Things You Didn't Know About Green River Soda

Green River bottles
Tim Boyle/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Tim Boyle/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Whether it’s "pop," Malört, or a glass of bitter tears after suffering yet another loss to the Packers, Chicagoans tend to drink some interesting stuff. Yet, few beverages inspire as much devotion among in-the-know locals as Green River soda, which has a sweet, lime-tinged taste that many think is the stuff of legend. In fact, we’re pretty sure hardcore fans bathe their firstborn in it to ensure a good harvest each fall. While that claim is completely unsubstantiated, we did dig up some other facts about the oddly ubiquitous soda that are actually true.

Green River Jacket
Green River

Green River used to be the No. 2 soda brand in America

Back in the 1950s, only Coca-Cola sold more bottles than Green River. Uh, chyea, that’s sort of a big deal, but apparently Coca-Cola had a very distinct edge on other soda companies of the time: it actually washed all of its recycled bottles before refilling them and selling them again. If you find this insane, please plop back down into your throne in the clouds and remember that this was a time when cars didn’t have seat belts, expecting moms smoked cigs, and the nuclear apocalypse was more likely to happen than the Cubs winning the World Series.

Green River bottles
Green River

It may be the reason Midwesterners call soda "pop"

There may be some element of hearsay to this one, but it still sounds better than half the nonsense your uncle Bob cooks up about Area 51. Fact: back in the day, Green River bottles weren't capped. Instead, there was a marble inside each bottle, used to stir the syrup that would settle on the bottom of the drink. To seal the bottle, one would flip it over, the marble would fall into the neck of the bottle, and the carbonation would keep it pressed in there. In order to open a bottle, one would jerk it up and down, and the marble would fall out of the neck. Theory: when the marble fell out, it would make a popping sound, hence why people started calling Green River “pop.” Again, we can’t really prove this, but some people think that gravity is just angels pulling down on your pants when you jump, and this seems to be more believable than that.

Green River car
Green River

A ton of Green River is sold on St. Patrick's Day

How much exactly? Probably enough to replace the Chicago River with. (OK, probably not.) Nevertheless, Green River makes approximately 30 percent of its annual sales in the four-to-five weeks surrounding St. Patrick’s Day, which is pretty loco when you consider that there’s zero alcohol in it.

click to play video

It inspired a CCR album and a John Fogerty song

Both named “Green River,” of course. In a 1993 Rolling Stone interview, Fogerty copped to being a big fan: "You used to be able to go into a soda fountain, and they had these bottles of flavored syrup. My flavor was called Green River. It was green, lime flavored, and they would empty some out over some ice and pour some of that soda water on it, and you had yourself a Green River." Pop is responsible for many a moonlight dance session.

Schoenhofen Edelweiss Brewing Company
Flickr/Bart Heird

Green River soda was mass-produced in a former brewery

The Prohibition was a real buzzkill (literally). While people nowadays definitely like to throw back a few brewskis, in the early 1900s, the average person was a much heavier drinker. Until income tax was introduced in 1913, about 30% of federal income came from excise taxes on alcohol. It was like, go home, 1913, you have been over-served! That’s why when booze was outlawed, people were really jonesing for an alternative -- and Green River soda was there to step up. The Schoenhofen Edelweiss Brewing Company of Chicago wrapped up its beer operation and started cranking Green River out at 18th and Canalport in Pilsen.

Lagomarcino’s Soda Shop
Flickr/Matt Northam

It was invented in a Davenport, IA confectionary shop

Its owner, Richard C. Jones, purchased the shop in 1914, and served many students that walked to nearby Davenport High School. In 1916, he whipped up the first Green River, and served it to his customers until he sold the recipe to Schoenhofen Co. in 1919. The sale allowed him to retire from the shop, and afterwards Mr. Jones went into real estate. There’s still a shop in Davenport called Lagomarcino’s that has been selling Green River since the 1920s. This old-school confectionary shop and ice cream parlor has is something straight out of a time machine, and has been serving the green stuff for nearly a century. There’s also a second location in Moline, IL if you’d prefer a shorter drive.

Green River soda
Sean Cooley/Thrillist

Straight isn't the only way to drink Green River

A Green River float was popularized on the Food Network, and the soda goes down pretty smoothly with a variety of spirits. Green River recommends making a beer margarita with one 12oz can of limeade, 6oz of tequila, two 12oz bottles of Green River, one 12oz can of beer, ice, and lime wedges. (Don’t cite this when you get arrested for climbing a telephone pole while wearing nothing but the remains of an obliterated piñata.) However, if you don’t feel like doing the work, swing by Beef & Barley in Lakeview --they’ll make you a tasty Green River cocktail with Peach Street Distillers Jackelope gin, Lillet, and orange bitters, served in a chilled coupe glass.

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After drinking one too many Green River sodas, Raf Miastkowski tends to turn into a rage-filled hulk who shreds his clothing and then wakes up in a ditch somewhere. Send help @RafFoSho.