Somehow, I’d missed the news. A beverage that left the market in 2008 is making a comeback, albeit for a limited time. Zima, the clear, lemon-lime malt liquor, is once again on the shelves, as I discovered at the liquor store recently. Naturally, I took to Instagram.
There I saw more pictures of the malt liquor and received exhortations that I had to purchase a six-pack; the universe itself demanded it. So I accepted fate and decided to revisit my youth. I had no choice but to go back to 1994.
Although I’ve since discovered that Zima, originally introduced in 1993, didn’t leave the shelves until 2008, my familiarity with it ended somewhere around 1994. While I may not have graduated to more mature tastes when I abandoned the concoction, I was at least on my way to more sophisticated tastes, and the Zima had to go.
That Was Then, This Is Now
That was then, and then was a long time ago. Now, everything old is new again. Tight-rolled jeans and padded shoulders are creeping their way back in. While not of the ‘90s, they’re emblematic of one of those aesthetic moments that occasionally occupies our national conscious. One in which holistic guru Gwyneth Paltrow, whatever Taco Bell is doing at any given moment, and clear malt liquor make sense.
Sure, for me, that particular time was filled with angsty music and brooding, as teens are wont to do, but 1994 was a good year. Although rancorous, our national discourse was far less bombastic than it is presently. Taco Bell’s test kitchen wasn’t being run by a bunch of stoners who idolize Dr. Frankenstein. A thing called the Internet was on the rise. There was senior prom and graduation. Paltrow wasn’t hawking GOOP and suggesting steam be used in dangerous ways.
To compliment those bubbly moments, despite the angsty, brooding tunes we were listening to, there was an alternative to the more refined beverages that many of us came to appreciate in later years. After reminiscing upon that ubiquitous offering from my younger days, I headed back to the liquor store to purchase a six-pack, give it a whirl, and see if I could go home again.
My acquisition was made on a Saturday, my first sip on a Sunday afternoon. I cracked open the bottle, forgoing a glass or anything silly like ice. The first taste was almost unnoticeable. With the second, I was reminded why we don’t trust young people to make good decisions. I couldn’t put my finger on the flavor. Sure, the lemon and lime were present, in the same way that Sprite tastes like lemon and lime, but there was something else.
To Best Describe Its Flavor, Use Colors
Children’s pain relief syrups, that’s what. If you don’t have kids, you may not relate to this. Sometimes a drop of the medicine gets on your fingers in the heat of battle and you just lick it off, much as you would any wound. You learn their flavor profiles as a result. As with those medicines, the Zima. It was not good, though, as with those medicines, you could taste the purpose. It tasted neon lime green.
As a result, I found myself questioning many other decisions I made during a time in my life when I found Zima an acceptable refreshing beverage of an adult nature. Slightly viscous and subtly yet offensively sweet, it was terrible. But I soldiered on, determined to continue. I was not going to let younger me win this challenge against older me.
I cracked a second, prefacing it with a nip of bourbon in case the burn of the whiskey would counterbalance the sweetness of the Zima. No dice. Yet I persisted. I made it to a third. It was still terrible, but its effects, its ability to get the job done, were becoming undeniable. There was, at least, that to say for the reborn brew.
Which is to say, that ain’t enough. For if Zima deserved to come back, despite the market forces that caused it to cease to exist in the first place, it would have come back due to those same market forces. I suppose it did that, but that more proves the dangers of nostalgia than the efficacy of the market.
Now fully under the effects of that third bottle, nostalgia seemed less a bad idea. Maybe Zima did deserve a comeback. Probably not, but my mind was much less clear than what was in those bottles at that point. At the same time, it wasn’t exactly feeling like 1994. I wasn’t compelled to crank up Pearl Jam, fill out a college application, or contemplate the fact that Y2K might become a thing.
Then I forgot where I was going with this. That’s because the Zima, while clear, did not have clarifying effects on my thoughts. So, instead of attempting to continue and salvage those thoughts, I headed off to Father’s Day dinner with the family. I did not drive.
This decision did not just mean I’d get a good dinner, it also meant that to complete my journey, I’d still have face down those three remaining bottles of syrupy badness. At least, as I’d learned, I knew they’d get the job done. I waited until the following day.
The Last Three Bottles
I arrived home, fresh from taking that final step into suburban existence with the acquisition of a new vehicle for my wife. A Suburban, to be precise. With five of us and a dog and other random people we haul around, it was a necessary choice. I arrived home and, in light of those aforementioned things, I felt the urge to imbibe. Although there were more attractive options, I remained committed and twisted the top off one of those three remaining bottles.
It remained inoffensive for longer than the previous ones had. Perhaps it was that I was using it to wash down the remainder of my enchiladas mesquite from Father’s Day, a dish consisting of cheese enchiladas topped with carne asada and an avocado salsa verde. But then I got to the second bottle and there it was, the awfulness.
I powered ahead, making it to the third, and final, bottle. Things only got worse. There were no redeeming qualities there, outside of the aforementioned efficacy, but that isn’t even an argument. There are far more and better options that offer the same results. I guess if cold, flat Sprite is your thing, it’s cool.
There is something to be said for nostalgia, that which connects us to the past. It’s best partaken in measured doses, though. When we drink too deeply, we drown in treacle. In the case of Zima, that happens rather quickly.
That is likely why it’s only here for a limited time. People don’t need to remember the details of what Zima actually tastes like. If you personally feel you must taste again for yourself, then power through a six-pack in remembrance of days past, knowing it would’ve probably been best to just pour it out for the memories rather than getting the unvarnished truth.
While you can pretend to head back to your youth, to the glory days of grunge and graduation and new developments in alcoholic beverages for people who only wanted to get drunk and not taste alcohol, you can’t go home again. You can, though, stay in your current home and drink things you actually enjoy while surrounded by those you love. That’s a better plan than dwelling on the past anyway, especially as it probably doesn’t involve malt liquor.