Lil Barrels O’ Sugar

Not sure how the mayonnaise won such a prominent role in that picture, but make no mistake, this post is all about Little Hugs, the soft drinks specifically marketed to children. Little Hugs are known for their fun barrel shapes and bright colors.

This is the first post in a series of many posts about summer, and I have cache of summer-themed crap to review. I want to spend the days writing about and exploring my favorite season. I wish to meander around walking paths and consider the pool noodle. I want to eat frozen confections on sticks and drink from the garden hose. I want to sweat and stick to the concrete on the front stoop, watching the worms bake in the sun. It is summer, and I feel great.

Little Hugs were sitting ice cold in the fridge for me after an afternoon of playing outside. I think there’s an important distinction here–they were waiting in the fridge just for me. My mother had Diet Coke cans, and my father had spring waters, but the Little Hugs were all mine.

Little Hugs, in their plastic barrels, were invented in 1974. In 1980, the year I was born, the juice box was introduced in the United States. Capri Sun, a pouch drink, joined the pack in 1981. My generation was the first generation of children to be directly marketed to, perhaps most heavily in the junk food industry. I learned that my single-serving soft drink choice said something about me, my identity. When I drank a Little Hug, I was fun-loving and bouncy. When I sipped a Capri Sun, I was cool and laid-back. When I drank a Mondo, I was totally tubular and radical. These were not my parents’ boring spring waters.

I suppose there’s something to be said about the evils of marketing sugar water to fat-ass kids; how the 100 million dollars spent on children’s advertising in 1983 is now a 15 billion dollar industry in 2010, infiltrating every corner of a child’s life. All I can say is that I’m a textbook example that advertising works. The consumer/user has developed a life-long brand loyalty and healthy nostalgia for our products.

On the other hand, it’s not all so bad. At least they’ve scaled back the amount of sugar in Little Hugs, as well as most other junk food/cereals/sodas marketed to kids–probably because the amount of sugar was criminal in the 1980s and 1990s. And we slurped it down like little pre-diabetic guinea pigs. Still, I can’t help but miss the burn. Little Hugs used to have so much damn sugar, they burned your throat going down.

Little Hugs were one of many single serving drink choices, but they always felt extra special to me. I savored them just knowing that my parents had actually allowed me to buy one. Even I knew these lil’ barrels o’ sugar were insidious, beguiling with their ten-for-a-dollar price that even I could afford. I knew healthy words like “fruit” or “juice” did not appear on the packaging for a reason. I knew their gemstone colors were hiding something evil–after all, this was the moral of every cartoon I had ever seen.

To kick off the summer here I thought I’d try each flavor anew.

Shown here is one of two ways to open those little tin foil lids, by carefully peeling back the foil. If you were inpatient or not in tune with your fine motor skills, you could also boorishly puncture the foil with your thumb.

I asked the girlfriend for her memories of these drinks. She said she remembers having them as a baby, dressed in a yellow jumper, sitting at the kitchen table, her legs dangling off the seat. There is something juvenile about Little Hugs. Perhaps this is why I associate them with summer. I don’t think I would have been caught dead taking them in my lunch box to school. My brand, my identity. I had a Capri Sun or Mondo at school. But at home and in the summer, I could indulge. Or I don’t know. I could be making all of this up.

At any rate, it’s time to remember the syrupy sweet goodness of Little Hugs.

I tried purple first. Purple tastes like grape popsicles. The flavor is not overly heavy, but it is probably the most syrupy of the flavors. There is a slight tingle to the flavor, but the not sugar-burn of the 1980s. Still, I can feel the sugar coating on my teeth and gums. Strong aftertaste.

Red is the flavor of diluted Kool Aid. The actual flavor catches up to your taste buds after you have already swallowed. There may be a hint of Children’s Dimetapp flavoring.

Orange tastes like Tang. Except that I have never actually tasted Tang–and this is just what I imagine Tang to be like. Tang is one of those things, like Ovaltine and dog treats, that you inherently know the essence and flavor of, without ever consuming it.

Okay, I have tried a dog treat. Once.

Green tastes like cleaning product, something you might mop the floor with. In fact, Green tastes exactly like South of the Border.

