What is Green River Soda?

  • By: Max S.
  • Date: December 23, 2022
  • Time to read: 5 min.

The name Green River Soda is sure to invoke a lot of nostalgia and emotions among Midwesterners in particular. It is a lime-based, emerald-green carbonated beverage that has been notorious in the U.S. ever since Prohibition. 

Whether it’s the zesty citrus flavor, the connection to St. Patrick’s Day, or the musical affiliations with Creedence Clearwater Revival and Al Jonson, this soda pop has been around for over a century.

Where is Green River Soda from?

The citrus soda pop is originally from Davenport, Iowa. However, due to its closely-linked traditions to the city of Chicago even today, people often think it was invented there instead. 

The owner initially sold Green River in Davenport in a small local shop. It originated when customers urged him to create a drink “with the bubbling snappiness of champagne.” After many tries, the owner created a green, fizzy, lime-flavored concoction that pleased the local customers immensely and eventually became beloved all over the country. 

Who invented Green River Soda?

In 1916, Richard C. Jones invented the Green River soda in Davenport, Iowa. He was the owner of a local ice cream shop with a soda fountain.

At the time, Richard was trying to create something to attract high school kids to his little shop. But it wasn’t until 1919, right before Prohibition began, that the drink became extremely popular.

In 1920, when Congress passed the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and established Prohibition, breweries began looking for other sources of income to stay in business. That is when Richard sold the recipe for Green River soda to the Schoenhofen Edelweiss Brewing Company in Chicago.

And so, the Green River soda became a hit. Within the first eight weeks, it was already famous throughout Chicago, and with the help of beer distributors, the Green River eventually went national. Once Prohibition began, the drink was sold in recycled beer bottles.

Where is Green River Soda popular?

The sparkling green drink is especially famous in Chicago, but its fame spread throughout the Midwest. 

In fact, from 1930 to 1950, Green River soda was incredibly popular, second only to Coca-Cola in the carbonated beverage industry. 

The soda also made its way to California when John Fogerty, one of the founders and the lead singer of the band Creedence Clearwater Revival, named a song titled “Green River” inspired by the drink. The band released the song in 1969, which talks about a walk along the river. This song became a hit and added to Green River’s fame. 

Over the years, Green River soda became a part of the St. Patrick’s Day festivities in Chicago as it appealed to the large Irish population in the city. The traditions can be dated back to 1962 when The Chicago Journeyman Plumbers Union began dyeing the Chicago river green for St. Patrick’s Day and the soda pop complimented the festivities.

Even today, the tradition continues on St. Patrick’s Day, but the dye, once oil-based and toxic, has changed over the years and is now more environmentally friendly and safe. As a result, Green River has become so deeply intertwined with the Irish festivities that a third of its annual sales happen around the Feast of St. Patrick.

green river

Is Green River Soda still made?

Yes, Green River soda is manufactured by Sprecher Brewing Company in Glendale, Wisconsin. You can even buy Green River online at their website and have the soda pop delivered right to your doorstep!

The rights to Green River soda were passed down many times over the past century of its manufacture. The Schoenhofen Edelweiss Brewing Company went out of business in 1950 when Sethness Greenleaf acquired the rights to Green River in Chicago. The Chicago River was dyed green on St. Patrick’s Day during this time.

Eventually, in the 1980s, Sethness sold the rights to Green River. The history of who acquired the rights for a few years is ambiguous, but the rights were firmly cemented into the Midwest in the 1990s when Clover Club Brewing acquired them in Chicago. 

Shortly after, in 2011, the rights were passed down to California-based WIT Brewing, and they continued to sell Green River in the Midwest, especially in Chicago. Finally, in 2021, the rights to Green River were acquired by Sprecher Brewer to date, a Milwaukee Brewery.

Green River soda is still available today, particularly in the Chicagoan region around St. Patrick’s Day. Although the original store was gone a long time ago, a shop in Davenport named Lagomarcino’s has been producing Green River since the 1920s, and you can still find the sparkling green drink at the shop.

What does Green River Soda taste like?

Green River is a lime-based soda. It is a sweet, carbonated drink with a lemony zing. Some people have described the soda as resembling Mountain Dew but with more of a lime-flavored tartness to it. The taste of citrus is palpable in the drink.

It is the zesty flavor that also makes it a complementary addition to some spirits and beverages. So it’s not just famous for being a soda fountain syrup but is also used in spirits, cocktails, and other drinks, especially around St. Patrick’s Day.

Despite being sold to multiple companies, the recipe for Green River soda has remained unchanged despite nearly a century of manufacturing, which is remarkable. 

glass of green soda

Does Green River Soda have caffeine?

No, Green River soda is famous for being caffeine-free. The fact that it is free of caffeine is prominently labeled on the bottle and is something Green River takes great pride in. It remains the official slogan for soda pop. 

bottle green river soda

But that’s not to say that it’s considered healthy. The Green River soda contains a whole 45g of sugar in it. And because it has an extra 45g of added sugars, the soda gives you that sugar buzz that people may mistake for caffeine. 

Other ingredients to add to the soda’s unique flavor and appearance include High Fructose Corn Sweetener, Citric Acid, Yellow 5 and Blue 1 (the dyes which give its vibrant green color) and Ascorbic Acid, Potassium Sorbate and Sodium Benzoate (as preservatives). 

Conclusion

The Green River soda has achieved a lot ever since its creation. It survived the time of Prohibition when breweries and businesses could barely stay afloat. Not only that, it flourished and embedded itself into the hearts of people across the U.S., especially the Midwest. 

Recipe unchanged for over a century, Green River still takes you back to the 50s, to a time of reminiscence. Today, you can still find the soda drink in Chicagoan areas around St. Patrick’s Day if you ever want a hit of that sweet, citrusy flavor with a scoop of nostalgia.