Beverage Notes: Moxie


By John Thorne 

If you’re not doing anything else today, you might consider driving to Waldoboro, Maine, to help celebrate Moxie Day. The Moxiemobile will be there and other Moxie-intensive excitements, plus free samples of that beverage for everyone. Despite the fact that, before the Great Depression (I mean the earlier one), Moxie was America’s bestselling soft drink (okay, I don’t believe it either, but it does seem to be a fact), most people south of the Maine border have never heard of the drink, and the few who have, more than not, have refused to sample it again. Among them I count my doctor, who favors diet Dr Pepper, a drink which in any form should never have been allowed to cross the Mason-Dixon Line. (We already have it in New England; we call it cough syrup). When I suggested he might try diet Moxie, he reacted as though I had suggested he sip iced sewage.  

Moxie’s popularity in Maine is genuine. Checking online to confirm the Waldoboro event, I discovered that there are other Moxie Day celebrations in Maine this summer — in Lisbon Falls, Kennebunkport, and Union. I mention this only in passing, since my interest is in the beverage, not the “famous” Moxiemobile, Moxie memorabilia, or even Moxie ice cream. Even so, that these things actually exist gives me that comforting feeling you have when you discover you’re not alone.  

This is because I have never personally known anyone else who drinks Moxie, and only a few who have tasted it. Before I moved to Maine, when I visited my parents there, I would always stop at the nearest Shop & Save and load up the trunk with bottles of Moxie and cans of State-of-Maine baked soldier beans, although there were many more of the former than the latter. Any fool can make a pot of first-rate baked beans if he puts his mind to it. But Moxie is on a whole other plane.  

This isn’t to say that Moxie is universally quaffed in Vacationland. For one thing, many who live there are originally from “away.” When my mother had a stroke while living in a retirement community in Belfast, I struck up an acquaintance with one of her caretakers, a woman who had moved from Massachusetts to Maine twenty years before. She had never tasted Moxie. Since I’d bought a bottle for my own consumption, I persuaded her try some and gave it to her in a glass full of cracked ice (the ideal way to drink it; a wedge of lime doesn’t hurt, either). She took a sip, thought for a moment, took another sip, then set the glass down and remarked, “Well, that was an experience.” 

Moxie and I go back so far that I don’t remember when I first tried it, but there was no learning experience involved. I loved it from the start. Moxie’s defining ingredient is extractives of gentian root. One of the definitions for “gentian” in my dictionary is “a tonic liquor ….”  When I was growing up, “tonic” was the word for soda in my part of New England, and I still heard it being used in Maine, many years later, when I moved there. (“Sody” was a popular alternative.) 

Of course, many of the older patented sodas were tonics and nothing else, offered as curatives rather than refreshments. Coca Cola, for example, promised to tackle “morphine addiction, dyspepsia, neurasthenia, headache, and impotence.” Moxie was intended as a “nerve food”; its creator, Dr. Augustin Thompson, prescribed it for “paralysis, softening of the brain, nervousness, and insomnia.” If you drank a glass of Coca Cola in the morning and one of Moxie in the evening, you had your bases pretty covered.  

Unlike Coke, Moxie still tastes of its origins. It has a refreshingly sharp and bitter edge that has the added advantage, if this sort of thing interests you, of entirely masking the taste of the artificial sweetener in the diet version — the only soda, apart from diet quinine water (which I also enjoy), that does so. I’ve always been attracted to root beer, especially when it is made from genuine botanicals. Of this ilk, Virgil’s Root Beer is the best of the best, but, even so, it is sweet first, rooty second — which is to say, it has gotten too popular for its own good.  

In later installments, I’ll have more to say about my pursuit of bitter-edged sodies. But for now, make mine Moxie. 
 Copyright © John Thorne 2010


9 thoughts on “Beverage Notes: Moxie

  1. Make Mine Moxie!I used to drink the stuff when I was in college in Rhode Island, and then when I lived in New York I would have people bring me back six-packs of the cans, since the bottles would never hold their carbonation. I also had the chance, while in Maine, to visit the Lisbon Falls store and get a Moxie T-Shirt, which, despite having a hole in the back, I love to wear.One of the things in my huge suitcase when I moved to Berlin was a single can of Moxie, which lasted only two weeks. I truly deeply miss it, since it was one of the few things which I liked that no one else did.If you ever get a chance to visit Germany, try "Bitter Lemon" which tastes like soda made from lemon rind, bitter and sweet at the same time, while retaining that bitter edge. One of my favorite drinks is the "Double Bitter" which is Bitter Lemon with a shot of Jägermeister. It pretty much insures no one will drink out of your glass.

  2. I first encounted Moxie when I lived in Vermont in the early 80s. It is defintiely an expience. For a while I had a boyfriend who would seek it out in small towns as it became less & less available in VT.

  3. My children go to a summer camp in PA, Camp Orchard Hill, where everything is all about Moxie. The camp store, The Apple Tree, is completely decked out in Moxie gear. You can buy Moxie at the camp store and every camper tries it at least once.My kids have both tried it and said every sip tastes different. Derek Hodne, the camp director, is the reason behind it. Even his dog is named Moxie!!

  4. I am lucky: my local supermarket in Groton, Massachusetts not only carries Moxie, but even has it in those little 8-ounce cans. Not that I wouldn’t be happy to drink more than that, but I can’t take that much caffeine. I would not use today’s Moxie as a remedy for "nervousness and insomnia"…I discovered Moxie a few years after I moved up from New Jersey to the Boston area, maybe around 1972. There used to be a few independent bottlers back then that made particularly good Moxie, strong, bitter, and not too sugary – I remember Myopia Club as the best of them, with Simpson Spring a close second. Now, I take what I can get.

  5. I grew up with Moxie in central Massachusetts, and still seek it out when we go to our vacation house in Rangeley, ME. Married to a native New Yorker—and a Yankees fan at that!—I am sorry to say that no one else in my family shares my taste in tonic.

  6. In high school in Western Mass, some friends and I picked up Moxie at the supermarket on our way to a party. The reason was that we thought the man in the logo was taunting us, poking his finger at us from inside the can as if to say, "You don’t have the balls to drink Moxie!" Sure enough, when we tasted it, we understood that the challenge was real. But out of defiance to that little man, we kept drinking it, and 13 years later, it’s one of my favorite drinks.While I’m also more interested in Moxie as a drink than Moxie as a source of collectible memorabilia, it’s worth remembering that Moxie was the first soft drink (soda, pop or tonic) to have a real, nationwide mass-marketing campaign. Coca-Cola wouldn’t be the behemoth it is now if Moxie hadn’t proven that what we drink is as much about image as it is about taste, or even more so (see: Budweiser).

  7. I grew up in Maine, but am technically from "away." I tried Moxie once in high school and thought it tasted like toothpaste. I’m not sure how the fact that I was never and still am not a soda or other sweets fan plays into my reaction, but after reading this post I feel like I should maybe give Moxie another shot. Maybe.

  8. John – As always, your writing jogged mine memories of my times in Maine during the 1980s. Not as a resident of course (I lived in New Hampshire), but not as a tourist either. My fate was that of the long-distance boyfriend of a girl in Lisbon Falls – we went attended high school together in New Hampshire. The Moxie-Fest in Lisbon Falls was much fun. Your post also brought back memories of drinking Moxie and Captain Morgan rum with my grandfather in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on an August evening the week before he died. He grew up in Portland and was always a Mainer at heart, despite his move down the coast.Thanks for another glorious reminder that things were really good once back then.

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