The Unexpected Reason Mountain Dew Was Invented

Love it or hate it, there's no denying that Mtn Dew is one of the most unique sodas on the market. With a high caffeine and sugar content, unusual flavoring, wildly artificial coloring, and a near cult-like fanbase of gamers and extreme sports enthusiasts, almost everyone has a strong opinion about the soft drink, but few people know how — or why — we were first invited to "do the dew."

Mtn Dew — formerly spelled Mountain Dew — was first obtained by PepsiCo in 1964 and was given its signature bright green coloring in 1974, according to Thrillist, but it wasn't until the '90s that it became the brand we're all familiar with today. Pepsi made the decision to make the polarizing drink the official soft drink of extreme sports and changed the spelling of the name before introducing new flavors in 2001, solidifying its reputation as a pseudo-energy drink, a reputation it would build on when Pepsi began marketing it to gamers. Since then, the brand has expanded its line to include a dozen flavors, including the new "Legendary" flavor coming exclusively to Buffalo Wild Wings. 

But before it became the soft drink of choice for adrenaline junkies and online night owls, it had a very different origin — one that was far from a "soft" drink. According to Mtn Dew's website, the formula was first developed in the 1940s in Tennessee by brothers Ally and Barney Hartman. The reason? Smithsonian Magazine says it was because the brothers wanted a lemon-lime soda to mix with their whiskey!

The boozy beginnings of 'Mountain Dew'

Thrillist reports Georgia natives Ally and Barney Hartman moved to Knoxville in the 1930s but were disappointed they couldn't buy their favorite whiskey mixer, Natural Set Up — a lemon-lime soda so obscure its only Google results are auction pages for antique bottles. Undeterred, the brothers decided to create their own version of the drink and gave it the tongue-in-cheek name Mountain Dew — an Appalachian slang term for moonshine, per the Tennessean.

According to Mtn Dew, in the decades that followed, the Hartmans sold the new soda locally in Virginia and Tennessee until they caught the attention of PepsiCo, which purchased the rights to the product in 1964 before tweaking the recipe some 10 years later to include orange flavoring and began to market it across the country.

While it is now better known for its 54 milligrams of caffeine and 46 grams of sugar per 12-ounce can, and its pair-ability with Doritos and Taco Bell, Pepsi has recently leaned back into the drink's boozy origins, introducing Hard Mtn Dew in August 2021 and recently announcing that the alcoholic twist would be coming to its fast-food favorite flavor, Baja Blast.

Unfortunately, for those fans who would love to honor the drink's creators by getting buzzed on the neon soda, Hard Mtn Dew is only available in Iowa, Florida, and the drink's home state of Tennessee, though Pepsi says it will be expanding sales in the future. Until then, you'll have to do it the old-fashioned way and try mixing some of your own Mtn Dew cocktails.