In the latest issue of Gastronomica, Robert Dickinson unearths the history behind the oldest continually produced soda in the country. Moxie has been around since 1884, and its flavor has had an infamously polarizing effect on drinkers—some comparing its taste to sarsaparilla and battery acid or licking a telephone pole. After reading scads of testimonials on the internet, Dickinson simply had to try it for himself—but getting a sample would involve more than a trip to the supermarket.
The specialty brew isn’t available in the southeast where he lives, and he didn’t want to shell out a lot of cash to order through an online soda merchant, so he tried an old-school tactic: bartering. Dickinson penned a charming letter to both the Catawissa Bottling Company and the Coca-Cola Bottling Company, asking for six-pack in trade for some regional treats from Tennessee—a box of Goo Goo Clusters, a bag of pork rinds, and a photo of Elvis.
Surprisingly, both companies were more-than-happy to oblige. Catawissa sent diet and regular versions and a sampling of other specialty soft drinks—the representative enjoyed the letter so much she passed it around the office and noted that the barter system was often used since the company’s inception in 1926. Coca-Cola sent an entire fridge pack, and was very enthusiastic about receiveing the Goo Goo Clusters.
Dickinson gathered friends for an official taste test. A few found it tolerable, though most were not fans. His reaction?
At first sip, Moxie is reminiscent of a weak root beer. Not bad, but not memorable either. Then the bitterness takes hold. Like medicine. Like the tar on a telephone pole. Like the sludge at the bottom of the barrel that you’re supposed to just throw away. But Moxie is a complex beast and once the initial shock wears away, the bitterness mellows, and one is left with a bittersweet taste that isn’t so bad and may even quality as, dare I say it…pleasant.
We published a piece back in 2007 about a specialty soda shop in Los Angeles that sold Moxie Original Elixir, among other varieties. The author, Jeff Penalty, had his own Moxie review: “Each sip starts with a cola, morphs into a root beer, and leaves the aftertaste of some sort of evil black licorice potion from Satan’s private reserve.”