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Taste Testing Flamin’ Hot Mountain Dew and Exploring the World of Spicy Soda

“That seems like something I would buy” is the phrase that popped in my head when I learned of the recently announced Flamin’ Hot Mountain Dew. I use this specific language for several reasons.

Firstly, I’m sure it says something about my concept of self worth that I perceive myself as someone deserving of such a thing. Secondly, it indicates that Flamin’ Hot Mountain Dew is not something I would desire or even conceive of. Despite all this, here I sit with two six-packs of this rare beverage available for only a brief time through Mountain Dew’s website.

I’ll start off by answering the big question on everyone’s mind. No, Flamin’ Hot Mountain Dew is not terrible. In fact, it’s pretty good. I had some people warn me about consuming such a beverage, but know that I grew up around a lot of people who dip. So unless you’ve ever mistaken someone’s spit can for your half-finished Cherry Coke, don’t worry about my beverage choices.

Inspired by the spicier variety of Cheetos, Flamin’ Hot Mountain Dew sounds like an affront to all culinary sensibilities. But let me ease your concerns. This beverage isn’t spicy in the more traditional sense, like with its cheesy brethren. (Side note: If any Cheetos marketing people are reading this, please consider a pitch for a campaign based around my original tagline: “Dirty up them fingees.” It’s a license to print money.)

Getting back to Mountain Dew, this Flamin’ Hot variety is more akin to stronger ginger ales, carrying the heat in the back of the palette. This comes with a citrus flavor that makes for a unique soda experience. Also, I like to crack a can of Mountain Dew and leave it in the fridge to thicken overnight. Let that be a little tip for you.

But I can’t just leave it there. Remember, this all comes from a place of self-hate. Now is when we choose violence.

What many people do not know about Mountain Dew is that it was originally developed as a mixer for whisky. What this should tell you is that people in the ’40s had similar taste in beverages as me when I was a teenager. With this in mind, I recalled the bevy of spicy whiskeys on the market and decided to see what could go wrong.

In our lineup, we have Wild Turkey American Honey Sting, Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Fire, and the bane of all college sophomores, Fireball Cinnamon Whisky. I bought all of these at the same time, and I really appreciate the cashier at the liquor store for not slapping me across the face.

Out of these three “drinks,” the Wild Turkey and its ghost pepper blend worked the best. You really get notes of heat across your whole palette, although the honey made things a bit overly sweet when paired with the Flamin’ Hot Mountain Dew. The Jack Daniel’s was an improvement in this area, but the cinnamon flavor pales in comparison to the ghost peppers.

Lastly, the Fireball paired with Flamin’ Hot Mountain Dew came at the end of a long night of hazy introspection and self-recrimination. There is nothing good to be said about this. It was like drinking a Christmas candle. As we all know, Fireball was developed as a way to poison stepmoms.

So after getting drunk on clumsily mixed cocktails of spicy Mountain Dew, my mind began to drift to the past. What sort of precedent is there for hot and spicy sugar water? Let’s start by looking back to pioneering days of soda when any old pharmacist could whip up a sweet concoction with enough cocaine to fill you with vim and vigor for your 14-hour workday.

Around the mid- to late-1800s and into the dawn of the 20th century, American soda fountains would mark the winter months by shifting into “hot soda season.” Purveyors would boil regular well water, which would be sold in flavors such as beef tea, clam bouillon, tomato bouillon, root beer, and the traditional cola flavor we know today.

Then, of course, we have the various health claims that often accompanied beverages in the day. Take for example the advertisement for hot soda at Dean’s Store that ran in the Los Angeles Times in February of 1901: “Hot soda is an armor against raw weather, against fatigue, and against colds. It cheers, warms, rests, and strengthens you.”

But hot soda isn’t necessarily spicy. What forerunners do we have in this category?

One recipe from a 1949 edition of the Sayre, Pennsylvania Evening Times offers one option. Take a cup of milk and combine with cinnamon and nutmeg. Divide that mixture into four tall glasses and add a scoop of chocolate ice cream and fill with pale dry ginger ale, and you have something horrible.

The Los Angeles Times presented a similar take on spicy soda in 1964, this time substituting apple juice, heavy cream, and cream soda for the milk and ginger ale, and adding a dash of allspice. This still seems wrong.

Looking at more recent spicy participants in the cola wars, 7-Up Gold, a spicy cinnamon and ginger cola, proved to be a big failure in the late 1980s. This was also around the same time a Louisiana-based company released Cajun Cola, with cayenne pepper and other Cajun spices. Looking to break into the $40-billion-a-year cola market of the late-80s, Cocodrilo Beverage Inc. released a line of sodas flavored with hints of jalapeno and serrano chili peppers and targeted their promotion to Southern California’s Latinx community.

These products later saw imitators such as Pepsi Fire and Pepsi Red in the mid-2000s, but let’s end this retrospective on a fun note. Follow me to Marlboro County, South Carolina. The year is 1992. The small town doesn’t have a single stoplight. It just installed its first payphone. But it is the home of the incredibly strong Blenheim Ginger Ale.

With a deep caramel color, Blenheim has been in production since 1903 and developed a cult following. Yet, even by the early ’90s, the soda was still made by only three people in a small brick building without a telephone. By some accounts, the spicier varieties of Blenheim are strong enough to bring tears to your eyes.

Blenheim was rescued in 1994 when the company was purchased by Alan Schafer, an 80-year-old millionaire beer distributor who also owned the South of the Border tourist attraction near the North and South Carolina state line. According to an interview with Schafer, the Blenheim factory previously only bottled the beverage on nights and weekends to avoid health inspectors. In addition to lacking a bathroom, the outdated and potentially hazardous machinery would have perhaps left the previous owner of the spicy ale company in hot water.

So that about covers hot and spicy sodas for the time being. I still have several tallboys of Flamin’ Hot Mountain Dew in the fridge staring back at me. I’ve always fought the urge to become the sort of person who buys and sells rare novelty snack foods on the internet, but now it seems inevitable. Soon I’ll be spending all my free time scouring eBay for vintage cartons of Ecto Cooler and unopened Fruitopia bottles. I’ve had a taste of what’s to come. And it is oddly spicy.

More on Plex:

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Written By

Dustin Waters is a writer from Macon, Ga, currently living in D.C. After years as a beat reporter in the Lowcountry, he now focuses his time on historical oddities, trashy movies, and the merits of professional wrestling.

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