A Taste of Maine

“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?
*Slurp* Ahhhh!

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10 Responses

  1. I never thought I’d be so fasinated over a story of soda . I actually really enjoyed reading that.

    Thanks! It was fun to write. I just checked out your blog. Looks like I’ve got some reading to do. I hope you find some more stuff here worth spending a minute or two on in the future.
    -TP

  2. Sounds like you need a lot of moxie to even try it! I like the Ted Williams ad.

    Actually, I came home early today to get a bunch of stuff done. I mowed the lawn and finished a piece of furniture that I was working on for Lulu Bell’s room. About half way through the jobs, I stopped, walked down to the corner store and picked up a Moxie! After writing this post this morning, I had to do it. Man, I like that drink!
    -TP

  3. After reading this, I can almost taste that soda šŸ™‚

    Apparently, you can make a “poor-man’s” Moxie by taking a root beer and adding Angostura Bitters. I’ve never tried that and to be honest, it sounds kind of vile. Still, many more have said that about the actual drink. I still love it though.
    -TP

  4. Oh no! Dungeons and Dragons!? Really? Tell me it ain’t so!

    In my crotch rocket days, I dated a biker. The leather. The tats. The real enchilada. Having lived in Europe most of my life, I had never heard of such thing as Dungeons and Dragons. I went to his place one night and found him playing this “game” with his buddies. That was it for me! Done! I’m sorry but this is just a tad too weird for me. My idea of role-playing does not involve a dragon. A Dungeon Master perhaps. A dragon – never.

    Very nicely developed story, as usual!

    Ba-Hahahaha! I was just WAITING for your comment and I was pretty sure that it would be something along those lines. Yes, YES! I was/am a geek, and not ashamed to admit that! The difference is that I’m a geek with high powered rifles, a pilot’s license, an advanced SCUBA endorsement with three specializations (I can fix your dive gear for you!) plus I got the hot chick to marry me and now have two kids. That, and I rock climb, mountain bike, sculpt, and a bunch of other things that get me “Manly” points. The point is that though I played D&D and loved it, I didn’t live in my parent’s basement and grow to the size of a walrus on a diet of Doritos and Diet Pepsi.

    C’mon Nat! Embrace your inner geek! I know there’s one in there! Hmmm. Camera Geek? Hmmm! šŸ˜‰
    -TP

  5. Man, I’m not embracing nada!

    I’m sure you are very manly and everything but that just ain’t right. Do you even realize the extremes you had to go to in order to make up for D&D? Power rifles? Crazy. Pilot’s license? Crazy. ADVANCED scuba endorsement? Crazy.

    Think about all the efforts you would have spared yourself if only you had stuck to backgammon like everyone else…

    Bah! Backgammon? What use would my 20 sided dice be? Say what you will, we had a lot of fun. And just remember, when the undead rise and try to take over the world, SOME of us will know just what to do! šŸ˜‰
    -TP

  6. For something to taste soooo good/bad. It had to be like cola and .. what?.pine needle extract? Dead man’s fingers? Fine atlantic ocean water?

    I don’t think you told us the ingriedients, or weren’t they required to put that on the label?

    NOTHING would get me to change from Coca Cola the real thing, I must have bought that company twice over with how much I drink it.

    Oh, it’s an acquired taste, to be sure. Over the years, Coke has burned out at least half my stomach lining. Moxie will no doubt claim the other half! As for ingriedents, the “magic” in Moxie is gentian root. What is it? Beats me. I just like the taste!
    -TP

  7. I love sarsparilla, I think that is what you call Root Beer, or maybe Root Beer is what we call Ginger Beer, dunno. Anyways I like em both. Never heard of Moxie before, would be worth a try though, people should try everything at least once. Dr Peppers became available in Australia about 5 years ago. Everyone said Dr Peppers was horrible & once I tried it I loved it

    If you like the Dr., you just might like Moxie! I have serious doubts that you’ll find it in your neck of the woods but hey, anythings possible! As for that different sodas are called in Oz versus the States, I have no idea. It would be fun to find out though. Thanks for writing!
    -TP

  8. I enjoyed the Mox when we were in Maine. It’s taste is hard to describe.

    I have to say though that regional sodas are all good in their own way, if for no other reason than they make you feel a bit special because you think only you know about them.

    I drink a couple of these per week. They are from heaven.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Red_%28drink%29

    And we left these for out of town guests at our wedding:

    I’d love to try them both! The thing that I like about regional anything is that it makes them special. The stuff of daily life has become homogenized and it’s become quite rare to find out that “you can’t get that here”. There are a few regional things I cherish and would never want to see spread all over the world. Moxie is one of them. Next trip you make north, I’ll pick you up the Moxie if you bring some Big Red!
    -TP

  9. That’s a deal TP!

    (Ummmmm…can you throw in a couple of lobster rolls too?)

    How’s this for fun. Because my kids are native Mainers, they can both get a youth lobstering license good for 10 traps each! The kids still have a few years before they’re up to hauling, but when they are, they’ll going to be in high demand with the family!
    -TP

  10. Hah! You have the snow turned on.

    It’s snowing here, this morning, in Santa Fe and I have to say these old bones don’t miss the wetter, icier variety I experienced most of my life back in New England.

    Using the Moxie poster in my afternoon Post about the NYTimes selling their stake in the BoSox. Too lazy to scan in the autographed photo I got from Terrible Ted in 1951. Google Images led me to your site.

    Nicely produced. And I have to admit I miss the Maine Coast, really fresh seafood – and Moxie.

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