The Return of Zima

Surfing the wave of ’90s nostalgia the powers that be have decided to revive Zima. That ‘malternative’ to beer is still on the receiving end of so many jokes and snide remarks nearly two decades later. This 4-5 percent ABV, malt-based beverage was the best and brightest of the halcyon days of the clear beverage craze that saw the likes of Pepsi Crystal, Tab Clear and Orbitz. Okay, it wasn’t the best and brightest, but it had a lasting cultural effect and, in its own way, opened the door for alcopops to come. But more on that later.

Zima was the ’90s answer to the wine cooler, a new direction in a market of consumers who were moving away from beer consumption. When Zima debuted in 1994, it made a splash. For a hot second, everyone was trying zomthing different, thanks in part to the $38 million marketing campaign Coors launched to build up the hype, and Coors was over the moon with the results. They estimated a staggering 70 percent of the drinking population cracked open a bottle of Zima, over a million barrels’ worth of the stuff sold. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be; though most folks tried it once, they left it at that. Flavor-wise it tasted like flat, off-brand citrus soda.

Zima was geared toward men, particularly that holy grail demographic of young guys who seem to be able to drink endlessly. Yet Zima ended up appealing to women, an instant death sentence from Coors’ standpoint. It didn’t take long for the drink to be spoken of with derision; no self-respecting man about town in the 1990s would be caught dead drinking Zima.

Meanwhile, it became a favorite of teenagers, to the point where Coors was actually accused of marketing to America’s tender youth. New additions were added to the line in efforts to win over men: Zima Gold, a bourbon flavored incarnation and Zima XXX, which boosted the alcohol content and added a range of fruit flavors. But even the best-laid plans can go awry. Gold disappeared from shelves within a year. Still, Zima persisted, limping into the new millennium.

But, all things must come to an end. In 2008, Coors put the original malternative beverage out of its misery. Die-hards could still find six packs of the stuff tucked away in the darkest corners of questionable liquor stores for some time after Coors pulled it from more prominent shelves. Oddly enough, it’s still found in Japan where it remains popular and the male population is man enough to drink it. Although it wasn’t ultimately a success, Zima helped make way for beer alternatives to come like Smirnoff Ice and others. Zima was the original hard lemonade.

Which brings us to today. You walk out the door and it’s crop tops, flannels and platforms everywhere you look. It was only a matter of time before Zima reared its head. Whether you’re looking to try it for the first time or relive your glory days from the summer of 1997, you can get your hands on a six pack of the citrusy sweet ztuff on shelves during a limited re-release.

Photo courtesy of Zima Malt Beverage/YouTube


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