The Surprising History Of 'Dirty Sodas'

It's hard to make it through childhood in the U.S. without encountering nonalcoholic drinks like the Roy Rogers or Arnold Palmer. Who doesn't remember the first time mom or dad ordered a Shirley Temple — a drink, per USA Today, that was created by a bartender at celebrity hub Chasen's who combined 7Up, ginger ale, grenadine, and a bright red Maraschino cherry — and feeling like you were drinking a grown-up drink sans the alcohol? Well, there's a whole new genre of nonalcoholic drinks that has popped up and started to find some steam. They're called "dirty sodas" and they cater to both young and old.

If you don't know what a dirty soda is, you might not get to Utah (the state where the drink originated) very often. According to Deseret News, dirty sodas started appearing there as early as 2010, when the dirty Diet Coke was born. While it's unclear who gets the credit for this strange-sounding concoction, we do know a dirty Diet Coke is made with Diet Coke, coconut syrup, fresh lime, and a little half-and-half, and the mixture apparently became popular with stressed-out Utah moms.

What makes a soda a dirty soda?

VICE notes that while these drinks may have been around since the early 2000s, the genesis of the dirty soda really began in 2012 after the Mormon church publicly clarified that only hot drinks are discouraged, not beverages that contain caffeine. This was definitely a praise-the-Lord-and-pass-the-Coca-Cola moment because soon after, the dirty soda trend really started to take off, largely due to the fact that Mormons no longer felt compelled to shun Pepsi, Dr Pepper, Coke, and other carbonated and caffeinated beverages.

What makes a soda "dirty" is the ingredients you add to your base liquid. VICE explains that a dirty soda is just the soda flavor of your choice mixed with flavored syrups, fruit purées, and cream. Honestly, it might remind you of a drink from your own youth: the suicide soda. If you're not familiar, this is when someone mixed a combination of fountain drink flavors (or all of them) into one cup. Nearly every kid who has ever bought a Big Gulp at 7-Eleven tries it at some point. And thanks to MEL, even mixologists are getting into the game. But per Grub Street, dirty soda makers like to think of their drinks as "flavor-infused."

Sonic drinks were the inspiration

According to the New York Times, fast food chain Sonic and its drinks were the inspiration behind dirty sodas. Nicole Tanner, the founder of Swig, the first dirty soda shop in Utah, shared, "They had the good pebble ice, and the good foam cup." And while Utah is the home of this drink, the concept is definitely being embraced elsewhere. Per Deseret News, these dirty drinks have become so pervasive in the Western part of the United States, even the likes of music artist Olivia Rodrigo has had her photo snapped sipping on a drink from Swig. 

Of course Swig isn't the only kid on the block serving these drinks. Sodalicious is the other name you may hear when people talk about dirty sodas. In fact, Deseret News explains there was a bit of a Hatfield and McCoy-type feud brewing between the two shops when they first started out, though it sounds like those Wild West days are staying in the past, with other dirty soda shops dotting the landscape, all selling "the same drinks, with the same syrups, and the same cold, pink cookies."