Dublin: 120 Years of Bottling America’s First Major Soft Drink

modern logoSome months ago while passing through Waco, Texas on a business related road trip, I couldn’t help but think about some of the historic events surrounding this small city named after Native Americans who once lived in the area. One of the most significant of these events is that Waco is the birth place of America’s third most popular soft drink, Dr Pepper, and home of the Dr Pepper Museum, housed in the 1906 Artesian Mfg. and Bottling Company building.

morrison drug storeIn 1885, a young Englishman named Charles Alderton was a pharmacist at Wade Morrison’s Old Country Drug Store, located on the northeast corner of Fourth Street and Austin Avenue in Waco. When not filling prescriptions, Alderton served soda fountain soft drinks to Morrison’s customers. Listening to his patrons express their boredom with the fruit flavors available at that time, him was inspired to create something new and different. After considerable experimentation Alderton finally came up with a flavor he was happy with.

To test his new drink, Alderton first offered it to Morrison and a few select patrons, all of whom decreed it a success. Word quickly spread of Morrison’s new fountain drink and because it had no name, customers began asking for a “Waco.” And although Alderton created the beverage, it was Morrison who finally named it Dr. Pepper (the period was dropped in 1950) in tribute to Charles Pepper, the Virginia physician who gave him his first job, and whose daughter he loved.

Soon demand for Dr Pepper around the Waco area became such that other drug stores and soda fountains began asking to buy the syrup from Alderton and Morrison. Eventually sales became greater than the small pharmacy’s production capabilities and a search began for a facility in which to manufacture the syrup.

dr pepper coRobert Lazenby, a Waco beverage chemist and owner of The Circle “A” Ginger Ale Company, liked Morrison’s new drink and offered to produce Dr Pepper syrup in his bottling plant. Then in 1886, Morrison and Lazenby decided to formalize their partnership and formed The Artesian Mfg. and Bottling Works to produce Dr Pepper in the Codd internal ball stoppered bottles.

History tells us that Alderton, the beverage’s inventor, had no interest in further development of the soft drink and gave Morrison the rights to his formula, suggesting Morrison and Lazenby proceed without him. Alderton happily continued his work in the pharmacy until well into his eighties.

In 1981, Texas businessman Sam Houston Prim tasted Morrison’s new fountain drink and right away he knew he wanted to sell it through his company, Dublin Bottling Works, some 80 miles west of Waco. An agreement was worked out between he and Mr. Lazenby and Dublin became America’s first Dr Pepper bottling plant. Then in 1925, because Prim was the first ever to dublin bottling worksbottle Dr Pepper, he was offered the company’s first bottling franchise. In response to the question of what area he wanted, Prim drew a map on the back of the franchise agreement–Tolar to the northeast, Carbon to the west, Comanche to the south, Lamkin and Fairy to the east and Iredell to the southeast–the same 44 mile radius territory from the Dublin plant as he had picked in 1981.

Mr. Prim’s daughter, Grace Prim Lyon, plant heir and operator until her death in June of 1991, later remarked that her father could have taken the Dallas-Fort Worth area or even the entire state had he desired but was satisfied with the arrangement he had originally made with Lazenby.

The popularity of Dr Pepper continued to grow as a regional soft drink beverage, but it was at the 1904 World’s State Fair in St. Louis where Lazenby and his son-in-law J. B. O’Hara introduced it to almost 20 million people that it received national recognition. This is the same exposition where hamburgers, hot dogs and ice cream cones were first introduced.

Grace Lyons died on the Dublin plant’s 100th anniversary. Having no children or other heirs, she willed the plant to Bill Kloster, who had started working at the plant at age 14 as a bottle sorter for ten-cents an hour. Bill had become plant manager in 1946 after its founder died and Grace inherited it.

early 1900s adAs the owner, Bill continued to emphasize the same values of service and quality he had learned from the bottler’s founder Sam Houston Prim. He was also committed to continue producing the distinctive taste that would come to be known as “Dublin Dr Pepper,” a taste he was convinced could only be achieved by using cane sugar in its formulation.

In 1982 when most U.S. soft drinks, including Dr Pepper, began using high fructose corn syrup due to large price increases and import quotas of sugar, Kloster refused to follow suit. For dublin dr pepper 2years the small independent bottling plant in Dublin continued to use the original formula given to Sam Houston Prim which called for Imperial Pure Cane Sugar–the only Texas Dr Pepper bottler to do so. As a result this small bottler with its limited distribution area drew as many as 80,000 visitors annually from around the world, and was continuously among the top ten sales producers in the country.

In June of 2011, after an unsuccessful attempt to capitalize on the popularity of Dublin Dr Pepper with their own “Heritage” Dr Pepper made with “Real Sugar” (beet sugar instead of Imperial Pure Cane), the Dr Pepper Snapple Group sued the Dublin bottler for trademark dilution and stealing sales from other Dr Pepper bottlers. The suit demanded that the bottler remove the name “Dublin” from its labels and that it stop selling the soda beyond the 44-mile range around Dublin. In January of 2012, Dr Pepper’s parent company acquired dublin historic markerthe rights to the six-county territory that had been Dublin Dr Pepper’s franchise, and the bottler stopped producing the soda it had bottled for 120 continuous years.

Today, the historic Dublin Bottling Works has reinvented itself without Dr Pepper. Still in operation and managed by the Kloster family, it produces a line of retro soft drinks including Dublin Root Beer, Dublin Cola, Dublin Ginger Ale, and more. And, all of Dublin’s retro soft drinks are made the “right way”–with Imperial Pure Cane sugar.

