I don't know why I've been on such a Kool-Aid kick lately, but it probably has a lot to do with that huge Kool-Aid F.A.Q. that's been circulating across the web since 1998. Don't get me wrong -- I always loved Kool-Aid, but despite its brick-breaking mascot and the so-cool flavor names, it was just a drink. Within that dreaded F.A.Q. (you can easily find it by Googling, PS) rested a deeper shade of Kool-Aid red; a story so detailed, scattered and interesting that nobody who reads it can keep themselves from immediately forming a new, sick hobby: Seeking out and collecting rare and/or discontinued varieties of Kool-Aid.

Why? A few reasons. The package art was amazing. If you collect anything sheerly on the merits of the beauty of its kind, you have to relate to this...even if you'd really prefer not to. Doesn't matter what it is if we like the way it looks -- could be high priced porcelain statuettes of kittens dressed up as people, could be thirty-nine cent Kool-Aid packages. Secondly, Kool-Aid doesn't really go bad. Even if the discontinued stock you find is from twenty years ago, you probably won't experience any adverse effects by drinking it. So, let's say someone tracks down the original version "Berry Blue," a much-liked flavor yanked off the shelves over a decade ago for looking too much like windshield wiper liquid. They could safely drink it, confident that he or she was the only person in the world drinking "Berry Blue" Kool-Aid at that precise moment in time. These are the things that keep my heart ticking.

When I finally caved and accepted my lot in life as a Kool-Aid packet collector, "Sharkleberry Fin" was at the top of my list. Cherry-flavored Kool-Aid would always be my number one favorite based on taste, but Sharkleberry Fin and a number of other varieties still won the war because of their awesome mascot characters. Heck, I even broke a childhood vow to avoid anything grape-flavored at all costs when "Purplesaurus Rex" first marched into view. But Sharkleberry? He was something else. A big pink shark wearing sunglasses, Sharkleberry's debut was punctuated in a special all-pink Kool-Aid commercial featuring the Red Man himself dipping his naked feet into an ocean of pink sea water, never once worried that thousand-toothed hipster Sharkleberry Fin might bite his flavor blasted toes off.

I love sharks enough to own Jaws IV on DVD, I love sharks enough to deny that iridescent sharks are actually small catfish, I love sharks enough to note "Shark Week" on my calendar with highlight marker ink that glows in the fucking dark. I would've loved this Sharkleberry dude even if he wasn't neon pink and always saying "fintastic." To top it all off, the stuff even tasted good. You couldn't keep me from drinking Sharkleberry Fin Kool-Aid even if you offered Guatemalan wish-granting miracle water as an alternative. That's right, folks -- not even Guatemalan miracle water would keep me from a shark this kool.

If the Kool-Aid F.A.Q. is to be believed, Sharkleberry Fin is considered the favorite among enthusiasts. More debated is what the flavor actually tasted like. Let the questions end. According to the company that made it, Sharkleberry Fin was a "fruity wave of strawberry, orange and banana." Holy God, I definitely DID NOT KNOW that this stuff had banana flavoring lurking about. I'm not sure even my love for the pink shark would've bested my aversion to bananas at large. This also puts a serious cramp in anyone's plans to recreate the flavor using existing Kool-Aid varieties. See, there's this big underground movement where people bring extinct Kool-Aid flavors back to life by mixing together current ones, but since there ain't no "Banana" Kool-Aid, those freaks are only getting it half right.

In fact, Sharkleberry Fin was considered one of the rarest packets to find on the black market after its decapitation. The same can't really be said today, for Sharkleberry Fin has returned! Dunno if it's in the States yet, but it's certainly in the United Kingdom, where a dealer of fine drink mixes shipped me a box of the magic packets for, by my math, sixty times too much money. With a little work, you can get it.

So, this is it. My big huge ultimate tribute to "Sharkleberry Fin." My one-way ticket to superstardom. You'll see a lot today. You'll see the commercial talked about earlier, a review of the flavor, and about twenty pages worth of Sharkleberry Archie comics. Really. By the end of this article, the knowledge that Kraft once offered Sharkleberry Fin boxer shorts in exchange for Kool-Aid points will become your icebreaking trivia gem. Beginning where we should, let us fingerprint the taste and decide if it justifies this page's obnoxious pink background.

The packaging hasn't been changed much at all for the revival -- you've still got the sunglasses, the shark and the freeloading Kool-Aid Man. Nothing written on it defines the flavor as anything but "punch," something that would've been more easily forgiven if they didn't find eighty spaces to tell us how pink the drink is. I'm actually pretty surprised (but thrilled) that Kraft still uses these kiddy gimmicky characters. When I look at children's trends, it seems pretty obvious that the ten-year-old kids of today are much cooler than the ten-year-old kids of ten years ago, a perfectly grammatical statement, I swear. You just wouldn't think pink sharks wearing sunglasses could grab a kid's imagination anymore. I'd commend Kraft for taking a risk, but in reality it's probably just easier for them to regurgitate old campaigns than figure out a more up to date way to make strawberry/orange/banana punch sound like a good idea. I commend them 50%.

