Over the weekend, my wife and I hopped the “L” and trekked downtown to watch Chicago’s 50-year tradition of dying the Chicago River green for St. Patrick’s Day. So what better way to celebrate that holiday that with a review of a Chicago holiday staple, Green River.
As proclaimed on the label, “Caffeine Free since 1919″, this drink goes way back. Chicago’s Schoenhofen Brewery created the beverage during the Prohibition-era as a non-alcoholic alternative. It saw great success in soda fountains. Ownership shifted from place to place over the years. These days, it’s bottled by the Clover Club Bottling Corporation here in the Windy City. (It’s one of the few things that we haven’t corrupted with our politics!)
The label and overall design could use an overhaul, that’s for sure. You’ll either find the “Original” version or “Diet” in stores, sitting on the metallic green label. A yellow badge proclaims “Green River” with the shot of a moon overlooking a body of water. It’s definitely a dated look.
As for the drink itself, when poured into a glass, it looks like someone directly dumped green food coloring into some carbonated water, because it’s quite saturated in color. We’re talking bright green that puts Crush Lime, Sunkist Citrus Fusion, Mountain Dew Distortion, and Route 66 Lime Soda to shame. This is complimented by huge carbonated bubbles that hang around after pouring, to provide some texture, no doubt. The scent is very syrupy and strong; it’s the type of smell you’d associate with similar drinks… or household cleaning products.
Let’s talk about taste. That first sip is quite bubbly. You’ll find a biting lime sense first touch your lips, then wash into a fuller flavor that mellows out. Yes, it’s syrupy. In fact, it tastes like someone took straight soda fountain syrup and mixed it with just a little carbonated water. The bottle proclaims that it contains “natural lime oils,” which it probably does, but I’m not sure how citrusy this feels. There’s still a lot of “fakeness” present. The aftertaste, surprisingly, is quite clean, though you can detect a bit of syrup residue hanging out on your tongue. Beyond that, however, not much flavor lingers.
Green River is often the standard by which most lime beverages are compared. It definitely has the age advantage over others! They say that sales of Green River are quite brisk in the time leading up to St. Patrick’s Day, and you can see why. It’s a unique beverage with a bold color, retro-oriented look, and historical relevance.
Still, for a drink so anchored in history, it’s not euphoric. For a lime drink, yes, it’s actually rather good. But that’s also quite a small party of beverages to be a member of. It is what it is… a classic syrup-oriented beverage that still can be found in various places today. And we’re cool with that. It’s a refreshing break from the mainstream stuff you find the rest of the year. Now, just imagine what it would be like with cane sugar and a refreshed identity!
So forget the Guinness this St. Patrick’s Day and celebrate in true style with Green River!
Carbonated water, high fructose corn sweetener, citric acid, natural lime oils, Yellow 5 and Blue 1, preserved with ascorbic acid, potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate
An 8 oz. serving contains 120 calories, 14 mg sodium, 45 g carbs, and 45 g sugars.