“Here honey, try this! It tastes like Maine!”
I watched as the little girl happily took the ice cold, orange wrapped bottle from her smiling, tourist father and took a long swig. Then she stopped, eye’s the size of half dollars. Dad laughed heartily and the little girl looked around desperately for some way to wash the taste from her mouth.
The soda that she had just been tricked into drinking holds a special place in my heart. Few will willingly let it pass their lips and fewer still will admit publicly to loving it. The drink, is Moxie and while I would expect a soda that “Tastes like Maine” to be a combination of pine trees, moose and seaweed, I find it to be quite refreshing. Others, would agree with the little girl.
Moxie is a regional soda and like so many others, it’s beloved by many Mainers, even those who can’t stand the stuff. To describe it, it starts off tasting a bit like root beer but that is quickly overridden with a very bitter finish. It has some, but not much carbonation and is old as the hills.
Back in the 1870’s, Moxie was invented by a Maine doctor who was, at the time, working in Lowell, Massachusetts. In its original form, it was uncarbonated, billed as a curative aide, (though in those days, what wasn’t?) and must have been fairly hard to get down. Of its many healthful claims, in addition to preventing “softening of the brain” as well as the “softening” of other male specific anatomical bits, the good doctor hoped it to be a respectable substitute for alcohol. In an era when most everyone you met was in some degree of drunkenness, the inventor hoped to have come up with a beverage that could be consumed by adults with out being laughed out of the corner watering hole. To some degree, he succeeded. Moxie appeared in some New England bars and was allegedly given to patrons who had already had too much but were demanding more. Whether it slaked their thirst or just put them off liquids for a while is not known. The effect was the same.
Over the next several decades, Moxie’s fame grew and spread, though mostly through costal New England. Ted Williams endorsed it at one time as did Calvin Coolidge. It has also seen advertisement space in the illustrious literary circular, Mad Magazine. With time though, Moxie’s star began to fade. Then, one day, a young New Hampshire boy found it.
When my family traveled to the Maine coast for the summer, I knew that it would mean beaches, sea gulls, lazy days and, of course, Moxie. Kids will naturally try anything providing that it is loaded with sugar and that your parents want you to limit your intake. My Grandmother always made sure that there was a big bottle of Moxie in the fridge and every summer, it took me a while to get used to the taste again. Often, it was the only soda in the house, and since kids seem to need soda to live, I drank Moxie. I even started to like it!
Fast forward a few years and now you have an older, far geekier version of the little boy sitting at the cottage picnic table, eating his hamburger and drinking his medicinal soda. I had moved beyond the things of youth. I was older now and there were more important things to do. For me, that was spending long evenings, sitting around a table with friends, saving the world from evils beyond description using nothing but pencils, bits of paper and dice sporting far more that the usual six sides. It was the early 80’s and I had been eaten whole by Dungeons and Dragons.
The games would run long into the night and required close attention to detail, lest you miss the secret door that lead you to the treasure room or the pit that ends abruptly in ten foot spikes. Artificial stimulant was called for. The soda of choice was usually Coca Cola and it was sucked up by the gallon. I remember watching six packs practically vaporize at these sessions. The problem was that if you had paced your self in your soda consumption, hoping to make the drinks last, inevitably one of the guzzlers would start bugging you for some of your precious supply. I bought a lot of Coke that I never got to drink. Enter, an old friend.
On my way to some weekend D&D game, I stopped in at a corner store for the required survival provisions of chips and soda. With a fresh bag tucked under my arm I reached for the Coke and saw… Moxie! It sat there on the bottom shelf, looking neglected and sad. I immediately left the big red bottle I originally grabbed and swapped it for the orange “Bottle of Bitter Doom!” As expected, after an initial taste from the unfamiliar members of the group, no one ever asked me again for a soda. It was mine, ALL MINE!
Like most adolescents, I drank an indecent quantity of carbonated, corn syrup flavored beverage. I shudder to think what its done to my intestinal track and marvel at the fact that I never developed diabetes. Things have changed and I’ve long since forsworn soda. I just don’t drink it anymore… with one notable exception. During the weekend days at the house, especially if I’m doing loud and manly things with power tools, I need a drink. Beer is out of the question for the industrious hours. It makes me want to sit down and relax. No, if I’m going to get covered in sawdust and scare the hell out of Action Girl with my dubious handling of a Sawsall, then I need something to keep me going. I need Moxie!
I live in Maine now and Moxie is the official beverage of the state. Not a stellar use of our governing time, voting it in, but still, it makes me happy. Short Stack too, has started to appreciate it. Most likely because his dad seems to like it so much, and he always wants a sip.
He’ll take a tentative slurp, make a sour face much like the girl did, but then after shaking it off, comes back for another. I think he’s starting to really like it. I doubt that Action Girl will object too much about his choice in soda, so long as it’s accompanied with the promise that my old Dungeons and Dragons books stay carefully locked away from his sight. I doubt seriously that she could deal with that blow.
*Fsssssssss!* Moxie, anyone?