LEWISTON — One Mainer’s century-old concoction may be growing in popularity again amid a market of fizzy sodas and fuzzy teas.

Moxie is once more an up-and-comer.

Long relegated to the bottom shelf of New England’s grocery stores, the orange-labeled soft drink is selling. In the past year, drinkers bought more than 675,000 gallons, the equivalent of 600,000 12-packs, said Justin Conroy, the brand manager for New Hampshire’s Cornucopia Beverages, Moxie’s parent company.

And it’s growing.

Cornucopia tested the drink in a chain of Florida stores, Sweetbay Supermarkets. They planned to market Moxie to transplanted New Englanders. They found the drink sold well to Floridians, too. The test went so well, Cornucopia has begun discussions with bottlers on the West Coast, Conroy said.

“People young and old are buying it,” he said. “We see substantial growth opportunity.”

It’s a surprising rebirth for a drink that rivaled Coca-Cola in sales in the 1920s and almost disappeared from shelves for about a decade, beginning in the late 1950s.

“Nothing else tastes like it,” Conroy said. “You get some people who are turned off by it. You get people who love it immediately. Then, after the third or fourth sip, you get people who are intrigued by it.”

Moxie was created by Augustine Thompson, a medical doctor. A native of Union, he cooked up the elixir in 1876. He named it “Moxie Nerve Food.”

The drink was first sold in carbonated form in 1884. It promised cures for many ailments, including those of “softening of the brain” and “loss of manhood,” according to the Web site for the Moxie Annex at Matthews Museum of Maine Heritage in Union.

The drink proved hugely popular until the Depression hit. Despite later endorsements by celebrities, including Boston Red Sox slugger Ted Williams, it began a long decline.

By the 1970s, owner Monarch Beverages of Atlanta changed the trademark gentian root taste a couple of times, easing the bitterness of the original. It also created a sugar-free, diet version.

In 2007, Monarch sold the drink to Cornucopia Beverages, based in
Bedford, N.H. The company is a subsidiary of Coca-Cola of Northern New
England, which is owned by the Kirin Holdings Co. Ltd., based in
Japan.

Today, Coca-Cola of Northern New England is the primary bottler. Two other companies, Polar Beverages in Worcester, Mass., and Catawissa Bottling Co. in Catawissa, Pa., buy the Moxie syrup from Cornucopia and bottle their own.

Cornucopia believes sales will climb.

“There’s always room for something different,” Conroy said.

To him, one of the puzzles of Moxie is the way everyone tastes something a little different in the drink. In areas outside New England — where Moxie is largely unknown — promotions avoid any mention of its oft-described medicinal taste.

“Everyone describes it their own way,” he said.

Moxie fan George Gross thinks the drink makes the more popular colas taste “super sickening sweet” in comparison. Moxie creator Augustine Thompson got it right, he said.

So Gross helped create a new exhibit at Matthews Museum of Maine Heritage at the Union Fairgrounds. The
permanent exhibit houses memorabilia including a wooden,
two-story bottle of Moxie

“This was his birthplace,” said Gross, chairman of the museum’s board. “It should be here. It’s part of Maine history.”

Gross, a member of the New England Moxie Congress, hopes to encourage a few more stores and restaurants to sell the drink, designated in 2005 as Maine’s official soft drink.

“Drink a Pepsi,” he said. “When you’re through, you want to have another Pepsi because you’re still thirsty.”

“With Moxie, one’s enough,” Gross said.

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