History: Tucked away in the small city of Boonville, Indiana sits Derr’s Soda. This business is old. It’s old enough by comparison to make Mick Jagger seem like he isn’t disintegrating just a little bit every time he performs on stage. It’s so old that when Derr’s started making “pop,” they had to pump the water they used from a well. It’s so old, their original means of transportation were horses and wagons. Get it? Derr’s Soda was founded by John Derr under the name “John Derr & Sons” in 1889 in Boonville, Indiana and has remained in the family ever since. It’s currently in its fourth generation of ownership. Over the phone, John Derr Sr.’s great grandson, Joe Derr, Jr., begins to recount some of the company history. He pauses for a long time before revealing that Derr’s started out making flavorings, colorings, and syrups to be used on treats like snow cones. He said this naturally transitioned into soda. The company was famous for its Derr’s Dry (lemon-lime) and strawberry sodas, with orange pineapple, orange, and grape also being very popular. As with most family businesses, there’s lots of consistency at Derr’s. One thing that hasn’t remained steadfast since 1889: the business itself. Derr’s closed its doors for a number of years in 1992. Essentially what happened was that no one in the Derr family had time for the business anymore. The final owner upon closure was Charles Derr. Within the family, the question was always, “when, not if” Derr’s would re-open. Charles Derr’s nephew, Joe Derr, Jr. and Charles’s son, John Derr finally restarted Derr’s in early 2010. They are also assisted by John’s sister, Barb Byers. Finally, someone with a name that isn’t Derr.
“It’s made the old fashioned way,” says Derr Jr. He’s not kidding. Before re-opening, the Derr boys went on a multi-year search to find the original suppliers of certain oils and flavors that went to the soda’s recipes. They were also “gifted the formulas” by Charles’s widow, Pauline Hull Derr. Currently, the company only sells three of its original flavors in bottles: strawberry, cream soda, and orange pineapple. The latter is certainly the most unique in the world of craft soda. “It’s a little more pineapple than it is orange,” says Derr Jr. He adds that the company produces its own secret extract that it uses in the recipe for orange pineapple soda. Derr Jr. notes orange pineapple is designed to taste smooth, and for that reason is also a good mixer. The company is proud of the flavor in its bottles, so much so that it scaled back on one signature soda trait. Derr Jr. tells us, “It’s got less carbonation in it than some of the newer drinks because of the full flavor that you get.” In addition to the three flavors Derr’s bottles, they also produce fountain sodas, and those do include older sodas like Derr’s Dry, orange, and grape. You can tell they really care about their liquid. Also, I’m pretty sure this a record for the number of times I’ve typed one last name in a review. Don’t Derr me wrong, guys.
Where to get: Derr’s is sold in physical locations regionally in southern Indiana, parts of southern Illinois, and western Kentucky. It’s also sold online throughout the U.S. You can purchase Derr’s Soda from Summit City Soda or from the company directly via its online store.
Nose: If you’ve ever had orange-pineapple juice, this smells almost exactly like that. Pretty spot on. The pineapple scent smells a little more candied than it does in pure juice form, but that’s to be expected with soda.
Taste: Pineapple; mild coconut; sugar; citrus. There’s a very, very sweet, candied pineapple flavor to this. It’s also got juuuuuuust a touch of coconut that accompanies that pineapple flavor. It’s almost an afterthought, but it’s there. The orange is also there, but it’s pretty subtle because the pineapple is so loud and sugary. The orange notes do provide a little bit of a zing, but again, very subtle. The flavor you’ll taste most besides pineapple is general citrus, and that’s something you’ll taste near the beginning and ending of each sip. The carbonation is actually what provides greatest contrast to the sweetness of the pineapple. The bubbles are little, but bountiful and make you think this tastes zestier than it really is. But bold, sweet pineapple is the dominant flavor and the unquestioned identity of this one.
Finish: Sweet, citrusy pineapple that quickly fades.
Rating: If you’d rather skip the hassle of carving up a pineapple and wasting a majority of the fruit, Derr’s Orange Pineapple has you covered. The flavor is really bright and does a very admirable job impersonating the fruit. The pineapple taste is bold, strong, and sweet. Very sweet. It’s actually surprisingly sweet when you look at the label because the bottle contains 34 grams of sugar. It tastes more like 50. For some, that’s a welcome sugar rush. For others, it’s a diabetic episode waiting to happen. In fact, the pineapple in this is so strong that it makes you love the citrus element. It provides a nice buffer near the beginning and ending to reign in the pineapple sugar storm you get for the majority of each sip. The subtle coconut flavor seems to fade as you drink it, but when it’s there, it adds a nice variance to the soda’s overall flavor profile. The finish on Derr’s Orange Pineapple is unremarkable. It really just dies near the end of the sip. I’d love to taste that tropical pineapple flavor slowly fade into the sunset, so that would be my biggest qualm with this soda. I think a slow fade out as opposed to a stark drop would help drinkers ease back in to the blast of sweet pineapple at the beginning of each drink. Now we’ve mentioned how sweet this is probably five times, and it is – but don’t get us wrong, the pineapple flavor here is really nice. This is a wonderful pineapple soda, though I do think I’d cut back on the sugar. I also wish I tasted the orange more. It would add some needed tartness. Still, this is fun. Pineapple is a fruit that is rarely attempted in soda. Kudos to Derr’s for being original. This would be a wonderful summer drink. Adding some vodka or rum to cut the sugar might not be a bad idea either. You could do a lot of things with Derr’s Orange Pineapple. And if you end up drinking a whole six-pack of it at once, let us know. We’d be happy to come visit you in the hospital.