Back in 1989, Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” presented 40 years of American history filtered through the Piano Man’s perspective. It’s fitting that the song’s final listed event was “rock and roller cola wars” because, back in the 1980s, soda was everything.
Throughout the decade, various companies attempted to achieve sugar-water domination in the hearts and minds of consumers — which led to Michael Jackson being seriously injured during the filming of a Pepsi commercial and New Coke becoming perhaps the biggest marketing blunder ever. When the 1990s rolled in, things got downright brutal in the beverage industry. New drinks inspired by culture and the latest fads rose to prominence, while previous favorites such as wildly popular East Coast-based bevvies produced by Frank’s and the New York Seltzer Company rode off into the sugary sunset. The problem was that with all of these options to wet your whistle, the battle for store shelves and consumers’ cash resulted in many sodas not surviving the decade. This issue was further complicated by the rise to prominence of soda alternatives such as Snapple and bottled water during the ’90s.
In an effort to pay tribute to some of these fallen flavorful favorites, let’s take a look back at some sodas that are instantly recognizable to those who grew up in the 1990s. Some of these are long gone, and others have returned from corn-syrup purgatory in recent years, but all of them were a vital part of the ’90s experience. Take a look.
Originally making its debut in 1985, Jolt Cola prided itself on being a soda that featured twice the caffeine of its competitors. As such, it quickly gained a reputation as being a powerful energy drink during a time when nobody knew what such a thing was. What consumers did know, however, was that Jolt was just the, well, jolt they needed to get up and moving. In the years before coffee culture really boomed, it became a favorite of high school and college students who used the extra caffeine to power through late-night study sessions. Alas, nothing gold can stay, and Jolt is now a memory. But for fans of the beverage, there is sweet, sleepless hope that it will one day return.
Once thought lost to the carbonated mists of time, Surge is currently experiencing a comeback. The drink was initially created by the Coca-Cola Company as a competitor to PepsiCo’s Mountain Dew. While it didn’t beat its rival in terms of sales, its unique variation on traditional citrus-based soda offerings created a cult following — one that was so vocal that it couldn’t be ignored. As of right now, you can get Surge throughout some parts of the United States and online, and plans to continue the drink’s rebirth are currently under way.
Another drink that is experiencing an unexpected comeback is Clearly Canadian, that refreshing blend of sparkling water with a burst of flavor in various varieties (the Wild Cherry option being this writer’s favorite). With an elegant-looking bottle and a fresh taste, this was a hip alternative to caramel-colored drinks of the era. It also benefited from excellent marketing: As people realized how sugary soda was, the “clearly” was played as if it indicated purity. Magically, people seemed to forget that sugar dissolved in water is clear.
The news that it is becoming available once more is almost as delicious as the drink itself.
Orbitz was produced by the same company as Clearly Canadian. It was a short-lived non-carbonated drink that was available in five fruit flavors and featured edible balls that you could roll around in your mouth, not entirely unlike bubble tea. While the drink was a misfire (or too forward-thinking depending on your point of view), the bottles themselves instantly became collector’s items due to their similarity to lava lamps. Hands up if you had one of these in your dorm in college? Uh huh, thought so.