This place. I haven’t had a chance yet to properly review this place, so I will do it now. Back in March, we stopped at South of the Border on the way down south. You know it, the campy roadside attraction, which depending on your perspective is either a filthy, scary, tourist trap, or a fading piece of beautiful Americana. You may be able to guess my take on it. I suggested we actually pay a dollar to ride an elevator to the top of the neon sombrero tower. Yes, there are people who will pay for anything, and I am those people.

I think these pictures give you a sense of what the place is like. The place smelled strongly of cheap cleaning chemicals. The gift shops, the arcade, the elevator of the sombrero, all reeked of ammonia and bleach and industrial-grade Windex. It’s got to be a cesspool for germs and therefore needs this constant scrubbing. The smell made me physically sick, triggering every allergy I have ever had. The chemical smell permeated the walls and every trinket that I picked up. I could taste it.

I love this picture. All these buckets were set up in one of the gift shops to catch the drips of what must be multiple roof leaks. This picture is what the Green Little Hug tastes like. I highly recommend picking up a Green Little Hug at the store, and coming back to stare at this photo. It will be a multi-sensory experience of the smells and tastes and look of South of the Border. It sure takes me back to the massive allergic-bordering-on-hives attack that I had.

Also, please enjoy these two pictures from the world’s most depressing arcade at the SOB:

Scary broken clown game:

Depressing ball pit:

It’s so depressing, it makes me want to stab my wrist with a rusty butter knife. But if you haven’t guessed yet, I do think SOB is one of those fading gems of old-fashioned, roadside camp, and I find it strangely beautiful. A part of me hopes they never replace the missing teeth in broke-down clown game, that somewhere, little spectral children shoot balls through the clown’s gaping mouth. I hope there’s a dirty diaper well-hidden in that ball pit. I hope there’s still the vulgar message about Casey’s mother scrawled on the yellow wall of the sombrero.

I bought a magnetic metal beer opener in the shape of SOB’s mascot, Pedro. It was the American thing to do.

And finally, let’s move onto Blue.

Blue tastes like snowball syrup, and is the alluring color of antifreeze. I really don’t even have to describe these flavors. The truth is, I could describe them as the flavor of their colors. Blue tastes like blue. Red tastes like red. That’s the magic part of junk food. It actually tastes like the color.

And that is my review of the Little Hugs flavors. Refreshing. Ice cold. Syrupy. I need to brush my teeth now.

27 thoughts on “Lil Barrels O’ Sugar

  1. I loved blue… and I remember the only way I would ever drink one of these is by poking holes into the top with a fork. Unless of course, it was an after the soccer game snack. Then there was no fork, so I had to give in and peel it back.

  2. You need to try Tang! You may be the only one who can test the intruiging hypothesis that it is something one inherently knows the flavor of without tasting it. Do it for science!

  3. Agreed that you now HAVE to review Tang after dropping that bombshell! You also completely confirmed my impressions of SOB as I drove by. always tempted to stop but never had time.

  4. I remember just peeling the metal into the drink without pulling it completely off, so you’d get a metallic taste with your sugar.

    Oh, and Mike’s Hard Black Cherry Lemonade tastes exactly like the Red Lil Hugs. I’m in love.

      1. I’d also consider going a step further and making it a Mike’s Hard Black Cherry Lemonade Slushie, with a slushie machine if you so have one. (That was a big title… MHBCLS?)

  5. Where to begin?

    My daughter has a case of hugs in the garage. She BEGGED us to buy them for her. We did. I pack them in her lunch (I never thought to ask her if this is okay).

    My only experience with hugs is when my mother forgot to send me to camp with lunch one day and went to the store and came back with a can of potato sticks and a hug – best lunch ever!

    Love the review of SOB. Need to get there one day. Would totally do the elevator ride to the top. For only $1?!

    Finally, you might like Roadside America in Shartlesville, PA:

    Miniature villages, trains, cheesy god bless america show where lights dim, total step back in time. I am ashamed I’ve been only once.

    1. like I said, I could be making all of that up about whether or not little hugs are cool to take to school. Sometimes I look at children and realize I know absolutely nothing about them except that I was one once.

      that roadside america place looks cool. I really like this weirdly poetic description on the website “the American countryside as it might be seen by a giant so huge that he could see from coast to coast.”

