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The Sweet & Juicy History of POG

The sticky-sweet combination of passion fruit, orange, and guava juice, popularly known as POG, may be an unlikely marker for the height of cool. But at my Honolulu elementary school in the 1980s, I remember being wildly jealous of the kids whose parents packed a frozen 12-ounce can of Hawaiian Sun’s Pass-O-Guava in their lunch box. Wrapped in paper towels and tin foil, the juice defrosted through the morning so that by lunchtime, it reached the ideal slushy state—and kept their lunch cold, an 8-year-old’s version of a win-win.

A glass of POG at Highway Inn. | Photo by Dawn Sakamoto Paiva

But POG wasn’t just for school. The iconic juice combo could be (and still is) found almost everywhere on the islands—gallon jugs alongside milk in the supermarket, cans in coolers at Little League games, foil-covered plastic cups passed out on airlines, and made into popsicles, powders, and jellies. Hawai‘i has no shortage of candidates for iconic drinks, from umbrella’d Mai Tais to the rarified Kona coffee. But none, perhaps, invokes such a crystalized version of childhood nostalgia as POG. 

For POG, it’s the sum of the flavors—usually made in an equal-parts combo—that says “Hawai‘i” more so than any individual component. None of the fruits are native to Hawai‘i. Passion fruit, known locally as lilikoi, hails from South America, and yellow passion fruit is thought to have been introduced in the 1920s. Guava likewise comes from Central and South America but thrives in the islands’ temperate climate, and one variety, strawberry guava, is now recognized as one of the biggest invasive tree species. Native to Asia, oranges were introduced to the islands in 1792 by Captain George Vancouver. 

The drink can trace its origins to the early 1970s, when Haleakala Dairy on the island of Maui introduced a blend of the three juices with the snappy marketing name, POG.

The drink can trace its origins to the early 1970s, when Haleakala Dairy on the island of Maui introduced a blend of the three juices with the snappy marketing name, POG. (It’s now owned by Meadow Gold.) Other outfits, such as Hawaiian Sun, released a similar juice blend under other names. In the early 1980s, the POG brand got a boost when kids across the state, then the nation, began playing a game using POG milk bottle caps from Haleakala Dairy, with some rising briefly to collectible status.

For the generation that grew up with POG, the canned or boxed version has become a quick-fix, down-the-memory-hole trip for mixed drinks. “Yes! Just add mezcal or tequila,” responded one friend when I asked if anyone was still drinking the premade juice. Another friend living abroad always requests a bottle of rum and POG to be stocked in the fridge whenever she comes home, and more than a few recommended adding the juice to sparkling wine for a tropical Mimosa

More than just a flavor, POG has become a token of nostalgia, an ambassador of the idea of Hawai‘i. For some, the authenticity of the original POG is the draw: At Highway Inn, a Honolulu mainstay that serves Hawaiian food like kalua pork and lau lau, third-generation owner Monica Toguchi Ryan put a POG Mimosa on her brunch menu. “POG is such a classic [nostalgic] flavor for those of us who grew up in Hawai‘i,” she says, noting that it’s popular for tourists, too. Her version keeps it simple: the original Meadow Gold juice blend and prosecco, which she says is a natural fit with the local-style breakfast menu. 

But for others, the combo is more of a jumping-off point for experimentation. Dave Newman, owner of Pint & Jigger in Honolulu, which recently reopened after a two-year hiatus, has experimented with POG combinations in the past. “Everyone talked about how they grew up on the stuff—the juice, the fruit, the popsicles,” Newman says about his experience moving to O‘ahu in 2006. “It all sounded so local, I definitely wanted to see what all the hype was about.”

[Pint & Jigger’s Dave] Newman found that deconstructing the juice into fresh individual components was easier to work with than the premade juice combo …

Newman found that deconstructing the juice into fresh individual components was easier to work with than the premade juice combo, of which he says, “There were some interesting tart and tropical notes, but they were so buried under all the sugar.” Playing around with fresh juices, however, he found success. In one, a riff on a Lilikoi Margarita, he used Grand Marnier for a rich orange accent and guava ice pellets that slowly melted into the drink. “[It was a] fun drink that transformed as the ice melted, so you waited for your personal POG flavor preference, and once it hit that window, well, kiss it goodbye,” he says.

In his twist on the Mimosa, he poured cava over a popsicle made from layering the three juice flavors and found that even the order of the layers was important—lilikoi would dominate when put on the bottom. Still, he notes, it was tricky to come up with these versions. “I won’t lie, we tried a bunch of others that didn’t work.” 

Harry Chin’s POG Cutter at Fête Restaurant in Honolulu. | Photo by Laura La Monaca

At Fête Restaurant in Honolulu’s Chinatown, bartender Harry Chin found success by reaching back into the canon of tropical drinks. In the POG Cutter, his spin on Trader Vic’s Fog Cutter, he finds an additional layer of island inspiration by mixing the trio of juices with an O‘ahu-distilled rum. “The main base is Kō Hana, a truly local rum from Hawai‘i made from fresh-pressed native sugar cane juice similar to the agricole style,” he says, about the aromatic spirit that gives contrast and texture to the juice-heavy recipe. 

The transporting flavor combo has also found a home in canned beers, hard seltzers, and cocktails—a sort of shortcut for adding tropical flair. Breweries both local (Maui BrewingHana Koa) and mainland (Stone), have released POG-flavored beer, but it’s the seltzers and cocktails that seem to have the most enduring shelf life at the moment, with various plays on POG Mimosas and bubbly drinks filling the supermarket shelves. Paradise Ciders, a local hard cider company, has made Hang Loose juice—their easy-drinking play on POG—one of their staple flavors, which can be found at locations across O‘ahu, such as Lanikai Brewing (which has their own Forever Summer P.O.G. sour). 

Some have found success with checking all the boxes in the seasonal, organic, and farm-to-glass framework. Kaua‘i’s Slow Island Culinary Syrup makes a concentrated, POG-inspired blend of local fruit juices, including using pink guava, which was once widely cultivated but now only available from a handful of growers and wild foraged from old-growth trees. The syrup works well as a base for drinks—a recipe for a Gin Sour is included on the bottle—but also over ice cream or as a fruity accent for grilled meat. 

It’s at this intersection—where familiar flavors are being reimagined with fresh ingredients—that bartenders like Newman see the most promise. “We have the most amazing local fruits, and I couldn’t see not using them in a drink like this,” he says.

The post The Sweet & Juicy History of POG appeared first on Imbibe Magazine.

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