The Meaning Behind Zima's Recognizable Name

For people who came of drinking age in the 1990s, the short-lived alcoholic carbonated malt beverage Zima has that bit of nostalgia attached to it that you just connect to certain moments in time. Maybe it was the first tipple you ever tried — an alternative to beer and liquor that allowed you to slowly wade into the unfamiliar world of booze. Or perhaps you sipped one at a party where you met someone special. More likely, you link it back to the crystal clear fad of the '90s that launched with the arrival of Crystal Pepsi.

But the name Zima is so unusual and recognizable that you didn't forget it, even if the clear, citrus-flavored drink introduced by Coors around 1993 wasn't your favorite. The moniker actually derives from the word "winter" in Slavic languages, as per Since Zima was created as a cooler or a refreshing alternative to beer and wine, the association makes sense for a beverage that needs to be served cold.

Winter is coming

Zima started off auspiciously enough, selling more than 1.3 million barrels worth in its inaugural year of nationwide distribution around 1994 as Coors poured in a cool $38 million to promote its ad campaign. It was the first of the malt beverages, which came to be known as malternatives, to hit the market before anyone had even heard of spiked lemonades or hard seltzers.

But one thing people remember most about a product, aside from a name that resonates, is how it tastes, and consumers were less than thrilled with Zima's quality or lack thereof, as per Weird History Food via YouTube. And when your potential customer base only tries your drink once and then swiftly abandons it, you're headed for trouble. By 1996, Zima sales had already been cut by more than half of 1994 levels to 403,000 barrels. Accusations that it was targeted at minors didn't help credibility matters either.

Alas, a recognizable name and initial marketing blitz weren't enough to save Zima from being relegated to the trash bin of malt beverage history. It was discontinued in 2008 after experiencing further declining sales. Like many products that had a brief run of success, then faltered, Zima was brought back for a limited release 10 years later to tap into the wave of '90s nostalgia. However, this time it didn't overstay its welcome. It appears winter has come and gone.