If you’ve spent a substantial amount of time in Maine or Northern New England, you’ve most likely stumbled upon the drink Moxie and wondered what it is and what it tastes like.
In Maine in particular, the drink ascends mere beverage status and is considered a cultural icon. The drink is so revered in Maine that in 2005, Governor John Baldacci signed a law making Moxie the official soda of the state.
But what is the history of Moxie? What’s it made of? And more importantly, what does Moxie taste like?
You’ll find answers to all these questions and more in the sections below.
The history of Moxie
In 1876, Dr. Augustin Thompson of Union, Maine created Moxie as a patent medicine at the Ayer Drug Company in Lowell, Massachusetts. At the time, the substance was named “Moxie Nerve Food”.
Thompson claimed that Moxie was effective against “paralysis, softening of the brain, nervousness, and insomnia” due to an ingredient derived from a South American plant which is now known to be gentian root.
A few years later, soda water was added to the medicinal formula, making it the first carbonated beverage sold in the United States. With the new recipe, the drink’s name was changed to “Beverage Moxie Nerve Food”.
By 1884, Moxie was being sold in bottles and also as a soda fountain syrup (thus the reason why recent Moxie cans say “since 1884”). By 1885, Thompson trademarked the term and began marketing it as a “delicious blend of bitter and sweet”.
In 1906, due to the Pure Food and Drug Act passed that year, Moxie had to drop marketing statements claiming the drink cured “dullness of the brain” and other ailments. Also this year the term “Nerve Food” was dropped and the name became just “Moxie”.
U.S. President Calvin Coolidge was known to have enjoyed Moxie so much that he toasted his 1923 swearing into office with the beverage. And Boston Red Sox baseball player Ted Williams was also a fan, having endorsed Moxie on the radio and in newspapers. In the early sixties, the company marketed Moxie as “Ted’s Root Beer”.
By the 1930s, Moxie sales experienced a significant decline. But a 1960s ad campaign in Mad Magazine increased sales by 10%.
Still, sales never recovered to where they once were – distributed throughout the United States and in parts of Canada. Today, Moxie is owned by the Coca-Cola Company and is only available for sale in New England.
What is Moxie soda made of?
The ingredients in Moxie consist of carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, natural and artificial flavors, caramel color, sodium benzoate, phosphoric acid, caffeine, and citric acid.
Moxie also contains less than 2% of gentian root extract, giving the drink its distinctive taste. Gentian root has a bitter taste which accounts for the drink’s aftertaste.
Gentian root was also the ingredient that supposedly gave Moxie its medicinal qualities back when it first originated as “Moxie Nerve Food”. And while people have traditionally used gentian root to address a number of ailments, there are few scientific studies on its effectiveness.
What does Moxie soda taste like?
People either either love Moxie or they hate it. Rarely does anyone say “It’s just OK.”
The best way to describe what Moxie tastes like is that it’s both sweet and somewhat bitter.
The soda takes on characteristics of root beer and cola but with a distinctive flavor – derived from gentian root – that gives it an ever-so-slightly-bitter flavor.
Some have referred to Moxie as medicinal in flavor, tasting like motor oil, or having a subtle licorice taste.
But it’s also important to note that the taste of Moxie has changed over the years.
At one time the drink contained sassafras, but this was removed after it was considered carcinogenic. And the recent use of high fructose corn syrup is believed to have added more sweetness to the drink, making it less bitter.
Does Moxie have a cult following?
Those who love Moxie can’t get enough of it. Former Mainers who’ve moved away have been known to stock up on the drink when they return to the state.
And one group loves Moxie so much that they’ve put on a Moxiefest for three days each summer since 1982. Held in Lisbon, Maine, the event includes a parade, recipe contest, 5K race, chugging contest, car show, and, in honor of another Maine favorite, a whoopie pie eating contest.
Chefs, primarily in Maine, have also used Moxie in recipes. The drink has been used as a marinade for meat, as a complement to vanilla ice cream, and at Frank’s Restaurant in Lisbon, incorporated into an onion jam.
About Kerry Flatley
Kerry Flatley has lived in New England for the past 26 years. She has roots in Maine & Massachusetts, family in New Hampshire, and grew up close to the Connecticut border. She loves all that this region has to offer – the ocean, mountains, islands, history, villages, and cities. When she’s not writing about New England, she’s relaxing at home in the Boston suburbs with her two teenage daughters and husband.