Japanese Kit Kat Bars: Part I – Sake

I have mentioned my buddy Rob in this blog more than once, as Rob has been my traveling companion to Mayberry Days for the past four years. Rob and his lovely wife, Julie, lived in Japan for over a year early in their marriage when their two boys were still young. They gifted the boys and their spouses with a return trip to Japan for Christmas. I was lucky enough to receive quite a collection of Japanese Kit Kat bars upon their return.

You may be wondering, “Kit Kat bars?” Actually, uniquely-flavored Kit Kats are quite the thing in Japan. As in more than 300 available flavors! Not all the flavors are all always available since many are limited editions, but my understanding is that 200 or so are permanent flavors. Rob and Julie brought me back quite an assortment.

Nestlé began introducing the new flavors in Japan beginning in 2000 with the idea initially being to appeal to young buyers. The bars are sometimes designated as connected to particular cities and are often bought as gifts to wish someone good luck. This custom arose because “Kit Kat” is similar to the Japanese phrase “Kitto Katsu” which means “surely win” as in “you shall surely win.”

Nestlé has also introduced five flavors in the U.K. in addition to the regular milk chocolate candy bar: Kit Kat Orange, Kit Kat Dark, Kit Kat Mint, Kit Kat White, and Kit Kat Cookies & Cream.

First, at least some of these are also available now in the United States. I have had Kit Kat Dark before, which is the same as the regular candy bar but covered in dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate. I am also fairly sure I have seen Kit Kats covered in white chocolate as well. I have read that two other new flavors were introduced in just the last few weeks though I have yet to see them: Lemon Crisp and Raspberry Creme.

Kit Kat has recently introduced at least a couple of other new flavors here in the United States. Around Christmas, I bought a bag of Sweet Cinnamon Kit Kats. They were only available in miniature-size bars individually wrapped but were quite good.

Kit Kats are also available in full-size bars called Mint + Dark Chocolate (though I have only been able to find them in packs with two full bars per package).

Here, the mint créme favor is in the top layer as is obvious from looking at the candy. Again, these are also quite tasty. Think of it as a giant Andes chocolate with a wafer interior. My assumption is these are the same as the Kit Kat Mint sold in the U.K.

Since Rob and I are also both bourbon aficionados, it seems appropriate that the first Japanese flavor I will feature is Sake. The Japanese alcohol sake is made from the fermentation of rice. I have actually never had it but the candy bar unquestionably had a distinct alcohol taste.

Sake itself is not nearly as high in alcohol content as American whiskeys but I was surprised to learn that these Kit Kat bars actually have a slight alcohol content. Most foods or candies made with alcoholic beverages have zero alcohol in the finished product as the alcohol burns off. Here, the sake is blended with white chocolate, resulting in candy with 0.8% alcohol content. Granted, that is just one and a half proof, but the candy is actually not recommended for minors or for those with low alcohol tolerance.

Announcing The Andy Griffith Show Ambassadors Program

I do not usually say this, but be sure to read all the way through to the end of this post!

Under my earlier Big Plans for 2020 post when I discussed plans to continue spreading the Mayberry spirit this year, I wrote “one of the projects…will involve a subscription to a hardcopy-newsletter filled with Mayberry fun. The newsletter will actually just be one aspect of this new venture which will have a separate name though it will be sponsored by Liberty Grove Press.”

The name of that project is The Andy Griffith Show Ambassadors Program.

The Andy Griffith Show Ambassadors Program logo.

Members will receive what I earlier described as a newsletter which will actually have more the appearance of a small format magazine similar to Nostalgia Digest though certainly shorter. Filled with Mayberry information and advance word on Liberty Grove Press publications, it will be published three times per year and is included for Ambassadors with their yearly dues. But as I said, that is just one aspect of this new program that I am starting in celebration of this being the 60th anniversary of the debut of The Andy Griffith Show.

The Andy Griffith Show Ambassadors Program official seal.

If you just want to be an unofficial ambassador, simply “like” our new Facebook page here. This is a curated Facebook page where posts have to be approved by me, but I will provide periodic history posts there just as I have done on other Facebook groups and pages.

But for those willing to make the small investment of $10 (though I would still appreciate a “like” on our page), before the first magazine issue is delivered, Ambassadors will receive a beautiful certificate suitable for framing designating them as an ambassador of the show and the values it promotes. Liberty Grove Press will also gradually be rolling out exclusive merchandise that will only be available to ambassadors in good standing. And there will also be a surprise or two more along the way…

All of this is available for just $10 during 2020. But I have even better news.

