Unless you’ve been camped out on the beach all summer ignoring all media, you’re no doubt aware of the limited re-release of Zima, the iconic clear beverage that Coors Brewing Company (now MillerCoors) introduced as a malt alternative or “malternative” to beer back in 1994, paving the way for others like Mike’s Hard Lemonade and Smirnoff Ice. Typically clear, sweet, and often citrusy, malt coolers offer a refreshing option especially for those trying to escape the heat, which is why the name “zima” was chosen: it means “winter” in Slavic languages, and was touted as “zomething different.”
If you were of legal drinking age in 2008, you may have gotten to taste the first incarnation of Zima before it was discontinued in the United States that October (although it never left Japan). After nearly a decade, why bring it back?
Retro culture has been big in recent years, with popular shows like Stranger Things, and now G.L.O.W., as well as products like Nintendo’s NES Classic Edition tapping into that 80’s and 90’s ethos. When fellow 90’s “clear craze” beverage progeny Crystal Pepsi made its own temporary comeback a year ago, no doubt MillerCoors took note of how the once-controversial beverage was suddenly flying off of shelves in 2016.
According to Zima senior brand manager Tristan Meline, “If you talk to someone who drank Zima in the 90’s, there is a great chance that they have a really fun story associated with it that takes them back in time. There’s also 90’s inspiration today everywhere you look, from fashion to food—and it’s clear the decade has made a comeback. This summer was the perfect time for our very own 90’s legend to return for a limited time.”
To capitalize on that 90’s retro feel, Zima has replicated the original bottle and carrier designs, its website looks like an authentic 90s site, its messaging has a snarky Gen-X tone, and there’s even an old school Zima chatbot you can troll on Facebook messenger. Enjoy them now, because Tristan says there are no plans to bring Zima back permanently, since MillerCoors doesn’t see it as a serious competitor to craft brews “or even other flavored malt beverages.” That said, they felt Zima was worth reviving on a limited basis because it’s “a little different and special.”
Here in Providence, one popular West Side bar decided to throw a 90s party/charity event centered around Zima this past Saturday, July 8th: Nolan’s Corner Pub on Atwell’s Avenue raised $1,050 from Zima sales to give to Sojourner House, a shelter for victims of domestic violence.
“When I heard Zima was coming back, I immediately thought, ‘Of course we have to have a 90’s night at Nolan’s,’” says owner Brendan McCaughey. “The 90’s were my college years, when I was first introduced to drinking culture and ‘partying’, and Zima is a nostalgic part of that time in my life. The shameless marketing to Gen-Xers and ‘alternative’ younger crowd was omnipresent. While I wasn’t a big Zima drinker, it was almost always around at house parties for those first few years.”
Brendan pointed out that since Zima paved the way for malt beverages in general, it also helped to inspire the shandies and flavored beers that are so popular today. But mostly, he wanted to have fun with the retro theme while also supporting a great cause: “Since alcohol is inexorably linked to domestic violence and sexual assault, it seemed like a very appropriate charity to support,” he says.
Ultimately, “the place was packed” with a good mix of 90’s/early 2000’s Zima drinkers, as well as younger crowds enjoying “borrowed nostalgia,” Brendan says. Tristan also shared that so far, the response to Zima’s comeback seems to be strong across all legal drinking demographics. It appears that the grunge decade’s appeal calls out even to those who were too young to really experience it fully (especially as governmentally-approved consumers of alcoholic beverages), and drinking throwback beverages enables them to experience those vintage vibes in a more tangible way. Probably bringing Zima back permanently would diminish the nostalgia effect, but for now, feel free to relive those clear, citrusy good old days with your guests.
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