We love our weirdo regional sodas. While they may have local roots, many have joined beverage empires.
First brewed by pharmacist Charles Hires in 1876, Hires Root Beer was introduced to the world at the U.S. Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Hires, the story goes, invented this particular mixture of herbs and spices on his honeymoon and then marketed the drink as a health tonic. Early advertisements promised it could “put roses in your cheeks.” Hires was ultimately sold to Crush International, which became part of Procter & Gamble PG . Today, the brand is part of Dr Pepper Snapple Group’s DPS regional soda portfolio.
Cheerwine refers to itself as “The Legend” on the company website. It’s a North Carolina favorite, introduced to the state in 1917 by L.D. Peeler. Cheerwine contains notes of cherry flavor and allegedly got its name because it is wine-colored and makes people feel good. Today, The Legend lives on, somewhat independently. Cheerwine has a partnership with Pepsi PEP to distribute the soda in certain markets, but the soda is still owned and made by the Carolina Beverage Corp., which is run by L.D. Peeler’s great grandson Cliff Ritchie. Ritchie was previously CEO of the Cheerwine Bottling Co, and he took over the beverage company as a whole from his brother Mark Ritchie, who left the business to become a Christian teacher.
Hyper-effervescent and strong, Vernors was the brainchild of James Vernor, who was looking to make a better recipe for ginger ale before he was drafted to fight in the Civil War. Vernor allegedly stored the ale in oak barrels during his four years of service and returned to find it stronger and better than it was when he left. Today, it’s still a popular Midwestern pop. Vernors even has its own specialized ice cream shake version, which, though served in Detroit, is called a “Boston Cooler.” The Vernor family sold the brand to independent investors in the 1960s. Today, Dr Pepper Snapple Group owns Vernors.
Like everything in Texas, regional soda is “big.” It is also red, super red, according to Joe Patoski in the Texas Monthly, “like the color of a fire engine speeding through hell but more intense.” Big Red was born in the late 1930s in Waco, Texas. It’s sweet, even by soda standards, and tastes something like carbonated bubble gum, though its slogan tells you it’s “Deliciously Different.” Today, Big Red, Inc. owns Big Red, though it does have a distribution partnership with Dr Pepper Snapple Group. The company’s corporate office has stayed true to its Texas roots, although now it’s upgraded from Waco — you can find headquarters in Austin.
Originally, Squirt was meant to be more refreshing than other sodas — inventor Herb Bishop felt the market was ready for a drink with less sugar and fruit. That actually worked well for Squirt, which was first sold in 1938, in part because sugar prices spiked during the Great Depression, and Squirt required less sweetener than other sodas. Later, in the cocktail boom of the 1950s, Squirt sold well as a mixer. Brooks Products bought Squirt in the 1970s and reformulated the drink so that it has about as much sugar as other beverages in its class. Today, it’s one of Dr Pepper Snapple’s brands and, the company claims, it is the leading grapefruit-flavored soda in the United States.
As of 2005, Moxie is the official soft drink of Maine. The bitter soda is the creation of homeopathic physician Augustin Thompson. Thompson first patented the beverage as “Moxie Nerve Food” in 1885 as a tonic that pepped you up without depending on dangerous ingredients such as alcohol or cocaine. Instead, the secret ingredient in the drink is gentian root, a bitter medicinal herb. The soda packed such a kick that the word “moxie” entered the American lexicon to mean spunk. Still marketed as “distinctively different,” Moxie has passed through several different owners since the 1960s. Currently, Moxie belongs to the Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Northern New England.
IBC Root Beer
At the turn of the 20th century, the beer industry in St. Louis, Mo. began to consolidate. The Independent Breweries Company was a product of this movement, which didn’t last through Prohibition. One brand held on — IBC’s root beer was initially made as an alternative to alcohol when booze was illegal. The Kranzberg family bought the brand when the IBC collapsed and sold it out of their St. Louis-based Northwestern Bottling Company. IBC has been passed around through several beverage companies since and ultimately landed with the Seven-Up Company, which Dr Pepper bought in 1986. Today, IBC Root Beer is a Dr Pepper Snapple drink.