Posts Tagged ‘soft drinks’

Written on September 22, 2021.

If someone asked you to describe the flavor of root beer soda, what would you say? We’re betting you might struggle to find an answer–or that your answer might vary greatly from your peers. There’s a good reason for that.

Root beer sports an elusive profile that has had consumers around the world scratching their heads for generations. The truth is that there’s no truly authentic root beer recipe and, in fact, recipes differ between brands as well as around the globe.

Get to the root of root beer with us as we explore the origins of this classic drink, how it evolved into a beloved soda, and why it continues to change what the world is drinking.

An Indigenous Medicine Becomes A Colonial Treat

Root beer owes it beginnings to the indigenous populations of early America. Far before colonists arrived on our young nation’s shores, native people were already using different parts of the sassafras tree to create medicinal tonics and delicious cuisines, alike.

Every part of the plant–from the leaves all the way down to its roots–was utilized to create tisanes (herbal teas) and throat-coating syrups to treat respiratory conditions and stomach problems. It was also not uncommon for natives to consume the young leaves at leisure or use the fruit to make jelly or wine.

While the leaves provided a fresh lemony aroma, it was the roots that delivered what we identify today as a distinctly “root beer” profile. As colonists settled in the Americas, they learned the recipes for various food and drink from the natives, and root beer was one such invention embraced by these newcomers.

Colonists had long enjoyed “small beers”, essentially alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverages made from herbs, berries, and bark. These drinks, which included birch beer and ginger beer were already a part of the diets of most European settlers, so similar beers made from American ingredients like sassafras root did not seem too unfamiliar to try. It didn’t take long for settlers to acquire a taste for root beer.

In fact, the colonists enjoyed these earliest forms of root beer so much, that records identify it as a favorite among 18th century farmers. As homebrewers, these farmers would often prepare their own versions of the stuff for social events, family celebrations, and parties. Even our founding fathers kept records of their favorite root beer recipes. Talk about American history!

Making Early Root Beer

In addition to sassafras root, common ingredients of the time included sarsaparilla, dandelion root, guaiacum chips, dog grass, and more. When you are living in an uncultivated country, you can’t afford to be picky, so many of these ingredients ended up in root beer. Yep, not quite what you might expect to find in your modern soft drink.

So, how was early root beer made?

Well, the process usually started out with boiled water. Ingredients would be heated in water to create a wort. Sweeteners like molasses, honey, or maple syrup were then added along with yeast and more water. Finally, the mixture could be barreled to ferment. The length of the fermentation process determined the final alcohol content of the beer, as well as its level of carbonation.

This process is surely what inspired the first commercial root beer recipe–ironically the brainchild of a teetotaling pharmacist.


The First Commercial Root Beer

Most people don’t spend their honeymoon seeking out inspiration for their next entrepreneurial venture, but we’re assuming Charles Hires wasn’t most people. In fact, you can thank Hires for contributing to the widespread popularity of root beer we enjoy today.

It all starts in 1875. While on his honeymoon, Hires discovered and developed a taste for an herbal “root tea,” taking the recipe home with him to Philadelphia. There, he tinkered with the recipe and became the first to market root beer as a commercial product.

The packaged dry blend contained 16 ingredients and was introduced to the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition in 1876. One package of his product cost 25 cents and could create five gallons of the finished drink. Consumers loved it.

Encouraged by the enthusiastic response, Hires soon re-formulated his dry blend into a liquid concentrate of the drink, which included nearly 30 different herbs, berries, and roots. By 1893, he had established a successful business in selling bottles of his famous brew.

Seeing an opportunity, other brands would later emerge and market similar products of their own. Barq’s launched in 1898, followed by followed by A&W in 1919. Dad’s Old Fashioned made its debut in the late 1930s, becoming the first product to utilize the standard six-pack packaging format we enjoy for most beverage products today. Originally marketed as “Belfast Root Beer,” Mug was then created during the 1940s.

Today, these four brands remain the most widely distributed root beer products globally, with A&W dominating as the number one in root beer sales worldwide.


Root Beer, Every Way!