The pilot episode for the series, “Danny Meets Andy Griffith,” first aired 60 years ago today (February 15, 1960). There were later 249 episodes of The Andy Griffith Show series filmed. That’s 250 episodes of Mayberry goodness. So the first 250 people who email me their name and physical mailing address (street or P.O. Box) will get all of the above for free for the first year!

I will review the emails as soon as possible and will be sure to accept them in the order sent. When I get to person #251 and afterward, I will email to let them know they did not make the cutoff though they can, of course, still join for just $10. (And for future reference, those instructions will always be available on the pinned post at the top of our The Andy Griffith Show Ambassadors Program Facebook page.)

So what are you waiting for? Email me the needed information at turnersgrade@gmail.com so I can add you to the roll of official Ambassadors of The Andy Griffith Show!

Bourbon Gummy Bears!

I received a novel present from my youngest daughter’s in-laws for Christmas and certainly one I had never heard of: Gummy bears flavored with bourbon!

Initially, I got a chuckle out of the gift, but when I later actually read the label—well, I was horrified. The ingredients are the same as most any gummy bear, I am sure, other than the bourbon flavoring. I assumed some type of a bourbon-flavored extract had been used. And certainly, if actual bourbon was used, it would just say “bourbon.” While I am a proponent of using a higher-shelf bourbon even when mixing it to make a cocktail, when it comes to cooking, we always use the less expensive, lower shelf bourbons. After all, the alcohol itself cooks off and all you are really adding is a bourbon flavor that will be just one part of the final taste profile of a recipe.

But these gummy bears? They were flavored with Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon! This is one of my favorite bourbons. It is made at Buffalo Trace in Frankfort, Kentucky and is most definitely a high-end bourbon. It is aged between six to eight years in the only metal rickhouse (warehouse) that Buffalo Trace uses. In the United States, Blanton’s runs around $55-$65 a bottle and can sometimes be hard to find. Blanton’s was the first modern whiskey to be marketed as a single barrel bourbon, meaning the contents of each bottle came from a single barrel and were not married together with bourbon from other barrels (which is how most bourbons are made).

Even more surprising to me is that the Blanton’s was used when these gummy bears were made in Germany. There are actually other styles of Blanton’s that can only be sold outside the United States due to licensing agreements, but these bottles run in the hundreds of dollars price range. Even the Blanton’s sold in the United States would be far more expensive to purchase in Germany.

So you can see why I was shocked that such a fine quality bourbon was used –overseas no less–to flavor a candy where the alcohol is completely burned off anyway in the cooking process. That being said, these are not only a fun treat but quite a conversation piece.

Famous Soda Pops I Have Known, Vol. XI: Blenheim Ginger Ale

Blenheim is a brand strongly connected to the Carolinas that has been in operation for more than a century. The soda is made with mineral water that was inadvertently discovered in the 18th Century, or so the legend goes. In 1781, James Spears, a Whig, was being chased by a group of Torys. When fleeing, he lost a shoe when he ran through a water hole. After eluding his pursuers, Spears came back looking for his shoe. When he found it, he tasted the water and discovered it had strong mineral content. News spread of his discovery and people began coming to the area, believing the mineral water to have a beneficial health effect.

In the late 1800s, Dr. C.R. May was one of many physicians who advised patients with stomach issues to drink the mineral water. When they complained of the strong, iron-like taste, the doctor added Jamaican ginger flavoring to make it more pleasant.

In 1903, Dr. May and A.J. Matheson formed the Blenheim Bottling Company right next to the spring and began bottling what is now sometimes called Blenheim Original Extra Pale Ginger Ale, a soda that was also sweetened in addition to the ginger component. The bottling company is now owned by the family who also owns the South of the Border tourist complex in South Carolina just south of the border with North Carolina.

The original spring still exists in Blenheim, South Carolina if one wants to taste the water unflavored.

Over the decades, Blenheim had developed several ginger ales with varying degrees of spiciness. There are currently three that are available. The bottle cap colors are used to distinguish the spiciness.

The gold cap indicates the mildest of the company’s ginger ales. They call it their “#5 Not as Hot.” The #5 is what was originally (and still sometimes is) called their Original Extra Pale. It has quite a ginger bite compared to many other ginger ales sold commercially, enough that most would be more than satisfied with the level of spiciness.

The red cap (Old #3 Hot) is—well, hot! Way too much ginger for my taste, but if you want to clear your sinuses, this is the one for you. I can pretty much guarantee you could only slowly sip this blazing-hot soda. The #3 has become the best-selling style.

