09/15/1986 at 01:00 AM EDT
From out of upstate New York it comes, clad in a bright-red label with a yellow lightning bolt streaking through the logo. It's Jolt Cola, and boon or menace, it is bucking the tide in these lo-cal, decaffeinated times. TV host David Letterman sampled some on the air. His happy reaction: "Wow!"
And how. In brazenly proclaiming itself the soft drink with "all the sugar and twice the caffeine," Jolt kids not. It is made with natural sugar that comes from cane, not from corn syrup or something concocted in the lab. As for caffeine, each ounce of Jolt packs 5.9 mg, just under the FDA's soft-drink limit of 6 per ounce, and nearly twice that of any caffeinated Coke or Pepsi.
Jolt made its debut this spring in Rochester, N.Y., the hometown of its creator, C.J. Rapp, 27, who holds to the view that all other colas are insipid. "We think soft drinks are meant to be a treat," says C.J. (for Carl Joseph), the son of a bottling-plant owner. "We want to give consumers a heavy, rich cola reminiscent of the soda-parlor era." Dentists and nutritionists aren't likely to cheer; a Washington public interest group has already sarcastically nominated Rapp for "the Nutrition Hall of Shame." Rapp protests that "drip coffee has around 31 mg of caffeine per fluid ounce"—about five times that of Jolt. As for calories, Jolt is comparable to regular Coke or Pepsi.
From Rochester, Jolt has spread to nearby cities and will soon appear in 30 states; Rapp expects national distribution by early next year. He releases no sales figures, but there are favorable omens. For example, consider the conversion of Gay Mullins of Seattle, the man who took credit for "forcing" Coca-Cola to bring back its classic formula last year. Mullins says he's switching to Jolt. Can America's legion cola addicts be far behind?