Before it was the fuel of all things extreme, Mountain Dew had an entirely different, and possibly equally extreme purpose: whiskey chaser.
Everyone’s favorite electric yellow soda wasn’t created to help you pull off a killer Air-to-Fakie or even help you dominate that Parkour Cat Leap for the first time. It was invented by two Tennessee brothers who wanted a better chaser for their booze.
Barney and Ally Hartman ran a bottling plant in Knoxville with no apparent intention to get into the extreme beverage business. They developed Mountain Dew out of thirst and country ingenuity: soda was a regional product in 1940, whiskey was (maybe) not always quite as smooth as desired, and the Hartman boys just weren’t satisfied with what they found on the market for chaser options. Their solution: develop their own, a lemon/lime soda made with real sugar, which they called “Mountain Dew,” a tongue in cheek reference to the Southern nickname for moonshine. (Look up the old country song “Mountain Dew”—not officially associated with the soda, alas—and you’ll get a sense for how folks used to view “mountain dew,” e.g.: “Well my brother Bill’s got a still on the hill where he runs of a gallon or two. Now the buzzards in the sky get so drunk they can’t fly from smellin’ the good ole mountain dew.”)
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How did we get from chaser of choice for whiskey-lovers to a soda brand with its own sports competition? The first Mountain Dew bottle debuted in 1951 with a Willy the Hillbilly “shooting at a revenuer running from an outhouse with a pig sitting in the corner.” A far cry of the imagery of, say, The X Games. As ever, change came with corporate acquisition.
In 1964, Pepsi acquired the brand—still regional—and brought it to market with taglines that (wisely) veered away from the hillbilly/gunfire/outhouse vibe. By 1966, it was “Ya-Hoo, Mountain Dew!” By 1986, “Dew It Country Cool.” Seven years later, we finally arrived at a soda brand imperative to inspire athletic greatness the world over: “Do the Dew.”
That (unlikely) evolution from ornery hillbilly to Shaun White sponsorship worked. But Mountain Dew clearly wants more for its brand. Maybe in an effort to pad its sports-heavy marketing with something hitting on the “regional,” authentic vibe we all seem to crave so much these days, they’re getting nostalgic, harkening back to the original formula with the release of “DewShine” in 2015. Made with real sugar—unlike modern Mountain Dew, which is made with high-fructose corn syrup—it’s packaged in clear bottles with yellow labels and what looks like a joyful hillbilly (Willy?) holding a whiskey jug above one of the older taglines: “It’ll tickle your innards.”
The soda isn’t quite the same formula, which we actually assume does tickle our innards, it’s “an unprecedented DEW flavor,” one that honors the foundations of the company while “burning brighter still with the promise of a powerful future.” For Mountain Dew, even historic soda nostalgia is extreme.
Soda throwbacks are all well and good (we’ll take some Crystal Pepsi any day now). But what we wanna know is does this Dewshine still work as a decent chaser? If it’s anything close to the original, we’d love to see what those Hartman brothers were tasting in the first place. And then, yes, attempt some casual Parkour in the park.