The world’s most popular soda brands are so well-loved that they’re considered a lifestyle for some, and something as simple as a label or the shape of a bottle can inspire nostalgia and emotion in many people. Just because a drink isn’t a household name, however, doesn’t mean it’s not worthy of recognition.
No matter what you call it, America loves its soda, and as such, you’ll find quite a few companies selling high-quality soda throughout the country. Unique tastes, handcrafted techniques and local flair often draw people to drinking regional options over the big names, and they’re worth a taste. These regionally available sodas are so fantastic that we really wish they were available everywhere.
Named for its high level of carbonation and burgundy color, Cheerwine was the world’s first bottled cherry soda when it was first produced in 1917. Based in the western North Carolina town of Salisbury, the soft drink has been referred to as the “Nectar of North Carolina,” and is often paired with barbecue. It’s so popular in the South that people have also been known to add it to recipes for salad dressings, sauces, baked goods, ice cream and more. While it’s more well-known in Virginia and the Carolinas, Cheerwine is also available in most of the southeastern U.S., as well as Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington.
Ale-8-One, also sometimes referred to as simply Ale-8, is a soft drink from Kentucky that’s been around for more than 90 years. It’s ginger ale with a citrus twist, with less sugar and carbonation but a lot of caffeine. Customers can buy it in Kentucky, southern Ohio, southern Indiana, western Virginia, eastern Tennessee and some parts of West Virginia. The Fresh Market also sells Ale-8-One and its diet version in their stores in the East and Midwest, but if you live elsewhere, your only chance of trying it is to order it at a Cracker Barrel.
In 1907, Faygo was established in Detroit by two Russian brothers who first started selling the soda in three flavors based on frosting from their bakery: grape, strawberry and fruit punch. Today, it is available throughout the Midwest, as well as the Mid-Atlantic and Central Southern regions of the U.S. in addition to southern Canada. Despite being regional, the drink is famous enough to have been referenced in multiple songs, most notably by Detroit-based hardcore hip-hop duo Insane Clown Posse, who have been known to spray their fans with the drink at concerts. The most popular flavor is Red Pop, but there are many more available, including rock and rye, black cherry, root beer and orange.
Founded in Washington before being bought by a Portland company in 2007 and then Austin-based Big Red in 2011, Thomas Kemper sells handcrafted sodas made with honey and sweetened with sugar cane in eight flavors: black cherry, ginger ale, ginger peach, grape, orange cream, Oregon marionberry, root beer and vanilla cream. The result is a well-carbonated drink with a nice, sweet finish that isn’t too much.
Certified Fair Trade and made with organic Brazilian sugar cane, Maine Root started out in Portland, Maine with their lovely root beer that features extracts of wintergreen, clove, and anise. They also sell ginger brew, lemonade and other interesting soda flavors such as Mexicane cola, sarsaparilla, blueberry, lemon lime, mandarin orange, pumpkin pie, and maple syrup lemonade, as well as ginger-lemongrass lemonade.
First sold in 1937 when it was known as Sun Tang Red Cream Soda, Texas-based Big Red is the original red cream soda. Big Red is extremely popular in the South, and while many people compare its taste to bubble gum, it’s made with the traditional vanilla found in cream sodas, as well as orange and lemon oils and cane sugar.
Founded in Waialua, Oahu in 2003, Waialua Soda Works sells the flavors of Hawaii in a bottle using Maui Brand natural white cane sugar, vanilla from the Big Island and honey from Kauai. They started out selling a delicious pineapple soda, but they now also sell root beer, mango, vanilla cream and lilikoi (passion fruit).
When the Moscow mule was first invented, it was Cock ‘N Bull ginger beer that was mixed with vodka and lime and then served over ice in a copper mug from the Cock ‘N Bull Restaurant in Hollywood. The restaurant’s owner, Jack Morgan, developed the ginger beer, but today the presently Minnesota-based company also sells diet ginger beer, cherry ginger beer, bitter lemon and bitter orange.
Created by Detroit pharmacist James Vernor in 1866, Vernors is America’s oldest surviving ginger ale brand. A bit more sweet and more carbonated than most other ginger ales, Vernors is aged for three years in oak barrels and is often used as a drink mixer or drunk hot as a treatment for stomachache. The brand is now a property of Keurig Dr Pepper, which has expanded its reach to 33 states, although 80 percent of its sales are still in Michigan.
Big Smoke Burger/Yelp
Yet another brand started by a pharmacist, Boylan started when William Boylan first sold his birch beer in 1891 in Paterson, New Jersey. Today, they sell many other flavors, such as orange cream, sugar cane cola, root beer and Shirley Temple. While Boylan was long based in the Garden State, it moved its headquarters to New York City in 2013 and continues to be recognized by the retro-style labels on its glass bottles.
Blue Sky sells both all-natural and organic sodas with flavors such as root beer, crème soda, black cherry, orange cream, grapefruit and cherry vanilla. Established in Santa Fe in 1980, it’s been based in Corona, California, since its purchase by Monster, a subsidiary of the Coca-Cola Company, in 2000.
Yacht Club Soda/Yelp
Family-owned and in business since 1915, Yacht Club Bottling Works is the official soda and water company of Rhode Island and sells 25 different flavors in their glass bottles. Selling cola, ginger ale, root beer, cream soda, sarsaparilla, grape, fruit punch, orange and more, Yacht Club Soda has held its own amongst other soda giants thanks to its local appeal and great variety.
Dick’s Bar & Grill/Yelp
Dating back to the Prohibition era, the recipe used by Buddy’s Soda uses granulated sugar and no high-fructose corn syrup, gluten or caffeine. The sodas, which originated in Minnesota but are now based in South Dakota, are gently pasteurized and lightly carbonated and come in grape, orange and strawberry.
A staple of delis and bodegas all over New York City, Dr. Brown’s was started in 1869 when a New York physician invented a soda and celery tonic now sold by the brand as Cel-Ray. Today, other flavors include the regular and diet versions of both cream soda and black cherry soda, as well as ginger ale, orange soda and root beer. Also popular in South Florida where many New Yorkers retire, the kosher sodas can be found at Jewish delicatessens throughout the country if you’re not able to travel to New York for some fantastic food and drink.
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