If you’re bringing cold drinks to the beach or barbecue this summer, don’t pack the cooler with boring Cokes and 7-Ups. Mark yourself as a person of distinction by shoving some old-timey sodas in the ice instead. These obscure, regional, and forgotten soft drinks were good enough to refresh your grandpa, and they’re good enough for you.
As a carbonation connoisseur, I’ve sampled just about every offering at Galco’s Soda Pop Stop, the nation’s best purveyor of obscure soft drinks, and Cheerwine is the most delicious and refreshing soda of the hundreds I’ve tasted. A regional soda from North Carolina, Cheerwine has been around since 1917. It’s a beautiful burgundy color, and the black cherry flavor is delicious without being cloyingly sweet. It’s deep, man. Just make sure you buy the cane sugar version instead of the high fructose corn syrup mix.
Cheerwine Glass Bottles 12 oz (Pack of 24) $53.99
Pennsylvania Dutch Birch Beer
They’re similar, but birch beer is not root beer. A favorite in the Northeast since at least the 1700s, birch beer is common in some states, unknown in others. Since it’s flavored from a single kind of tree, birch beer has a cleaner taste than root beer. It’s less medicinal and more balanced (if you ask me) with a hint of wintergreen instead of that weird sassafras tang of root beer. It’s also a rich, red color compared to root beer’s extra black look, and Pennsylvania Dutch’s packaging is so uncool it’s cool.
Pennsylvania Dutch Birch Beer (12 Bottles) $32.99
If you like the lemon-lime vibe of 7-Up or Sprite, give the original a shot. Bubble Up dates back to 1919, and is subtly different than its progeny. It’s less carbonated, and has a stronger lemon taste than 7-Up and the rest. It has less of a syrupy, thick feel too, probably because it’s made with sugar instead of corn syrup. As a bonus, the logo is a masterpiece.
Bubble Up (12 bottles) $39.95
You don’t get more old-timey than Moxie. Created in 1876 by Augustin Thompson as a patented medicine called “Moxie Nerve Food,” Moxie was the favorite beverage of both Calvin Coolidge and Ted Williams. While it was once well known enough to have spawned the slang term “moxie,” meaning energy or pep, Moxie is now mainly consumed in New England, where some like the concoction’s bittersweet taste, a product of the gentian root. Not a favorite of mine, but to each their own.
Moxie Soda (12 Cans) $31.99
Grapefruit soda isn’t many people’s favorite, but Grapefruit Kiss tempers the grapefruit tartness with other citrus flavors and a ton of cane sugar to create a truly unique tang. It’s great on its own and a perfect base for a cocktail too—pour some vodka into your Kiss and you have an amazing poolside refresher. It seems to be a recent creation as opposed to “grandpa’s favorite,” but don’t let that stop you from giving Grapefruit Kiss a try.
Grapefruit Kiss (12 bottles) $42.50
Nehi is a line of sodas that was launched in 1942 and is still inexplicably in existence in 2023. It has a nostalgic charm that hearkens back to your grandpa’s childhood, but taste-wise, most Nehi flavors are simple and mid. The peach flavor stands out though, if for no other reason than it’s a peach soda.
Nehi Soda 3-Pack: Grape, Orange and Peach (3 bottles) $22.79
Boylan Sugar Cane Cola
I have tasted many kinds of colas, from RC to Coke to Pepsi to more exotic brews, and overall, Boylan’s Cane Cola is the best I’ve tried. Sweetened with cane sugar and not overly carbonated, Boylan’s Cane has a sophistication and velvety smoothness that other colas dream about.
Boylan Sugar Cane Cola Soda (12 bottles) $35.99
Faygo Root Beer
Long a favorite of Detroiters, Faygo’s line of sodas have been around since 1907. While there are a variety of flavors of Faygo, the top is their root beer, which Bon Appétit named the best root beer in America in 2009 for its “frothy head, good bite, and long finish.” Any beverage that is a favorite of both Bon Appétit and the Insane Clown Posse has to have something going for it.
Faygo Root Beer (6 bottles) $16.49
Red Ribbon Cherry Supreme
I have a thing for cherry soda, and Red Ribbon’s Cherry Supreme lives up to its name. It’s fantastic. Originally bottled in 1904, this obscure soda hangs on to this day.
Red Ribbon Cherry Soda (24 bottles) $83.99
Nesbitt’s Orange Soda
Nesbitt’s orange is a holy soda grail for me. It’s a little unclear whether this California-based brand is still being manufactured, but I’d love to run across a dusty case in a used soda store. Right now, I’m just putting my email address onto waiting lists and hoping the beverage company that owns the rights decides to brew up a batch. You can still buy vintage bottles of Nesbitt’s on eBay, but I don’t know if I’d drink ‘em.
Goody Blue Pop
I haven’t tasted Goody Blue Pop but I am in love with the retro-perfect bottle, the radioactive blue color, and the name. It’s just called “Blue Pop.” You cannot beat that. It’s supposedly raspberry and cream flavor, but I’m sure it just tastes like blue. Jic Jac’s blue soda is cool too.
Goody Blue Pop (12 bottles) $42.50
Buy a variety pack
If you want to try out different old-timey soda brands, Capitalism makes it exceedingly easy to spend your money on this endeavor. Orca beverages has the market partially cornered on revived soft drinks, so you can’t go wrong with their variety pack. Retailer World Market also offers a collection of iconic sodas.