Taste Test: Meat Combos and Pomegranate-Raspberry Michelob
Due to popular demand and the fact that we love trying weird foods and candies, The A.V. Club will now regularly feature "Taste Tests." Feel free to suggest disgusting and/or delicious new edibles for future installments: E-mail us at email@example.com.
Combos Cheeseburger Cracker and Bacon, Egg & Cheese Cracker flavors
Michelob Ultra Pomegranate-Raspberry flavor
The packaging on Combos bills them as "the perfect hunger management snack," a declaration that's about 90 percent totally ridiculous and 10 percent maybe not completely ridiculous. The crunchy treat's claim to fame—and what's earned it the right to be called "The cheese-filled snack of NASCAR"—is that it's two that's right, two snacks in one, cracker AND cheese, pretzel AND cheese, nacho AND cheese, and so on down the snacking spectrum. Logic holds that two snack entities, combined in a convenient tubular package, would more efficiently manage hunger than a cracker, pretzel, or chip could on its own. Therefore, the next logical step dictates that tubing up a whole freaking meal would manage the shit outta that hunger. Hence, meal-replacement Combos.
For breakfast: Bacon, Egg & Cheese Cracker Combos. For lunch: Cheeseburger Cracker Combos. For dinner: Prime Rib & Mashed Potato Cracker Combos. Okay, so that last one isn't for real—yet—but the good people at Combos have indeed heard the nation's fervent pleas for breakfast- and lunch-sandwich substitutes, and replied the best way they know how: in cracker form. Now we can manage our hunger in convenient, bite-sized doses of cracker and "creamy filling"—because surely there is no better way to ingest the flavors of cheeseburger, bacon, and eggs than in creamed form.
Bonus level: Because there's no combination more 'Merican than salty snacks and beer, we decided to double up these bastardized tube-meals with the un-beery-est beer we could lay our hands on, Michelob Ultra's new fruit-infused flavors. The already-pretty-sissy low-carb beer has been tarted up in three new flavors tailored for the Whole Foods crowd: pomegranate-raspberry, Tuscan orange-grapefruit, and lime-cactus. So chi-chi are these flavors that they merit their own food pairings, as suggested by the beers' press release. Pomegranate-raspberry apparently should be served with "marinated pork and vegetables," which is essentially a cheeseburger, right? Therefore, we went with that. (Also, it was the only flavor we could find at our local booze emporium. Too bad, as the orange-grapefruit variety is just screaming to be paired with Bacon, Egg & Cheese Combos—breakfast beer plus breakfast Combos equals a great way to start the day.)
Taste: Both the Combos flavors tasted, on first bite, like all the cracker-based Combo varieties taste, like an über-buttery cracker. But oh, the horrors lurking within. The creamy cheeseburger filling (thankfully, we think) tasted nothing like beef, forgoing the "burger" part in favor of a hint of "cheese-like-product" and an overwhelming taste of ketchup, onion, and pickles. "Cheeseburger condiments" would be a more accurate description of the flavor profile, as would "Ugh, oh God, why??" Imagine peeling the soggy top bun off of an hours-old White Castle slider and licking off the slimy, unnaturally sweet sludge that sticks to it, and you aren't far off the mark. The cracker part was okay, though.
However, the Cheeseburger flavor might as well have been a Wagyu-beef burger topped with foie gras when compared to the Bacon, Egg & Cheese variety, which most tasters agreed was infinitely more awful. (Though a couple of holdouts seemed to prefer it to the cheeseburger variety.) Tasters varied on how much they could taste the egg component, but those who could taste it agreed that it was supremely unpleasant, a rotten-egg flavor that lingers resolutely. The bacon element comes mainly from a strong liquid-smoke-like smell that permeates the rest of the flavors. Once again, the cracker part was okay.
We used the beer mainly as a palate cleanser between Combos, which proved to be not nearly as asinine as it sounds, being that it doesn't taste like much at all. Michelob Ultra is already an extremely light-tasting beer, and the fruit infusion counterbalances whatever beery-ness is left to the point that any flavor is pretty much cancelled out. There are whiffs of generic berry-ness and what one taster described as "essence of beer," but they disappeared almost immediately.
