Moxie Soda: Great or Gross? It’s a Maine Thing

In the heart of New England, there’s a soda that polarizes people. Moxie, the carbonated elixir with a distinct flavor, has been a source of mixed reactions for almost 130 years.

Its history is almost as distinct as its flavors, and the initial promises of the drink led to the noun “moxie,” meaning “1. energy, pep. woke up full of moxie; 2. courage, determination.

As more people visit Maine, more Moxie neophytes will be tempted to try this “sweet yet bitter” concoction that once promised to cure all that ails you.

Fun Fact: Moxie is the state soft drink of Maine, up there with the whoopie pie as the state treat.

Moxie | photo via wesley.harris72

What is Moxie Soda?

The invention of Moxie soda is a fascinating story of a curious medical doctor turned entrepreneur. Dr. Augustin Thompson, a native of Union, Maine, is the creative mind behind this iconic beverage.

In 1876, Dr. Thompson worked as a homeopathic physician after serving in the Civil War. He concocted a beverage that he initially called “Moxie Nerve Food.” The original formulation of Moxie was touted as a medicinal tonic and claimed to cure various ailments and provide an energy boost.

Some find its taste to be reminiscent of medicine, attributing this unique flavor profile to the gentian root extract. In fact, this distinct taste has its roots in history, as Moxie was initially marketed as the “Moxie Nerve Beverage.” For some, this medicinal taste places it in the same category as other unconventional sodas like Dandelion & Burdock and Lester’s Bacon Soda.

The original ingredients, served by the spoonful, included:

  • Gentian Root: Gentian root is the most renowned ingredient in Moxie and is responsible for its distinctive bitter flavor. It’s similar to bitters used in alcoholic drinks.
  • Sassafras: Sassafras, with its unique and somewhat sweet flavor, was likely used to balance the bitterness of gentian root and add complexity to the taste. Sassafras has since been banned as a food additive since the 1970s.
  • Wintergreen: Wintergreen is another botanical flavoring contributing to Moxie’s overall taste. It added a refreshing and slightly minty note to the beverage.
  • Sugar: Sugar was used as a sweetener to make the tonic palatable. It helped mask some of the bitterness from the gentian root.
  • Other Secret Ingredients: Dr. Thompson’s original recipe included several other botanicals and herbs, which have remained a closely guarded secret throughout Moxie’s long history.

It was in 1884 that Moxie was carbonated and available to the masses. The good doctor was more than just medically savvy; he also helped redefine marketing trends of that era. It also helped that slugger Ted Williams of the Boston Red Socks and President Calvin Coolidge supported it.

The carbonated version of version Moxie went mainstream and soared in popularity for decades.

COLA WARS: Moxie pre-dates both Coca-Cola and Pepsi. Moxie was made in 1884, which Coca-Cola came along in 1886, and Pepsi first launched as “Brad’s Drink” in 1893.

Moxie’s taste is almost irrelevant in the big picture. It’s a cultural icon of New England and reminds many of childhood or their hometowns. That doesn’t stop people from arguing over the taste.

Moxie’s origin in Maine adds another layer to its story. Despite being acquired by Coca-Cola in 2018, it has retained its unique flavor, which some describe as unparalleled in the market. However, this distinctiveness is a double-edged sword. While many appreciate its uniqueness, others liken its taste to something as unconventional as a shoe.

Moxie also has taken hold of other food groups. Whether online recipes or unique store items along Route 1, you can find:

  • Moxie BBQ Sauce
  • Moxie Ice Cream
  • Moxie Jelly
  • Moxie Mustard
  • Moxy & Milk Shake

Not to mention several stores throughout Maine and New Hampshire that sell Moxie merchandise to fill your closet.

Moxie also became a controversial Netflix movie in 2021, based on a rebellious teenager battling sexism in high school. While it has nothing to do with the soda, it should how much the name has worked its way into modern culture.

The Key to Moxie Soda

The most distinct taste in Moxie is usually referred to as the bitterness, which comes from the gentian root, as mentioned above. Let’s dive a little more into that.

When the Moxie Nerve Food was first released, it was said to have an extract from a rare South American plant, later revealed to be gentian root. We now know that gentian root has been used as a health supplement since 170 B.C. The most touted benefit is aiding in digestion.

Little data, even today, backs up the health benefits beliefs. Yet, gentian root has found its way into cosmetics and is said to reduce inflammation and calm irritated skin.

The ingredient list for Moxie in 2023 includes:

  • Carbonated Water
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup
  • Gentian Root Extractives
  • Caramel Coloring
  • Citric Acid
  • Caffeine

The caffeine content is almost 40 milligrams per 20 ounces, which isn’t much compared to the 205 milligrams in a grande Starbucks Cold Brew. The sugar content of a Moxie is 124% of the daily recommended value!

