The Fizz: Moxie

You’re most likely to get your mitts on a bottle of Moxie in New England, though its fans sneak it around the country. That’s how loyal they are to this Moxie131-year-old descendant of Moxie Nerve Food, a patent medicine of the 1870s.

Dr. Augustin Thompson, a native of Maine working in Lowell, Mass., mixed his elixir with soda water, as drugstores of the time did with other formulas. Out came Moxie soda, containing the extract of an unnamed South American plant that was the active ingredient in the medicine.

That plant was gentian, and the extract came from its root. Bartenders know it as the bitter ingredient in Angostura bitters. Although modern medicine sees no health benefit in gentian root, it has been used to ease a variety of digestive complaints.

The gentian flavor creates fans and foes of Moxie. The foes dislike the aftertaste, which one reviewer described as “pennies, dirt and unsweetened envelope glue.” The fans can’t get enough of it; baseball great Ted Williams was one of them and even appeared in Moxie ads. If you’re a fan or you’d like to test your taste buds, More

The Fizz: Leninade

Leninade entered the cold-drink war in the early ’00s. It’s the brainchild of Real Soda in Real Bottles Ltd., founded as a soda distributorship by a metro

Drink up, comrade!

Drink up, comrade!

Los Angeles man who collected bottle caps as a kid.

It feels risky to pick up a bottle with a hammer and sickle on its label. But, hey, that’s the past and, besides, the rest of the label lightens the mood: “Join the party!” “Get hammered & sickeled!” “Drink, comrade! Drink! It’s this or the gulag!” and, in stamped-on black letters that might be mistaken for an expiration date, “Don’t tell.”

We’re about to tell whether Leninade is lemonade in a Soviet uniform.

What’s in it: Carbonated water, cane sugar, citric acid, gum acacia (keeps sugar from settling out), natural and artificial flavor, glyceryl abietate (keeps oils suspended in water), sodium benzoate (preservative), artificial color.

Appearance: Color is bright pinko. We pried the plastic liner out of the cap to find this: “If your Leninade is fluorescent, you are part of the Chernobility!” More

The Fizz: Henry Weinhard’s Root Beer

The first guys I worked with in the West were so nuts for Henry Weinhard’s beer, they called him Hank. Brewed in Portland, Ore., Hank’s beer could stand up Henry Weinhard Root Beerto any of the back-East brews in their original hometowns.

Times changed. The brewery was sold twice, then closed, though Hank’s name lives on products brewed for SABMiller.

Like many breweries, Henry Weinhard’s turned to making soda during Prohibition. So Henry Weinhard’s Root Beer was born. It is still made as a “gourmet soda.”

Much of the appeal comes from the marketing persona created about Henry Weinhard himself. A German immigrant who supposedly arrived in the United States with only a recipe and a kettle in which to cook it, he once offered to pump beer through a new public fountain in Portland. What would he think of the root beer made in his name?

What’s in it: Carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, caramel color, vanilla extract, natural flavors, phosphoric acid, sodium benzoate (preserves freshness),

Hank on the cap.

Hank on the cap.

honey essence, acacia sassafras extract.

Appearance: Deep brown, loads of bubbles, deep head of foam. Looks extremely promising!

Aroma: Vanilla, wintergreen, rooty, sweet. Smells good!

Flavor: Sweet and watery. Gentle bubbles have no bite at all. This is where root beer flavor goes to die.

Finish: Clean mouth feel. Fast fade to nothing.

Pairings: Anything mild and nondescript. Cream cheese on saltines?

Notes: It’s hard to believe that old Hank would have satisfied his Prohibition-era customers with this weak-kneed root beer. On the other hand, if you were stuck in the desert with only this root beer to drink, you would think you had water.


The Fizz: Empire Bottling Works Spruce Beer

People make beverages out of nearly anything. Spruce beer is one proof of it.

Some sources claim that spruce beer originated with the Vikings; others say it was a tea made in winter by Native Americans in North America. The Iroquois, it is said, passed on this tea of steeped spruce needles

Just call it the chairman of the boards

Just call it the chairman of the boards

to French explorer Jacques Cartier in the 1500s to cure sailors who were sick with scurvy. By the 1700s, spruce tea was known to sailors on the West Coast and in Oceania for the same purpose.

Meanwhile, East Coast settlers had advanced to brewing beer from hops, molasses and spruce tips and branches. Eventually, the flavor was adapted as a soft drink.

How much vitamin C does a spruce beverage contain? Not much, according to modern researchers. In fact, if a sailor depended only on spruce beverages to reverse scurvy, he’d have to drink enough to float a navy.

It’s not easy to find spruce beer soda, but lucky us – Empire Bottling Works in Bristol, R.I., still makes it. Empire, established in 1930, is so small that it doesn’t have a website and it prints its address and phone number on its labels.

What’s in it: Artesian spring water, cane sugar, “extract flavor” (presumably of spruce), citric acid, sodium benzoate.

Appearance: Yellowish, milky, opaque with carbonation bubbles rising out of the murk.

Aroma: Sweet and spruce-y, reminiscent of the day we all sanded More

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June 2023