When Brach’s released their Turkey Dinner Candy Corn Mix in 2020, with flavors like green bean, stuffing, and roasted turkey, I hoped it would be Brach’s only foray into (purposely) bad candy. Regular candy corn is already revolting enough without artificial meat flavoring. But this year, the sadists at Brach’s decided they’d unleash Tailgate Mix on an unsuspecting US public. Halloween and Thanksgiving weren’t enough. Candy corn just had to sink its waxy, saccharine claws into college football season as well.
My in-laws happened to have a bag of this lying around at their last football party. Since our team was losing in a big way to an unranked school, I decided to seclude myself in the kitchen with plenty of beer and a bag of Tailgate Mix to distract myself from the fact that the Huskers are a mere shadow of their former glory.
Vanilla ice cream was by far the least offensive flavor of the bunch. I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone eat ice cream at a tailgate, but this flavor was so not terrible that I was willing to ignore this oversight. Regular candy corn already contains a hint of vanilla, just as serial killers contain hints of human emotion, and it was pleasant (i.e., not stomach-churning) to eat candy corn that tasted like candy instead of wax and artificial dye. Which, for candy corn, is an accomplishment. Congrats, Brach’s, you did something right!
Next up was the blood-colored fruit punch flavor, which, again, isn’t something many people consume at tailgate parties. But Brach’s probably couldn’t sell beer-flavored candy corn, so we’re stuck with fruit punch. This one tasted like a mouthful of Skittles. It was overpoweringly fruity with no balance, which would have been off-putting in a better candy. But because this is candy corn, fruit punch landed in the “okay” category alongside vanilla ice cream. So far, so good, I thought.
Hamburger was where things started to go horribly wrong. When I bit into this one, the initial sweetness soon gave way to what I can only describe as dog food with an aftertaste of cheap mustard and pickle brine. There was also a hint of charbroiled beef flavor, but it wasn’t enough to make this one palatable or in any way hamburger-like. I tossed a piece to my in-laws’ pug, but she promptly spat it out and started licking her own taint instead.
The popcorn flavor was even worse. For me, at least. Popcorn is a flavor you either love or hate, and I’m definitely a hater. But if you’re someone who enjoys popcorn-flavored candy, keep in mind that that “buttery” popcorn taste doesn’t come from real butter. It’s a chemical called diacetyl, which can dissolve your lungs if you inhale too much of it. Diacetyl can also be found in the anal glands of certain wildcats, so it’s scientifically accurate for me to describe this flavor as “ass-like.”
Finally, the hot-pink hot dog flavor took everything wrong with hamburger and made it even more unpleasant. That dog food body is still present, but whereas hamburger contained grace notes of charred beef, hot dog overwhelmed me with notes of salty, lukewarm pork. The aftertaste of the hamburger flavor was almost appetizing compared to the sweet, vinegary endnotes of hot dog. Was it supposed to be ketchup? Pickle relish? Regardless of what it was, I required a healthy swig of beer to wash the taste from my mouth. As with hamburger, I contemplated throwing a piece to my canine friend but decided not to. Unlike Brach’s, I don’t like inflicting unnecessary cruelty on others.
So with two flavors that are just okay and three that will make you regret that you were born with a tongue, the final verdict for Tailgate Mix is an overwhelming “hell no” from the perspective of someone with taste. But while Tailgate Mix is unpleasant, it offers something regular candy corn doesn’t: dramatic tension. A bag of plain candy corn is emotionally static as a confectionary experience. It’s gross, sure, but it’s also boring. There’s no hero’s journey, no rising action, climax, or letdown. With Tailgate Mix, I experienced everything from apprehension, hope, surprise, shock, confusion, and anger. Sampling this bag is the gustatory equivalent of watching your favorite team lose a game they should have easily won, which is certainly in the spirit of this season. That’s an impressive feat for a four-dollar bag of candy corn.