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Moxie | Maine’s Favorite Soda

Celebrating Moxie - Maine's favorite soda with the curious flavor you either love or hate, but can't forget!

4.42 avg. rating (87% score) - 12 votes

If you’re “from away” you might not like the taste, but for many New Englanders, a  long, cold sip of Moxie is a crisp, carbonated reminder of home. If you’ve never tried it, it’s hard to describe the distinct flavor, but like a lot of things in life, people seem to either love it or hate it. I think Moxie tastes like a subtle, not-too-sweet blend of wintergreen and licorice, but others…well…they toss around words like medicine, motor oil, and “root beer that’s gone really funky.”

moxie cans

Mini Moxie cans.

Aimee Seavey

For shame.

Of course, to drink Moxie you’ve got to be able to find it. While it was once available in more than 30 states and parts of Canada, today the memorable soda (or tonic, depending where in New England you’re from) is almost exclusively found in our 6 states.

moxie overhead

Crisp…refreshing…Moxie!

Aimee Seavey

So what’s the Moxie story? In 1876 Maine-born Dr. Augustin Thompson invented the original Moxie while living in Lowell, Massachusetts as a concentrated medicine (the name might have been inspired by Moxie Falls or Moxie Pond in Maine, but nobody knows for sure) with ingredients like gentian root, wintergreen, sassafras and possibly even cocaine. In 1884 he decided to add carbonation and re-brand the product “Moxie Nerve Food” which claimed to have “cured drunkards by the thousands, effectively too; made more homes happy; cured more nervous, prostrated, overworked people; prevented more crime and suffering in New England than all other agencies combined” — at 40 cents per quart bottle. By the early 1900s Moxie (they dropped the “nerve food” in 1906 after the Food and Drug Act tightened label regulations) was the nation’s favorite soft drink, outselling modern-giant Coca-Cola, which first hit the market in 1886.

Wildly popular, Moxie had a lot of imitators, but the brand worked hard to hold onto its title as the original “distinctively different” drink. Imagine a soda claiming it was pure and wholesome for children today? In the 1920s Moxie did!

early moxie ads

Early Moxie newspaper ads from 1902 and the 1920s.

By the 1940s, Moxie was especially known for its advertising gimmicks, giveaways, Ted Williams endorsements, and the signature “pointing” Moxie Boy. The giveaways ran the gamut from posters, bottle openers, and paper fans to sheet music, sets of dishware, and ornate, carved clocks. In fact, Moxie was such a household name that the word “moxie” also entered the lexicon as word meaning energy, pep, and spunk. Vigor, if you like.

moxie 1940s

Moxie newspaper ads from the 1940’s.

Today, many Moxie memorabilia items are considered collectible. In 1969, Yankee devoted an article to Moxie memorabilia as antiques, paying particular attention to the Horsemobile — a life-sized model horse attached to a car and steered from the saddle, touting the joys of Moxie.

moxie memorabilia

A look at a 1969 story in Yankee on Moxie memorabilia.

While the drink’s national popularity began to decline as tastes evolved and Coca-Cola and Pepsi (which dates back to the 1890s) grew stronger, New Englanders refused to give it up. It’s true that Moxie maintains a core group of loving loyalists throughout the region, but Maine is where Moxie is arguably most beloved. For more than 30 years the town of Lisbon has held a 3-day Moxie Festival the second week in July, celebrating all things Moxie with a clambake, fireworks, cooking contest, parade, book sale, car show, race, and more. The state loves Moxie so much that in 2005 it became the state’s official soft drink.

Beyond grocery story shelves, special Moxie collections are on display at the “Moxie Wing” of Matthews Museum of Maine Heritage and Clark’s Trading Post in Lincoln, New Hampshire (where  the world’s only surviving original Moxie Horsemobile is on display), not to mention for sale at places like Zeb’s General Store in North Conway, Hampshire and the Kennebec Fruit Co. in Lisbon Falls, Maine, where owner Frank Anicetti delights as Moxie’s unofficial ambassador.

moxie zeb's general store

Moxie items for sale at Zeb’s General Store in North Conway, NH.

While the taste of Moxie is memorably distinct, there are many who point out that if you’re trying it now for the first time, you’re still not getting the “original” Moxie experience. They say it’s not as carbonated as it used to be, or as bitter (which is a bad thing). This could be changing palates or the loss of sassafras (federally banned in 1960 as a potential carcinogen), but it could also be the high fructose corn syrup instead of sugar.

Since 2007, Moxie has been owned by Japan’s Kirin Brewery Company, Ltd., which also owns the Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Northern New England where Moxie is made.

moxie glass

Moxie – New England’s signature tonic!

Aimee Seavey

But like it or not, it’s ours, and has been for more than 130 years. Now that’s something to drink to!

