The question I’m asked most, in my capacity as a reporter, has nothing to do with college football, bagmen, or even if one particular school is cheating (yes, yes they are). It’s how much soda water people should pour into their coffee.
For the better part of four years I’ve been hit up at least once a week (more in the warm weather months) about the proper ratio of iced coffee to La Croix seltzer people should mix to create a “Pensacola,” a drink that became Internet famous after I made one in the Vox Media office in Washington, D.C., during a meeting about NFL coverage. The second most frequent question asked is when Pensacola season starts.
The answer to both questions is: whatever and whenever. Go with God and mix in some Malibu if you’re feeling froggy.
A “Pensacola” is any black iced coffee mixed with Coconut flavored La Croix, over ice. I “created” this “recipe” after falling in love with a hangover solution in Nashville called coffee soda. If you’re unfamiliar, coffee soda is a local culinary invention, like hot chicken, mainly used to spruce up menu staples at tourist traps.
I got hooked on coffee soda at a place called Pinewood Social, which as of this writing no longer lists the drink on its menu. Whether I was taking a source to lunch or meeting a coach during convention season, coffee soda was a way to off-ramp my hangovers with less acidity than the usual four to six cups of black coffee I normally drink in the morning. The added benefit of coffee soda was a healthy amount of simple syrup to “help” my blood sugar after a night of castigating my liver.
If you visit Nashville, you can find coffee soda on a lot of menus. It’s usually made from four or five different ingredients (coffee, club soda or seltzer, lemon or lime, some kind of sweetener). At home, I needed to simplify the process and remove the sugar, and in 2017 everyone was drinking LaCroix. And if you bought a variety pack of La Croix, you had a can of the Coconut flavor no one wanted to drink on its own.
The name “Pensacola” comes from my real, unironic love of Pensacola Beach, Fla. If you live in the SEC footprint, the place where you get sunburned two weeks a year is advertised on the back of your Lexus just as prominently as the Tide or Dawgs. Pensacola is a panhandle beach town sneered at by the ruling class of pudgy, well-heeled insurance dads in favor of sentient Vineyard Vines display ads like Seaside or Alys Beach. I love Pensacola. I love the oil rig workers and hairstylists from Oklahoma who vacation there, and I love that we run into absolutely no one from Ole Miss because LSU sidewalk alumni with neck tattoos and lit Winstons chased them to the actual set of “The Truman Show.” If that paints you a picture, that picture probably tastes like drinking sunscreen, which is the mouthfeel of a La Croix. And Pensacola has “cola” in its name. It just works.
There’s just one problem: I am now too Boujee for Penscaolas — the drink, not the town. I would so much rather scream hello at a Blue Angel than run into anyone from any pledge class anywhere, ever.
My Pensacola days are over. I can no longer stand the taste of La Croix, especially the coconut flavor. Maybe my palate changed because I’m getting older and drink far less alcohol. Maybe La Croix was just always trash and it took this long to accept the truth about something so popular, like U2 or Urban Meyer.
Or maybe, just maybe, I’ve learned not a damn thing and have simply put down the 30s white man trope of whiskey and beer snobbery, in favor of being as insufferable as possible about non-alcoholic beverages as I glide toward the grave in orthopedic shoes during a yoga class.
To that end, I have fallen head over heels in love with unflavored Topo Chico, and I’ve been cutting it with La Colombe cold brew (not the draft latte, the pure coffee). There’s no sweetener or flavoring involved, save for the occasional lemon slice or a dash of bitters. This is the Pensacola 2.0, except that in no way can it be called that, since you cannot actually find those ingredients in Pensacola Beach (I tried last October. Impossible.)
So, rather than answer your questions, I pose one to you, dear readers: What the hell is this fancy coffee drink called?