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Seven Little-Known American Sodas With Regional Followings


Ever try an Ale8? How about a Moxie? Your answer will depend on where you call home.

No way around it, Coca-Cola (KO) is the No. 1 soft drink in the US and has been more or less since John Pemberton first introduced his cola syrup panacea in an Atlanta pharmacy in 1886. But for all its hegemony -- the soda dominates 17% of the domestic carbonated soft drink market, nearly the same amount as No. 2 Diet Coke and No. 3 Pepsi (PEP) combined -- Coke wasn't the first and still isn't the only sparkling beverage to keep a nostalgic grip on certain regional palates. In some parts of the country, folks still drink cola that predates Coke. In others, a certain historic connection or unique flavor keeps these cult soft drinks, none younger than 75 years, on local shelves.

Here's a look at seven sodas favored in specific regions of the US.

A Maine Original: Moxie
Maine's official soft drink was drummed up by Maine native Dr. Augustin Thompson in 1884, a year before Dr. Pepper (DPS) was created and two years before Coke came into being. Like Coke, Moxie started out as a snake oil. Thompson called it "Moxie Nerve Food" and claimed it would cure anything. The secret of the somewhat bitter flavor was – and is – gentian root. It may have lost its local market share to the interloping Coke, but Moxie will always be the first Maine cola.

North Carolina's Toast: Cheerwine
The Carolina Beverage Company first began selling this cherry-flavored, red-wine-colored soda in 1917 in Salisbury, N.C., where the founder's great-grandson runs it today. Among his recent ideas for dragging the nostalgic drink into the present -- a limited promotion with Krispy Kreme (KKD) for Cheerwine-filled donuts.

Chicago's Pop: Green River
In 1919, as the dry season kicked off in Chicago and Al Capone found his sea legs, one local brewer came up with a way to make lemonade out of Prohibition's lemons. Limeade, as it happens. Schoenhofen Brewery concocted a green soda made of limes that it sold both in bottles and as fountain syrup around town. These days, there's a run on the speakeasy-era soda around St. Patrick's Day.

Miami's Cuban Import: Materva
First made in Cuba in 1920, this sweet drink is made from extract of the South American herb yerba mate. Newly socialist Cuba took over the company in 1960 and sold it in 1965 to Cawy, the Miami bottling company that still produces the drink today. Like Cuban coffee, the soda offers Miami Cubans a gastronomic cord to their pre-Castro homeland. Check out the fan's page on Facebook, here.

A Midwest Quencher: Frostop
If there's no Frostop root beer stand on Route 66, by gosh, there oughta be. The stands and later a chain of drive-ins sprung up in Springfield, Ohio, in 1926 and spread to various pointsin the Midwest and South. Still sold in the distinctive brown bottle in some spots, Frostop is available on tap at the remaining 1950s boulevard-of-broken-dreams franchises, such as the one in LaPlace, La.

Kentucky Mixer: Ale8
It has its own derby, its own bourbon industry and, yes, Kentucky has its own soft drink: Ale-8-One. G.L. Wainscott of Winchester began making the ginger-hinted soda for his neighbors in 1926. Today, Wainscott's great-great nephew runs the company. Apart from appealing to pride of place, among Kentuckians Ale-8 has the merit of mixing well with Maker's Mark.

The South's Other Comfort: RC Cola
Commonly paired with a cult Tennessee treat, the moon pie, the Royal Crown Cola was created by a Georgia chemist in 1934. He tweaked a formula first created in 1905 by a pharmacist in Columbus, Ga., birthplace of the man who'd originated Coke about 20 years earlier. Unable to come to terms with Coke's bottling company, the chemist started his own competing one. RC was the first to distribute soda in cans. Today, you can't partake of the blue-collar duo of delicacies without at least a small degree of irony, even in the South.

BONUS: In America's regions, you'll also find unique ways of describing a carbonated beverage: Check out this Soda versus Pop versus Coke map of the United States.
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