Utah Field Guide: Dirty Soda

It started in 1980, we believe, with 7-11’s Big Gulp, a hitherto unimagined 32 ounces of icy soda. And then came the Super Gulp. We scoffed at its 44-ounce, ante-upping serving size. Maybe faraway hedonists somewhere “back east” couldn’t let themselves stop with the plenty-big Big Gulp. But then we discovered the 64-ounce Double Gulp. And lo, the people were sorely tempted and wickedness began to spread across the land.  

See, in Utah, a large portion of our citizenry are practicing Latter-day Saints who abide by the Word of Wisdom, a stricture that commands the faithful to abstain from alcohol, tobacco and “hot drinks,” which came to mean coffee. This bit of doctrine has served to set the church members apart from many other faiths. As the old joke goes, how does a blind Mormon know they’ve walked into the wrong church house? They can smell the coffee brewing.

Orthodox practitioners take it further and eschew any and all caffeinated beverages. There are thousands of households in Utah where Coke and Pepsi and (gasp!) Mountain Dew, are as reviled as demon rum and foul whiskey. But, as with any faith, there are degrees of devotion, and your average Latter-day Saint has reconciled the small sin of a fully leaded soda. Compared to a triple-shot of espresso, what’s the big deal? 

So, if in the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king, in a culture were there is no double-shot latte, the Big Soda is gulped with impunity. And it came to pass, like gentile teenagers who had found the key to mom and dad’s liquor cabinet, we truly joined the devil’s conga line and the Big Soda begat the Dirty Soda.

Yes. The Dirty Soda, an unwholesome co-mingling of flavors that were once deemed “suicides.” Just as coffee gulpers have fetishized their favorite beverage, so too have Utahns added complex flourishes and artisanal elements to their modest vice. 

Go then forth, pick any Maverik, Holiday or 7-11, and you’ll see a late-afternoon rush at the soda fountain while a forlorn carafe of coffee sits neglected; witness the line-ups of cars at the drive-through purveyors of the Dirty Soda across the land and know that, while we did not invent the Big Soda, it belongs to Utah now. And we like it dirty.

This story was published in the July/August 2021 issue of Salt Lake magazine. Subscribe here.

Jeremy Pugh
Jeremy Pughhttps://www.saltlakemagazine.com/
Jeremy Pugh is Salt Lake magazine's Editor. He covers culture, history, the outdoors and whatever needs a look. Jeremy is also the author of the book "100 Things to Do in Salt Lake City Before You Die" and the co-author of the history, culture and urban legend guidebook "Secret Salt Lake."

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