The Arctic Splash carton has become an icon in the Philadelphia landscape over the last thirty years. Sadly, it’s going away.
Lehigh Valley Dairies introduced the personal sized version of their lemon flavored iced tea in 1994. At the height of its popularity, the mini juices were spotted everywhere from school cafeterias to small bodegas across the region. But, it’s the Fishtown neighborhood that has a special cult-like connection to the carton.
Somehow Fishtown became a hot zone location for Arctic Splash. It became most noticeable by the amount of flattened cartons littered around the neighborhood. Over the year, there have been numerous features written that prove this point. A 2016 article from Billy Penn quotes one local resident describing the breakfast of Fishtown as “a pizza pretzel and a thing of Arctic Splash.” The same article mentions that corner stores would sell 10 – 12 cases a week (300 cartons). And that number dropped to three or four when the company changed the recipe. (Dean Foods, who had acquired Lehigh Valley Diaries, swapped out high fructose corn syrup for real sugar.)
WHYY’s Kae Lani Palmisano wrote an in-depth piece chronically the full history. From Arctic Splash being the drink of choice for grade school snack time in the 90’s, to the creation of @ArcticTrash, an Instagram account that solely posts photos of smashed containers photographed on the streets of the 19125. She highlights the local t-shirt company, South Fellini, for creating an enamel pin replicating the drink, and a Chicago artist who travels the country filling in potholes with art inspired by locally themed trash, created a mosaic of the carton. And the Fishtown bar, Garage, who once collaborated with the Central PA based brewery, Pizza Boy, to make a sour ale mimicking the nostalgic flavor profile for Philly Beer Week.
But, this story really begins and ends with a 2012 Philly Mag article about Interstate Drafthouse. A bartender at the tavern, found at 1235 Palmer St, concocted the Fishtown Iced Tea on a whim one day after cleaning up littered cartons from the playground next door. The next day she cracked open a few fresh Arctic Splash Iced Tea cartons to max capacity and added rum, vodka, triple sec, tequila, a little bit of sour mix and a splash of Coca-Cola.
The drink special, which is essentially a Long Island Iced Tea… but Philly, was served right out of the cardboard container. And it took off. The Fishtown Iced Tea became the signature drink of Interstate Drafthouse who would find themselves years later buying pallets of cartons at a time. When new owners took over the bar a few years ago, the cocktail stayed on the menu.
Fast forward to May 13th, 2022. Dean Foods informed customers that Arctic Splash would only be available in gallon form moving forward. They were discontinuing production of the famed cartons.
The owners of Interstate Drafthouse bought up as many cartons as they could get their hands on, but in just over a month that supply depleted. They saved the last two cases of Arctic Splash Cartons to sell after a life celebration that will be held at the Interstate Draft House Patio on Thursday June 23, 2022 from 6 to 7pm.
After that, the Fishtown Iced Tea will find a new vessel to be served in and seeing a crashed Artic Splash carton will be like spotting a flattened can of Schlitz beer.