We know what you’re thinking–what’s the deal with all of these root beer brands? While brands like Coca-Cola and Pepsi dominate the cola market, root beer doesn’t seem to have any one clear winner–at least in so far as consumer tastes are concerned.

Sure, we can see that A&W brings in the most sales for the category, but debates surrounding which root beer brand reigns supreme in flavor usually tend to skew towards the complicated–much more so than the question of “coke or pepsi.”

While root beer has developed a few accepted characteristics–it’s bubbly, brown, sweet, and non-alcoholic–that’s where the similarities stop. Just like the homebrews of the early days of “root tea” and small beers, root beer today continues to be a diverse beverage category with a profile that can be hard to describe.

Medium has attempted to sort through the web of flavors, grouping popular root beer brands by their core profile. “Sharpy pungent” styles of root beer are spicier, sometimes even more bitter or astringent. Brands like Barq’s and Dads Old Fashioned appear in this category, plus the Australian brand Bundaberg. Medium’s head-scratching “sweet and creamy” and “smooth and creamy” groupings present two additional categories for the soda, with subtle differences that again speak to the challenge of nailing down a classic root beer profile.

Our Chief Flavorist, Tom Gibson, has his own take on what constitutes a root beer, then and now:

“There are a variety of flavor profiles of root beer on the market, but at the heart is a wintergreen profile with secondary vanilla, anise, and herbal, earthy notes. Traditionally, the sassafras tree root was blended with other herbs and spices to either enhance that defining wintergreen quality or provide earthier, herbal notes and enhanced flavor. Vanilla was later added to provide a creamier, smoother profile that takes the edge off of the bitter astringency. Over time, root beer has evolved and contained ingredients like allspice, burdock root, sarsaparilla root, yellow dock root, ginger root, juniper berries, wild cherry bark, birch bark, anise, lemon, wintergreen, and more.”

Modern beverage manufacturers continue to utilize some of these components along with a combination of flavorings, sweeteners, carbonation, and caffeine, but there continues to be no single way of making a great root beer product–that’s an exciting prospect for beverage creators.

When you’re ready to talk about your idea for the world’s next root beer soda, give us a call at (502) 273-5214 or get started with this web form.


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Written on July 21, 2021.

If you were asked to name a soft drink, odds are a Coke or Pepsi might come the most readily to mind–but what about orange soda brands? As the soft drinks category innovates and gains traction, we’re exploring the origins of this zesty beverage, the world’s top brands, and how orange soda continues to change what the world is drinking.

The World’s First Orange Soda

The “original orange soda”–Orange Crush–was created in 1906 by Chicago’s J.M. Thompson; however, the commercial formula wouldn’t take off until 1911, when California-born beverage chemist Neil C. Ward perfected the blending process. It was this innovation that would ultimately bring the “zesty, all-natural orange flavor” of Orange Crush to the masses.

Soon after upgrading the initial formula, Ward joined forces with Clayton J. Howel and founded the Orange Crush Company in 1916. A beverage innovator himself, Howel brought his expertise from developing “Howel’s Orange Julep” (an orange syrup) to the partnership. As the inventor of the improved Orange Crush, Ward received the honor of having his name featured on the bottle–a common practice for early soft drink brands. The “crush” part of “Ward’s Orange Crush” was kept in the name to refer to the process of extracting oils from orange skins to achieve the drink’s signature flavor.

At the time, orange pulp–without the juice–was added to the recipe, and in 1921, real juice was finally introduced. Nearly a decade later, the decision was made to remove the real orange juice and pulp and instead utilize more shelf-stable flavor compounds to achieve the same great taste.

Within only a few years, Crush became so successful in the US market that the company expanded distribution to Canada. Two new flavors, lemon and lime, were introduced to the brand in 1919 and 1920, respectively, paving the way for a flood of additional flavors to emerge in the coming years.

Flavors like chocolate, blue raspberry, banana, and even red licorice have all been a part of the Crush portfolio; however, Crush now focuses on promoting staple flavors like grape, strawberry, and cherry alongside its signature orange. While still popular in Canada and other parts of the world, Crush, owned by Keurig Dr Pepper has become a smaller scale offering in the US market.

