Depending on where and when you grew up, you might know it by a different name. Some call it swamp water. Some call it a graveyard. Some call it the suicide.
It’s the stuff of playground legend: a liter cup filled to the brim with every single soft drink available at a restaurant’s soda machine. For some reason, it’s just something that appeals to kids — even today.
As I hurtle toward the grave, I’ve transitioned away from soda (mostly) in exchange for sparkling water. But every time I see this meme, I get an urge to try the suicide again. Surely there’s a magic formula, some advanced soda-pop alchemy that unites the varieties of chemicals and sugar in a perfectly palatable concoction.
So, because I’d draw too much unwanted attention as a 30-year-old man standing in Burger King dumping sodas into gigantic cups, I reached out to Dean “The Mad Mixologist” Serneels — a swamp water aficionado himself.
It sounds simple in theory. Making a half-decent suicide is like mixing a cocktail, Serneels says. Only instead of sugar, spirits, water and bitters, you’re combining bitters, sugar water and… more sugar water. The trick is getting the balance right.
Cola vs. Lemon-Lime
Most sodas fit into two categories: dark colas, with their vanilla and caramel notes, and citrus-forward lemon-lime. There is, in fact, a delicious way to combine them.
Serneels often creates his own suicide sodas when he’s at the machine. One of his go-to recipes is to fill his glass “with a lemonade or a citrus of some sort, perhaps a little water to dilute the sugars in there, then top it with one of the other flavors, like a Cherry Coke. Now you’ve got a cherry lemonade with the effervescence of the cola.”
Basically, if you’re going for a suicide with more citrus, make a base of Sprite with lemonade, topped with a dark cola. If you’re going more for the sugar-sweet and caramel of a cola, use that as your base, topped with a splash of lemonade and some Sprite for added effervescence.
Serneels suggests “a 75 percent lemonade base with a bit of Coke on top.” Or, he says, “take a strawberry Tropicana with some Sprite for effervescence and lemon-lime flavor.”
Who Loves Orange Soda?
What happens when the machine throws you a curveball? Every fast food joint seems to have one unexpected offering: maybe orange soda, some Tropicana juice or the infamous Mountain Dew Baja Blast.
“Orange Crush would be great on top of Sprite, diet or otherwise, because you’ve got a little more sugar to kill off the sucralose flavor,” Serneel advises. Sucralose is a sugar substitute that “tends to overpower about every drink. Counterintuitively, the best way to hide the flavor of sucralose is to add sugar to it.
Root beer on top of lemonade could work as well, he says. “But I think the root beer connoisseur might not be the type to mix it with anything else. They’re like the scotch or bourbon drinker; they might just like an ice cube in it.”
Do the Dew
What to do with Mountain Dew? “It’s a flavor profile that’s hard to pin down,” says Serneel. “Its ingredients include concentrated orange juice and citric acid, so that’s lemon-lime and a bit of orange in there. And it’s bright, neon yellow. It’d complement any amount of lemonade in the mixture. It might be fine with a cola too — it’s that citrus-plus-cola, Long Island lemonade [taste] where the cola might balance out the lemon.”
In the end, “it’s all just sugar water, really,” he laughs. “Ultimately Mountain Dew would best as little splash of added citrus on top of a lemonade, which of course adds much more sugar.”
Advanced Swamp Water Mixing
For a new challenge, try layering sodas with different sugar densities, Serneel says. For example, Mountain Dew has more sugar than most other soft drinks, so it “might be better on the bottom… then add the Orange Crush, then Sprite on top of that, then Coke. It’d be tricky. Might not taste great, but it would look cool!” (Well, at least until the rising bubbles mixed it all together.)
It’s Party Time
Let’s cut to the chase. We’re all adults here. How do we add booze?
“Now, this is a whole new can of worms,” Serneels says.
People might think vodka “because people say you can hide vodka in anything. But in a swamp water? I think gin, depending on how much citrus you’ve got in there. I think gin could dance well with all the sweetness and citrus in there.”
Serneels says he’s perplexed. “There are so many flavors that we’ve added to the swamp water!” Still, he has a few ideas. “A really crisp white rum. You’ll still get the rum flavors, but it’d get a bit more lost in the swamp water. Same with a rye, because it’s not as sweet as bourbon but some great flavors and a bit more crisp.”
If you want to get really fancy, Serneels says, some angostura bitters “could really bring [out] some of the sweet caramel in butterscotch in cola while turning its bitterness out a bit more.”
At this point, you’re “pretty far away from an old fashioned,” he says. But when you’re knee-deep in swamp water, it’s worth a shot.