The white cap (#9 Diet) is their sugar-free version. Some people claim it to be the best diet drink on the market because the off-taste of artificial sweeteners is hidden by the predominant ginger flavor. 

The glass bottles are beautifully designed and showcase the color variations in the actual liquids in the different types of Blenheim Ginger Ale. The company only sells their ginger ale in these 12-ounce glass bottles. They never package them in plastic or cans.

Big Plans for 2020

I have neglected to post in this blog for longer than I had planned. I originally thought just to take some time off for the holidays, and here it is February, two months later!

This wasn’t just because of general neglect, though. I have been working hard on new projects, some of which are related to Liberty Grove Press while technically their own entities.

• A new venture will give a select few the opportunity to spend real quality time with a Mayberry cast member!

• I know that maintaining a blog is not the “in” thing right now. Young people will tell you that nobody does blogs anymore. Social media is all Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Well, in for a penny, in for a pound. I will be releasing details soon, but one of the projects takes an even further step backward and will involve a subscription to a hardcopy-newsletter filled with Mayberry fun. The newsletter will actually be only one aspect of this new venture which will have a separate name though it will be sponsored by Liberty Grove Press.

• New publications are being worked on for this year but I am not the only author working on one of them…

• I will announce some big news about one of my presentations on aspects of The Andy Griffith Show.

• I will be announcing certain magazines you should be sure to check out later in the year.

How is that for being cryptic? I will be making announcements about two of these new opportunities for Mayberry fans relatively soon. If you are already on my email list for either my Facebook and blog history posts notices (sent from turnersgrade@gmail.com) or my email list for Liberty Grove Press (sent from randy@mayberrybooks.com), then you will be the first to receive word of the new projects, though I will later announce them on Facebook and the Liberty Grove website. If you are not on either email list, you can sign up by simply emailing me a message and asking to be added to the list.

While supplies last!

2020 marks the 60th anniversary of the debut of The Andy Griffith Show. I have been putting in overtime to make sure Liberty Grove Press does its part to spread the Mayberry spirit during this banner year!

Finally, a note that the 2020 Mayberry Day-by-Day desktop calendar is on sale while supplies last and that there are less than 10 first edition copies of Mayberry Firsts available. I will print a second edition later, but if you did not buy the book already and want a first edition, time is limited.

If you are into first editions, please know that I have less than 10 copies of my book left. I will reprint Mayberry Firsts as a second edition eventually, but the book will be unavailable for a while.

Mayberry Meet-Up 2019: Part III

I did not take as many photos as I should have during the Mayberry Meet-Up as my phone battery was low and my car charger needed to be replaced, so I will share some taken and posted on Facebook by my friend, Mona Cooper.

The second evening of the Meet-Up, a tribute artist contest was held. This was the first year this was done and there was a lot of great and entertaining participation.

One of the more ingenious was Maddy Fitzwater as Sarah the telephone operator leading her husband, Nick, who was dressed as Mr. McBeevee, around by a telephone line. Maddy even had the phone numbers provided on the show on a portable switchboard she had to connect the calls. 

Juanita and Mr. McBeevee. By the way, that is Terry Varvel on the far left who is the Barney Fife tribute artist at Mayberry events and Allan Newsome holding the microphone who plays Floyd the barber. Photo by Mona Cooper.

Eventually the field was narrowed down to a few finalists, including those portraying in the photo (left to right): Ellie Walker, Lydia Crosswaithe, The Keeper of the Golden Door of Good Fellowship, Asa Breeney (moldy bullets, a gun that fell apart, and a ball of tin foil included!), Rafe Hollister, and Clarence Earp. Mike Creech who was dressed as Clarence was the winner. 

Photo by Mona Cooper.

Of course, a highlight for me was getting to see my buddy Sarah, also known as Miss Mayberry.

Every year, Steve Jackson arranges a raffle to raise money to support Allan’s podcast. This year, he asked if I would be willing to donate a copy of my book, Mayberry Firsts. The book was still at the printer while I was there, so we auctioned off the galley copy, which is the actual book but with a plain white cover that was used to okay the print job. The winner not only received this literally one-of-a-kind memento but was also the first of two to be mailed a copy of the actual book once it was in stock as well as the 2020 Mayberry Day-by-Day Calendar. (The person who won the raffle at Mayberry in the Midwest was mailed the book and calendar on the same day.) And I can’t fail to mention, the winner also received a bottle of pickle-flavored pop. We raised well over $200 to donate to Allan.

Selling some raffle tickets. Photo by Mona Cooper.

