Long before it was the stuff of X-Game players and athletes, Mountain Dew was an illicit corn whiskey made from homemade stills deep in the Appalachian woods.
That Mountain Dew is named after what was often an illegal alcoholic beverage brewed in the mountain ranges of the southeastern United States is certainly no coincidence. Barney and Ally Hartman, creators of the original Mountain Dew formula, reportedly appropriated the name of their pop syrup because they had trouble finding a soda to mix with alcohol to their liking and chose to create one. By the time their product hit the market in the late 1940s, many alcoholic beverages bearing the Mountain Dew name – produced both legally and illegally – had been sold for many decades, providing ample opportunity for all kinds of confusion.
Throughout the 1800s, allusions to the spirit of mountain dew spread in newspapers across the country. For example, in 1891, the New York Herald published an article about the “exciting but dangerous hobby” of hunting moonshiners in Tennessee. The writer interviewed revenue officer WJ Willmore, who explained the imminent danger posed by mountain dew to those who drank it. “Anyone who knows the moonshiner product knows that mountain dew is a naughty drink,” Willmore said. “It’s a pure, raw and fiery white. It is never matured by age and the distillers pay no heed to the principles of scientific fermentation. They drain spirits when hot, and their tastes are so depraved that they drink it fresh from the still.
As the 19th century gave way to the 20th century, the most consistent application of mountain dew promulgated by journalists was in reference to corn whiskey produced in the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee. When even a writer The leader of the daily argus wrote disparagingly about “the white trash po’ of the Appalachian Range” in 1912, he had to drop a reference to the region’s most notorious drink. “The main industry for many mountaineers is believed to be illicit distillation,” he said. “The words ‘corn juice’, ‘mountain dew’ and ‘corn whiskey’ are familiar to anyone who has read about or visited the South.”
It should be noted that corn whiskey is often differentiated from moonshine, as moonshine has traditionally added sugar to its raw material. There were also many examples of ready-made corn whiskey sold under the “Mountain Dew” brand in several parts of the United States, including “Rose’s Mountain Dew” in the Appalachian region and Mountain Dew Corn Whiskey by F. DeHart. Distilling Company in Virginia.
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, a war between competing Scottish brands had been raging on the shelves of whiskey shops since at least the 1880s. The original utterance of the term “mountain dew” in reference to the whiskey had occurred in the Celtic regions of the British Isles before the label made its way to the United States, the mountains of origin in question referring to those of Ireland or the Scottish Highlands. . That being the case, Roberton, Sanderson & Co.’s famous Mountain Dew and John Gillon & Co.’s “Real Mountain Dew” fought over sales and in the courtroom over who had the right to use the name. Mountain Dew. Both Scotch blends would eventually be imported and sold primarily in the northeastern and western regions of the United States.
Mountain Dew is getting sweet (drink)
Clearly, when the Hartmans’ soft drink syrup began its initial release in various parts of the United States in the early 1950s, all of the ingredients essential to confusing its contents had already been stitched together. At the end of July 1951, the Tampa weather reported on a raid on the home of Mr. and Mrs. Gene Durrance in Lakeland, Florida. After first interviewing the couple’s five-year-old daughter to confirm that the couple were indeed selling ‘Mountain Dew’, three plainclothes police officers reportedly converged on their backyard to discover that the husband and wife team were the producers and distributors of Mountain Dew syrupwhich has been added to carbonated water and bottled to produce a carbonated soft drink.
“Durrance did not give a description of the trio [of cops]but said they can probably be recognized by their crimson faces and shameful expressions,” joked the paper.
Bert Vincent, columnist for the Knoxville News-Sentinel amusedly acknowledged the existence of the soft drink Mountain Dew in 1952 and explained how Tennesseeians should now think about a new name for the drink’s source material to avoid confusion between the two. “Now a soft drink grabbed the name and got it recorded,” he wrote. “I heard it was being talked about on the radio the other day, the first time I heard of it. However, I understand that it has been on the market for over a year. Well, let -have them. There are more appropriate names for most things that are made now. Splo is one, being short for explosive. Silver Cloud is another relatively new name, one after the silver iron metal they now use to make most stills.
Mountain Dew is going corporate (sort of)
In 1964, when Pepsi acquired exclusive manufacturing and distribution rights to Mountain Dew, the beverage giant directly referenced the connections between the Mountain Dew name and its backcountry origins, focusing on what the Arizona Republic called “deliberately unsophisticated advertising slogan”. Filled with an intentionally misspelled word, “It tickles the guts of yesteryear” was Mountain Dew’s tagline at the time.
The brand’s TV commercials leaned even more heavily into mountaineering references, with soft-jawed, gun-toting moguls sipping Mountain Dew straight from classic stoneware Moonshine pitchers. If Mountain Dew hadn’t been openly referred to as a “soft drink” at the very end of the commercial, many viewers might have believed that the moonshine being marketed was in fact what was advertised.
The intentional allusion to hooch definitely helped make it an instant hit with American youth. Reporting on the success of Mountain Dew, the the wall street journal immediately attributed the soda’s growing popularity to its cheeky name, publishing an April 1965 article titled “Hillbilly Names Help ‘Moonshine’ Soda Pop Grab Teenage Sales”. He was also referring to Kickapoo Joy Juice, a similarly colored and flavored drink, also inspired by an alcoholic drink of the same name introduced in the Li’l Abner comic book. Somehow, citrus had become the unofficial flavor of non-alcoholic drinks that passed themselves off as inauthentic alcohol.
Mountain Dew was so popular at the time that when Pepsi opened its new bottling plant in Rochester, New York in October 1965, company president James Somerall proudly proclaimed that the plant would finally enable the people of upstate to receive the brand’s “fastest growing beverage.” He conceded the name “probably has something to do with its popularity” before saying sales were booming regardless.
During this time, the Chicago Grandstand reported that General Bottlers was handing out “hillbilly hats and corncob pipes” to help market Mountain Dew when it arrived in the Windy City.
Mountain Dew goes legit
Despite its initial rise in popularity, Mountain Dew’s sales slowed as it expanded its reach to a wider national audience, and its hill-based marketing was blamed. Thus, in 1974, David Felts of Herald and Review reported how Mountain Dew would clean up their act before resuming their national push. “A Pepsi sales executive said there would be a new theme in advertising, a shift from ‘addictions, piggies, and other hillbilly moonshine atmospheres,’ and an appeal to a more sophisticated market with ‘Hello. Sunshine, Hello Mountain Dew,'” he wrote. .
The shift to sophistication was an unqualified success, as Pepsi reps bluntly admitted that Mountain Dew needed to shed its “hillbilly image” for the brand to realize its full potential. “I guess we got Mountain Dew out of ‘addiction’ and into households,” PepsiCo executive vice president of operations Victor Bonomo said in 1980.
He hasn’t looked back since. Today, in fact, Mountain Dew frequently ranks among the top five most profitable soft drink brands in the United States, officially shedding an image and past often as crude as the distillation process that defined it. in the old days. The surprise now is that it was always sour corn whiskey and not always sweet corn syrup.