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Zima, the clear beverage of youthful regret, is back. Did anyone miss it?

Zima, the clear 1990s “malternative” beverage, is back. (Photo courtesy of MillerCoors)

Chalk up another victory for pointless ’90s nostalgia: MillerCoors is bringing Zima back to stores for a limited time. The clear, sticky-sweet, chemically citrusy malt beverage — sold under slogans such as “Zomething Different” — was beloved at high school and underage college parties, where it was often adulterated with Jolly Ranchers just to make it palatable.

Zima is but one in a long line of wine cooler-ish products that were popular at the time, which included Bacardi Breezer and the more established Bartles & Jaymes. But Zima was born into a world where clear beverages like Crystal Pepsi were cool and novel. Let’s take a stroll down memory line through the pages of The Washington Post in March 1993.

In a bid to invigorate a market gone flat, Miller Brewing Co., the nation’s second-largest beer maker, said yesterday it would introduce a beer of a different color — Miller Clear — to several markets later this month. Milwaukee-based Miller calls the product the beer industry’s first clear beer, and industry watchers said other brewers may be getting ready to introduce similar colorless products.
Consumer-products giants such as PepsiCo Inc. (with Crystal Pepsi), Gillette Co. (with Sensor deodorant) and Procter & Gamble Co. (with Ivory dishwashing liquid), as well as smaller companies, have recently introduced clear versions of popular brands, betting that consumers will associate colorlessness with purity and all-natural ingredients. Whether the same strategy works with beer — where color is associated with rich flavor — is uncertain. Coors Brewing Co. of Golden, Colo., is testing a clear malt beverage, called Zima in three markets.

That, my friends, is the first mention of Zima in The Post archives. Crystal Pepsi died a ignominious death two years later. Miller Clear never even made it out of test markets. Zima, on the other hand, grabbed a remarkable 1 percent share of the national alcohol market in its first year.

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Less than two years later, though, Zima pops up again in The Post, this time in a more serious context:

Youth officials in Maryland and nine other states have complained to the Coors Brewing Co. about its new colorless drink, which tastes like soda pop and has inspired rumors that it cannot be detected on police breath-testing equipment. …
Jesse Rivkin, a 16-year-old junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, said he had sampled Zima and thought its smooth taste attracts problem drinkers. “It tastes like Sprite,” he said. “It goes down very easily and so a lot of kids tend to abuse it.”
He said at $6 per six-pack, Zima was more expensive than some beers and more common at parties frequented by wealthy Whitman High School students.
A Whitman senior who asked not to be identified said its smooth taste drew young people who wanted to get drunk but didn’t like the taste of hard liquor. “I think it’s more popular with girls than with boys,” he said.

The worst part of this faux-nostalgia is that Zima wasn’t some bright but fleeting star that shot across the ’90s universe like the cast of “Saved by the Bell”: MillerCoors didn’t pull the drink from stores until 2008. It lingered and lingered, long after its pop-culture moment was over, like that dude from Sugar Ray.

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Okay, maybe the taste of a Sprite-esque, watermelon Jolly Rancher-spiked malternative will bring back memories of your long-lost senior prom date. Have a bottle of Zima (only $8.99 per six-pack at local stores!), grimace at the taste, and have a laugh at the so-’90s-it-hurts animations on Zima’s retro website.

But if you’re feeling nostalgic for similar beverages of the time — Mike’s Hard Lemonade, Smirnoff Ice, Jack Daniels Lynchburg Lemonade — I’ve got good news: They never went away. Look for them in the forgotten back corner of your local liquor store, near where the Zima was a few years ago.


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