In general, orange soda seems to be more of a favorite abroad. But truth be told, there is another brand consumers tend to gravitate towards–and it has a much more tumultuous origin story.


“Another Man’s Trash” Becomes… A German Soft Drink?

We can’t talk about orange soda without also talking about Fanta. While Crush may have been the first, Fanta holds the title as the world’s favorite–and it owes it all to Max Keith.

If “necessity is the mother of invention” then Max Keith must be the father. As the head of Coca-Cola’s German operation in the 1930s, Keith brought prosperity to the formerly struggling branch; in fact, at the time, the Coca-Cola business in Germany was one of the world’s most successful, second only to the company’s sales in the US. Everything changed with the beginning of World War II.

In 1939, Coca-Cola had 43 bottling plants and over 600 local distributors across Germany–but with the outbreak of the war, there was no way to get the ingredients needed from the US to make Coca-Cola products. Enter, Fanta.

Keith was determined to continue business as usual, despite not being able to have any contact with the Atlanta-based headquarters. The company needed a product to sell, so he created one–an exclusively German soft drink. Utilizing the leftovers from other food industries (like fruit pulp and cheese whey) plus saccharin for sweetness, Keith created a pale golden soft drink and called it “Fanta” after the German word “fantasie.”

The drink was a hit and quickly became a household staple; especially when food shortages prompted German families to adopt Fanta as a base for soups and stews. At the end of the war, international business could resume. Despite being a profitable enterprise in Germany, production of Fanta was stopped and replaced once again by regular Coca-Cola. That was the end of the Fanta brand–at least for a little while.


How A WWII Soft Drink Became A Global Favorite

Fast forward to the 1950’s. Competitor Pepsi had started rolling out a variety of new drink flavors, while Coca-Cola’s business remained focused on selling their single, iconic product. In an effort to better compete, Coca-Cola revisited the Fanta brand and reformulated the recipe for the European market. In 1955, the new Fanta was released in Naples, Italy, using local citrus to achieve a bright and juicy orange flavor. Modern versions of Fanta Orange have since evolved from this recipe.

The drink quickly became a hit across Europe, but executives were cautious about releasing the new product in the US. Fearing that it would cannibalize sales of their signature product, Coca-Cola eventually chose to roll out Fanta Orange to the US market in the 1960s. But with little support (and marketing dollars) the US release was less successful.

Fanta Orange continued to reap slow sales in the US until the mid-1980s when Coca-Cola made the decision to pull the plug on nationwide distribution. Finding a niche consumer group for the product, the company allowed the product to remain available in regions with large immigrant populations who would be familiar with it.

In 2001, Coca-Cola gave it another shot. Fanta Orange went national in the US again, and this time, the roll out was supported by a much more aggressive marketing campaign. Moving up from its previously negligible sales volume in the early 90s, Fanta is now among the top 10 soft drinks in the US–and the world. Over the last decade, Fanta has achieved a US market share of just under 3% in 2019 and in 2020, it became the only orange soda brand to make it onto Statista’s list of the “Most Valuable Soft Drink Brands Worldwide.”

With more than 90 flavors available worldwide, it’s evident that Fanta really shines in the international space–of course, the most popular flavor will likely always be orange. As beverage trends continue to support nostalgic flavors as well as profiles that provide freshness and perceived sweetness, there is an opportunity for orange soda to experience continued revival. Bubbly, juicy, bright, and sweet–orange soda is a beverage classic that dazzles the taste buds and continues to change what the world is drinking.

When you’re ready talk about your beverage idea, give us a call at (502) 273-5214 or get started with this web form.


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Written on August 12, 2020.

Everyone enjoys a little fizz in their drink — but how familiar are you with the science behind those delightful bubbles?

Not to worry, today we’re exploring your most burning questions about carbonation (and maybe even a few you haven’t thought of). Of course, the only thing better than reading about carbonation is drinking something bubbly, so feel free to sip along as you quench your brain’s thirst for beverage facts!