'90s Beverages: Where Are They Now?
In the mood for “zomething different?” Me zneither. But that didn’t stop this “clear beer alternative” malt beverage from making a splash in the 90s. What was Zima? Aimed at helping Coors capture a beer-eschewing market, it was basically a cheap lager beer put through charcoal filtration. Of course, that process removes all the delicious beeriness, so citrus flavors were added to make it drinkable. With an annoying z-themed, hipster ad campaign that today makes even the most ironic enclaves of Williamsburg seem tolerable, the citrus-flavored booze distributed by Coors Brewing Co. was a meteoric hit out of the gate, selling 1.3 million barrels in 1994. But Zima’s reputation as a less-than-legitimate way to get drunk (according to anecdotes around the F&W office, it was the unofficial drink of your first high school hangover) coupled with its popularity among women (thus making it a “girly drink” that guys with fragile masculinity wouldn’t be caught dead ordering), only served to further the brand into a whatever-the-opposite-of-meteoric-is slump. Just two years later sales were down by two thirds, as told in this obituary of the beverage from Slate. Zima was finally discontinued in the U.S. in 2008, but managed to stick around in the Japanese market. Although a few years ago the brand did provide a recipe so present-day Zimaphilliacs could make it at home.
Where is Zima now?
Coming back to a store near you! MillerCoors has announced the return of Zima for 2017 and apparently warehouses are already stocked with the stuff and ready for distribution. Or “zistribution.” I’m not sure about anything anymore. According to the Slate article, in 1994 70 percent of regular drinkers had tried Zima at least once. Maybe it's worth another shot.
Jolt Cola (1985)
If cocaine was your thing in the 1980s, then Jolt was the soda for you! Kicking off the energy drink craze, the cola was invented in 1985 by C.J. Rapp when he noticed fellow undergrads concocting beverages to stay awake while studying. Jolt sported 72mg of caffeine per serving, just under the limits set by the Food and Drug Administration (though only about 1/3 of the jolt in a cup of coffee) and double the cane sugar of other soft drinks. Around my neighborhood, it had a reputation for being dangerous and possibly causing heart explosions (as told to me by my neighbor at the time who was in junior high, so obviously a qualified medical professional). The cola took on a few iterations—different flavors, an artificially sweetened lower calorie version and an even higher caffeine content version, as well as a packaging upgrade from standard single-use cans to glass bottles and tall, resealable aluminum canisters referred to as “Battery bottles.” Despite popularity on college campuses and at LAN parties around the world, the latter containers ended up being the company’s downfall.
Where is Jolt Cola now?
The Jolt Company, later Wet Planet Beverages, filed for bankruptcy in 2009 after it failed to pay a manufacturer for an order of 90 million of those resealable “battery” cans in full. Jolt was also rebranded as Jolt Energy but failed to catch on in the newly saturated energy drink market of the last decade. Rumors online seem to indicate it is apparently still bottled in glass, but I was unable to confirm this. Oh also, it became a caffeinated gum.
What Mello Yello was to the '80s and Mountain Dew was to the '70s and Sprite was to the '60s and 7-Up was to the '30s, Surge was the '90s. (Phew!) Surge was a hardcore, caffeinated citrus soda, not like those wimpy other brands which were apparently wimpy(?). Originally a Norwegian product called Urge, it was marketed with an extreme sports aesthetic and the bright, green splatter can design seemed perfectly primed for a raised-on-Nickelodeon generation able to make their own beverage buying choices. Unfortunately, the not-Mountain Dew market could only support so much competition. Sales slumped and by 2003 the cans and bottles were mostly gone from store shelves and vending machines.
Where is Surge now?
After a successful fan campaign launched online with the help of social media, Coca-Cola re-released Surge in September of 2014 in a limited run, and later re-tested the product in stores in 2015. Those tests proved successful, and it’s still available today, including in slushy form!
Clearly Canadian (1987)
The clear, sparkling beverage, indeed from Canada, could be considered the LaCroix of its day, (even though LaCroix also existed in that day). Except that this was before the anti-sugar boom, so to the sweeter went the spoils. The beverage was made from Canadian spring water, natural flavoring and pure cane sugar (though high fructose corn syrup was used for a time) and packed in blue-hued, teardrop-shaped glass bottles. Keen eyes can spot the distinctive product popping up in movies and television shows throughout the 90s, proving its status as the first premium, “new age” beverage on the market. Masquerading as mineral water at first, the light soft drink was able to maintain an air of sophistication as an imported product. Indeed, from Canada.
Where is Clearly Canadian now?
On your doorstep. While the brand never actually went away completely, production did decline or cease all together on a year-by-year basis in the past decade or so. But with increasing demand in recent years and two successful, sold-out limited runs in 2012 and 2013, fans are now able to order cases in four flavors directly from the official website and can follow the brand on Facebook for updates on potential future rollouts.
