In the 1990s, soft drinks entered a queer “new age” where consumers no longer craved the artificial flavors and same ol’ brands of cola. Instead, they longed for beverage novelties like Crystal Pepsi, energy drinks, and fruit flavor combinations that one couldn’t find in a usual juice box or iced tea.
Here are seven 90s drinks and the “queer” innovations that made them so memorable.
Advertised both as a “clearmalt” and “zomething different” from a beer or a wine cooler, Zima was basically a carbonated malt lager with a slight citrus flavor. Its ads featured actor Roger Kabler in a suit and porkpie hat pronouncing S-words with a “Z,” like “zweet,” “zwauvely,” and “zophisticated.” (The word “zima” actually means “winter” in several Slavic languages.)
Zima was publicly mocked in pop culture as a “girly drink,” but it was reportedly popular in queer bars. Some people would also add lime juices or drop Skittles or Jolly Rancher candies into it to add a sweet fruit flavor. Though Zima eventually came out in citrus, tangerine, and pineapple flavors, it was discontinued in 2008. However, it was re-released briefly in 2017 and 2018.
In 1997, the Coca-Cola Company released this citrus soda to compete with Pepsi’s Mountain Dew (after Coca-Cola’s 1979 creation, Mello Yello, didn’t steal enough of Mountain Dew’s thirsty consumers).
Surge’s ad campaign marketed it as an energy drink, associating it with extreme sports and using such taglines as “Feed the Rush,” “Life’s a Scream,” and “A Fully Loaded Citrus Soda” — in reality, the green-colored 90s drink only had slightly more sugar and caffeine than dark colas and Moutain Dew. It also had a slight flavor of lime juice.
Though Surge was discontinued in 2002, it had a brief resurgence in slushy machines and Burger King soda dispensers in 2014.
Introduced in 1987, this fruit-flavored carbonated water (legitimately from Canada) was sold in trademark, blue-tinted teardrop-shaped bottles and was available in five non-artificial flavors, including wild cherry, mountain blackberry, summer strawberry, orchard peach, and country raspberry. Though it’s not as widely available in the U.S., it’s still available in 12-packs for $45 — nearly $3.75 per bottle, eh?
In 1992, Pepsi bought into the “clear craze” — in which many companies re-released their products in see-through plastics or with artificial dyes removed in order to convey a sense of “purity” — by releasing Crystal Pepsi. It was a so-called “New Age” beverage that dropped the usual dark coloring of classic colas to provide something lighter and less sweet than Pepsi. Crystal Pepsi was also caffeine-free and all-natural with no preservatives.
But even though it was marketed as a “clear alternative” to other colas, Crystal Pepsi only remained on the market for two years and came back briefly around mid-2016 after a fan-led campaign.
Released in 1985 as one of the original energy drinks, Jolt Cola’s tagline said it had “all the sugar and twice the caffeine” of other colas. The energy drink became popular among students, gamers, and self-proclaimed “hackers” who saw it as a fashionable alternative to coffee (though it only contained about half as much caffeine as a cup of coffee).
The Jolt brand released caffeinated gum in 2003 and cans resembling AA batteries in 2006 before declaring bankruptcy in 2009.
Advertised as an “out-of-this-world” drink from “Planet Orbitz” (and also, “the drink with balls”), Orbitz was a clear, non-carbonated soft drink that had suspended, colored balls of edible gellan gum, giving the beverage a distinctive “lava lamp” appearance. Orbitz — whose parent company also produced Clerly Canadian — came in unique flavors such as vanilla orange, blueberry melon strawberry, and pineapple banana cherry coconut.
However, the soft drink only remained on planet Earth from 1996 to 1999. An online travel agency later purchased the drink’s website, and now fans of the 90s drink can only purchase rare unopened bottles of Orbitz from pricey collectors.
In 1994, the Coca-Cola company created the fruit-flavored soft drink Fruitopia to compete with Snapple’s iced tea and fruit drinks.
Fruitopia had no artificial flavors. Its psychedelic labels and ad campaign marketed it as a drink for “mind, body and planet” and featured music from the Muffs, Kate Bush, and the Cocteau Twins. Fruitopia came in such hippy-dippy flavors as Strawberry Passion Awareness, Citrus Consciousness, Tangerine Wavelength, and Raspberry Psychic Lemonade.
Though the drink was discontinued in 2003, some of its flavors have been reintroduced under different names in Coca-Cola’s Minute Maid fruit drink brands.
These 90s drinks brought with them a new wave of individuality, offering a unique and fun alternative to regular sodas. From clear malt beverages like Zima to fruity, carbonated concoctions like Orbitz, the 1990s saw an influx of queer-coded drinks that offered a fun and innovative alternative to the traditional brands of soda. Although some of these drinks are no longer available, their memory will live on as popular favorites from a time when individuality and uniqueness were at their zenith.
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