Cheeseburger Cracker Combos
· "Oh my God, it tastes like a cheeseburger!"
· "Actually, it only tastes like fixins."
· "It's eerily accurate."
· "It has the taste of a McDonald's cheeseburger, but not the texture."
· "It's Cheeseburger In A Can in a cracker shell."
· "I really can't fathom eating this."
· "It taste like over-ketchupped burgers."
· "There's a really strong taste of cheap, sweet ketchup."
· "I would not press charges if the Hamburglar stole these from me."
· "Really gross. There's no burger taste; they should market this flavor as 'burger condiments.'"
· "They managed to cram a lot of flavors into a bite-sized Combo. Cheese obviously, but also ketchup, mustard, pickle, and a dusting of onion powder too. It's true to its name, at least."
· "A lot like the Cheeseburger In A Can fiasco. Even if you like cheeseburgers, the memory of this might put you off Burger King for a month."
· "The onion aroma starts strong, but then it's cheesy like a regular Combo. However, the aftertaste is harsh, with the sour ketchup and pungent mustard coming through. Mercifully, it's not meaty at all."
· "If I wanted to eat a bag full of pickles and mustard, I would. It would probably be cheaper and have fewer calories."
Bacon, Egg & Cheese Cracker Combos
· "As long as NASCAR still endorses it, I'm totally cool with it."
· "Oh, it smells really bacon-y."
· "It's just not right."
· "I just swallowed a kibble-and-bit."
· "They look exactly like dog treats and smell like them too."
· "It tastes like stinky farts."
· "I'd eat an entire bag of the cheeseburger ones before eating two more of these."
· "They smell like liquid smoke and rotten eggs, and that's about what they taste like."
· "Oh God, there's an egg aftertaste lingering! Oh God!"
· "This doesn't bother me at all. It just tastes like a light smokiness—I don't get egg or cheese from it at all."
· "First whiff is reminiscent of a gas-station lavatory. Bad start for any food product."
· "Artificial bacon and cheese aromas are very strong, but in the first few seconds, the flavor is not much different than a regular Combo. Just cheese and enough smokiness to suggest bacon. As you chew and start to taste the soft center of the Combo, the flavor of egg comes through in by way of a hint of sulfur. Taken separately, none of the flavors are deal-breakers, but together, they add up to something that I imagine coming out of my dog's butt."
· "They're darker in color than the cheeseburger ones. Another poop reference?"
· "Taste like crunchy smoke. What's wrong with the good old nacho cheese pretzel Combos? Change is rough."
Michelob Ultra Pomegranate-Raspberry
· "It just tastes like juice with foam."
· "You taste the pomegranate first, then it just goes to very light beer."
· "It's a little like if you poured a very small amount of sparkling juice into beer."
· "It's like fermented raspberry juice."
· "At least it gets the taste of the Combos out."
· "I don't taste pomegranate per se. It just tastes generically fruity. You could tell me this was cherry- or grape-flavored Michelob Ultra and I'd probably believe it."
· "It's not reminiscent of any actually fruit. It's reminiscent of nothing."
· "Tastes like carbonated cough syrup. I imagine the marketing campaign would best be geared to Trixies who want to get drunk on flower petals."
· "A very light brew to begin with, so it fails to provide much of any beer trademarks. Also noticeably low alcohol content, which I suppose is a bad thing." [Note: Alcohol content is 4.2 percent.]
· "The fruit flavor is extremely subtle. I can see it developing over the course of drinking a bottle into something recognizable, but in the sips I took, I couldn't tell what the fruits were."
· "Somebody took a really weak beer, mixed it with flavored water, added more water, and bottled it up. Weak on all levels."
· "Michelob Ultra is so light already, it's like essence of beer. This is like essence of beer plus essence of fruit. I'll drink it if it's sitting around, but I wouldn't order it."
Where to get them: We got the Combos at 7-Eleven, and the beer at Binny's Beverage Depot here in Chicago, though they're all pretty widely available. Check your local supermarket.