The Mayberry Meet-Up is a much different experience than Mayberry Days. 150 or so people make Mount Airy much easier to navigate than the tens of thousands who descend on the town on parade day during Mayberry Days. While the only thing nearly everybody does is gather each evening to watch episodes of our favorite series under the stars outside the Mayberry Motor Inn’s gazebo, there are lots of other activities many participate in, including seeing Betty Lynn for an autograph and photo at the museum on Friday and watching a wonderful presentation on a particular episode by author Neal Brower on Saturday. If your time and budget allow, I highly recommend the Meet-Up.

Photo courtesy of The Vermeer Bed & Breakfast.

One last note to add. After several days in Chapel Hill looking through Andy Griffith’s original scripts, I returned to Mount Airy for one additional night and stayed in another wonderful bed and breakfast. The Vermeer Bed & Breakfast was a real treat and is another option if you ever want to visit Mount Airy and treat yourself to a pampered experience. You will be hearing more about The Vermeer in next year’s project (along with where I found what I thought was the best sonker to be found).

My room at The Vermeer was luxurious.

Mayberry Meet-Up 2019: Part II

As part of my research for an upcoming project, I wanted to try several varieties of sonker. So what the heck is sonker?

I think virtually anyone who tried sonker would answer, “Oh, it’s a cobbler.” And in fairness, it basically is. But the New York Times recognized the variation as unique to Surry County where Mount Airy is located, so “sonker” it is. Most say it differs from a cobbler in that it is deeper and contains more fruit making it juicier. My experience was it depends on where you are having the sonker.

The Surry Arts Council has established a “Sonker Trail” so I wanted to try a variety of the options while I was there. The knowledgeable innkeeper at the Heart & Soul Bed and Breakfast where I spent the first night said it was generally agreed that the best sonker in the county was at the out-of-the-way Rockford General Store. Rockford is a small community on the banks of the Yadkin River in the southeast corner of Surry County,  Rockford used to be an actual town. In fact, when what is now Surry County split off from neighboring Stokes County, Rockford was founded in 1791 to serve as the county seat. (The county seat was moved to Dobson in 1851.)

Rockford General Store.

My friend, Mike, was also attending the Mayberry Meet-Up by himself so we hung out together a good deal of the time, visiting wineries and eating lunch at the Dairy Center. Mike liked the restaurant so much he and his wife Carol ate there not once but twice during Mayberry Days a couple of months later.

But during a period when we were not together, I made the drive to the Rockford General Store. The old-time store is only about 20 miles from Mount Airy but due to the only access being winding country roads, it took more like half an hour to get there.

The store was great. It serves a more utilitarian function to people in the area as there is not an abundance of restaurants. The store opened in 1890 and has the same, days-of-yesteryear ambiance as the Mayberry Trading Post in Virginia. The wood floors are uneven and creak when you walk on them. Lots of old photos hang on the walls and there are plenty of glass jars with what was at one time known as penny candy. But of course, I was there for the sonker.

The type of sonker I would really like to try is sweet potato sonker, which would be unlike any cobbler I have ever had. But I was happy to get a dish of whatever they had available. And that was cherry sonker.

When I ordered a serving, it was spooned out of a relatively large baking dish, but not a huge industrial dish. Rather, the same type most people have in their kitchens. It was served in a styrofoam bowl and I opted for the addition of a scoop of vanilla ice cream. While it still tastes like cobbler to me, it was delicious. I should add that they make it throughout the day. I was told if I wanted to wait about 25 minutes, they would have a batch of peach sonker ready.

While the Rockford General Store may not be on the way to anywhere in particular, if you are looking for a short side trip while visiting Mount Airy and a really beautiful drive through the countryside, I would recommend it highly. And while the sonker was excellent, I would have to say it was the second-best I had during my trip. The best I had was in Mount Airy itself. But you will have to wait for the completion of my afore-mentioned upcoming project to hear about that.

You don’t see wooden Indians too often.

Mayberry Meet-Up 2019: Part I

I previously blogged fairly extensively about my experiences researching Andy Griffith’s original scripts in Chapel Hill following my attendance at the annual Mayberry Meet-Up in Mount Airy, North Carolina, but I did not discuss the Meet-Up itself.

This was just my second time to attend the Meet-Up but it was the seventh to be held. Back in 2013, Allan Newsome (the Floyd the barber tribute artist and the podcaster behind the long-running Two Chairs, No Waiting podcast I participate in) knew he would be traveling to Mount Airy to interview Betty Lynn. Betty, or Thelma Lou to her many Mayberry fans, had recently loved from the Los Angeles area to Mount Airy. Allan mentioned on his podcast that is anyone was around at the same time and wanted to meet up, he would be happy to do so. More people showed up than he anticipated but he still thought it was a one-time event. However, he was soon being contacted by people saying they wanted to go to the next Meet-Up the next summer. Long story short, there were roughly 90 people there when I went for the first time two years ago and close to 150 last summer.

