Squirt: Arizona’s Grapefruit Drink
The end of Prohibition in 1933 allowed liquor, wine, and beer to be legally available in Arizona for the first time in 18 years. Breweries and bars were relaunched to celebrate the occasion. Among the entrepreneurs looking to take advantage of new economic opportunities was the manager of a Phoenix citrus grove. He created a non-alcoholic concoction that would go on to find national fame as the grapefruit-flavored Squirt soda.
Ed Mehren, who managed his father’s citrus grove, believed the Valley was ready for a cocktail mixer that made a delicious Rickey, a popular cocktail that combined citrus flavors with various liquors including gin, brandy, and whiskey. The mixer’s main ingredient was an obvious choice, as Arizona’s grapefruit industry was struggling with an oversupply of fruit during the Great Depression.
In 1936, Mehren supplied Phoenix-area stores with a carbonated grapefruit beverage he called “Citrus Club.” He marketed the mixer as “ideal for summer drinks,” and sold it at 15 cents a bottle or two for a quarter. Citrus Club, and a second uncarbonated version, quickly became popular.
Mehren fine-tuned his carbonated, caffeine-free grapefruit beverage two years after its introduction when he partnered with Herb Bishop. They rebranded Citrus Club as a soft drink called Squirt, which contained 1 percent grapefruit juice and less sugar than other brands. The name of the new drink came readily to the pair because “grapefruit squirts, so we picked up the name from that.”
The concentrate for Squirt was made from Arizona-grown grapefruit at a factory in Glendale, which had been built to process sugar beets in 1906. From 1938 to 1977, Squirt was manufactured using the entire grapefruit in the process with the remains sold as livestock feed. Nearby residents best recall another byproduct, the intense citrus smell that permeated the neighborhood.
Glendale Sugar Beet Factory, 1920s. Glendale Historical Society
This article originally appeared in the bimonthly Arizona Contractor & Community magazine, July/Aug 2020 issue, Vol. 9, No.4.