Nearly eighteen months ago, the Dublin Bottling Works in Dublin, Texas lost its license to make the official all-sugar Dr. Pepper that kept its factory in business for years. If you want a perfect example as to why I’ve lived in Texas as long as I have, and why I keep moving back, it’s because the state constantly keeps producing people and organizations that keep fighting. Most companies, faced with that big a loss of income, would have just shut down everything. The Dublin Bottling Works not only retooled, but improved upon its original situation. Forget that old saw about “when given lemons, make lemonade.” When it comes to Dublin sodas, the lemonade is, actually, nowhere near as exciting as everything else.
All of this came up during last weekend’s trip to the Czarina’s family’s ranch in West Texas, when we stopped at the farmer’s market in Weatherford. Near the front register was a brand new cooler for Dublin drinks, and the Czarina and I figured that bringing a representative sample to the family might make their having to tolerate me a tiny bit better. For the purposes of experimentation, we grabbed one of every flavor available, and arrived with 12 fresh bottles, chilled and ready to go. Over the rest of that Saturday, the clan tasted, drank, and chugged every last bottle, on the condition that they shared their observations with us. The verdict:
Tart & Sweet Lemonade: For years, I wondered why soda bottlers had such problems with canned or bottled lemonade, with the flavor always being inadequate to freshly-made. When the US standard for bottled lemonade is Country Time, an alleged beverage that works quite well for killing fire ants and stripping the corrosion off car battery terminals, it’s hard to believe that many varieties are even worse. Not to say that Dublin’s Tart & Sweet is bad, but it lacks “lemon” to go with the “ade”. I could see this making an exceptional mixer, but since I can’t drink alcohol, that’s purely academic. C-
Orange Creme: Now we’re getting somewhere. Cream sodas don’t get enough credit as sodas intended to be sipped, not chugged. Therefore, I can’t recommend this as a drink of choice in any circumstance where a quick and thorough body core temperature drop is necessary. On a quiet night in front of a campfire, though, it has just the right balance between tart and sweet, and a smoothness that actually makes you upset when you’ve finished the bottle without realizing it. A-
Texas Root Beer: Not too much sassafras root. Not too much vanilla. Not too much carbonation. Try one bottle, and you’ll put that bottle of IBC back to use for killing weeds growing up through the sidewalk. This one had half of the family fighting the other over who got the rest of the bottle. A+
Rummy: While the lemonade barely tasted of lemon, the grapefruit flavor of Rummy stands out and tears through your pockets looking for spare change. For those of us who enjoy grapefruit sodas, this is the undisputed king. Amazingly enough, though, it’s not overly sour, and the genius who developed this flavor deserves a raise. A+
Vanilla Cream: As mentioned elsewhere, the fact that such a sublime and complex flavoring as vanilla became a synonym for “boring” and “average” is a borderline crime. Vanillin, one of the main components of vanilla, is now so heavily overused in food and perfume that most people have no idea what real vanilla should taste like. They definitely don’t know what a vanilla cream soda should taste like, as those went out of style over 50 years ago. (The closest most ever experienced was the Vanilla Dr. Pepper released for a very short time in 2002. The best things that could be said about the flavor usually involves the Ig Nobel Awards.) The most obvious sign of this came when my youngest niece took one sniff of an open bottle of Dublin Vanilla Cream and exclaimed “It smells like medicine.”
Yes, but does it taste like medicine? Not a bit. All of Dublin’s cream sodas emphasize the main flavors over the cream, and if you’ve never smelled handmade vanilla orchid extract, take a sniff of a bottle of the Vanilla Cream to get a good idea. Now I need to get a tub of ice cream, preferably Blue Bell, and a case of this and make ice cream sodas for friends until they pop. A
Blueberry Breese: The Czarina and I have an old and dear friend who has been engaged in a mad and futile quest for as long as we’ve known her. Poor Madelyn is obsessed with finding blue food. Not purple food. Not violet food. Blueberries are only marginally blue thanks to the natural waxes growing on their skins, and they’re not blue at all when cooked. After dropping blueberries, what’s left? You have a lot of blatantly artificial items with lots of blue food coloring, all with a flavor unlike anything else found on this planet. Don’t believe me? Have a friend or cohort slip you a “blue raspberry” candy when you’re not waiting for it, and then try to identify the flavor. The standard flavorings listed as “cherry,” “strawberry,” and “banana” on most candy in the US might have waved at a produce truck on its way to a grocery store, but “blue raspberry”? You might have grown up with a fruit growing in your back yard that tastes like blue raspberry candy…maybe, if you’re a Vorlon.
The best thing that can be said about Dublin’s Blueberry Breese? It’s blue. Vibrant blue. Brilliant blue. Blue the likes of which will burn holes in your retinae. The blue of lost summer mornings, the blue of a perfect birthday, the blue of joy and wonder and gentle sadness over days long gone. If there’s any blueberry in this, though, I’m not sure. C
Cheerwine: The unimaginative might compare Dublin’s Cheerwine soda to the closest general analogies available in commercial soda distribution: Dr. Pepper and Coca-Cola’s Pibb Xtra. That’s like comparing truffle oil to mink oil and coal oil. The only thing Cheerwine has in common with the other two sodas is use of cherry flavoring with other, unnamed flavors, but it’s considerably more subtle than those other two. The use of real cane sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup may have something to do with this, but I like to think that the individual who developed and confirmed this flavor was a genius. A+
Cherry Limeade: Yet another hit among everyone, as it had both the advantages of fresh-squeezed limeade taste and excellent carbonation. A
Vintage Cola: Much as with vanilla, cola is a horribly abused flavoring, to the point where most people associate “cola” with the caramel coloration, not with the actual flavor. Not that this is an issue with Dublin’s Vintage Cola, so it’s worth the effort to see what real cola can taste like. B+
Retro Grape: The assessment by the kids: not bad at all. The assessment by the adults: a little too sweet. When buying cases of the other flavors, pick up a six-pack of this, but its popularity depends on how much the kids like grape soda. C
Dublin Retro Creme: Saying that Faygo sodas are about as endemically Michigan as Petoskey stones isn’t an exaggeration. Saying that Faygo Red Pop was a preferred alternative to Communion wine for many Michiganite Catholics, well, that’s an exaggeration, but only a slight one. For years, I took every opportunity to try to describe this elixir of the gods to the Czarina, but was at a loss: you can’t find Faygo in Texas, it was impossibly expensive to ship in the days before the Interwebs, and the local “alternative”, Big Red, was as much of a viable alternative as using used motor oil in place of blood plasma. I figured that if the Czarina was to understand why this made such an impression upon me as a kid, we’d have to make a trip back to my ancestral spawning grounds.
That was before picking up some of Dublin’s Retro Creme. This isn’t just great cream soda. This is loyhargil. In fact, this makes a great argument for a serious alternative to a classic Texas dessert, replacing the main ingredient with Retro Creme and pointing one particular phalange in the direction of Dr. Pepper’s current management. I’ll let you all know how it turns out. Off the Scale