You can’t always get what you want, and that’s the case for those Texans who can’t find Big Red outside of state lines. Or Mainers who can never satisfy their Moxie kick when they’re away from home. Almost every state has its own unique taste of home.
Here are 13 regional sodas (pops) that we wish we could find everywhere all the time!
1. Big Red
A true Texas original, Big Red was born in Waco in 1937, created by Grover C. Thomsen and R.H. Roark. The original “red cream soda” was called Sun Tang Red Cream Soda, then Sun Tang Big Red Cream Soda; in 1969, the president of the San Antonio bottling plant overheard a golf caddy call it simply “Big Red,” and changed the name one final time.
While many mistake the flavor for bubblegum, Big Red gets its “Deliciously Different” taste from citrus oils blended with the vanilla of a traditional cream soda.
Until the 1970s, Big Red couldn’t be found outside of Texas, Kentucky and southern Indiana; today, it’s distributed by Dr. Pepper, meaning those unlucky enough to live outside of Texas may not have to drive so far.
“Born in the South. Raised in a glass.” That’s the motto for Cheerwine, born in 1917 in Salisbury, North Carolina, home to the Carolina Beverage Company.
Burgundy-red and lightly sweet with the taste of cherries, Cheerwine contains no alcohol, despite the name. In its home state, you can even find Cheerwine-flavored ice cream, sherbet and cream bars, and in 2010, Carolina Beverage Company partnered with another North Carolina company to introduce the Cheerwine Krispy Kreme donut.
In 2011, the company announced plans to upscale distribution to all 50 states by 2017 – so the wait is almost over.
The official state drink of Maine (birth state of its creator) and a favorite of famed slugger Ted Williams, author E.B. White, and President Calvin Coolidge, Moxie is manna to New Englanders.
In the 1870s, Dr. Augustin Thompson began selling a product called “Moxie Nerve Tonic” in and around Lowell, Massachusetts. Thompson claimed the source of his tonic’s efficacy was a rare and unknown South American plant, which made Moxie great at staving off paralysis, nervousness, insomnia and the dreaded “softening of the brain.” A few years later, the doctor began adding soda water and bottling his tonic for distribution, as well as including it in soda fountains.
Moxie gets its slightly sweet, slightly bitter taste from the inclusion of gentian root extract, a bitter herb with purported medicinal properties. Thanks to the drink’s extensive advertising campaigns, the word “moxie” has became a regular part of the English language in the 1930s, used to describe courage, vitality and vigor.
4. Waialua Soda Works Lilikoi
From Hawaii comes Waialua Soda Works’ Lilikoi soda, easily the furthest-flung entry on our list. Waialua Soda Works was founded by Waialua residents Jason and Karen Campbell in 2003.
With an emphasis on a century-old bottling method, a commitment to quality ingredients like cane sugar and natural, local flavors, and a focus on the elements of its island home, Waialua offers five flavors: pineapple, mango, root beer, vanilla cream and its signature lilikoi, or yellow passion fruit. Lucky for us mainlanders, it’s available online.
5. Lester Fixin’s Bacon Soda
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Born in Camarillo, California, Lester Fixin’s Bacon Soda is just one of the unique but not-always-appetizing entries in the Lester Fixin’s line. Other offerings include Buffalo wing, pumpkin pie, peanut butter and jelly, sweet corn and… ranch dressing.
Next time you’re in Camarillo, crack open a tall, ice-cold bacon soda. Just to say you tried, at least.
6. Blueberry Breese
Hailing from Breese, Illinois, the Excel Bottling Company’s Blueberry Breese is a blueberry soda like no other. Made with cane sugar and real blueberry extract lightened with notes of citrus, Blueberry Breese isn’t as sickly sweet as other blueberry sodas – and just look how happy those blueberries are!
Blueberry Breese is currently available in the Midwest; hopefully it blows your way soon.
7. Pop Shoppe Lime Rickey
The Pop Shoppe story begins in 1969 Ontario, Canada, selling its pop not through regular retail means, but rather in refillable, 24-count cartons available only at its own stores and franchises. By 1972, there were more than 500 Pop Shoppe stores in the province, and by 1975, it made the jump to the U.S., offering almost 30 flavors.
In the 1980s, business went sour and The Pop Shoppe closed up shop in 1983… until the brand was revived in 2004, offering several Pop Shoppe original flavors: cola, black cherry, root beer, grape, cream soda, pineapple and Lime Rickey, a non-alcoholic lemon-lime take on the classic Rickey cocktail. Last year, the company was bought by Beverage World, so now this classic taste is available in specialty stores all over the country.
