The History of Mountain Dew, What Does It Have To Do With Moonshine?

hillbilly-style mountain dew bottles

Mountain Dew once leaned into a hillbilly theme (photo by Nicole Glass Photography/

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I don’t know when I first became aware of Mountain Dew. Although, I guess I don’t know when I became aware of any sodas, really. 

But it wasn’t part of our soda arsenal growing up. We had the major brands Pepsi and Coke and a few RC Cola-style brands like Big Red and other such soft drinks. 

But I don’t think I really bothered much with Mountain Dew until the great re-branding of the early 90s when they stopped with the cartoon hillbillies and became EXTREME for Gen X and debuted its Code Red flavor. 

I was never really that extreme, but I did start “Doing the Dew” about that time and though I’m cutting back on sodas these days for health reasons, Diet Mountain Dew is probably my favorite carbonated beverage.

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What was the original Mountain Dew flavor?

Originally, Mountain Dew was clear, with a crisp lemon-lime flavor like 7Up or Sprite.

The original formula was far different than we know today.

When was the first Mountain Dew made?

The first version of Mountain Dew, which is Scots-Irish slang for moonshine, appeared from the minds of a pair of soda pop geniuses back in the early 40s. It’s a bit different than the version we know today.

But there were other unrelated versions dating back even further. 

Read Also: 6 surprising facts about Popcorn Sutton and his moonshine

Pepsi, Orange Crush, Mtn. Dew boxes
In the early 1930s, the Hartman Brothers were selling Orange Crush and Pepsi before the Mountain Dew fame (photo by The Image Party/

Where did the Dew as we know it today come from?

Well, like so many good things in life, Mountain Dew got its start because a couple of Georgia natives moved to Knoxville and wanted to get their drink on. 

Barney and Ally Hartman were in the soda pop business back home in Augusta, Georgia. In the early 1930s, they were selling Orange Crush, later immortalized by the Georgia alt-rockers REM. 

However, the soda pop company filed for bankruptcy in the early years of the Depression. The brothers were then asked to move to Knoxville in an attempt to resurrect the brand. 

Is that when they started selling Mountain Dew? 

Nope. The minute prohibition ended, they got into the beer game. That was 1933.

In 1934, they added Pepsi Cola to their repertoire and dropped Orange Crush altogether. 

So, that’s when they started selling Mountain Dew? One might think so, but no.

The brothers – after a hard day of bottling soda – liked to relax with some bourbon whiskey mixed with a carbonated lemon-lime drink called Natural Setup. 

Natural Setup, however, was hard to find in that part of Tennessee. Therefore, they did what any industrious drinkers with access to their own bottling plant would do. They recreated it.

With the help of a master flavor mixer, they bottled it for their own personal use and for some of their friends. 

A Clear Beverage with a Crock Container
Moonshiners used the term “mountain dew” during prohibition. A pair of brothers originally created what we know as Mountain Dew as a mixer for whiskey. A mason jar is pictured above (photo by Kim Grayson/

So what does Mountain Dew have to do with moonshine?

Fast forward to the early 1940s.

The brothers had their lemon-lime soda mixer which was combined with whiskey. It was also the perfect match for high-quality moonshine, aka Mountain Dew.

It was such a hit with their friends and family, they decided to sell it. In fact, the drink debuted at a 1964 Gatlinburg bottling convention.

Appalachian themes were huge at the time. There was a fascination with mountain folk and the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

As a result, brothers Barney and Ally used hillbilly marketing with barefoot, overall-clad mountaineers with a jug of Dew in one hand and a rifle in the other.

“It’ll tickle yore innards!” became a popular tagline. 

On larger bottles, the hillbilly character was shown running out of an outhouse and firing at revenuers.

Despite the brilliant marketing, the drink never really caught on. That is until a Johnson City bottler got involved. 

Tri-City Beverage loved the theming and the green bottles. They purchased a franchise to make the Dew. However, it didn’t sell for them any better.

Tri-City worked with the same mix master who helped the Hartman brothers create their Dew. The result was Tri-City Lemonade, which was high in caffeine and sugar and much more popular than the original Dew. 

The corporation bought the formula, put the lemonade into the Mountain Dew bottles and suddenly, they had a hit that began to get the attention of the big boys. 

Pepsi-Cola bought the Mountain Dew brand in 1964.

Diet Mountain Dew in Bottle
Pepsi eventually dropped the hillbilly theme on the Mountain Dew bottles (photo by Morgan Overholt/

Did Pepsi drop the hillbilly theming when they bought the trademark? 

Nope. Not at first. In fact, Pepsico leaned on in.

The Pepsi-Cola Company actually set about making Mountain Dew a global brand using the same mountain stereotypes to market the brew.

For the Pepsi bottling convention in 1964, the company built a hillbilly cabin in New York’s Waldorf-Astoria ballroom and had “Daisy Mae” offering samples of the mountain elixir. 

By the 70s, Pepsi started to move away from hillbilly-themed marketing.

From there, the history of Mountain Dew begins to change.

For example, the company kept the bare feet and began targeting the urban free spirit of the post-hippie generation. “Get that barefoot feeling” was the precursor to the extreme marketing campaigns of the 90s. 

The slogan was: “Get wild, get free. Drink our extremely caffeinated soda!”

Read Also: Sweet tea isn’t actually as Southern as you think

Mountain Dew Various Flavors
Mountain Dew Code Red, a cherry-flavored variety of the original Dew, debuted in 2001 and became an instant hit. It was this success that eventually paved the way for more unique varieties including the popular Taco Bell Mountain Dew: Baja Blast (photo by Morgan Overholt/

Why did Mountain Dew begin experimenting with flavors? 

When Mountain Dew became the Mountain Dew we know today, the chief competition was Sun Drop. Later, Mello Yellow joined that citrus-flavored soda market.

However, Mountain Dew’s branding remained strong so rather than market new flavors as a new brand, the powers that be decided to make new “versions” of the same brand.

Code Red was a hit. Then, other options followed.

This includes the partnership with Taco Bell that brought us the immortal Mountain Dew: Baja Blast as well as less classic flavors like Frost Bite, Voltage, Sweet Lightning and White Out.

Overall, it has come a long way in 80 years, a long way from a pair of Georgia native brothers who just wanted to have their favorite mixer with their favorite whiskey at the end of a long day and used their connections and their beverage company to make it happen.

a cup of baja blast at taco bell
According to Taco Bell, Mountain Dew: Baja Blast tastes like a “real hurricane” with a “tropical lime” flavor (photo by Morgan Overholt/

What are your thoughts about Mountain Dew? What is your favorite flavor? Let us know in the comments!

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John Gullion

John Gullion, Managing Editor at the Citizen Tribune, is a freelance contributor for LLC – the parent company of and

1 thought on “The History of Mountain Dew, What Does It Have To Do With Moonshine?”

  1. Have had family and friends working for PepsiCo since the 60s and have always loved Mtn Dew since I was a child. Diet Mtn Dew is the only thing I drink nowadays, and I love the story of Mtn Dew starting right here in the Tennessee hills. It makes it so much better since it’s “homemade”.

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