  6. Interestingly enough, I recently bought a case of lil hugs for my two daughters, 8 and 10. They actually requested them in their lunches, saying that their friends have them !

    “Daddy, they look like barrels”

    I knew instantly from my childhood EXACTLY what they were talking about. My, how the tides have turned.

    Love this blog, we were cut from the same jib, sir.

    BTW the ET punches video is still the best thing on youtube, for some reason it just cracks me up everytime. Mostly because I would have done the same thing :P

  7. Haha oh God, this made me laugh so much, I love the exclusive extreme close up and how you say green Little Hugs taste like South of the Border. (I’ve never been, but I really wanna go.)

  8. I totally know where you’re coming from with the lunch thing. Summer Vacation was like a whole different lifetime than school. There were just certain boundaries you couldn’t cross– things that couldn’t mix. That’s how it was for me, anyway.

    Since I bit my nails out of existence as a kid, I could never peel the tops off these drinks. (We called them Rainbow drinks.) The only way I could get them open was by stabbing them with a butter knife. I guess I had weak thumbs.

    And count me among the stunned that you’ve never had Tang! Whaaa!? I used to eat Tang straight out of the jar. I totally still would, actually. Powdered or liquid, I gotta tell you, Tang does not taste like anything else in the world. I’m totally jealous that you get to taste it for the first time!

  9. Single serve soft drinks. That’s one way to say it. These things used to be good. Now they just make me thirsty. Although, we do still have a few Hugs in the fridge. They were for a tennis carnival, really, that’s it.

    Also, South of the Border looks like the kind of place that I would visit and fall in love with. Something that knows it’s cheesy and weird, but refuses to die out. An attraction with tenacity. It looks desperate and cute, but mostly beautiful. Thank you for risking tetanus for us all.

  10. Oh I remebers the little hug drinks. Blue was the best, I do not know if you know but there is a yellow little hug it taste like a tangy lemonade. My kids drink these after school just like you said it cold from the fridge. I rember those days hugs for the kids and sodas and waters for the grown- ups.

  11. Lil Hugs!! I loved how they came in those little wine barrels. You could practically use the stuff for snow cone syrup! And South of the Border.. my bride would get SO mad when I’d make the obligatory pit stop there whenever we’d drive back and forth from Va. to FLA. Great post.. you brought back many great memories!

  12. I bought a few of these as a kid, but I could never drink much of them, as certain colors burned my throat. I get that reaction from some drinks with the really bright dyes, especially any red punches. Now it turns out that those dyes might contribute to ADD as well, so perhaps I was lucky to be allergic to them. Anyway, it’s cool to remember these and all the similar drinks.

  13. Alright, we’re only a year or so apart (September ’81), so I imagine we grew up drinking the same type of things..

    You mentioned Capri Sun which I always hated (the pouch was..weird?); I always had Sipps (or something else in a little juice box), and then Squeeze-Its came out (around 1st-2nd grade?, maybe 2nd-3rd for you). I feel like I’m the only person who remembers Squeeze-Its. Please tell me I’m not the only one!

    They had mascots, too! Their green guy was a boxer..and there was a nerd (I think he was orange?).. Anything?

    1. Hmmm..I have no recollection of Squeeze Its. I do remember Ssips however. They still make them, but I’ve been hesitant to try them because the flavors are different. My favorite was the orange. I remember the grape used to burn my throat.

      1. I remember drinking a Kool-Aid version of Squeeze-Its. Squeeze-Its are still around and are now 100% juice, it seems (were they always? I don’t know). Anyway, I loved the blue raspberry Kool-Aid drinks. Those soft plastic bottles made some amusing gurgling sounds.

  14. We used the emptys filled with small gravel and a piece of tape across the top to make hand grenades. when they hit the ground the rocks would splatter. BOOM!
    My grandpa and uncle did not like the gravel in the yard.
    They also hurt when you got hit with one

  15. My wife just came home with a case of these “Lil hugs” last week, they are already all drank and gone , my only issue is growing up ( being 41 now) , these 2 sip sugary drinks were ALWAYS known as ghetto jugs and sometimes quarter waters. Now maybe this was a New York thing ,but thats what they were…

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