Have You Tried Nehi Soda?


[Photograph: Jed Portman]

Nehi is a soda with a mid-60s Motown beat. It's a muggy summer night, dew on asphalt, the lights of an all-night diner. Lightning bugs in jars, honeysuckle nectar, parades. Nehi makes you nostalgic for the wholesome Southern childhood you never had.

It's a sugary time capsule from the days before Whole Foods and small-batch soft drinks, when "authentic" flavor was something to sweeten and color and dose with chemicals until it reached hard-candy levels of one-dimensional fluorescence.

Nehi nails the flavors of soda-fountain America. Nehi Grape tastes like "grape"—like sweet cough syrup—and Nehi Orange like creamsicle "orange." If you're only buying one bottle, make it Nehi Peach. It tastes very little like fresh peach, but it is loaded with bright, fizzy, peach-candy flavor.

Nehi is not groundbreaking here in the 21st century. It does not pretend to be. The glass-bottle packaging and vintage labels show that the people at Dr. Pepper Snapple, current owners of the 88-year-old brand, understand what they're selling: relics from the mid-century American refrigerator.

Try one with barbecue, or a white-bread sandwich. Try one with a burger and French fries. Try one while rolling down the road next summer, windows down. Sometimes, sweet, simple, and straight-up artificial hits the spot. And sometimes, flavor is secondary to good memories—yours, or those of the country as a whole.