Jolt Cola is back on the shelves. I repeat: Jolt Cola is back on the shelves. You might’ve missed the news because the re-launch of a retro soda brand tends to get lost in the midst of our insane news cycle, but let me make one thing clear: Jolt Cola coming back is a big deal.
For those of you who are too young to remember, Jolt Cola hit the market hard in 1985. It promised “all the sugar and twice the caffeine.” The slogan pretty well sums up my memories of the ‘80s. If you were a kid, this was the last carefree decade in the United States. We had no seatbelts, no bike helmets. We spent most of our time recreating scenes from Rambo: First Blood with real compound bows and arrows. If we weren’t shooting arrows at each other, we were in the knife shop, buying “Chinese throwing stars” with our allowance money.
The ‘80s were wonderful if you were a kid living in the suburbs, and Jolt Cola encapsulated this wonderfulness in 16 ounces of sugar and caffeine. This is essentially the original energy drink, well before energy offered a veil of healthy things like B vitamins and ginseng. Jolt Cola delivered energy with good old-fashioned caffeine. Four times the amount of caffeine that you’d find inside a can of Coke, in fact.
Jolt Cola was dangerous even by ‘80s standards. There were local ordinances that would only allow you to buy four of them in a single week. Anymore would cause heart failure. Maybe seizures. One kid died of a Jolt Cola overdose. He lived in the next town over from me. My cousin knew him.
None of this is true, but when you’re 10 years old and building forts in your backyard in the hopes that the Russians will invade just like in Red Dawn, you tend to believe the rumors about a soda so dangerous it was rationed. God, I wanted that soda. Oddly enough, my parents wouldn’t let me drink Jolt. I was allowed to craft blowtorches out of a lighter and a can of WD-40, but Jolt was off limits. Too much sugar, too much caffeine. My buddies at the time were in the same boat. Jolt Cola was banned in all of our households. Don’t get me wrong, we occasionally got our hands on one, sneaking over to the corner store next to the knife store and sharing a big can in secret while throwing Ninja Stars at the pine trees behind the strip mall. But we couldn’t develop a serious Jolt habit.
Did I mention it was as addictive as cocaine? One kid died of malnutrition because he refused to put anything in his body but Jolt. He lived a couple of towns over. My best friend’s cousin knew him.
And then Jolt just sort of disappeared. I don’t remember any grand death, but by the time I was old enough to make my own dietary decisions, it wasn’t on the shelves anymore. I had to settle for Mountain Dew.
But here it is again, in 2017. My concern with Jolt’s relaunch is that the cola is a bit out of step with today’s overly-cautious mentality. I have kids of my own now, and I put helmets on them when they run to the mailbox to get the mail. White rice is the most dangerous food I bring into my house, and I limit my family’s consumption. While every soda company is scrambling to extract sugar and calories from their product, Jolt comes back on the scene with a sugar bomb.
“All the sugar and twice the caffeine.”
It’s hard to imagine a slogan like that working in 2017, a time where parents lie awake at night worrying about childhood concussions and kids get apple slices instead of fries in their Happy Meals. But maybe Jolt Cola is exactly what we need. Maybe we need this can of nostalgia to remind us of that last carefree decade where Russians meddling in our affairs was simply the subject of action movies. Maybe we stop counting calories and grams of sugar and just kick back and enjoy the sugar/caffeine rush for a minute. Like when we were 10.
Just remember to limit your Jolt intake to four cans per week. You don’t want to go out like that kid my best friend’s cousin knew.