Zima, the ‘90s Clear Beer Alternative, Is Poised for a Comeback
I remember Zima extremely well. In 1994, when Coors introduced the effervescent and citrusy, clear-colored 4.7 percent ABV alternative to beer (if beer was Coca-Cola, then Zima was supposed to be Sprite). I was just 15 years old, which shows just how broadly the beverage was marketed at the time (and maybe the kind of demographic it actually appealed to). Commercials for the product memorably featured actor Roger Kabler, donning a distinctive black hat, portraying a character that could be seen as kind of a pre-curser to the hipster – ironically making mocking hipsters cool before it was cool. Needless to say, the quirky ads – like the beverage itself – were more notable for being discomfortingly weird than being effective.
Though Zima sparked initial intrigue, selling 1.3 million barrels out of the gate, by 1996 it sold less than a third of that volume. And though Zima didn’t quite crash and burn as badly as 1992’s Crystal Pepsi experiment (Zima hung on until 2008, whereas Crystal Pepsi was gone by 1993), Zima was definitely seen as a clear beverage bust.
But speaking of Crystal Pepsi, ‘90s clear beverage nostalgia has been back with a vengeance the past few years. In case you’ve been living in a cave recently (possibly hanging out with Roger Kabler), Pepsi has revived its clear cola flop multiple times as marketing gimmicks since 2015. Additionally, flavored sparkling water Clearly Canadian underwent a much-hyped if only somewhat successful comeback. So it was only a matter of time before some marketing exec at MillerCoors decided to prove how creative he is by suggesting his company do the same thing everyone else has done and bring back its previously-maligned clear beverage. Zima failed before; how can it fail again?!
So when will we all have the opportunity to remind ourselves why we disliked Zima so much in the first place? Believe it or not, even though hints of the comeback only started dropping late last week, according to Ad Age, citing Beer Business Daily, bottles of Zima are already sitting in distributor warehouses, meaning Zima could strike at any moment. Meanwhile, a MillerCoors spokesman was quoted as saying that “more news [is] coming soon” and that “if you're one of the zillion fans who have missed Zima, the answer should be clear.” Zillions of Zima fans? You know, it’s that exact kind of cutesy marketing bullshit that led people to hate Zima in the first place.
But here’s the good news: Reportedly if and when Zima does come back, it will “allegedly be offered for a limited time only.” Because when it comes to Zima, less is more. You see, some of us actually remember the ‘90s really well, and though we like to pretend it was all Nirvana and Pavement, a hell of a lot of it was actually Creed and Limp Bizkit.