So I’ve relived my experience with Coke II and it really made me remember one of the things I love about writing this blog–digging up those odd, random things in the culture that I remember and poking around to see if I can find out anything else about them. I will, of course, confess that the only time I ever remember seeing Coke II other than the can I had back in 2005 was at random on the shelf of Grand Union while accompanying my dad on a quick grocery run back in the day. But soda as a part of my childhood–or maybe even as a not-part of my childhood (if such a term exists)–sticks out in my mind and as I reread my old blog post, I started thinking about how well I remember some of the more off-brand or random varieties of soft drinks rather than say the countless gallons of Coke or Pepsi products that I’ve gulped down in my lifetime. On the occasions where soda would make its way into the house–at parties, for instance–I distinctly remember labels beyond Coke and Pepsi. And when we went somewhere, there was a whole different world of beverage. Looking at my list, it wasn’t EPCOT’s “Club Cool” per se, but I still think it’s a decent assortment.
RC Cola: I’ll start with a soda brand that is actually pretty old and still well known. RC has been around since 1905 and should be up there with Coke or Pepsi, but I’ve always put it in a distant third place behind the other two despite its place in cola history–for example, RC was the first company to put soda in a can (and later in aluminum cans) and in 1958 would introduce the first-ever diet cola, Diet Rite.
And yet, I will always associate RC Cola with the Mets, who sold RC and Diet Rite at Shea Stadium in the 1980s. I can picture ice-less cola full to the brim that was guaranteed to spill at least a little when you bought it from the guy walking up and down the steps of the upper deck. Which, by the way, was a feat in itself because those steps were so steep that you practically needed a Sherpa to make it up to the top of the stadium.
In the years since, the Mets have changed their main cola–for a while it was Pepsi and I think now it’s Coca-Cola, but it’s been so many years since I have been to a Mets game that I’m not entirely sure if that’s true. I’m honestly not sure I’ve had it since the 1980s or 1990s, even though the brand is still around and is currently owned by the Dr. Pepper Snapple company, which touts it as a “favorite of cola drinkers throughout America.”
Fanta: This is neither an obscure or random soda–in fact, Fanta’s various fruit flavors are still around and popular and the brand had a pretty visible ad campaign featuring a group of singing, dancing spokeswomen called The Fantanas in the early 2000s.
The history of the Fanta cola flavor is actually fascinating, as it was created in Germany in World War II to be used as a cola substitute since the Coca-Cola plants in Germany were largely cut off from America and therefore couldn’t get shipments of materials they needed to make the beverage. This, of course, is information I discovered when writing this blog post and had no bearing on my various encounters with Fanta over the years. My personal association with Fanta goes back to the 1980s and its orange soda and root beer flavors. The orange soda, I recall, was one of those sodas that might have been on tap at a restaurant in place of Sunkist or Crush and since orange wasn’t my go-to flavor, I never paid much attention to it.
Root beer, however, was my primary concern whenever I was allowed to get soda at a restaurant. I’d, of course, get a Coke if I had to, but whenever root beer was on the menu, I was there. And very often, it was Fanta, especially if the establishment sold Coke products. Sayville Pizza was one such place and I remember its brown, white, and blue logo being on the soda machine behind the main counter whenever my friends and I would ride our bikes up there to get two slices and a soda for lunch during the summer. It wasn’t a particularly memorable flavor of root beer, and the Coca-Cola company would replace it with the more distinguishable Barq’s in the late 1990s, but I always think of this soda more than other root beers like A&W or Ramblin’ Root Beer (remember that?) because what it did was set the “default” taste for root beer in my mind (which probably explains why I don’t like Barq’s very much.
Hires Root Beer: Speaking of root beer, a brand that I drank a lot of when I was younger but I have specific memories of is Hires Root Beer. This, like RC Cola and Fanta, has a much longer history than I expected and is, in fact, the second-longest produced soft drink in the United States. It was originally created in Philadelphia but I actually always associate it with New England; specifically, I place it in New Hampshire and the years my family spent vacationing on Kezar Lake in North Sutton. And while I am sure that my time at the lake and time visiting Weirs Beach and Lake Winnepesaukee is a blog post and podcast episode to rival Rob Kelly’s “Mountain Comics,” I will say that Hires was a pretty popular brand of root beer up there and I think that we had at least one or two pieces of merchandise–trinkets, magnets, pencil holders–with the logo on it because we had cashed in a billion arcade tickets from playing hours upon hours of skee-ball.