8. Nehi Orange
Nehi (pronounced “knee-high”) sodas were created in 1924 by Georgia-based Chero-Cola/Union Bottle Works, later Royal Crown Company, makes of RC Cola. Following the success of its flagship flavors – grape, root beer, peach and, of course, orange – the company rebranded as the Nehi Corporation in 1928. Nehi’s traditional logo was an image of a seated woman wearing a skirt high enough to see her “knee-high” stockings, an effort to get people to correctly pronounce “Nehi.”
In fact, the infamous leg lamp of the holiday classic A Christmas Story was inspired by the more-risque Midwestern Nehi logo – a single, disembodied leg, sans skirt. Next time you’re in Alabama, stop off at The Bottle, a small community that once held a 64-foot wooden replica of a bottle of orange Nehi. Now that’s dedication.
As someone born and raised in central Michigan, I’m fiercely committed to Vernors, the original ginger soda. Sweet and golden, it’s lighter and has a more robust flavor, much like a ginger beer. Dating back to 1866 (making it the oldest ginger ale brand in the country), Vernors was born in a Detroit drugstore to Dr. James Vernor. Folklore has it, in an attempt to recreate the recipe for a Dublin-made ginger ale not available in the U.S., the good doctor began gathering ingredients and experimenting with flavors.
When he was called away to serve in the Civil War, he stored his syrupy base in an oak cask. Four years later, Vernor returned from war, opened the cask, and was amazed by the “Deliciously Different” flavor. City by city, Vernor expanded to soda fountains and bottling franchises, eventually establishing Vernors a regional favorite. Vernors isn’t just for drinking – singer Aretha Franklin shared with the world a recipe from her church that uses the soda to make glaze for Christmas ham.
Today, Vernors is available nationwide (though it’s tough to find outside of the Midwest), but Michiganders still account for upwards of 80 percent of Vernors sales.
Another Michigan original, Faygo was established in the Motor City, Detroit, in 1907 by the Feigenson brothers, a duo of Russian bakers. The original Feigenson Brothers Bottling Works – changed to the easier-to-pronounce Faygo in 1922 – made only three flavors: grape, fruit punch and strawberry, to match their own frosting recipes.
Today, Faygo offers more than 40 flavors, among them 60/40 (60 percent grapefruit, 40 percent lime), Jazzin’ Blues Berry, Cotton Candy, Peach, Candy Apple and Rock N’ Rye, a cream soda flavored with cherry … maybe.
The soda is also a favorite of Detroit horror-core rappers the Insane Clown Posse, who shower audiences with gallons of the stuff. Today, Faygo is readily available in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic regions, as well as southern Canada – lucky Canucks – but if you’re lucky, you can find it all over the U.S.
One of the oldest on our list, NuGrape Soda was invented in 1906 in Atlanta, Georgia, and first bottled due to popular demand in 1922. That same year, the company sold the rights to the Olla Bottling Works in Olla, Louisiana, which was acquired in 1968 by The Moxie Company, eventually purchased in 1999 by Big Red Ltd. of Waco, Texas.
NuGrape’s popularity in the Southeastern United States makes a lot of sense – just feel sorry for those of us living anywhere west or north of Murfreesbro, Tennessee, where it’s nigh-impossible to find, save for a few lucky folks in the Pacific Northwest.
12. Dr. Enuf
Johnson City, Tennessee, is the home of Dr. Enuf, a lemon-lime drink – but a far cry from Sprite and 7Up. Dr. Enuf first appeared in 1949, created by a Chicago businessman who set out to concoct a drink fortified with vitamins and minerals, an alternative to other sugary, calorie-rich sodas. It was first sold and marketed as an “energy booster” (it contains B vitamins, caffeine and cane sugar) for its “therapeutic” effects: relief of stomach pain, clearing of the mind and even eliminating hangovers.
Even today, each bottle of Dr. Enuf contains 80 percent of the RDV of Vitamin B1, Vitamin B3, potassium and iodine. It’s also available in diet and cherry-flavored “herbal” varieties, with guarana and ginseng. It’s not easy to find outside of Tennessee and parts of Virginia and North Carolina, but specialty stores and online sellers have started to carry Dr. Enuf.
Pride of Chattanooga, Tennessee’s Double Cola Bottling Company, Ski was first introduced in 1956. Ski is a citrus soda made with sugar cane and real orange and lemon juices – plus a burst of caffeine – giving it a much more natural taste than its citrus soda kin.
In 1996, a cherry version was released, then rebranded in 2009 as Ski InfraRED. Today, Ski is available throughout the Southeast and Midwest, as well as Utah, California and Alaska.
What local sodas do you love – and where can we find them? Let us know!