Coca-Cola Buys Moxie Soda

Sep 1, 2018
Originally published on September 1, 2018 2:05 pm
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This week, Coca-Cola announced it will buy Moxie, a tiny soda brand that's Maine's official state soft drink. The beverage has a cult-like following - kind of like B.J. Leiderman, who writes our theme music. Jay Field visited Lisbon Falls, Maine, the soda's unofficial home

JAY FIELD, BYLINE: Moxie is almost like lobster or blueberries in Maine. It's firmly woven into the culture here, but it also stirs up more passions than those other Maine icons. Think "Star Trek" or, say, the Grateful Dead.

LINDA WALLACE: If you like it, you like it. If you don't, you don't.

FIELD: Take this crowded table at the Railroad Pub, where Linda Wallace and some friends are nursing early evening drinks. Wallace and Moxie - not so much. But her pals...

PAT DEROCHER: He'll drink it any day of the week.

PAUL DEROCHER: All the time.

FIELD: To Pat Derocher and her husband Paul, nothing tastes quite like a Moxie. A waitress places one of those familiar orange cans on the table in front of me. It's ice cold and has distinctively different written down one side.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAN OPENING)

FIELD: I like it. I do like it. It tastes like root beer.

Well, not exactly. It's got a slightly more bitter aftertaste because it contains gentian root. The recipe for Moxie dates back to 1885 when Dr. Augustin Thompson, a Maine native and homeopathic doctor, set out to make an elixir that didn't contain alcohol or cocaine. The recipe caught on as a soda. Moxie became the first bottled, carbonated beverage in the U.S. and was outselling Coke nationally during its heyday in the 1920s. The soda had fallen on hard times by the early 1980s when a local business owner in the small town of Lisbon Falls launched a campaign to save it from extinction.

TONY AUSTIN: And he petitioned the state - had the state turn Moxie into the official soft drink of the state of Maine.

FIELD: Tony Austin runs Frank's Pub and Restaurant, named for the man who founded the annual Moxie Festival, which attracts around 30,000 people every summer. Austin says an independent Coca-Cola franchise in New Hampshire has been distributing the soft drink in recent years.

AUSTIN: Word on the street is the national company purchasing it, it should allow Moxie to go, you know, far west, east, everywhere now.

FIELD: That would make life a bit easier for fans like Pat Derocher over at the Railroad Pub. Derocher knows all too well what it can be like when a Moxie-loving relative moves away.

PAT DEROCHER: My brother was in Arizona. I used to have to mail it there - cost me $42 for a case.

FIELD: Some Moxie fans have expressed concern that Coke might tweak the soda's legendary recipe. In a statement, the company says it's committed to ensuring that Moxie stays true to its northeastern roots. For NPR News, I'm Jay Field. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.