Three Soda Pops in an Afternoon
As a kid, my main soda was Mountain Dew. This was back before it was spelled MTN DEW and you could still find glass bottles with a hillbilly on it. For variety, I might throw in a blue cream soda or the Pepsi version of 7Up, Teem. Now, it’s Coke Zero Sugar and whatever sparking water is on sale.
This week, I hit the local Rocket Fizz, a national franchise (Canada too) that sells retro candy and soft drinks. Some flavors, like sweet corn soda, are weird by design, but others are regional flavors or retro brands that are still hanging on. I bought three.
Moxie, Coca Cola, and Pepsi Cola all started as patent medicines – over-the-counter potions sold in the second half of the 1800s that promised all kinds of cures. The sugar and flavoring was there to cover the bitter “medicine.” Moxie is the oldest of the three and still contains gentian root extract, which is why it’s funkier than Coke or Pepsi.
On the pour, Moxie looks a little more red than a cola with a slight medicinal whiff of camphor or menthol. The flavor is like a cola, but with splashes of orange soda and root beer. It’s more herbal than similar soft drinks, maybe some clove, and definitely has a mild bitter finish because of the gentian root. The same extract is used in Angostura bitters, so it’s along those lines. You know how there are foods you like as a grown-up that you didn’t like as a kid? I’d guess it’s like that.
The Coca Cola Company bought the Moxie brand in 2018, but I suspect my bottle was made before the sale. The label in my hand lists “pure cane sugar,” but Coke’s website says “high fructose corn syrup.”
Genuine Hank’s Seasonal Pumpkin Spice Soda
Everything is “pumpkin spice” now, so I’m surprised I haven’t seen a big national brand do this first. Hank’s is a gourmet soda brand based in Bucks County, Pennsylvania with a focus on cane sugar and “premium ingredients.” In this case, there’s actual pumpkin juice concentrate in there.
Poured into a glass, Hank’s Pumpkin Spice Soda is an autumn orange/brown with a slight scent of cinnamon and maybe orange. I expected this to be a real sledgehammer of pumpkin spice, but it’s actually a light flavor. You’ve got cinnamon and clove and the clean finish of cane sugar. If I try really hard, I can taste the pumpkin on the finish, but overall, the soda reminds me more of gingerbread.
I lived in Kentucky for a couple years and Ale-8-One (or Ale-8 for short) is a point of pride because it was created in the Bluegrass State and is still bottled only there. The name is a pun on “a late one.” I assumed that meant it was good for mixing with Kentucky bourbon late in the day, but old bottles reference “the latest thing out in soft drinks,” so the name probably meant innovation.
The original flavor Ale-8-One is simple, ginger ale with citrus … and caffeine. The cherry version was added in 2018 with no artificial flavors or colors. The bottle is clear, so you can see the color is between dark pink and light red. It tastes like a good Shirley Temple – which was originally ginger ale and grenadine syrup. Grenadine is traditionally made with pomegranate, but tastes “cherry” to a lot of us. The Ale-8-One version is crisp and clean and the only one of the three sodas that tempted me to finish the bottle.