Not in New England? Fear not! Moxie (regular, diet, and turbo-charged energy) is available for purchase online via the Moxie website, where you’ll also find historic photos and recipes for Moxie cocktails, Moxie Baked Beans, and Moxie Chocolate Cake.

Here’s to another century of Moxie!

MOXIEAre you a fan of Moxie?

This post was first published in 2014 and has been updated.

Comments
  • Hi Kenneth! Thanks so much for your comments. You are absolutely right about Pepsi. It was developed and created in the 1890s, not the 19060s (that’s just when the name changed from Pepsi-Cola to Pepsi). We’ve updated the post to correct this!

    As for the gentian root, I did mention it as one of Moxie’s original ingredients, along with wintergreen, sassafras, and possibly even cocaine. I never tasted the original formula, so I can’t comment on how it’s different today, but my research says that sassafras is no longer used in commercially produced root beer since safrole oil was banned for use in commercially mass-produced foods and drugs by the FDA in 1960 due to health concerns (learn more at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2504026/). You can buy the oil commercially, though, in case you want to make your own soda at home with it. :)

    Reply
  • Kenneth

    A couple more corrections, in case no one else noticed…

    Moxie’s special ingredient is gentian root, not sassafras, and neither are potential carcinogens as far as I know (sassafras is used in root beer). Some folks enjoy gentian tea to calm the nerves, and they aren’t getting cancer from it. For some reason, around the time that Monarch owned Moxie, the amount of gentian extract in Moxie was reduced, and for those of us who remember the older formula, the new taste is a bit too mild.

    Pepsi’s been around for more than 100 years, not just since the ’60s.

    Reply
  • try the diet moxie as it is close to the original which I started drinking in the 50’s

    Reply
  • Aimee

    Hi Mark! What excellent detective work! When I read that Moxie was sold to a company that was owned by the Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Northern New England, I thought that meant Coca-Cola. However, you are right! The Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Northern New England, while the largest independent bottler of Coca-Cola in the United States (also according to Wikipedia), is not owned by Coca-Cola, but the Japanese brewing company you mentioned. I still find the name confusing, but, of course, we’ll correct the article! Thanks for letting us know!

    Reply
  • I read elsewhere (Wikipedia) that Coca Cola has no ownership of the Moxie brand? The confusion stems from Cornucopia Beverages (Moxie brand owner) being owned by the Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Northern New England:

    “The Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Northern New England…is the largest independent bottler of Coca-Cola in the United States. The Coca-Cola Company does not own an interest, as the company is 100% owned by Japan’s Kirin Brewery Company, Ltd., who also own the rights to the Moxie soft drink nationwide.”

    Can anyone verify/debunk?

    Reply
  • Growing up in NH we always had Moxie. I thought it was more like medicine than anything. I live in Wyoming now and I haven’t found it anywhere in Wy.however we were in Billings, Mt this past week. We usually stop àt World Market to pick up some items and to my surprise, there were small size bottles of Moxie. So I stocked up on a few bottles.

    Reply
  • Despite being a native of the West, I’ve always liked Moxie more than the popular colas (although we think of “Shasta” as folks in Maine recall Moxie, I think!). Moxie is sold (most often as in “sold out”) in the greater Seattle and Portland metro areas, and still a wonderful treat.

    Reply
  • I liked the Moxie of years ago much better than the ” new and improved” flavor and ingredients. I find I rarely drink it anymore for that reason.

    Reply
  • I’m 91 years young and grew up in the Bar Harbor area with Moxie. Have lived in the southwestern part of Ohio since 1946, having traveled back to God’s Country almost every two years. Always brought back liters of Moxie when not traveling by air. It doesn’t seem to have the same flavor I remember when much younger; however, it’s still Moxie and I love the herbal, somewhat bitter taste. It takes me back home to Maine!

    Reply
  • Living in New Jersey, my stepsons and I go to Catawissa, PA for our Moxie. It is made there as well, with one difference; Maine Moxie is made with corn syrup, and PA Moxie with cane sugar. It’s a subtle difference in taste, but we’ve had both and can tell the difference. We buy cases when we go, because it’s a 2-hour trip!

    Reply
  • Phyllis

    I grew up drinking Moxie in Presque Isle, ME up in The County. Always loved the stuff and now that I’m away I couldn’t find it. Last summer, July 2013, I was in Maine again for the first time in years and drank as much as I could and brought home several cases to enjoy. I also visited the Moxie Museum in Lisbon and enjoyed it thoroughly having bought as reminders; Moxie t-shirts, Moxie socks; Moxie bandannas. . . . . . . it was wonderful. Maine wouldn’t be Maine without Moxie.

    Reply

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