I don’t know when I first became aware of Mountain Dew. Although, I guess I don’t know when I became aware of any other sodas, really.
But it wasn’t part of our soda arsenal growing up. We had the major brands Pepsi and Coke and a few RC Cola-style brands like Big Red and other such soft drinks.
But I don’t think I really bothered much with Mountain Dew until the great re-branding of the early 90s when they stopped with the cartoon hillbillies and became EXTREME for Gen X and debuted its Code Red flavor.
I was never really that extreme, but I did start “Doing the Dew” about that time and though I’m cutting back on sodas these days for health reasons, Diet Mountain Dew is probably my favorite carbonated beverage.
What was the original Mountain Dew flavor?
Originally, Mountain Dew was clear, with a crisp lemon-lime flavor like 7Up or Sprite.
The original formula was far different than we know today.
When was the first Mountain Dew made?
The first version of Mountain Dew, which is Scots-Irish slang for moonshine, appeared from the minds of a pair of soda pop geniuses back in the early 40s. It’s a bit different than the version we know today.
But there were other unrelated versions dating back even further.
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Where did the Dew as we know it come from?
Well, like so many good things in life, Mountain Dew got its start because a couple of Georgia natives moved to Knoxville and wanted to get their drink on.
Barney and Ally Hartman were in the soda pop business back home in Augusta, Georgia. In the early 1930s, they were selling Orange Crush, later immortalized by the Georgia alt-rockers REM.
However, the soda pop company filed for bankruptcy in the early years of the Depression. The brothers were then asked to move to Knoxville in an attempt to resurrect the brand.
Is that when they started selling Mountain Dew?
Nope. The minute prohibition ended, they got into the beer game. That was 1933.
In 1934, they added Pepsi Cola to their repertoire and dropped Orange Crush altogether.
So, that’s when they started selling Mountain Dew? One might think so, but no.
The brothers – after a hard day of bottling soda – liked to relax with some bourbon whiskey mixed with their favorite mixer, a carbonated lemon-lime drink called Natural Setup.
Natural Setup, however, was hard to find in that part of Tennessee. Therefore, they did what any industrious drinkers with access to their own bottling plant would do. They recreated it.
With the help of a master flavor mixer, they bottled it for their own personal use and for some of their friends.
So what does Mountain Dew have to do with moonshine?
Fast forward to the early 1940s.
The brothers had their lemon-lime soda mixer which was combined with whiskey. It was also the perfect match for high-quality moonshine, aka Mountain Dew.
It was such a hit with their friends and family, they decided to sell it. In fact, the drink debuted at a 1964 Gatlinburg bottling convention.
Appalachian themes were huge at the time. There was a fascination with mountain folk and the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. As a result, brothers Barney and Ally used hillbilly marketing with barefoot, overall-clad mountaineers with a jug of Dew in one hand and a rifle in the other.
“It’ll tickle yore innards!” became a popular tagline.
On larger bottles, the hillbilly character was shown firing at revenuers and running from an outhouse.
Despite the brilliant marketing, the drink never really caught on. That is until a Johnson City bottler got involved.
Tri-City Beverage loved the theming and the green bottles. They purchased a franchise to make the Dew. However, it didn’t sell for them any better.
Tri-City worked with the same mix master who helped the Hartman brothers create their Dew. The result was Tri-City Lemonade, which was high in caffeine and sugar and much more popular than the original Dew.
The corporation bought the formula, put the lemonade into the Mountain Dew bottles and suddenly, they had a hit that began to get the attention of the big boys.
Pepsi-Cola bought the Mountain Dew brand in 1964.
Did Pepsi drop the hillbilly theming when they bought the trademark?
Nope. Not at first. At first, Pepsico leaned on in.
The Pepsi-Cola Company actually set about making Mountain Dew a global brand using the same mountain stereotypes to market the brew.
For the Pepsi bottling convention in 1964, the company built a hillbilly cabin in New York’s Waldorf-Astoria ballroom and had “Daisy Mae” offering samples of the mountain elixir.
By the 70s, Pepsi started to move away from hillbilly-theme marketing. From there, the history of Mountain Dew begins to change.
For example, the company kept the bare feet and began targeting the urban free spirit of the post-hippie generation. “Get that barefoot feeling” was the precursor to the extreme marketing campaigns of the 90s.
The slogan was: “Get wild, get free. Drink our extremely caffeinated soda!”
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Why did Mountain Dew begin experimenting with flavors?
When Mountain Dew became the Mountain Dew we know today, the chief competition was Sun Drop. Later, Mello Yellow joined that citrus-flavored soda market.
However, Mountain Dew’s branding remained strong so rather than market new flavors as a new brand, the powers that be decided to make new “versions” of the same brand.
Code Red was a hit. Then, other options followed. This includes the partnership with Taco Bell that brought us the immortal Mountain Dew: Baja Blast as well as less classic flavors like Frost Bite, Voltage, Sweet Lightning and White Out.
Overall, it has come a long way in 80 years, a long way from a pair of Georgia native brothers who just wanted to have their favorite mixer with their favorite whiskey at the end of a long day and used their connections and their beverage company to make it happen.
What are your thoughts about Mountain Dew? Let us know in the comments!
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