This van sits atop a pole easily 20 feet off the ground.

When I attend Mayberry Days with my friend Rob, we always stop at Hillbilly Hot Dogs on my way home. But on this trip, I was by myself and instead stopped on the way down. Since it was a weekday, it was not nearly as crowded as it has been during my previous visits, but work on a bridge as I drove south along the Ohio River on the West Virginia side slowed me down considerably.

I am working on a project which I will announce next year which resulted in men wanting to try a couple of alternative lodging options on this trip since I have stayed at chain hotels and at the Mayberry Motor Inn previously.

Photo courtesy of The Heart & Soul Bed and Breakfast.

My first night in town, I stayed at the lovely and quite luxurious Heart and Soul Bed and Breakfast. I will be sharing more about this lovely place in the afore-mentioned project, but if you want to treat yourself, I could not recommend it highly enough.

My room for the evening.
I got some time to read on the front porch before breakfast, something I often have trouble finding time enough to do.

Famous Soda Pops I Have Known, Vol. X: Mexican 7 Up

Last week I posted about Retro 7 Up which is unusual since it is sweetened with cane sugar and not the more pervasive high fructose corn syrup. It would not be unusual in Mexico, though, as soda pops south of the border are normally sweetened with sugar instead of HFCS.

Mexican 7 Up is, of course, no exception.

When I was a kid, pop bottles that were returned were washed and re-used. I can remember that upon rare occasion, setting a bottle down too hard on a counter could cause the bottle to break if the bottle had been re-used one too many times

Mexican stores still take returns on bottles that are then washed and re-used. As a result, the bottles are often scratched up on the exterior. Bottle reuse also results in differing versions of the logo being available. (Not to mention differing amounts of pop, depending on the bottle!)

There is an urban legend or myth that 7 Up takes its name from the fact that it has a pH acidity level over seven. In reality, its level is 3.79 which is in the same range as other soda pops. The true origin of the name is not known though there are plenty of theories, from the original formula containing seven ingredients to the pop being originally sold in seven-ounce bottles when most brands at the time were sold in six-ounce bottles.

What is not a myth is the origin of the marketing term “the Uncola.” By the mid-1960s, the drink was thought of primarily of being a mixer or a drink to soothe an upset stomach. As to the former, a mixed drink of Seagram’s 7 Crown and 7 Up is called a Seven and Seven. As to the latter, I vividly remember being given 7 Up to soothe an upset stomach as a child while visiting my grandma in Gayscreek, Kentucky.

When the late 1960s saw the emergence of the counter culture, 7 Up saw an opportunity to be the “oppositional” drink of choice. Since the drink lacked caffeine and artificial coloring, a Chicago ad firm came up with the idea of branding 7 Up “the Uncola,” and often marketing it with ads filled with psychedelic “hippie” art, resulting in the idea that the dominant colas Coke and Pepsi by implication were the establishment.

Famous Soda Pops I Have Known, Vol. IX: 7 Up Retro

The lemon-lime flavored 7 Up soda pop was created in St. Louis in 1929. Like many early sodas, 7 Up was originally pitched as a patent medicine, though perhaps with more reason than some. The pop’s original name was “Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda.” Until 1950, it contained the mood-stabilizing drug lithium citrate.

Questionable advice…

Early in the 1970s, high-fructose corn syrup began appearing in soda pops. By 1984, it was in virtually all of them. HFCS is a sweetener made from processed corn starch. Many do not like the fact that it is now so pervasive in all our foods since it has negative health consequences but manufacturers point out it is easier to handle than granulated sugar and is more cost-effective.

Regardless of where you come down on HFCS, about 10 years ago soda manufacturers began producing more pops sweetened with natural sugar. One of those is 7 Up Retro, which is bottled in glass and is sweetened with cane sugar.

The pictured bottle features the 1980s logo, not the current one.
The current logo.

7 Up’s formula has been changed several times since it was launched in 1929. In 2006, 7 Up reformulated the pop by removing chemical ingredients and then began calling their pop “100% Natural.” However, like most of the big brands, it was sweetened with high fructose corn syrup. After public health advocacy groups complained, the next year, a lawsuit was threatened so 7 Up switched to the “Naturally Flavored Soda” description.

This retro version actually is 100% natural but is still referred to on the label as “naturally flavored” like the regular 7 Up.