This summer Sprecher brought back Watermelon Soda for the season. Watermelon soda is a delicious summer treat that can be enjoyed by itself in a chilled glass or mixed up in a refreshing watermelon mojito!
Watermelon soda is fairly unique, and Sprecher watermelon soda is even more unique because of what's on the label. Take a look for yourself below. What is that thing??
That thing is instantly recognizable to residents of Rhinelander, WI, the unofficial capital of the northwoods. It might be familiar to other Wisconsinites and Yoopers, but outside of the Upper Midwest, the green creature on the label is virtually unknown.
So what is the watermelon-munching monstrosity on the label? It is none other than the humble Hodag, a legendary creature of the northwoods.
In the name of honest advertising, I am dedicating this post to exploring two crucial questions about the Hodag. First, what is a Hodag? Second, and most importantly, do Hodags like watermelons?
After hours of delving into the lumberjack lore of centuries past, I knew I needed help answering these questions. So, I consulted with the premier expert on the subject: Lenwood S. Sharpe, Director of Lumberwoods, Unnatural History Museum. Lenwood's museum was my main source for this post, and I highly recommend you check it out sometime.
But first, read on, and enter the weird and wonderful world of the Hodag.
The story of the Hodag begins in the late 19th century, in an America that would be largely unfamiliar to anyone alive today.
The Upper Great Lakes region was heavily forested and thinly populated, home to a number of settler-run logging camps and Native American tribes living in uneasy proximity.
These logging camps were staffed primarily with Canadians and first-generation immigrants from Northern Europe and Ireland living in rough conditions, doing dangerous work, and earning low wages. These woodsmen were separated from the mainstream and had little in common with one another, but they came together by telling tall tales around the campfire at night.
Part of that storytelling tradition was coming up with Fearsome Critters, strange forest creatures invented to explain otherwise inexplicable phenomena, scare new hires, and generally entertain everyone.
The Hodag is one such fearsome critter, and a famous one at that. Lenwood managed to gather three different stories about the Hodag under the roof of his online museum. Each gives a uniquely amusing view of this fearsome critter.
The Hodag According to William T. Cox
William T. Cox was Minnesota's first state forester, and this task kept him rather busy. When he wasn't building the state forestry department from the ground up, creating the state's forest fire protection system, or surveying the state's massive forests, he was writing "Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods," a compendium of critters.
Cox's Hodag is a slow, plodding, rhinoceros-sized beast with a bony nose. Its distinctive nose makes Cox's Hodag unable to look anywhere but up. Because of its peculiar anatomy, Cox's Hodag mainly eats porcupines that it knocks out of the trees above.
Cox's Hodag knocking a porcupine out of a tree
The Hodag According to Henry H. Tryon
Henry H. Tryon became interested in fearsome critters while fighting a forest fire in Maine during a summer job as a woodsman. He pursued that interest and collected tall tales for years, then compiled them into a book appropriately entitled "Fearsome Critters."
According to Tryon, the Hodag had a presence in Maine, but was first captured in Rhinelander, Wisconsin by a Mr. E.S. Shephard. Rhinelander's official tourism website corroborates this, although they sadly acknowledge that Shephard's Hodag was revealed to be a hoax when the Smithsonian Institution came to investigate.
E.S. Shepherd and a mob of concerned Rhinelanders with a captured Hodag, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Tryon's Hodag is "distressingly ugly" with a "knobbeldy head," "prominent, bulging eyes and two heavy lateral horns." The Hodag, all too aware of its homely appearance, is prone to extended bouts of crying. Cursiouly, Tryon's Hodag is vulnerable to lemons, and Tryon relates a story of a woman who foolishly dissolved a handful of rare crystallized Hodag tears by spilling a Tom Collins on them.
The Hodag According to Lake Shore Kearny
Lake Shore Kearny, as far as I can gather, was a woodsman of humble beginnings who wrote a book that was half-memoir, half-fearsome critter encyclopedia--"The Hodag and Other Tales of the Logging Camps."
Kearny's Hodag story is the longest and by far the darkest of the three. Kearny's Hodag is the spirit of a cremated logging camp ox come to life. This Hodag has glowing green eyes, gleaming white teeth, flaming nostrils, and a dinosaur-like body topped with a ridge of sharp spines.
Mishipeshu: The Inspiration for the Hodag?
These hodags are all slightly different, but the creature described is similar--a spiny-backed creature with horns and a long tail that looks something like a dragon crossed with a cow. This could be the result of different woodsmen putting their own spin on the story, but some theorize that the original Hodag store could have been inspired by indigenous art.
According to this PBS documentary, parts of the great lakes region were Ojibwe tribal lands, and when loggers set up camp there they may have seen Ojibwe pictographs of the Mishipsehu--the Underwater Panther.
In Ojibwe tradition the Underwater Panther is, well, a panther. It was often depicted with the hairs on its back standing up. To European eyes, the way the hairs were drawn made it look like a horned dragon. See for yourself below:
A Mishipeshu Pictograph, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Since pictographs like these have been found all around the Great Lakes, it is quite possible that a woodsman on Ojibwe lands saw one and was inspired later that night to tell the tale of a spiny-backed horned creature that roams the forests.
What is a Hodag?
So, back to my thesis question--what is a Hodag?
Based on the three accounts on Lenwood's website, the Hodag is a spiny cow-like creature that roams the Northwoods. It is rather ugly-looking by all accounts, and it has two known weaknesses--Lemons, and armed groups of Rhinelanders.
The Hodag may have been a product of loggers misinterpreting Ojibwe pictographs in order to scare and entertain their companions around the campfire, and as far as the Smithsonian Institute is concerned, nobody has ever caught a live one.
Clear as mud, right? I for one hardly know what a Hodag is, much less what they like to eat. Still, my original question loomed large in my head:
Do Hodags Like Watermelons?
At this point, I knew I was out of my depth. So, I contacted Lenwood and asked his opinion as Director of Lumberwoods, Unnatural History Museum.
This is what Lenwood said:
"Hodags are notoriously gluttonous eaters. While different sources often disagree upon their diet ("truffles," "blue mud," "porcupine," "cattle," "white bulldogs but only on Sundays," etc.) they all seem to agree that a hodag is one very voracious beast. So it stands to reason that they will eat watermelons, as they will probably eat anything and everything."
On top of that, Kearny's Hodag is born from the ashes of cremated oxen. "[B]ovines, in general, certainly enjoy watermelon. It is likely that the palate of the hodag is similarly inclined as they are decedents of the prior." Lenwood then recommended his video on the subject, which I think is well worth the watch.
That rings true to me--a quick search on YouTube yields ample adorable videos of cows chowing down contentedly on watermelons. Surely a Hodag would want the same!
Thanks to Lenwood, we can all rest easy that the Sprecher Brewing Team is telling the truth: Hodags really do like watermelons.
Still, I have one burning question for you:
Do you like Watermelon Soda?
If you do, or if you think you might, give Sprecher Watermelon Soda a try! This seasonal soda is only available in the summer, and it is the only soda on the market that is 100% Hodag-approved (as far as I know).
As a thank you for reading to the end, use code HODAG10 at checkout for 10% off your order of watermelon soda through sprecherbrewery.com! You won't regret it.