As I’ve mentioned before, I am highly suspicious of anything associated with the wellness industry, an oft-Barnumesque $4.2 trillion industry that’s slippery with snake oil, stinky from herbal supplements, and boisterous with fantastically deceptive claims. Unfortunately this means that I end up missing out on the occasional product with merit. I instinctively blew off adaptogens, an ultra-trendy class of herbs that have long been used in natural and traditional medicines and are now being marketed as “miracle cures” for stress, anxiety, immune disorders, endocrine issues, neurological problems... you name it, and some clever salesman already has it on their list.
Surprisingly, though, proponents of adaptogens have the receipts, and many of them taste pretty good, too, particularly in beverages where they can add a pleasant, “grown-up” twist of bitterness. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it’s time we start paying more attention to the wellness industry.
Free Rain’s line of adaptogen-enhanced sparkling waters comes in three flavors, and three “moods”: Tart Cherry & Siberian Ginseng (Energy), Blood Orange Ginger and Ashwaganda (Focus), and Blackberry Passionflower (Calm). I’m not entirely sure if any of them had any sort of medicinal effect on me, because even though each flavor delivered what it advertised, it’s quite easy to experience the placebo effect when the intended results are listed right on the front of the can. I could probably achieve the same sense of serenity if I wrapped a can of Coke in masking tape with the words “CALM YOUR ASS DOWN” scrawled in Sharpie. The only thing I cared about was whether or not Free Rain drinks taste good, and by golly, they do.
I would not describe Free Rain as the “sparkling water” it claims to be, but more like wine spritzers that are bursting with flavor yet light on the palate. Soft drinks are often consumed mindlessly after the initial thrill of the first few sips, but Free Rain makes you pay attention to every single drop with an engaging balance of bitter, tart, and sweet. The Focus blend has the feistiness of fresh ginger without the burn, backed up with a punch of orange that covers up the ashwaganda extract entirely. I’d describe it as a therapeutic Orangina—an energy drink for people who think sweetness should be subtle.
The Energy blend is not kidding about its tart cherry flavor, as it truly is mouth-puckering. Too tart for me, in fact; I had to cut mine 50/50 with seltzer. (I keep a wide, constantly rotating variety of flavored seltzers in my house at all times, and I’ve found that Free Rain mixes well with pretty much all of them.) However, my teenage son, who would eat Sour Patch Kids as cereal if I allowed it, loved it straight from the can. Also on the acidic side is Calm, which contains blackberry and lime juices along with extracts of passionflower and cinnamon. It’s about as tart as a glass of water with a fat wedge of fresh lemon, which is a level I’m comfortable with. I can’t tell if it made me calmer because of the adaptogens, or because I liked it enough to take a short pause after every sip. Either way, I’m a fan.
Free Rain costs about $3 a can, which is on par with similar natural energy drinks. But the reassurance that not all wellness products are complete and total bullshit? That’s priceless.