Just before Captain Planet made recycling a heroic act, kids everywhere were thrilled at the prospect of twisting wing-shaped nubs off of the top of soft plastic bottles, all of which would later end up in the cafetorium trash bin. Produced by General Mills, the fruit-flavored drinks (10 percent fruit juice, 100 percent liquid candy) were coveted lunch box fare for their bright colors and super fun interactivity. You know… squeezing. Go ahead, name one other drink you get to squeeze! Capri Sun? Okay, fine. The bottles later sported faces and even pellets that changed the drink’s color, a sobering reminder that nothing about this beverage was real (save for that 10 percent fruit juice). The trend proved popular, and copycats Mondo Cooler and Kool-Aid Bursts soon followed.
Where is Squeezit now?
As of 2001, gone but not forgotten, often topping nostalgia lists as one of the most desired reboot candidates. Come on, General Mills! Have you learned nothing from Hi-C Ecto Cooler?
Hi-C Ecto Cooler (1989)
While the Ghostbusters characters had been relegated to controversial film sequel and cheesy Saturday morning cartoon status by 1989, the green citrus punch sporting an image of the Slimer managed to keep the franchise alive in juice box form well into ‘90s. Minute Maid used the green blob ghost to rebrand their Citrus Cooler, a flavor that had been around since the 1960s, as a tie-in to the release of Ghostbusters II. That iteration stayed around until 1997 when the Slimer character was removed from the box. The Ecto Cooler we knew finally saw its end in 2001 when it was renamed Shoutin’ Orange Tangerine. A formula change soon followed (so it wouldn’t stain clothes) and the drink’s name was once again changed to Crazy Citrus Cooler. That version was ultimately discontinued in 2007.
Where is Hi-C Ecto Cooler now?
Crystal Pepsi (1992)
Launched to the strains of Van Halen’s epic anthem “Right Now,” Crystal Pepsi was the soft drink that defined the early ’90s beverage scene. Yeah, it was a cola. Yeah, it was Pepsi. But hey, man, it was clear. The debut was like a spiritual awakening. “Why are we drinking brown sodas anyway? Who signed off on that? In fact, now that I think about it, we’ve been guzzling gross-looking, carbonated sludge for decades without even questioning it! Why should cola lovers suffer the proliferation of caramel color? There’s a new option in town, and the choice is clear!” That “clear choice” was apparently not chosen by anyone and the cola of the future was gone by the end of 1993.
Where is Crystal Pepsi now?
Oddly enough, it was art that saved Crystal Pepsi from complete extinction. A viral stunt by competitive eater Kevin Strahle, aka L.A. Beast, which saw him dousing a painting with a vintage bottle of the clear cola, helped launch a campaign and a Change.org petition to bring the drink back. Pepsi responded directly to Strahle saying he and other fans of the kitschy beverage would soon get their wish. It was offered to contest participants in late 2015, but a wider release occurred in the summer of 2016. Unfortunately, like the first time around, it seems Crystal Pepsi was available for a limited time only.
Launched as an answer to Snapple and targeted at a younger crowd, Fruitopia was a fun, quasi-psychedelic brand of fruit-flavored beverages released by the Coca-Cola Company in the mid-‘90s. Time Magazine even called it one of the Top 10 New Products of 1994 (right alongside Donkey Kong Country!). With the slogan “For the mind, body, and planet,” flavors like “Strawberry Passion Awareness,” “Tangerine Wavelength” and “Lemonade Love & Hope” (clearly they stopped trying when the they got to lemonade) and kaleidoscopic ads featuring the music of artists like Kate Bush, the brand capitalized on the commercialized new-hippie culture of the 90s. You know, like, peace symbol jewelry and sunflower hats and John Lennon sunglasses and stuff.
Where is Fruitopia now?
Coca-Cola still uses the name Fruitopia on some of the products under its Minute Maid brand, but with steadily slumping sales, the product saw its official end as a standalone line of beverages in 2003. (Canada and Australia still carry Fruitopia juice drinks, however they’re apparently a different formula than the U.S. version.)
Mmm, just what I love in a drink: chunks! First things first, what the hell were those globules floating around in these bottles? Gellan gum. (And if your next question is “do they cause cancer?” fear not. If anything they actually could help your constipation, according to a National Institute of Health study.) Introduced in the late ‘90s, Orbitz was widely seen as a marketing disaster. The website actually welcomed visitors by saying, “Prepare to embark on a tour into the bowels of the Orbiterium.” Given that study, I guess “bowels” is kind of appropriate. Not helping things were the entirely-too-complex flavors, like “Pineapple Banana Cherry Coconut” and "Blueberry Melon Strawberry.” Which flavors are the liquid and which flavors are the floaty nubbins? We need answers! The drink was discontinued within about a year.
Where is Orbitz now?
In the wake of Generation Y’s '90s nostalgia, unopened bottles of Orbitz have become something of a collector's item. Clearly Canadian, the maker of Orbitz, says they’ve heeded the demand for a comeback, but the science has to be worked out first. According to the website FAQ section, “We know there is a serious following seeking Orbitz. We are researching whether Orbitz can in fact be re-produced. It was a technologically advanced drink then and remains so. Have you seen a bottle from 1997? The balls are still floating! NO JOKE.” So for now, hopes for a reboot like those balls of gelatin are still suspended.