Cheerwine, Vernors Ginger Ale and 10 other regional soda brands with cult followings
Soda consumption has plateaued as many consumers reach for seltzer and less-sugary options.
But the average US consumer will drink 43 gallons of soda this year, IBISWorld estimates.
Here are some regional soft-drink brands that have loyal followings.
Topo Chico became a nationally recognized brand after Coca-Cola acquired the company for $220 million in 2017. Its sparkling water got national distribution, and Coke rolled out a Topo Chico hard seltzer through a partnership with Molson Coors.
But before all that, the brand was a favorite among consumers in Northern Mexico and, in the early 2000s, with Texans.
The brand got its US start in Hispanic grocery stores, according to Gerardo Galván, a Topo Chico executive who helped with the brand's expansion. Eventually, the brand expanded to mainstream supermarkets.
Consumers were drawn to the brand for its robust carbonation, Galván said.
Cheerwine got its start in North Carolina in 1917. L.D. Peeler, its founder, aimed to make a soda that used less sugar because World War I limited the amount of sugar that was available, according to the company's website.
His solution: Use cherry flavoring instead. The beverage became a regional specialty in some Southern states.
It also attracted loyal fans. "One of them described it to me as 'adult crack,'" David Rivers, the president of the online soda distributor KegWorks, told The New York Times in 2011.
Aside from a 2011 bottling and distribution agreement with PepsiCo, the privately owned brand remained focused on the South for most of its history. But the advent of e-commerce took sales national, and today, the company ships its beverage around the US, Joy Ritchie, Cheerwine's head of marketing, told Insider in 2016.
Chicago's Green River soda — or "pop," if you hail from the Midwest — got its start in 1919 when a beer brewer in the Windy City pivoted to making soda as prohibition began, Eater Chicago reported in 2022.
The soda became a hit with local pharmacists, who were key distributors of soft drinks at the time.
The green drink also has a connection to Chicago's most well-known St. Patrick's Day tradition. In the 1960s, when the organizers of the city's St. Patrick's Day parade needed a more eco-friendly way of turning the Chicago River green for the holiday, the maker of Green River provided a vegetable-based dye to replace the oily one used previously, Eater reported.
Today, the soda is still sold, especially around St. Patrick's Day. It's owned by Sprecher, a root-beer brewer across the state line in Wisconsin.
Moxie was developed by Augustin Thompson, a doctor and businessperson from Maine, in 1884, according to the Matthews Museum of Maine Heritage.
The drink was marketed for decades as having medicinal capabilities, such as fighting the "softening of the brain" and a "loss of manhood," according to the museum. Made from a root, it had a bitter aftertaste that's adored by some drinkers and hated by others.
Coca-Cola acquired the brand in 2018 for an undisclosed amount. Today, it's the state soft drink of Maine, according to the state government's website.
Each year, there's also the Moxie Festival, an event in Lisbon, Maine, for fans of the soda. This year's edition, scheduled for June, will feature fireworks, a 5K race, and a car show, according to its website.
Vernors ginger ale
Vernors ginger ale takes its name from its founder, James Vernor, who started selling the beverage in 1866. The drink was a medicinal tonic made with vanilla, spices, and ginger, according to the Detroit Historical Society.
The drink became synonymous with the city of Detroit, according to the society. Its first production plant opened in the city in the late 1800s. In the following century, a lighted sign with Vernors' name was visible to ferry passengers on the Detroit River.
The brand is owned today by Keurig Dr Pepper.
Faygo, another soda brand developed in Detroit, was the product of the Russian immigrant brothers Ben and Perry Feigenson, according to the Detroit Historical Society. The brothers started the company in 1907 and sold the beverage in flavors such as fruit punch and strawberry off a horse-drawn cart.
In 1921, the brothers changed the soda's name to Faygo, a shortening of their last name that fit more easily on bottle labels, from Feigenson Brothers Co., according to the society.
Faygo is one of the drink brands owned by the National Beverage Corp., which also produces La Croix. Today, it's sold in other parts of the US, such as the South. Michigan fans have petitioned the company to bring back flavors such as Jazzin' Bluesberry to distribution in its home city, MLive reported in 2022.
Boylan's birch beer
Paterson, New Jersey's William Boylan created an elixir using birch trees and started selling it in 1891, according to Boylan Bottling's website.
Boylan sells several flavors today, and consumers can buy the soda at Walmart and national grocers such as Safeway.
It also still sells birch beer, which has a taste that is "distinctively minty and sharp, with strong notes of sweet birch and wintergreen oil," the company's website says. The drink is a popular choice with drinkers who are looking for something with a milder taste than root beer.
Big Red soda started out in 1937 in Waco, Texas, the same city where Dr Pepper was invented, according to a Texas Monthly article from 1986.
Since then, it's become "as much a part of growing up in Texas as souvenir chameleons at the state fair, the first dip in the Gulf of Mexico, or a visit to the Alamo," the magazine said.
Despite its color, the cream soda is made from citrus oils, the San Antonio TV station KSAT reported in 2019. The brand has been owned by Keurig Dr Pepper since 2018.
Dry Soda's botanical beverages "are meant to be paired, served on their own or used as the foundation for craft zero-proof cocktails," the company says on its website. Sharelle Klaus, its founder, started the brand in 2005 in Seattle while working with professional chefs to develop its flavors.
Flavors, including lavender, Rainier cherry, and cucumber, are meant to be enjoyed with food — the sodas are on the menus of restaurants in the Pacific Northwest.
The brand is one of many capitalizing on younger generations' desire to find alternatives to alcohol, especially during "Dry January" each year.
Sprecher root beer
Randy Sprecher started a brewery in Milwaukee using his name in 1985. He used fire brewing, or heating beer over an open flame, to make alcoholic beer as well as root beer, according to the company's website.
That method, plus raw Wisconsin honey, "makes Sprecher Root Beer the best-tasting root beer in the United States," the website says, referencing a 2008 ranking from The New York Times that named Sprecher's root beer the country's best.
More recent products, such as Sprecher's alcoholic root beer, had gained popularity around the US by 2016, according to an Eater piece on the beverage from that year.
A Chicago chemist named Bill Swartz came up with the recipe for Dr. Enuf in the late 1940s, the TV station WJHL reported in 2019.
But the drink wouldn't rise to prominence in the Midwest. That happened in Johnson City, Tennessee, when Swartz worked with Charles Gordon, a resident of the city, to produce and bottle the drink, according to WJHL.
Early ads for the beverage said it was "rich in vitamins" and "enough" to give drinkers their energy back after hard work. Its flavor is similar to lemon-lime sodas like Sprite and 7 Up, though some drinkers say it tastes more like chewable vitamins for children.
Today, the soda is still produced by Tri-City Beverage in Johnson City and a favorite among consumers in that state.
Manhattan Special sodas in glass bottles used to be a common sight around New York City in the middle of the 20th century, according to The New York Times.
The mixture of cane sugar and coffee was sold around the city decades ago. Founded in 1895 by Italian immigrants, the brand became a go-to drink on summer days, SILive.com reported in 2017.
Today, younger consumers are unlikely to be familiar with the drink, but older New Yorkers still seek out the soda, according to SILive.com.
The brand has since been revived at specialty food shops and through online sales. It also makes a diet, decaffeinated version "for those who want to sacrifice the calories and still enjoy the wonderful espresso taste," its website says.
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