My first introduction to Moxie came as I read Stuart Little in the 1950s. Stuart, on his journey to find his lost love Margalo, stopped at a gas station and asked about something to drink.
“Have you any sarsaparilla in your store?” asked Stuart. “I’ve got a ruinous thirst.”
“Certainly,” said the storekeeper. “Gallons of it. Sarsaparilla, root beer, birch beer, ginger ale, Moxie, lemon soda, Coca Cola, Pepsi Cola, Dipsi Cola, Pipsi Cola, Popsi Cola, and raspberry cream tonic. Anything you want.”
At the time I had no idea what Moxie was, but was delighted to find out later that it was a real thing, unlike the Dipsi, Pipsi, and Popsi colas mentioned. And yes, it’s definitely an acquired taste. It’s reminiscent of root beer or sarsparilla, but the dominant flavoring is gentian root, which brings a bitterness to the drink not found in other soft drinks (unless you’re fond of Campari soda, not usually found outside of Italy.) God forbid anyone should make a soda version of Fernet-Branca!
But Moxie is different, and refreshing. The bitterness doesn’t bother me, in fact it makes the concoction more satisfying on a hot day than something that’s just overly sugary. I may like it for the same reason I like chestnut honey, which I discovered on a trip to Slovenia – wonderfully full-bodied, with that same distinctive bitterness which offsets the sweetness nicely.
Originating around 1876 as a patent medicine called “Moxie Nerve Food,” Moxie is closely associated with the state of Maine and was designated the official soft drink of Maine on May 10, 2005. Its creator, Dr. Augustin Thompson, was born in Union, Maine. (Extracted from Wikipedia)
For the longest time, Frank Anicetti ran the Moxie Museum in Lisbon, Maine; this year saw the closure of the store, which was at the heart of Maine’s annual Moxie Festival since 1913.
Frank Anicetti serves up Moxie ice cream
But even though the Kennebec Fruit Company store is gone, Moxie will stay close to the hearts and stomachs of Mainahs; there’s still the Matthews Museum in Union, which has an entire wing devoted to Moxie.
The Moxie Wing at the Matthews Museum in Union, Maine
Now in the interest of full disclosure, I’m still a Pepper, and always have been. In my years sojourning in Europe, I discovered that Europeans – while they find Coke and Pepsi palatable – generally look upon Root Beer and Dr Pepper as tasting like medicine. With that in mind, I suspect Moxie wouldn’t find much of a market in Vienna or Ljubljana… in fact, it might be just enough to turn even our best European friends into a torch-and-pitchfork waving mob.
But such is life. The poor souls probably wouldn’t appreciate nattō either. They have my sympathy. For the moment, I’m happy to be in Maine, where Moxie is readily available.
The Old Wolf has spoken.