Review Update: Green River & Diet Green River


We last reviewed Green River in March 2011. Since then, the product has been reformulated and obtained new ownership, thus I felt it was time we revisit this green drink!

Green River (2013)

Green River (2013)

The month of March is the biggest sales month for Green River, thanks to St. Patrick’s Day. As the drink was born here in my hometown of Chicago, it’s been great to see the new ownership get involved in things like the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. After all, we’re a city that dyes the Chicago River green every year… and it makes sense that a beverage named Green River would be involved, right?

WIT Beverage Company currently owns the Green River brand. While the name of the company might not be familiar, some of their products probably are, including the soda lines from Goose Island and Jelly Belly. WIT announced their purchase of Green River in July 2011, noting that they would not only be growing the brand, but also returning it to use cane sugar. Here’s the press release with the announcement:

Green River Finds New Home at WIT Beverage Company

Classic Americana, Made with 100% Cane Sugar

Redding, CA (July 28th, 2011) – Always on the lookout for a new opportunity, WIT Beverage Company announces the acquisition of the classic American carbonated beverage, Green River. The new agreement will allow WIT Beverage Company to manage the sales and marketing of the Green River brand and elevate the image of the entire line. The newest addition to the line of famously green sodas will be a return to glass bottles and be sweetened with only 100% cane sugar. In addition, Green River will remain caffeine free and gluten free.

Green River soda was introduced to Midwestern drinkers in 1919, just as Congress was passing the 18th Amendment establishing Prohibition. When Prohibition officially went into effect on January 16, 1920, some breweries turned to making a nonalcoholic drink called Near Bear, while others were churning out ice cream. The Schoenhofen Edelweiss Brewing Company of Chicago turned to Green River. The soda was poured into old beer bottles and sold in the market. It was an immediate hit. The soft drink was so popular that Al Jolson recorded a song written about Green River.

The rich history of Green River is still celebrated today. The amazingly refreshing lime soda with a hint of lime is alive and well. With the much recognized visual appeal, including a bright green color, the brand takes people back to a pleasant time in their life – a time of corner soda fountains and drive-in movies.

Green River in glass bottles at Walgreens

Green River in glass bottles at Walgreens

The WIT Beverage Company will continue to sell Green River through traditional retail outlets as well as adding new points of distribution through their extensive network. Green River glass bottles, sold in 4-packs, are currently part of a national buy at Walgreens.

Label Comparison: 2011 vs. 2013

Label Comparison: 2011 vs. 2013

When you compare the packaging of Green River from our last review in early 2011 to now, not much has really changed. The same basic label design is in place, though the label has become less metallic. Additionally, a callout on the bottom now denotes the beverage as being “made with real sugar.” Another substantial change is the side panel of the drink, which provides a short history of the beverage, promotes GreenRiverSoda.com, marks the owner as WIT Beverage Company, and flies the flag of the Windy City with the tagline “Chicago Original.”

Diet Green River (2013)

Diet Green River (2013)

The diet version, which is often hard to find except around St. Patrick’s Day, has a similar label design, but with a faint green background instead. The callout on the bottom has been replaced with the tag, “Zero Calories.”

As for the taste, here’s an excerpt from my 2011 review:

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… 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.

History on Side Panel

History on Side Panel

The current incarnation has a similar look and scent. It’s very bright green and has a strong lime smell. It’s not your typical beverage. The initial flavoring is quite strong on the lime, as before, but there’s a less syrupy feeling overall. The drink still has that “this is meant to taste like lime but really isn’t lime juice” element going for it, but it’s a much cleaner experience than before — no doubt due to the cane sugar usage. Aftertaste is much cleaner as well, with the drink flavors resolving quickly and not lingering for a long time. It still tastes like a melted lime popsicle, but that seems to be Green River’s thing, I guess.

Moving on to Diet Green River, the same color, scent, and texture are present when poured into a glass. The initial sipping is quite different, however. It’s not as heavy on the “syrupy” experience, but is more mellow. In some ways, I prefer that to the full calorie version. The lime is gently phased in rather that being in your face. It doesn’t take a long, however, to detect the artificial sweeteners — in this case, aspartame and Ace-K. They linger on the backend of the tasting experience, and hang with you throughout the aftertaste. Overall, the diet isn’t bad. If you are accustomed to artificial sweeteners, you’ll probably like this quite a bit. In some ways, I wish the muted flavor profile from the diet version were applied to the regular version, minus the aftertaste. I think it would be a more taste overall.

To sum things up, the reformulated cane sugar version of Green River is a dramatic improvement over the previous HFCS-sweetened incarnation. It’s a cleaner experience overall. Diet Green River has an attractive, muted flavor profile, which is great, if you don’t mind artificial sweetener aftertaste.

Green River
Triple filtered carbonated water, sugar, natural flavors (natural lime & lemon flavors), citric acid, sodium benzoate & potassium sorbet as preservatives, Yellow 5, Blue 1.

An 8 oz. serving contains 110 calories, 10 mg sodium, and 29 g carbs (29 g sugars). Caffeine free.

Diet Green River
Triple filtered carbonated water, natural flavors (natural lime & lemon flavors), citric acid, aspartame, acesulfame potassium, sodium benzoate & potassium sorbet as preservatives, Yellow 5, Blue 1, phenylalanine.

An 8 oz. serving contains 0 calories, 10 mg sodium, and 0 g carbs (0 g sugars). Caffeine free.