Dominic Ambrose Blogblot

of words: narrative, film and non-fiction

Vin Fiz Centennial: the grape soda that flew

100 years ago today Cal Rodgers took off in his Wright Brothers plane from Brooklyn on his way to Los Angeles, in an attempt to win the $50,000 prize offered by William Randolph Hearst for the first air journey from coast to coast in less than 30 days. Rodgers’ flight was sponsored by the Armour Meat Company and his plane was named after the new soft drink they were peddling – the Vin Fiz.

The 1912 advertising image

At the oddest literary reading I ever attended (or was  that the Paris metro reading?) excerpts from E. P. Stein’s Flight of the Vin Fiz  and Eileen F. Lebow’s Cal Rodgers and the Vin Fizwere presented in the little exhibition room at Hangar B of Floyd Bennett Field, near where the Vin Fiz took off. That helped me to see the Vin Fiz as a real aircraft, and not as I imagined it: some kind of grape soda. Alas, there was no Vin Fiz served at the event, since the soft drink never really

an overgrown runway at Floyd Bennett Field

took off (see testimonials below). The other Vin Fiz did take off, but it didn’t quite make it to Los Angeles in 30 days… more like 49, having crashed and sputtered several times along the way.

Afterwards, the attendees were allowed to wander around in the hangar to puzzle over the airplane carcasses in various stages of recomposition there. It is a workshop for the reconstruction of historical aircraft, and there were some marvelous examples there. Afterwards, my friend and I wandered around the disused airport that has sat idle along Flatbush Avenue for decades. It was a beautiful day and we watched as enormous airbuses and boeings lumbered low in the sky as they approached JFK airport just a bit to the east. We also took some time

One of the many planes being restored

to watch the model airplane enthusiasts fly their own tiny aircraft on one weedy runway. It was an interesting day to reflect on the caprices of fate: the beverage that gains immortality as an aircraft, the prize that was never won, the world war two bombers and troop transports that retire to lives as tinker toys and the airfield that still lives, but only vicariously. I have to appreciate history’s ironic sense of humor. It leaves me with one burning question. What did Vin Fiz taste like?

With the wonders of the internet I was able to find out not only where it can be found today (in New Hampshire and Ohio!) and also an idea of its taste, judging from the following testimonials from 1911:

“Tastes like a cross between river water (sludge) and horse slop.”

“You have to sneak up on it to get it down.”

“It has a laxative effect.”

Doesn’t that make you just want to go out and get some? Well, you just missed it. An attempt was made to revive the brand in recent years… but it fizzled out. 


September 17, 2011 - Posted by | happenings, literature | , , ,

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