Thursday, December 5, 2013

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Moxie

     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 Lowell, Massachusetts.  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 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 New England 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 Union, Maine, and an annual Moxie festival in Lisbon Falls, Maine.
     Anyway, as I’m currently in northern Vermont, 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.


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