Dirty soda: coming soon to Dubai?

The fizzy and creamy concoction is all the rage on social media

A dirty soda is a concoction of soda plus syrup, plus optional fruit, plus cream element. Photo: Swig
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Dalgona coffee might have been the viral drink sensation of 2020 and creamy lemonade certainly set Instagram feeds alight last summer but, as we approach mid-2022, there’s a new drink in town and it goes by the name of dirty soda.

What is dirty soda?

Dirty soda is a non-alcoholic, fizzy, creamy and distinctly sweet iced beverage, which sees a sparkling soft drink spiked with flavoured syrups, fruit and cream or coconut cream

It has been around for a while, having originated in the US state of Utah over a decade ago. Nicole Tanner, founder and owner of Swig, one of the state’s leading soda fountain chains and “home of the dirty soda” (so the company’s website says), opened the first Swig in St George, Utah, in 2010 with the intention of providing “a drive-through, Starbucks-style option for fountain or sparkling drinks”.

Although Swig proved popular from the outset, Tanner says orders for one item in particular quickly outstripped all others. “We offered a drink made with coconut syrup and Dr Pepper, which people began calling a dirty Dr Pepper, just because it sounded fun,” she explains. From those tropical-tasting beginnings, a statewide infatuation with “dirtying up” drinks took hold.

While Swig is considered the biggest hitter in the dirty soda world (Tanner owns the state and federal trademarks for the term “dirty” when used in conjunction with soft drinks, fountain drinks and add-ins, and there are Swig outlets across Arizona, Idaho, Oklahoma and Texas), a number of other Utah-based chains and stores also serve similarly customised fountain drinks to enthusiastic soda-swiggers.

In the social media eye

Dirty soda is regarded as far more than just a drink in Utah; it’s a way of life firmly ingrained in popular food and drink culture. Picking up a special “sodie” is a daily ritual for many and is often, Tanner says, regarded as “the best part of someone’s day”. And yet, 12 years post-inception, how come it’s only now that the state’s special drink has suddenly hit the international soda-slurping mainstream (read: gone viral on social)?

The short answer to that is the influence of American singer-songwriter and Gen Z favourite, Olivia Rodrigo, who uploaded a post of herself last December touting an oversize Swig cup on Instagram.

Rodrigo’s millions of followers were quick to take note; fast forward a few months and the #dirtysoda hashtag has racked up some 3.7 million views on TikTok.

The platform also has an ever-growing collection of videos documenting users either heading to their favourite soda fountain chain, or delivering a passionate how-to guide for recreating the drink (it definitely helps that these bespoke sodas looks great on the ‘gram — think plumes of milky-cream swirling into fizzing rainbow-hued liquids as ice cubes clink appealingly).

A trend to try?

Make your own dirty soda by combining lemonade, strawberry puree, mint leaves and coconut cream; ginger ale, muddled mango, pineapple syrup and cream; or Mountain Dew, peach juice, pomegranate syrup and coconut cream. Photo: Scott Price

While the UAE awaits the opening of its first designated dirty soda spot (Tanner says that national and international franchise plans for Swig are in motion and that Dubai is very much on her radar), those keen to be in on the thirst-quenching action will have to settle for stirring up their own mocktail-like concoctions at home.

Should you be inclined to do so, why not ease your way into the dirty soda revolution with a take on the Swig original (the aforementioned Dr Pepper and coconut syrup combo), or follow Tanner’s insider recommendation and recreate her favourite drink (” It’s so delicious, I get it every day”)? This a mix of Diet Coke, sugar-free coconut syrup, fresh lime and coconut cream, aptly known in Swig circles as The Founder.

Alternatively, ring the changes and become experimental with your own creations, following the simple formula that is: soda plus syrup, plus optional fruit, plus cream element. While there are no hard and fast rules, we will say that plenty of ice is essential and if you can source it, cylindrical, smooth-sided pebble ice (also known as nugget ice, sonic ice and chewable ice) is the way to go.

Keen for further inspiration? As summer approaches and the mercury rises, top-of-our list refreshing drinks to try are Sprite or lemonade with strawberry puree, fresh mint leaves and coconut cream; ginger ale with muddled mango, pineapple syrup and cream; and Mountain Dew with peach juice, pomegranate syrup, fresh pomegranate arils and yet more coconut cream.

Updated: May 21, 2022, 9:55 AM