texas

Dublin Bottling Works: Cherry Limeade

History: Dublin Bottling Works has been producing quality soda for over 120 years, a company with a rich history and a connection to one particular soda that everyone knows. It was that same soda that almost killed it. Dublin Bottling Works was founded in 1891 by Sam Houston Prim in, of course, Dublin, Texas. It was that same year the company began bottling a brand new soda with a unique taste: Dr. Pepper. This is where the term “Dublin Dr. Pepper” comes from, Dr. Pepper with pure cane sugar instead of corn syrup. It may have been Prim who founded the bottling plant, but it was 62-year employee Bill Kloster who really defined the company as its general manager. Dublin Head Soda Jerk, Kenny Horton, recalls when the price of granulated pure cane sugar skyrocketed in the 1970’s, it was Kloster who refused to let his company switch to high fructose corn syrup, despite the potential for much higher profits. Things were going well for Dublin Bottling Works. Their success carried them into the early 2010’s. They were the Little Red Riding Hood of Dublin, Texas. But the Big Bad Wolf came calling, and in this story, the wolf got what it wanted. Dr. Pepper/Snapple is the nation’s third-largest soda creator. They tried their hand at a cane sugar version of their soda called “Heritage Dr. Pepper.” It didn’t resonate with people like Dublin Dr. Pepper. In June 2011, the beverage giant sued Dublin Bottling Works. According to Horton, they claimed Dublin Bottling Works was “diluting the brand” with Dublin Dr. Pepper. On January 11, 2012, Dublin Dr. Pepper came to an end. Horton recalls 15 employees being laid off. By now Kloster’s son, also named Bill Kloster, was the company’s owner. He remains so to this day. Horton notes, “He could’ve easily closed the doors and it would’ve been cheaper…. But he wanted to maintain the legacy his father started.” So Dublin Bottling Works went back to the drawing board.

After about four months of research and development, Dublin Bottling Works reemerged with a new line of pure cane sugar sodas. Today the company has 12 different flavors, including classics like root beer and cream soda and mysteries like Fru Fru Berry. Horton says root beer and black cherry are the two top-sellers. But we wanted to review something a little more daring, something off the beaten path. Enter Dublin Cherry Limeade. Horton tells me over the phone that the Dublin soda jerks used to make cherry limeades with real cherries and limes at the company’s old soda fountain in the 1930’s. The company wanted to replicate that flavor as much as possible in bottled form. This soda is wildly red. Like, I drank an entire bottle and I’m pretty sure my stomach glows in the dark now. But that’s fine. They wanted to make the flavor smooth, Horton notes. “We definitely wanted the lemon-lime, but not an overpowering lemon-lime.” Fun fact: Cherry Limeade is the most popular Dublin flavor at Cost Plus World Market. Alright, that’s enough information. Let’s drink.

Where to get: Dublin Bottling Works soda is sold throughout Texas, including HEB, United, and Kroger stores in addition to Cost Plus World Market. You can find it online for purchase from the Dublin store (24) or Soda Emporium (6) or (singles).

Nose: Lime; cherry limeade; cherry grenadine.

Taste: Sweet cherry; tart cherry; mild lime. This is a soda anchored by a classic cherry limeade flavor. Think Sonic Route 44 Cherry Limeade, only a little sweeter. The cherry flavor in this is more like the juice Maraschino cherries sit in. It’s got that sweet, candy cherry flavor on which most cherry limeades are built. The carbonation is light, but flush on the tongue. You get a sweet cherry flavor first, followed by a rush of carbonation that helps transition the cherry taste to a tart one. That tartness then transforms once again and this is where you taste the lime. It’s subtle, but certainly noticeable. Just a squeeze.

Finish: Mild cherry with undertones of tart lime that change in strength depending on the sip.

Rating: Dublin Cherry Limeade Soda tastes exactly like you want it to taste. It really does have that classic cherry limeade flavor. We even let one of our grandfathers try it and he’s so old, he’s basically disintegrating; and he said it tasted like his childhood. We think that warrants the label of “retro” flavor. The sweet, Maraschino cherry syrup flavor is just right. It’s crisp, sweet, and delicious. Not overly sugary and syrupy. The accompanying tart cherry flavor provides excellent balance, while maintaining enough sweetness to keep the soda refreshing and flavorful. The final, mildly bitter lime finish completes a simple, yet brilliantly executed flavor profile. I actually wouldn’t mind seeing the lime brought out just a little more. But alas, this is absolutely stellar. We could spill more eloquent prose about its flavor and distinctly vintage label, but the bottom line is this a must-try for all ages and anyone with the slightest interest in soda. Cherry and lime are two flavors meant for each other, always waiting for their next honeymoon. Dublin Bottling Works has married the two tastes together in a way that delights the palate and begs for a bulk purchase. Don’t waste pairing this with alcohol. You’d be selling yourself short. Life is too short not to drink good soda. This is one for the bucket list.

