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Taste Test

Soft drinks from hard times: The A.V. Club samples Soviet sodas
About This Episode

In 1946, while overseeing his company’s operations in a slowly rebuilding Europe, Coca-Cola executive James Farley received an unusual secret request, straight from the White House. Soviet Marshal Georgiy Zhukov had developed a taste for Coca-Cola during his meetings with Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. Zhukov, however, was worried about what the other Soviet higher-ups would think if he was seen drinking what was widely seen as a symbol of American capitalism. That year, at a newly built factory in Austria, the company produced a special shipment of colorless Coca-Cola in generic bottles, specifically to supply Zhukov’s office.

Soft drinks have an odd place in the history and diplomacy of the Cold War. Pepsi-Cola was the first American product to be widely sold in Soviet stores, signaling the eased relations of the détente era. The USSR had plenty of soft drinks of its own, often in unusual flavors that spoke to the cultural differences between the two sides of the Iron Curtain. The Eastern Bloc may have collapsed, but a variety of businesses have continued manufacturing these classic Soviet sodas. In honor of Cold War Week, The A.V. Club decided to sample a few of the most popular Soviet soft drinks still being manufactured by the Russian company Napitki Iz Chernogolovki, as well as a real throwback: a Soviet-made Pepsi bottled in 1980.