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Remember Surge? Here’s What Happened to the High-Octane Soda from the ’90s

The year was 1997 (the best year of the ’90s, if you ask our Food and Drink Editor, Sam Slaughter). The likes of Third Eye Blind and Chumbawamba were — by some miracle — running the charts, Clinton was in office, and Coca-Cola was trying desperately to compete with Pepsi’s greenish-yellow pride and joy otherwise known as Mountain Dew. Their solution? Surge.

A hybrid soda and energy drink combo devised before the popularity of Monster and Red Bull, Surge was something of an anomaly at the time. Coke had already fallen short with tries like Mello Yello and the even more obscure OK Soda. It was time to up the intensity.

Coca-Cola

The soda would attempt to live up to the $50 million marketing campaign that backed it by incorporating maltodextrin. The food additive comes from starch and digests quickly. Bodybuilders and gym rats see the stuff all the time in their energy drinks or dietary supplements. Putting a fair amount in a soda was a relatively new idea at the time.

The ads were a sight to behold. Inspired by the extreme sports culture of the time, they were over the top, outrageous, and high-voltage. To a legion of young and impressionable youth, it was an invitation to be reckless, well before alcohol came into the picture. Surge wanted skateboarders, rollerbladers, BMX-riders, and folks sporting SOAP shoes to go big or go home, with a highly carbonated beverage in hand.

Surge Soda Commercial 1997

I used to stop at 7-Eleven on the way to middle school to grab a six-pack of the stuff. My friends and I would divvy it up, throw back a couple of the neon-tinged drinks and pretend we were out of control. It may have been the excessive amounts of carbohydrates and sugar, it may have just been play. It was probably some combination of the two.

Surge was loud and full of abandon — like that friend who never said no to a dare, despite the number of hospital visits.

Surge was loud and full of abandon — like that friend who never said no to a dare, despite the number of hospital visits. It was also an affront to the transparent drinks movement of the time. Drinks for all ages, like Zima and Crystal Clear Pepsi, mimicked water in their clarity. Not Surge. When I made the mistake of pouring it into a glass one time, I was horrified to see just how bright and syrupy the stuff was. It was like drinking Ooze taken straight from an episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Strangely enough, Surge had a sibling called Urge that launched in Scandinavia a year earlier. The Norwegian version of the drink came in a slightly tamer package (less aggressive in the neon department), but was wildly popular overseas. 

After a fairly successful stretch, Surge called it quits in 2003. It came back in various forms, like a slushy and a limited online run, but the outspoken beverage had mostly faded. It’s unknown how many broken wrists and detention appointments the stuff actually inspired. (We’re not even going to get into the myth that Surge — and Mountain Dew — had the ability to lower one’s sperm count.)

Ska will never die. RT if you agree.

— SURGE (@SURGE) May 31, 2019

Yet, in keeping with our resurrection of all things ’90s, Surge is back, a. You can find it at several Burger King locations and on Amazon — they even have a product locator to help you). It’s a lower-octane version of its former self, but the forcefully splattered aesthetic and invitation to go wild are still there. Just don’t pour it in a glass.

Mark Stock
Mark Stock is a writer from Portland, Oregon. He fell into wine during the Recession and has been fixated on the stuff since…
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