LISBON – While New Englanders flocked to Lisbon this weekend to celebrate the 37th annual Moxie Festival, Claudia Williams, daughter of Red Sox left fielder and Hall of Famer Ted Williams, celebrated the soft drink for the first time.

“I’ve always known my dad was a spokesman for Moxie and when I learned there was this Moxie Festival I decided to come and see what it’s like,” said Williams, who had the opportunity to be a judge at the Moxie recipe contest Friday night.

The spicy scent of Moxie chicken wings mixed with the sweet taste of Moxiemisu in the steamy cafeteria of Lisbon High School where Williams sampled dish after dish featuring Moxie.

When asked if she thought a weekend-long festival centered on a soft drink was bizarre, she responded, “Absolutely! But I thought, ‘I have to go check this out.’”

Williams admitted Moxie isn’t her favorite beverage but said: “Moxie isn’t just a drink, it’s an experience. When you first taste it, you think it tastes like Coke, then it goes from Coke to spice, then it goes from spice to bitter.”

Williams works as a nurse practitioner and remembered two patients who said they attribute their longevity and good health to drinking Moxie. “I always make a little joke about it because I say, ‘Is that because of the medicine aftertaste?’” she added.

The carbonated drink with a sharp aftertaste Moxie drinkers know well is the result of one doctor’s attempt at making a medicinal tonic free of harmful ingredients like alcohol and cocaine.

Moxie was invented in Lowell, Massachusetts, by Dr. Augustin Thompson, a Union, Maine native, and was originally called Moxie Nerve Food. The drink, made with gentian root extract, which is responsible for the bitter aftertaste, was supposed to ease nervousness, as well as cure insanity, blindness, and paralysis.

The Moxie Festival began in 1982 and, like the drink itself, gained a cult following. The three-day festival falls on the second weekend in July each summer and features a parade, a 5k road race, a Moxie recipe contest, and even a Moxie chugging contest.

“It’s a unique event that people from away come to see, and it has made us a unique town,” says Traci Austin, owner of Frank’s Restaurant and Pub in Lisbon. “To me, Moxie Fest … means community.”

Austin named her restaurant after Frank Anicetti, who died in 2017 but was known locally as the “Moxie Man.” He dedicated his store to all things Moxie, and Austin bought the store after his death and turned it into a restaurant named in his honor. The restaurant offers Moxie-inspired foods during the Moxie Festival, including Moxie floats, Moxie ice cream, and Moxie kettle corn.

Moxie was named Maine’s official soft drink in 2005, and in August of 2018 Coca-Cola bought the rights to Moxie.

Nick Martin, spokesman for Coca-Cola of Northern New England, said while he “wouldn’t call it a top seller, it does just fine.”

The brand sells 200,000 to 250,000 cases annually. A case holds 24 bottles or cans.

“It’s not for everyone, but the people who like it, love it,” said Martin.

While Moxie may not sell as well as some other beverages, Martin confirmed, “There’s a strong commitment on our end to continue making Moxie.”

This is good news for Barbara Warren of Benton, who said she loves creating new recipes with Moxie. This hobby began after she stumbled upon the Moxie recipe contest by chance a few years ago. Last year she entered the contest for the first time, and her Moxie parfait won.

“It’s good, clean, Maine fun,” said Warren, as she sported a Moxie orange sweater.

Warren wasn’t the only one in Moxie-themed garb. A few tables down Elizabeth Lieb of New Jersey sported a homemade Moxie orange dress complete with orange LED lights. Her husband, Graham Clarke, patiently waited for the judges alongside her in a Moxie-themed kilt with matching blazer. Lieb made both outfits by hand, as well as the Moxie stroopwafels paired with a Moxie latte for the Moxie recipe contest.

Lieb attended Bowdoin College, which is where she first tried Moxie and fell in love with the quirky drink.

Graham doesn’t think a festival centered on Moxie is strange, but said, “If someone told me about a festival for Coke, I’d say, ‘What?’ But Moxie is cool!”

Maddie Walker-Elders, 21, of Lisbon Falls travels from Philadelphia, where she attends Drexel University, to go to the Moxie Festival each year with her family and friends.

“I’ve been going to Moxie Fest for the past 21 years,” said Walker-Elders. “I can’t think of a single Moxie Festival I’ve missed.”

However, Walker-Elders doesn’t make the trip to celebrate a soft drink. “In Maine, Moxie has become a staple and something we’ve planted our flag in,” she explained. “We’re not celebrating the drink or the taste of Moxie, we’re celebrating the spirit and community behind it.”


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