Entertainment

Why the Obscure '90s Energy Drink Josta Makes a Cameo in 'Loki'

The defunct beverage gets a sly shout-out in Disney+'s new Marvel series.

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Mobius loves his Josta | Disney+
Mobius loves his Josta | Disney+

The first time Tom Hiddleston's Asgardian God of Mischief sits down opposite Agent Mobius in the new Disney+ series Loki, the Time Variance Authority investigator played by Owen Wilson cracks open a can of soda. At first glimpse, you can tell only that it's not Coca-Cola or another familiar brand, but the product's name is soon revealed: Josta.

While it'd be more than fair to assume that the drink is a creation of the Loki writers room or a deep-cut reference to the comic books, Josta is real. Or was. Like many discontinued products from the 1990s, it has a cult following. But what was it? And why does Mobius drink it? For answers, I dug into Josta's brief history and talked to Loki showrunner Michael Waldron about how the obscure beverage came to make a cameo on the show. (Without spoiling anything, Mobius also sips the carbonated drink in Episode 2.) Here's what I learned.

First, some product background. In 1995, before caffeinated energy drinks like Red Bull became a staple, PepsiCo made its initial foray into this potentially lucrative market by test-marketing Josta in the Phoenix area, according to a 1996 AP story. The following year (coincidentally not long after Wilson made his acting debut in Bottle Rocket), the company did a wider roll-out of the red-colored carbonated beverage, touting a special ingredient, guarana, a caffeine-rich berry common in Brazilian drinks and now commonly found in US energy drinks like Red Bull, Monster, and Rockstar.

The AP story also noted that guarana had a reputation as an aphrodisiac, which a Pepsi spokesman assured the reporter was not part of Josta's marketing plan. "Let’s just say people are drawn to guarana by its powerful image and mystery," he said. Yet it's not as if the company didn't lean into this vibe. The Josta mascot was a panther. TV ads featured old guys ruefully talking about not partying harder when they were younger and then being interrupted by very '90s-looking ravers who scream, "Coulda, woulda, shoulda!" The drink's tagline was, "Better do the good stuff now."

Josta, like youth, was also fleeting. A year after turning up as product placement in Roland Emmerich's 1998 Godzilla, the drink was taken off the market. That hasn't stopped a small but passionate Josta fanbase from pining for it. Online you can find recipes for how to make your own Josta (one involves obtaining Crystal Pepsi) as well as various campaigns that have attempted to preserve the memory of the drink or urge PepsiCo to bring it back officially.

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Mobius and Loki chat | Marvel Studios

When I asked Waldron whether he himself was a fan of Josta, he dodged the question. "You know, Josta, BoKu, anything that feels like a relic of the past is just a fun thing to get to drop into a show like this," he said. "That's part of the fun thing of anything to do with time travel." Waldron has some experience with reviving interests in now-defunct products, thanks to another TV show he's written for: Rick and Morty, which created a frankly terrifying frenzy around McDonald's limited edition Szechuan Sauce from the '90s, eventually brought back into stores in a fan-demanded campaign, because of a reference in an episode.

So, does including Josta here mean anything beyond a little wink to the audience? Maybe, and maybe not. "Look, Mobius is a guy who can go anywhere, go any time," said Waldron. "Josta is a discontinued soda, so you'd imagine that maybe he's encountered a timeline where Josta became the world's Coca-Cola and that was a branch that had to be handled but maybe he developed a taste for Josta in the process and brought himself back a case or two. Again, that's just conjecture on my part."​​​​​​

When I pressed Waldron if Loki viewers should be solving puzzles and hunting for clues as they watch, he was once again cagey. "That's part of the fun of the whole thing: The fans getting to identify these things and figure out what means something, what means nothing," he said. "Either way, it's fun to look and fun to engage about."

So perhaps the mid-to-late 1990s will figure in significantly to Loki's narrative, or maybe it's just fun to picture a time bureaucrat sipping on a soda meant for people who dressed like the characters in Go. Whatever it is, we now want to try Josta. Who has the hookup?
 

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Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.
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