I’d heard the term “moxie” before, albeit often in older television shows and movies (i.e. a person with a lot of spirit or courage might be described as, “having moxie.”), but I didn’t realize until I started traveling and working in New England that it was a beverage, too. Specifically a soft drink, or a “soda” to portions of the
U.S. I assumed that the drink had taken its name
from the expression. I quickly heard it
was an acquired taste, that it had a “love it or hate it” reputation, and
apparently only crusty New Englanders really appreciated it, and that’s why I
found it there.
Well, it turns out, I had it completely wrong. Moxie was the beverage first, and the expression came from it. This is referred to as a “neologism,” with other examples being “Catch 22” (from the Joseph Heller novel), “Orwellian” (from the author George Orwell (a pen name, incidentally, his real name was Eric Blair)), and “sadistic” (from the Marquis De Sade).
Moxie is a relatively old soda—it was developed in 1876, by a Dr. Augustin Thompson, who was born in
Maine, but invented the drink in . He claimed to have named it after his friend
Lt. Moxie, who had discovered the beverage’s secret flavoring ingredient on an
arduous trek in some primeval part of Lowell, Massachusetts South America. Although it turns out that the proud and
daring lieutenant is as real as the World War II spy H.E. Rasske from the Brass
Monkey ad campaign (see November 7th, 2012 post for more information), or, in other
words, completely made up. This wasn’t
the only ridiculous thing about Moxie though—it was initially called “Moxie
Nerve Food,” and was said to combat “paralysis, brain softening, nervousness,
and insomnia.” After a few years
Thompson added soda water to it, and stopped with the absurd health claims, and
thereafter Moxie was just billed as a refreshing drink.
Since Moxie has had its ups and downs. Reportedly U.S. President Calvin Coolidge was an admitted fan, and Boston Red Sox star Ted Williams shilled for it during his playing career. The humor periodical Mad Magazine (of which I was quite fond of as a boy) did unpaid endorsements for it by putting the drink in the background of some of their drawings in the 1960’s. But, its popularity has been on the wane, and in the present day it’s almost totally a
phenomenon. I also learned it’s bottled
and sold in parts of Pennsylvania,
but on my fairly frequent excursions in The Keystone State I’ve never seen
it. It’s most popular in and associated
with the state of Maine—there’s a museum
devoted to it in , and an annual Moxie festival in Lisbon Falls, Maine. Union, Maine
Anyway, as I’m currently in northern
I gave it a try. Its color is dark
brown, or like Coke, Pepsi, Royal Crown (RC) cola, etc. As for the taste I found it fairly
unpleasant. It’s like weak root beer
which is somehow bitter in an off-putting way.
It’s not the worst beverage I’ve had, but it’s far from good, or even
average. I drank about twelve ounces of
it, and if all goes to plan that will be the last Moxie I ever have. Although, I have to give Moxie credit for not
being a run of the mill, sweet and inoffensive quaff. It took guts, I guess, to market an
admittedly bitter-ish soft drink, and obviously enough folks have enjoyed it to
keep Moxie in business for nearly 140 years.
Its tagline on the bottle is “Distinctively Different,” and that’s
entirely fair. But, in my opinion, it’s
not an enjoyable beverage at all.
In case anyone’s wondering, the “secret ingredient” of Moxie has long been known, and it’s gentian root extract. Furthermore, Moxie contains caffeine, meaning its original ludicrous claim to offset nervousness and insomnia is especially invalid now.