Try Em: Dublin Dr Pepper Braised Short Ribs, Dr Pepper BBQ Sauce, Spicy Dr Pepper Baby Back Ribs, Dr Pepper Bundt Cake

Root Beer: An Exclusively American Soft Drink

HiresAs a young boy growing up in a very modest home in North Texas suburbia, much of what is taken for granted in today’s society was for me an extravagance. That especially included bottled soda, which was a treat reserved for special occasions such as watching a baseball game at LaGrave Field with my father, or the monthly family outing for burgers. And for me, a bottle of ice cold Hires Root Beer was as much the highlight of the evening as the event itself.

Even today, there is something about a frothy mug (or bottle) of a flavorful root beer that I find extremely relaxing and perhaps a bit more refreshing than other soft drinks.

220px-Birch_beer_stillExactly when root beer was invented is not really clear. Most food historians agree that it actually started in Europe with small beer, a homebrewed beverage made from various roots, barks, berries, and herbs that proved much healthier than the drinking water of the time. And because it was also drank by women and children, the alcoholic content was almost non-existent. Thus the name, small beer.

Upon their arrival to North America, colonists soon began searching for ingredients to use in once again brewing their own beer. Since at first they did not have the barley, corn, and other grains for the process, they used whatever was available. They also discovered that Native Americans boiled the roots of sarsaparilla and sassafras plants to flavor a tea like beverage. Upon trying it, they were pleased with the taste and its similarity to spruce and birch. They soon adopted the practice to produce small beer, often using molasses as a sweetener and fermenting agent.

By the nineteenth century, pharmacists throughout the country were experimenting with herbal concoctions in an effort to find a pleasant tasting “cure-all” beverage. Then in 1876 one such pharmacist, Charles Hires, discovered an herbal tea recipe while on his honeymoon. When he returned, he began selling this new “root tea” at his drugstore. Hires, an active member of the temperance movement, eventually changed the name of his beverage to root beer, partially in order for his non-alcoholic drink to appeal to Pennsylvania’s heavy beer drinking miners.

HiresExtractLater that year, Hires presented his root beer to the public at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition by giving away free mugs of the drink. He also demonstrated how to make five gallons of root beer from a single packet of his root beer powder. Four years later, Hires had perfected and began selling root beer concentrate to local brewers around the country. Hires Root Beer was so popular that within the first year Charles had sold more than 115,000 glasses of the stuff. In 1893, just eighteen months after he began selling his root beer at the pharmacy, Hires began producing and distributing bottled root beer. He continued to lead his company until 1925 when his sons took over the business.

imgresOne of Hires’ earliest competitors was Barq’s, which debuted in 1898. At first Barq’s was not marketed as root beer in order to avoid a legal battle with Hires, who was attempting to claim a trademark of the term. Barq’s Root Beer, marketed simply as Barq’s, was very different from Hires and other root beers of the time. It was sarsaparilla based, contained less sugar, had a higher carbonation, and less of a foamy head than other brands. Today, Barq’s is one of the nation’s leading root beers.

First A&W Root Beer StandAnother of today’s popular root beers is A&W. In 1919, Roy Allen set up a root beer stand at a parade honoring returning World War I veterans. It was such a hit that he partnered with Frank Wright to open a permanent root beer stand in Lodi, California using the initials of their last names as the brand name. They soon opened a second stand in Sacramento. Roy bought out his partner in 1924 and pursued a franchising program for his stands becoming the first restaurant chain to do so. By 1933, there were more than 170 franchised A&W restaurants and by 1950, another 450 had opened. In addition to franchising, A&W was responsible for a couple of other restaurant firsts–the “drive-in concept” and “tray-boys” for curbside service.

IBCThe prohibition of 1919 brought about another of today’s popular root beers, IBC Root Beer. Named after the company that developed it, Independent Breweries Company of St. Louis, it too was developed as an alternative to alcoholic beverages. Shortly after introducing IBC Root Beer, the brewery was forced to close and the IBC trademark was purchased by the Kranzberg family who produced and distributed IBC Root Beer at their Northwestern Bottling Company for almost twenty years before selling the brand to National Bottling Company in the late 1930s. After a succession of various owners, this renowned root beer is owned today by the Dr Pepper Snapple Group, which continues to bottle it in its traditional brown glass bottle.

Today there are well over one hundred brands of bottled root beers on the market, plus many more if one includes diet versions, private store labels (such as Chek, Big K, etc.), and those available only at soda fountains. And because many of the brands are distributed only locally or at best regionally, it’s all but impossible to create a valid list of America’s best tasting root beers. That being said, you are likely to find IBC, Hires, Barq’s, A&W, Dad’s, and Mug brands on almost every top ten root beer list you encounter, although not necessarily in that order.

maar_top_root_beers_vOne other interesting fact about root beer is that, except for a couple of Canadian brands and one Australian brand, you’ll not find root beer anywhere else in the world. It is an exclusively American soft drink. In fact, I’m told that the only taste other countries find more disgusting than root beer, is a root beer float. It seems they simply can’t understand why anyone would want to pour a medicinal flavored beverage such as root beer over perfectly good ice cream. Oh well, I guess there’s just no explaining some people’s tastes. Hey, anyone ready for another root beer?

Buy Em: To purchase over ninety root beer brands, go to http://www.therootbeerstore.com.

Try Em: DIY Old Fashioned Root Beer, Slow Cooker Root Beer Pulled Pork, Root Beer Float Pie