Mixed Opinions on Moxie

Some have expressed uncertainty after trying it, caught in a limbo of liking and disliking the beverage. On the other hand, there are ardent fans who absolutely adore Moxie. For them, the soda starts off with a soft flavor and concludes with a hint of anise, making it a delightful experience. Some even go as far as to rank it above popular sodas like Coke or Pepsi.

Most people won’t have a neutral stance on Moxie soda. It’s a love-it-or-hate-it beverage that crosses generations. The makers of Moxie, then and now, aren’t really concerned with mass taste bud appeal. It’s now marketed as “Distinctively Different.”

“If you haven’t had it, you’re missing out. If you don’t like it, that’s awful because it’s delicious,” Scott posted on TikTok.

Meanwhile, Sonjia from Maine made sure her nephew’s first soda sip was Moxie. (He liked it!)

It’s hard to get good interviews with people who don’t like Moxie soda because they usually just twitch with a pained expression on their faces.

We’ve watched dozens of people try Moxie for the first time, and most feedback says it starts tasting like a strong root beer and then has a black licorice kicker.

Those who don’t like Moxie have said it tastes like cough syrup, dirt, and even “putrified black licorice,” or a combination of three. Some comments from Moxie haters are too graphic to publish here, but they’re just as entitled to their ^#%@%!) opinions, too!

Moxie isn’t something you’ll appreciate with just one drink. Take it from Frank Anicetti, the man who was known as Mr. Moxie in Lisbon, Maine.

“To a newcomer who’s never tasted Moxie, because of the different taste, it can be compared to nothing else. On the first taste, you might want to spit it out and throw it away. Don’t. On the second test, you might want to do the same, but don’t. Wait for that third taste to allow the true flavor of Moxie to tickle the tastebuds,” Mr. Moxie was known to say whenever asked about the sweet and bitter drink.

Our favorite comment might just be from this “Does Anyone Actually Like Moxie Cola” Reddit thread, “It reminds me of TAB with that old tire aftertaste that strangely grows on you.

Things to Know Before You Drink Moxie

Let’s get a few things straight before you hunt down Moxie on your next Maine visit, straight from Mainers.

  1. Moxie will not be pushed on you like sweet tea is in the South.
  2. Drinking Moxie, no matter how much, will not make you a Mainer.
  3. Making a big deal about drinking your first Moxie will automatically make you stand out as a tourist.

If you really want to go “full-throttle Maine,” find a bar that serves a Burnt Trailer. That mixes two classic Maine drinks – Moxie and Allen’s Coffee Brandy, a brandy that could be a whole article on its own were it not for all the politically incorrect and potentially offensive nicknames for the drink mixes.

The Moxie Festival-Lisbon
The Moxie Festival | photo via mknnmr

Celebrate All Things Moxie at Maine’s Moxie Festival

Mr. Moxie was a local legend, having come up with the idea of the Moxie Festival held annually in Lisbon, Maine. He passed away in 2017, but the festival lives on in his honor and to support this beverage that defines generations of Mainers.

Lisbon claims the Moxie Festival Parade is the “longest parade in the state of Maine.” A full carnival setup with live bands brings about 20,000 people to Lisbon, nearly doubling the population for three days during the second weekend in July.

MORE: 70 Annual Festivals & Events in Maine

One thing you can’t argue is the distinct flavors of Moxie, and that means it’s a perfect ingredient for recipes from desserts to turkey basting. The Moxie Recipe Contest is one of the highlights of the festival.

You’ll have to like Moxie to be a contender in the Chuggin’ Contest. More Maine specialties like the Whoopie Pie eating contest for kids are embraced. A “Lobstah Feast” runs in conjunction with the Moxie Festival. How much more “Maine” can you get??

In 2023, a competitor in the Moxie Festival’s Chicken Chuckin’ Contest went viral for his amazing arm. I guess you could say. “That kid has moxie!”.

Is There a Moxie Museum?

The Matthews Museum of Maine Heritage in Lisbon has a wing dedicated to Moxie. Pick up a piece of merchandise while you’re there to support this museum. You can also visit the Moxie Museum shop online.

It’s Your Turn to Try Moxie Soda

If you’re not going to be in Maine anytime soon but want to try Moxie, head to the nearest Cracker Barrel restaurant and see if they have it in stock. We found some on Amazon as well.

Whether Moxie soda is great or gross is truly in the taste buds of the beholder. Its rich history and one-of-a-kind flavor make it a topic of passionate discussion among soda aficionados. Whether you find it delightful or distasteful, one thing is certain: Moxie is unforgettable.

Now it’s time for you to sound off: Do you like Moxie? Is it great or gross?

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