History: “I don’t know how to explain this, but it is unique,” says ToniCol Project Manager and third-generation family businessman Tobías Ricardo Lozano Solorza. That’s a direct quote from someone within the company. Even they can’t explain their soda. So we’re off to a fun start. To be fair, Solorza did try, saying “It is something between Coke, Dr. Pepper and IBC Cream soda.” We always like to start every review in a unique way, but what we’re saying here is that El Manatial’s ToniCol is different. That’s actually the company’s catch phrase, “es diferente.” But ToniCol’s history is a rich one, dating all the way back to 1887. On an unrelated note, here’s a video of the soft drink’s history that looks like it was edited in 1887. Let us educate you on some Mexican soft drink history, filled with rivalries, friendships, and our superhero, Ángel Solorza González, also known as Don Angel. The story begins in the town of El Rosario in Sinaloa, Mexico. There were two soft drink companies: La Eureka and La Azteca. La Eurkea was far superior, and according to Solorza, its boss wanted to create a “Vanilla-flavored soft drink, with a touch of other essences.” He called the soda “TonyCo,” after his own nickname, Tony. You see, bossman was a savvy entrepreneur, but he was also a little self-absorbed and cutthroat. Don Angel started working for La Eurkea in 1925 in a different city, but after learning his youngest brother would need a leg amputation, he needed to return to El Rosario. Despite the family emergency, La Eureka’s boss fired Don Angel. With one of the best businessmen in the Mexican soft drink industry now a free agent, guess who came calling? La Azteca.
After beginning work for La Azteca, Don Angel quickly began increasing the company’s value and quality. It didn’t take long for La Eureka to take notice. The bossman’s son, Joaquín Espinosa de los Monteros approached La Azteca and inquired about merging the two companies. Side note: why did everyone in Mexico used to have names longer than my wife’s credit card statement? Moving along. Long story short, the merger happened and La Azteca’s owner, Enrique Casteñeda, Monteros and Don Angel owned the new company three ways. In 1947, a fourth shareholder was added and the company’s name was changed to the current “El Manantial.” It was also the year Don Angel’s son and Solorza’s grandpa, Ángel Solorza, designed the current logo and branding for Tonicol. But remember, back then the name was TonyCo. It stayed that way until the 1960’s when the Mexican Ministry of Health banned the name because, according to Solorza, “it confused the consumers, making them believe that the drink had curative attributes.” It was also in the 60’s when Ángel purchased complete ownership of El Manantial. Today, Solorza’s mother and her siblings own the company. As for what goes into this vanilla soda, Solorza elected not to answer that question. So I guess we’ll have to unravel the mystery ourselves.
Where to get: According to Solorza, ToniCol is available to purchase for Mexico natives at major retailers like Wal-Mart, Seven Eleven, and Soriana. For Americans, your best bet is to order online through Alegro Foods.
Nose: Hard to place. A little bit of orange cream and, oddly enough, carrot cake.
Taste: Carrot cake; sweet orange; light creaminess; vanilla; strong sugar. Whoa, this is different and weird. I definitely taste carrot cake. So much so that we put it in the photos. But there’s also kind of an artificial vanilla-orange cream flavor as well. There’s a creaminess to the orange, but not necessarily a creamy mouth feel. The mouth feel is very much a traditional cola in the sense that there’s some bitter notes and a rush of carbonation that aids the bitterness. Very sugary, borderline syrupy. This is very sweet. Man, I can’t shake that carrot cake flavor. It’s just… that’s what it is. Strange.
Finish: Tart sugar with orange undertones. If there is such a thing as orange-flavored sugar (eh), that’s what the aftertaste is like. It’s a tart sweetness. Odd, just like everything else about this soda.
Rating: ToniCol is hugely popular down in Mexico. I didn’t know that once you crossed the border, the flavors could change so much. I wouldn’t call this a cola, despite what your brain tells you based off the name. It brands itself as “vanilla soda,” but I wouldn’t call it a cream soda either, even though there are some slightly creamy orange notes in this. It’s just very puzzling. Here’s what we can tell you definitely about ToniCol: it’s incredibly sweet; it tastes like carrot cake; and there are some syrupy vanilla-orange cream flavors going on in the background. First, the sweetness. It’s intense, so intense there’s a syrupy taste tinged with orange. It could really stand to lose some of the sugar rush or add quite a few bitter notes. Next, carrot cake. Never in my life did I expect to taste something this vivid and weird outside of a Rocketfizz brand soda. I don’t know if this flavor was intentional, but you can take my wife on a date if that’s not exactly what you taste too. She’s with another guy now, but the offer still stands. Last, the puzzling orange cream flavor. Don’t think traditional orange cream. Think syrupy orange mixed with vanilla frosting. Not necessarily flavors that make you rush to pull your wallet out. If you want to try something really off the beaten path, ToniCol is worth a shot. Look, I commend ToniCol for being different, but I’m not sure it’s the kind of different I’d mess around with beyond a one-night-stand.