Distance breeds nostalgia. Looking back into the coolers and at liquor-store shelves during the totally tubular decade, you can find the groundwork for some of the innovation that would alter the beverage landscape for years to come—from adding fruit flavors to everything to canning cocktails. Let’s jump in the DeLorean, hit 88 m.p.h. and sample these blasts from the past to answer the question, “Where are they now?”
Who Drank It: Darn Near Everybody
Thanks to memorable advertising, the Swedish vodka went mainstream in the 1980s giving the spirit artistic cache. It also helped introduce the concept of flavored vodka, notably in 1986 with Peppar, a spicy version and runaway success.
Where is it today? Still around, placed among the endless stream of vodka flavors that range from birthday cake to bacon, pickle juice and orange peel.
Bartles & Jaymes
Who Drank It: Not Only People Sitting on Porches
A duo with even more cultural impact than Crockett and Tubbs, Frank Bartles and Ed Jaymes, fictional founders of “premium” wine coolers from Bartles & Jaymes, defined a decade of laidback sipping. Dozens of fruit flavor variations were introduced during its first iteration, served in torpedo-shaped bottles wrapped with paper around the neck.
Where is it today? The brand lives on, now in cans, and conceivably as inspiration for the many spritzer-like graband-gos becoming more and more popular.
Who Drank It: Almost No one
Designed to be a fresh start for a beloved brand, New Coke, or Coke II (as it was sometimes known in this early era of the Hollywood blockbuster sequel), was a reformulated recipe that failed to resonate with fans, who quickly abandoned the brand. It took not even a Max Headroom-like leap to 20 minutes into the future for it to be replaced on shelves by Coca-Cola Classic, which continues to sell briskly to this day. The legacy of New Coke is its ability to remain both a punchline and cautionary tale.
Where is it now? Frequently brought up in conspiracy theory chatrooms, marketing classes and in museums, but nowhere near drinkers’ lips.
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
Who Drank It: Hops Enthusiasts Tired of the Sudsy Status Quo
Introduced at the dawn of the decade, this now iconic pale ale helped create a hops revolution in the United States. The 5.6% abv ale used generous amounts of cascade hops for a strong citrus and pine bite on the finish. Countless brewers will cite Sierra as their epiphany pint. The IBU arms race was on.
Where is it today? On the Mt. Rushmore of American beer and in countless refrigerators around the world.
Who Drank It: Carbonation Enthusiasts
For a brief, fizzy, moment, these flavored seltzers in screw top pear-shaped bottles were all the rage. With intense sugary-fruity flavorings, they had the appeal of a soda, but the real secret might have been that they were a great base for mixing with vodka.
Samuel Adams Boston Lager
Who Drank It: Beer Drinkers Looking for a Wicked Good Alternative to Mass-Produced Lagers
When it was released in 1984, this small-batch lager, with malt-derived flavor and hop presence, helped change the American lager landscape.
Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Coolers
Who Drank It: Those in a Hurry
A cocktail mixing Jack Daniel’s and lemonade and other ingredients was invented in 1980 by an Alabama bar owner who dubbed it Lynchburg Lemonade. A legal dispute between the distilling giant and the bar held up production of an official Lynchburg Lemonade, and it took until 1990 for the brand to release a line of Tennessee Coolers, notably Tennesse Tea and Lynchburg Lemonade, with the whiskey mixed in.
Where is it now? JD may have been ahead of its time, as the ’90s line fizzled, but the brand now boasts an extensive offering of canned ready-to-drink cocktails.
This article originally appeared in the May 2023 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Click here to subscribe today!
Last Updated: June 6, 2023