Now, this shit is pink. Not pink like Minute Maid's pink lemonade is pink -- way pinker. The color is too intense for any gray area -- you're either drawn to it immediately or so put off that you have to go into another room, one where there isn't something that pink sitting on the table. Admittedly, it's not as inviting as the traditional Kool-Aid red, but like I said...red don't got no shark.

That's a dinosaur you asshole.I've had a few glasses of the stuff today. I'm drinking it as I type this. It's good, but I'm having a hard time separating what my taste buds tell me from how much my heart wants to love the stuff. I guess saying this would be fair: I'd drink it to get through a bag of Doritos without dying, but I'd probably pass if, say, popcorn was in the bowl. There's a minute difference in the faiths involved there, but as far as radioactive kid soda goes, Sharkleberry Fin is well above average. It actually tastes a lot like peach Snapple, and that's totally a good thing. The fact that I look like I'm taking medication for diarrhea while I drink it just ices the kool cake. Without the ambiance, I give it a 7 out of 10. We can bring that up to a 9 by counting the sharks, the neat names and the idea that we may ultimately piss pink in the equation.

In an effort to needlessly increase the length of this article tenfold, we're going to do a page-by-page examination of an Adventures of Kool-Aid Man comic book -- the Sharkleberry edition. There were several in this series of promotional comics, and the people responsible for them didn't treat their assignments like a joke. Though the stories were light and cheesy, they were as good as any of the other "comics for little kids" of their era. The Kool-Aid Man was the star, of course, and I'd feel more comfortable claiming that the comics really fleshed out his television persona if he didn't say "Oh yeah!" in every single panel. Being what they are, the comics were always full of ads for a whole lotta Kool-Aid junk, too.

Though this is probably the shortest issue of the series, it's the only one filled with Sharkleberry Fin. Within these yellowed pages lie tales beyond that of any sane person's comprehension, but no bother, the pictures are still pretty to look at. There's even word searches, mazes and advertisements for miniature Kool-Aid basketball hoops! Check it out, section by section...

Deep Sea Adventure Comic: Nothing will make you understand the uncontrollable personality that IS Sharkleberry Fin better than this six-page comic, starring everyone from the Kool-Aid Man to a big time badass octopus. It's here we learn just how much ol' Sharkey loves to say "fintastic," it's here we learn how much he loves grunting, and it's here we learn just how cute Kool-Aid Man looks in a snorkel. Click here!

The Wacky Warehouse: How could the Gods of Kool-Aid further entice people to drink they drink that they made? Free stuff! The "Wacky Warehouse" was a mail-order initiative -- a place where kids and sneaky adults could trade in their Kool-Aid points for brilliantly branded absolute crap! Each of the Kool-Aid Man's rare comic endeavors featured a page worth of kool prizes, but this is the best of the bunch: An almost all-Sharkleberry special! Click here!

Very Kool Games: Every "Adventures of Kool-Aid Man" comic is chock full of games, puzzles and assorted pencil-on-paper activities sure to turn anyone's lips bright fucking red. There's even a Sharkleberry Fin word search! And a coloring page! Just as you're flipping pages and think there can't possibly be further instances of fun, there's no more pages. Click here!

Other Crap: No sense letting a few good pages go to waste, so here's all of the assorted adverts stuffed in the back of Sharkleberry's one and only comic book. Nothing too terribly interesting, but you'll at least get to reflect on one of Kool-Aid's cleverer promotions: "Mystery Berry" pops, the all-white bastions of flavors unknown. Click here!

Sharkleberry Fin Commercial: The Kool-Aid Man and his self-appointed Board of Kool-Aid People had to spread the word about Sharkleberry Fin somehow, and this commercial ushers in the then-new flavor with a terrifically fruity blend of foam sharks in sunglasses, calypso music and 125,000 gallons of pink water. The video quality sucks, but you'll get the drift. Click here!

The End? Not really. Finding Sharkleberry Fin again was a true personal triumph, but it's only fueled the Kool-Aid flavored fire within me to levels of which heat can no longer be measured by degrees and can only be measured by how many old Kool-Aid packets I've acquired. You'll be seeing more fruity forays in the coming weeks and months. I'd tell you which flavor is next on my list, but Sharkleberry hates it when I end his tributes by mentioning other varieties of Kool-Aid. Sharkleberry, you're fintastic.

-- Matt (3/27/2005)