I don’t have much to say about the taste of Hires, except that I drank a lot of it whenever I went up there, probably because it tasted like Fanta or whatever I expected root beer to taste like. But those weeks in the summer spent pumping quarters into arcade machines new and old and walking up to the local general store to buy baseball cards or Mad Magazines are always going to be associated with this one logo or can of soda. It’s all another story for another time, but at least worth a mention here.
7-Up Gold: Now we’re getting into something that really no longer exists. 7-Up Gold was an attempt by the “Uncola” to actually create a cola and it was a massive flop. Only available in 1987 and 1988, the company, which had previously had success with Cherry 7-Up (a soda that I could have also put on this list), decided to completely go against what it bragged about in its ad campaigns from the early 1980s (not a cola, never had caffeine) and basically tried to clone Coke and Pepsi. In a 1989 New York Times article, then 7-Up president Roger Easley said that “The product was misunderstood by the consumer. People have a clear view of what 7-Up products should be — clear and crisp and clean, and no caffeine. 7-Up Gold is darker and does have caffeine, so it doesn’t fit the 7-Up image.”
The cola is described in the article as having actually come from the Dr. Pepper Company, which had merged with 7-Up in the previous year, as having a “reddish caramel hue” and a flavor that doesn’t necessarily taste like cola but “tastes something like ginger ale with a cinnamon-apple overtone and a caffeine kick.” I honestly barely remember that, but I do remember being lured in by commercials like this:
For me, who was so uncool in 1988 that I thought this was cool, I was sold and wanted to try some. I remember that my parents did cave at one point at bought at least one bottle of it for my birthday party in 1988 and I actually bragged to my friends that we had 7-Up Gold. It’s no wonder I went straight to the bottom of the social ladder over the next few years.
Schweppes Raspberry Ginger Ale: As I mentioned, soda was not something you got in my house when I was a kid, but my parents did sometimes grab ginger ale off of the shelf and that would be the drink of choice for my sister and I after we had finished our chocolate milk at dinner. Yeah, nothing says dessert at my house in the 1980s more than Sealtest Ice Milk washed down with Raspberry Schweppes.
Now, Schweppes still makes the raspberry ginger ale, although John Cleese is no longer used in its advertisements. I don’t really drink ginger ale at all, unless I’ve spent the day vomiting. So this is one of those that definitely is left in the past and is probably key in why I went buck wild with drinking soda my freshman year of college.
C&C Cola: Finally, there’s C&C Cola. Headquartered in New Jersey and still in production today, C&C is one of those near-generic “off brand” sodas that makes its way onto store shelves next to store brand such as Master Choice and other off-brand colas like Cott and Shasta. C&C, however, was one of those off-brand sodas that actually made a small dent in the northeast. No, it couldn’t exactly compete with Coke or Pepsi, but it made enough of an effort to gain what it could in the 1980s with a wide variety of flavors as well as commercials:
For my parents, C&C was the soda you got when you were having big family parties. My dad would drive up to Thrifty Beverage, which was our local beer and soda “distributor” (i.e., a huge warehouse of beer and soda that also had a retail space) and buy several flats of C&C in various flavors. And by various, I mean various: cola, diet cola, ginger ale, root beer, cream soda, lemon-line, black cherry, grape, and orange. These were packaged very basically, with each flavor getting a different-colored can (i.e., lime green for lemon-lime, brown for root beer, orange for orange, tan for cream soda, grape for purple). I think that over the course of that party, my sister and I would try to drink one of every single flavor; then, we’d try to stretch out the leftovers for days.
C&C is still around and still independently owned and operated out of New Jersey. I don’t recall seeing any of the soda down here in Virginia (although my local blood bank has plenty of Shasta on hand), but a look at its website shows that it’s still making all of the flavors that I enjoyed when I was younger as well as several novelty flavors like cotton candy.
At present, my main soda of choice is Coke Zero and Brett isn’t much of a soda kid–he likes orange soda and a few other things but will usually go for HI-C or lemonade whenever we’re at a restaurant. We also now live in a world where I can actually order a number of these sodas online–I don’t know if I would or if it would even be worth it, but I can. Still, who knows random liquid my local grocery store will serve up in the future?