Vintage Soda Pop
Jan 27, 2016 | by Ellen Dial
Vintage Soda Pop | Vintage Bubble-liciousness
No matter what you call it – soda, pop or just “coke”, we’ve had a love affair with sweet, carbonated beverages (adult and non-adult) for a good 120 years or so. They’re refreshing, fun and feed our sweet tooth. Back in the day, they apparently cured Catarrh, gleet (gross!), dyspepsia, scrofula and other bizarre health complaints.
Over the past century, we’ve changed the recipes, loaded them with weird chemicals and replaced the cane sugar with all manner of bizarre chemistry experiments. Many have cult followings. Some are only available in specific regions of the country. One can purchase glassware, fleece, caps and other swag – announcing your allegiance to one brand or another, for some, this love borders on the rabidity of sport team fandom. Craziness, right?
So, what DID great-great Aunt Carrie sip on a hot Saturday afternoon? Why were these drinks created in the first place? What type of soda did mom and dad drink when they were young?
My darling friend Becky started all this with her fantastic Grapico piece, so its her fault… To that end, I’ve taken it upon myself to try several vintage carbonated beverages – some were good, a couple not so much. It’s been a maelstrom of changing preferences, but here’s a run down of some of my favorites!
Vintage Bubbles | The Girl Has Moxie
One stand out is Moxie – reminded me a bit of Dr Pepper, sweet and plummy, with a hint of dark cherry. As with many of it’s fizzy cousins, Moxie was first a medical concoction, a nerve drink – Moxies Nerve Food. We’re supposed to feed our nerves? Who knew?
Created in the mid – 1880’s by Dr Augustine Thompson – Civil War veteran, playwright and homeopathic practitioner. Moxie Nerve Food was invented as a non-drug laden response to the myriad of other health drinks being offered – many of which contained alcohol and/or cocaine, wait what? This is bad? Back then, this was a good thing. Cocaine? So healthful! As with it’s crazy cousins, Moxies Nerve Food made a plethora of wild curative claims, of course, not based upon medical science or fact. To make it more officially healthful, Moxie was also available in lozenge form, these flopped.
Vim! Vigor! Totally made up. Totally.
What made this nerve food so very effective and delightful? Gentian root – more on that here. This root was discovered by a farcical explorer and Dr Thompson’s imaginary friend, Lt. Moxie. He found this magical ingredient while conducting a legendary exploration of South America. This man never existed. The trip never happened. It was all hooey. Not sold in stores, one could buy this delicious and healthful tonic at fairs, carnivals and amusement parks. Because someone with frazzled nerves would go to a crazy carnival to relax, right? Moxie Horsewagons roamed the streets, a la today’s food trucks.
The train to Crazytown slowed when the Pure Food and Drug Act was passed in 1906. The wild health claims slipped away. Lt. Moxie disappeared. “Nerve Food” was eventually dropped. At the end of the 19th century, the word “moxie” was coined to mean stamina and guts. A soft drink becomes part of the vernacular.
Moxie totally outpaced Coca Cola (sans cocaine) during the 1920’s and held it’s own during the Great Depression. Hollywood hotties and cowboys all drank and HAD Moxie! They touted it, appeared in ads – even Teddy Roosevelt was the Moxie Boy for a time – I mean, he did ride a swimming moose, you know. Not sure he drank Moxie before embarking upon this moose riding endeavor though perhaps he did, his nerves look well fed.
In answer to the Moxie call, “Moxieland” was built on a massive scale, for the manufacture and distribution of this beloved drink. The nation was Moxie mad.
In WWII what the country needed was more Moxie. It continued to boom.
What about now? The last 40 or so years have been bumpy – sales to disinterested distributors and some big slumps have impacted the popularity – even Diet Moxie couldn’t push past the big guys. Moxie-love is still strong, there are now conventions and Moxiefests – these hootenannies occur yearly and have a cult following.
Vintage Bubbles | It’s Pretty Spiffy
With it’s goofy name and borderline creepy cartoon spokes, er, person, Spiffy was another goodie. OK, NOT as good as Moxie. It’s super fizzy with cola, plum and citrus on the initial palate and a slightly cinnamony-anise character on the finish (channeling my wine tasting jargon here!) – there just a zing that didn’t thrill me, but to be fair, I’m not a big licorice fan.
It was tough to find history on this cola created in 1934. Unlike Moxie, with it’s veritable tomes of history and joy.
Regardless, Spiffy is and was a “swell cola drink”. Since it’s mid-Depression era start, Spiffy strives to be world famous and quite swell. It’s relatively swell and not so world famous. And
frankly, the “son of Chuckie” creature on the label is terrifying.
Vintage Bubbles | Three Cheers for Cheerwine!
Saving the best for last! Cheerwine. Love. It. By far this is the vintage soda fan’s favorite. It abounds with fresh dark cherry juiciness and sports a generous fizz – Cheerwine pleases! Oh, and it
smells like cherries, too! Noms! It was the first cherry cola. In an unusual turn of events, it wasn’t created to cure female hysteria or fistula of the withers, but as a tasty treat. And there’s more; the yum isn’t just confined to soda, there are Cheerwine Popsicles and Cheerwine Cream-filled Krispy Kreme donuts. OK, maybe the donuts are a bit gross, kinda makes my teeth hurt to think about them.
Since it’s creation in 1917 by general store owner LD Peele, in response to the nation’s love of all things cherry flavored, Cheerwine has had a dedicated following.. It took off and surpassed it’s sister Mint Cola – both manufactured by the Mint Bottling Company, so much so, that in 1924 Mint became the Cheerwine Bottling Company – this company still manufactures and bottles Cheerwine, and is the oldest family-owned soft drink company in the nation.
It was tagged the Nectar of North Carolina and only available in that state for decades. It’s super fizzy, so fizzy that only vintage/antique soda fountains can handle the triple shock power of the bubbles. Cheerwine’s cherry delight will available to all 50 states by 2017!
Of course, I tried several others – Nu-Grape and both orange and grape Nehi, to name a few. But these three stood out. One noticeable taste difference across the board? The use of cane sugar to sweeten instead of high fructose corn syrup – there was less of a sharpness to them and one bottle was enough- a tasty treat, not a 68 oz. food group.
If you get the chance, pick up a vintage soda! Most independent grocery stores, specialty sweet shops and retro soda fountains carry one or all sodas mentioned. You can also order directly through various beverage distributors. Why not pick up one not listed and let us know what you think!
To our dear readers: Do you have a favorite vintage/retro fizzy drink? Why do you like it?
The writer would like to thank: weirdosdarereview.com, thesodajerks.com, texaslegacybrands.com, drinkmoxie.com, thrillist.com, cheerwine.com and Wikipedia.com. As well as those who post their images freely on the Internet.