June 2017: I sent two of my more erudite foodie friends some Moxie soda to try and asked them to send me their impressions of the flavor. Predictably, the reviews were mixed.
One of them raved about it: “An understated sweetness with soft notes of cardamom and smooth undertones of vanilla which give way to a pleasantly lingering birch bark finish.” The other was not so kind: “Like a combination of cough medicine and syrup of ipecac.”
So there you have it. People either love or hate Moxie.
Among the first mass produced soft drinks, Moxie was created in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1876 by Union, Maine native Dr. Augustin Thompson. He claimed it was a “nerve food” that could be effective against “paralysis, softening of the brain, nervousness, and insomnia,” due to the inclusion of South American gentian root in the formula.
Though it has never been produced in Maine (it continues to be produced in Bedford, New Hampshire to this day), it was designated the official soft drink of our state in 2005. It is certainly most associated with Maine.
Lisbon Falls, a short drive up 196 from Highland Green, has been the site of the Moxie Festival for over three decades. The four day event draws over 50,000 people a year to celebrate the beverage creating a sea of orange shirts, Moxie’s signature label and paraphernalia color.
And though the popularity has waxed and waned nationally for nearly a century and a half, the brand had been kept alive by Frank Anicetti who owned the 100 year Kennebec Fruit Co. general store in Lisbon Falls and sold Moxie memorabilia for decades. Frank passed away this year but his spirit will certainly live on in the first festival without him.
Dan Bowie of Yankee Yardworks, Highland Green’s new construction landscape installer, remembers hanging out at Frank’s store while waiting for his dad to get his haircut at the barber shop two doors down. “I would spend an hour there every week and buy penny candy and Moxie ice cream floats. Frank was a true Maine character,” says Dan.
Frank is no longer with us, and neither is the store. But recently a local couple purchased the building with plans to restore it into a pub, while maintaining the charm and the Moxie theme. And of course it will be named “Frank’s.”
Moxie is not as sweet as most mass produced soft drinks and its slight bitterness is an acquired taste for some. But nothing is more nostalgic than sipping from a frosty bottle of it while eating a couple of Maine red hot dogs.
The word “moxie” even became part of the English lexicon to mean “courage, daring, or spirit”. There is no doubt both Frank and Maine have moxie!