and Cherry Cordial are "truffles," meaning they violate the solid-throughout rule of the standard Hershey's Kiss. They have goo in the middle, basically. Strangely, the Hot Cocoa Crème variety also has goo in the middle, but it's a much more solid goo.
Sadly, none of these flavors really knocked the balls off our ass. They're all pretty decent, but not shocking in any way, and not necessarily superior to a plain ol' Hershey's Kiss, which is such a classic that it was honored with a U.S. postage stamp last year. Can you believe that shit?
Jones Candy Cane Soda
— "Looks like mouthwash, smells like mouthwash, tastes like really sweet mouthwash. But it's unquestionably candy-cane flavored. It's like Candy Cane Ultra."
—"I would never drink this as a beverage, since I like my teeth, but from a sheer chemistry standpoint, I have to give Jones Soda kudos for coming closer to the flavor mark than ever."
— "Tastes like a thousand candy canes boiled down and distilled. The sugar rush from a whole bottle of this would make your feet explode and rocket you to the moon."
— "The color and flavor are strongly Bismol-esque. I feel like this is what I should drink to settle my stomach after drinking this. It's a vicious cycle."
— "Well, it looks like neon-pink lemonade, and it tastes half as exciting. It's just like flat soda that somehow still has a lot of bite in it. For me, it's just pure carbonated bland."
— "Smells and tastes like mouthwash. Not much more to say. I'd rather eat another one of those dried crickets."
— "This tastes like the shitty 'flavored' fluoride you get at the dentist's office, and its eye-searing color is really disconcerting. The glow it creates in my paper cup is like an orange version of the briefcase in Pulp Fiction."
Hershey's Kisses Raspberry Special Dark
— "Man, how can you possibly go wrong with dark chocolate and raspberry flavoring? Maybe by making a candy that doesn't really taste like either one. These taste like a chemical approximation of both, made by someone who's never had chocolate or raspberries. They're the test-tube babies of Hershey's Kisses."
— "I know we say this a lot, but, this really tastes like cough syrup. Only this is tarter and a little grittier."
— "This is the blackest Hershey's I've ever seen, and it tastes likecoughsyrup."
— "Smells faintly floral… Tastes a little like a guest soap."
— "I hated these the first time around, though I hated them less the second go-round. Still, they have a disconcerting aftertaste that discourages eating more than one. Yeah, the longer the remnants stay in my mouth, the nastier it becomes. When will chocolatiers do raspberry right? Is it impossible?"
Hershey's Kisses Mint Truffle
— "These are pretty terrific. They have the usual problem of Hershey's Kisses—the chocolate is kind of cheap, and it seems even cheaper in these, since it isn't just a lump of chocolate, it's a shaped candy shell. But it's a shell around a delicious, mild, minty cream filling. One of the best experiments Hershey's has tried with Kisses."
— "Does all mint chocolate taste like Andes mints, or does it all just kind of taste the same? These are the best regardless."
— "I thought I ate the whole bag myself, but I guess I had some help."
Hershey's Kisses Candy Cane
— "White chocolate is basically wax. These taste like wax with grit in them."
— "This is really thick, plus it has little crunchy bits of candy cane-like things, I guess? It's not entirely pleasant."
— "Tastes like eggnog/Christmas."
— "Looks like a Christmas candle. Tastes fine, but the candy-cane-grit is kind of a turnoff, and the fragments tend to disperse in the mouth while eating. For minutes afterward, I was feeling pieces of candy cane under my tongue, trapped between teeth, scraping against my gums… It's the gift that keeps on giving."
— "People were hating on this, but it just tastes like peppermint bark. And Hershey's chocolate is so crappy that its white chocolate isn't that offensive."
Hershey's Kisses Cherry Cordial Crème
— "Same cheap-chocolate-shell problem, but here the filling is more syrupy and more blah. Sort of a cheap Chinese-made knockoff of the fancy cherry cordial. Not terrible, but not worth the tooth decay either."
— "Even more cough syrup-y than the raspberry. Was this made by Robitussin?"
— "Tastes like a Gusher's, and it hurts my teeth."
— "The melty center was something of a surprise. Hershey's Kisses shouldn't ooze."
— "Kinda runny, but not bad. The fruit approximation is more accurate than the raspberry. But it could quickly get nasty."
— "Tastes just like a cherry cordial, but without the little cherry snap in the center. Save calories by not chewing!"
Hershey's Kisses Hot Cocoa Crème
— "Wow, these taste exactly like hot cocoa made with milk. They're really creamy. Or crème-y. Whatever."
— "I think milk chocolate is pretty bland, so I'm not a fan of these, since they're like extra-milky milk chocolate, but I'm sure there are people out there who'd consider these heaven. And they're impressively close to the mark taste-wise."
— "Tasty. They should make marshmallow and graham-cracker Kisses for some hot S'mores action."
— "Like a fresh-baked loaf of bread, I shit you not."
— "Not bad, but chocolate-flavored chocolate shouldn't be that hard to pull off."
Where to get them: The Kisses are readily available at grocery stores and the like; the Jones soda can be ordered at jonessoda.com, which also has a store locator for local purchases.