Boots Beverages: Caramel Cola

History: Mark Kristen has been around the block. He’s a veteran of the liquid business. Talking with him over the phone, his southern Texas drawl is grizzled, yet soothing. I get the sense that before talking to me, he just got done changing the tires on his tractor. Probably for fun. But Mark Kristen also runs a third generation family business called Kristen Distributing down in Bryan, Texas. His grandpa started the company in 1930 and ran it up until after World War II, at which point his father, “Boots” Kristin, took the reigns. It was “Boots” who started Boots Beverages, making seasonal sodas like strawberry, lemon and peach in glass bottles. Back then, the soda business depended on refillable bottles. But customers weren’t returning bottles for deposits. Instead, they littered the streets with them. In 1962, Boots Beverages closed down. Mark Kristen had no plans to revisit it… until a client made a suggestion.

You see, Kristen Distributing already delivered sodas, but they didn’t have the rights to distribute in the area of this specific client. “You’ve got the background,” they told Kristen. In 2013, Boots Beverages made its return with five flavors including atypical offerings like coconut cream, dewberry and caramel cola. They wanted flavors that were available back in the old picture shows of the 1950’s. According to Kristen, his company moves roughly 2 million cases of beer/alcohol and 1 million cases of non-alcoholic beverages a year. The revenue from that business creates an advantage for Boots Beverages. They can take risks. Kristen says, “I see the movement in craft as opportunity and not competition.” They make soda for fun. For the people. But they’re serious about taste. Every single flavor the company produces is signed off on by an expert sommelier. Today, we review caramel cola. Giddy up, partner.

Where to get: You can buy soda from Boots Beverages directly online from the company’s website. Their sodas are distributed in Texas and St. Louis, Missouri. Random, but true. The company is currently looking for distributors and has aspirations of eventually becoming distributed nation-wide.

Nose: Cane sugar juice with the aroma of sweet maple syrup. Unmistakable.

Taste: Maple syrup; sweet, mild caramel; smooth milk chocolate. The flavor profiles in Caramel Cola by Boots Beverages are distinct. Perhaps the biggest surprise is on the initial sip, something that doesn’t taste like the rest of the soda. Once your lips meet the liquid, you’re greeted with a sweet, fruity note. It’s somewhere between fig and sweet prune. It makes you think, but before the thought is complete, the rest of the soda’s flavors come through after a buffer of crisp carbonation. The body of the soda is sweet, yet defined. Like a mixture of mellow maple syrup infused with hand-pulled caramel. Purists may expect a more defined caramel flavor, but the maple notes work as a nice compliment, whether or not it’s intended. The more you drink the soda, the richer the flavors become and the more the caramel takes over. You’ll also notice undertones of milk chocolate as your mouth gets down with this thing.

Finish: Creamy maple syrup that lingers for a few seconds and transitions into a sweeter caramel than in the body of the soda. Cocoa nibs enter the picture and become more prominent than the maple as the bottle draws to a close.

Rating: Mark Kristen made it clear that Boots Beverages produces their sodas for fun. So why not swing for the fences with their flavors? Caramel cola is a rare breed in the craft soda game. I’m hard-pressed to name another. Boots has cornered the market for now, and they’ve set a high standard. This is a soda with almost two totally different flavor components for me: the initial candied fruitiness and the richer caramel/maple flavors that form the soda’s overall body. I have to say the soda’s biggest success is the unexpected deliciousness you get at the beginning of every sip with notes of fig and prune. There’s even a brief tart, carbonated bite right before the caramel and maple take over. And then it hit me: that’s the cola aspect of this craft soda. You get a fresh, fruity cola taste up front and then a milkier, richer flavor profile of caramel, maple and cocoa nibs at the back. Mystery solved. Case closed. I feel like I just completed a 24,000 piece puzzle and then immediately beat the Cracker Barrel game on the first try. Yeah, I’m single. Some may be turned off by the sweetness of this soda, but its rich flavors help distract from the sugar. Notify me if you find another caramel soda on the market. When you don’t, that should be reason enough to buy a ticket and get on this flavor train. Keep your eye out for Boots Beverages as a company on the rise in the coming years. The Texas craft soda jerks will even be introducing four new flavors in early 2016. We can’t tell you the details, but in the words of Kristen, “they’ll blow your mind.”