If you didn’t grow up in the 1990s, the word “Zima” likely conjures a vision of some strange anachronistic drink known only from a passing reference in a half-remembered sitcom. Even if you did grow up in the ‘90s, like I did, Zima might not have made much of an impression if you were more concerned with things like trucks and Pokemon than the latest alcoholic beverage trends. Yet the name Zima still holds a certain allure. Like New Coke or EZ Squeeze multicolored ketchup, it’s one of those odd, slightly fascinating marketing failures now lost to the mists of time. Let us travel back to a bygone era, and discover all there is to discover about this mysterious drink.
What is Zima?
Zima was a malted beverage created and distributed by Coors that was marketed as an alternative to beer. It was generally citrus flavored and was about as boozy as a standard beer, with an ABV of less than 5%. Upon first launch, it was quite successful.
Zima, which means “winter” in Slavic languages, was marketed using the tagline “Zomething Different” (which, if you ask me, is zort of ztupid). Most crucially, Zima was clear—or, at least, clear-ish. This supposed purity was an aspect of the marketing hook, and made it part of the so-called “clear craze,” (a Wikipedia page that’s very much worth the visit) that includes beverages like Crystal Pepsi as well as hardware like GameBoys and computer monitors. The ‘90s were a crazy time.
What did Zima taste like?
All right, that’s all the official mumbo jumbo. But the real heads want to know, what did it taste like? According to some, it tasted “like Sprite.” Apparently, Zimas were often paired with hard candy like Skittles or Jolly Ranchers to make the flavor more palatable. Again, I can’t speak to this—remember, the trucks and Pokemon—but this certainly tracks with the disgustingly sweet alcohols I partook of almost exclusively in my early 20s.
Do they still make Zima?
Sadly, the answer is no. Zima was discontinued in the U.S. in 2008, and while they brought it back briefly in the summers of 2017 and 2018, the beverage now seems to be fully retired. They did make it in Japan as recently as 2021, but sadly if you’ve been planning a visit to Tokyo explicitly to sample the Zimas you never tried in the ‘90s, you’re out of luck since it is no longer manufactured there either.
So, what are despairing ‘90s kids to do? The legacy of Zima lives on in an explosion of sugary drink coolers like Smirnoff Ice and Mike’s Hard Lemonade that are widely available. If that’s still not scratching the itch, you can make your own homemade version that is tasty and refreshing via Food & Wine, though the authors acknowledge that none of them ever tasted a real Zima. Otherwise, you might just be out of luck. I looked on eBay, hoping to find a last, dusty bottle that someone had salted away, but to no avail. If you’re truly dying for a Zima, you might just have to invent a real time machine to sample one. Or at least wait until the Coors company decides there’s more nostalgia bucks to be earned and trots it back out for a limited release.