Dublin Bottling Works: a blatant endorsement

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:

Dublin Tart & Sweet Lemonade

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-

Dublin Orange Creme

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

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+

Dublin Rummy

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+

Dublin Vanilla Cream

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

Dublin Blueberry Breeze

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

Dublin Cheerwine

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+

Dublin Cherry Limeade
Cherry Limeade: Yet another hit among everyone, as it had both the advantages of fresh-squeezed limeade taste and excellent carbonation. A

Dublin Vintage Cola
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+

Dublin Retro Grape

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

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

3 responses to “Dublin Bottling Works: a blatant endorsement

  1. Wait a minute, Cheerwine is from Texas? My husband, who was born in NC, always goes on about that stuff so I assumed it was from there. I love this post! Makes me want to toss aside my ubiquitous Diet Coke and become a soda aficionado!

  2. And now Kira and I are salivating — she LOVES grapefruit EVERYTHING (probably because it’s about the most caustic thing she can subject her stomach lining to), and I’m curious about trying several of them, especially Orange Creme and Cheerwine. Thank you for the excellent review! :D

  3. As a native east coaster, I have to admit I’ve had a love affair with Texas for most of my adult life. It may be because I’ve gotten along so well with native Texans or maybe it’s their stubborn, pragmatic, independent spirit.

    They all remind me of my father: Short on pretension, overloaded on practicality, friendliness, fairness and decency.

    But another attraction is the foodstuffs. When my father opened up his pizza shop back in 1970/71 it was on an empty stretch of highway in Bucks County, PA. You had to travel if you wanted his food. And travel they did – 35 years later he was still b*tch slapping Pizza Hut and Domino’s (he did not deliver, take checks or credit cards).

    Sooo…I see all these documentaries of BBQ or breakfast joints made out little more than scrap wood (Now THIS is reclaiming, hipsters!) that haven’t seen a drop of paint since the Truman administration…located in the middle of a desert – and they all have 300 cars(all with rifles) parked in their lots. Friendly service, great ‘cue, a roll of paper towels and your food is on a cheap soaked paper plate too flimsy to hold what’s on it.

    I’d love to live in a place where people are still well mannered enough to greet a perfect stranger when walking by them on the sidewalk.

    But it’s the vast variety of mom and pop confections and carbonated beverages you guys that really, really tempts my inner foodie. It’s amazing. Surprisingly, as populated as the tri-state area (NY, NJ, DE…some guys who drink out of the same glass as the village idiot might say Staten Island is a state – but then that’s we keep them on a small island between Brooklyn and New Jersey) we have little in the way of local confections. When I say “local” some guidelines apply:
    1. They must be reasonably priced.
    2. They must be available in a convenience store-preferably on a wire rack or near the lottery machine.
    3. They must be the bane of politically correct moms and not be made available in “low fat” form.
    4. They cannot be the overpriced products resulting in some parentally funded hipsters douchenozzles staycationing in Brooklyn.
    5. They can’t have silly crap in them like Acai berry, fiber, pomergranate or ginseng.

    I’d love to eat my way across Texas and eat polenta that doesn’t cost 8 bucks – because down their they’re called GRITS! Stop at a pit where some huge hairy, sweaty guy in a stained wife beater tee throws a welcome mat sized slab of beef on my plate.

    My biggest fear of course is homogenization. You guys grew up with certain foodstuffs as did I. Our palate is trained on them from an early age.

    So when one of you comes to Philly and says, “that’s not great pizza you gotta taste so and so’s in Rakehandle county”! Will it be better? I can guarantee one thing – we easterners have the pizza thing down pat. Will it be different? Probably…and I may enjoy it because Although I’m not very bright, I’m smart enough to judge things on their own merits.

    The USA has embraced pizza and many, many years ago, without the guidance of 3.2 million Italian immigrants, they loved it so much they tried to copy it.
    Many east coasters consider the classic toasted roll smeared with tomato paste and American cheese an abomination. I consider it a high compliment (don’t tell my mom – but I love French bread pizza….go figure..a guy who grew up not speaking nothing but Italian until the age of 7).
    I hope to make it down there someday. My fear is that my culinary prejudices and east coast palate might rear their ugly heads. Out here we have a saying “everybody’s mom makes the best lasagna”. Even if your mom was an awful cook – with the Tuesday night Vienna sausages in grape jelly (actually it makes sense if you think about it) the 40 dollar sweet and sour free range pork at Chez Beardo will be lacking. It will be delicious – flawless in execution and made with the finest ingredients….but it will be lacking. because there’s no history. No love. No appreciation for the effort because the degreed chef didn’t whip up your meal after pulling a double shift where he works as a seamstress. I never made pierogies in my life until my wife’s grandmother showed me how. They weren’t the best. but I make them exactly as she did. Because it makes my wife happy. I have the skills to make them much better. But I won’t. because they’re my memory too. I ate more than my share when we were dating and wife’s grandma was a class act. She was a lady treated me like gold

    And that’s what pisses me off about hipsters. They expect their products to justify the price tag because they evoke the names of places they’ve only just visited. Instant nostalgia. just add water and irony.

    But listen up you tatted up you redbearded twizzlers and cankle spaniels. You are missing one large piece of the puzzle. Millions of folks were born and raised in these cities. Slapping “Brooklyn” or “Austin” on a 12 dollar jar of artisanal mayo does not speak to us. Why? BECAUSE IF YOU GREW UP IN BROOKLYN YOU USED HELLMAN’S EVERY BODY USED HELLMAN’S. My mom used it, I use it and I can assure you my kid will have it in his fridge. The overwhelming majority of use don’t buy your sh*t because it’s frivolous, contrived and has all the sincerity of a timeshare salesman. Imagine that – people with the disposable income to who can buy your crap choose to purchase a brand that’s decidedly down market by hipster standards. Now you understand why no major supermarket chain will pick up your product.

    Besides….we don’t trust you. And we hate you with an intensity as hot as the sun’s core.

    I have to apologize for this post. It’s long and extremely self-indulgent.
    I started out on point and strayed. But today is the anniversary of my grandfather’s passing. He died in ’96 – about six months before my wedding.
    My grandfather or “nonno” was not the guy in Boca you barely knew and would send you a ten bucks in a birthday card.
    My nonno raised me. He spoke no English and had a fifth grade education. But he was cultured, self-educated and a sharp dresser. I always said that I got my practicality and work ethic from my dad.

    My grandfather gave me everything else. He was the first to explain that I should always give up my seat on the train for a woman. He drilled into me the importance of grace, respect, manners and education. On the other hand, he was also a longshoreman so he also taught me how to fight.

    He was the first person I saw in the morning. On the kitchen table he always had the European classic waiting for me: hot milk with sugar, espresso and stale Italian bread. He would walk me to school while pointing out building and their features. Finally no one, but NO ONE was allowed to take me for a haircut but him. Growing up I grew up to appreciate a good haircut accessorized by a neck and side burns trimmed with a straight razor and hot shaving cream – finished off with a hot towel.

    So tonight my wife sees me in the kitchen pouring espresso and hot milk and Truvia over a bowl of stale bread.

    What the hell is that?

    Stale bread, coffee, milk and Truvia.
    God that looks – ugh-why would you eat that?!? We have cereal, ya know.

    My answer?
    Because I feel the need to eat it.

    And that’s what hipsters don’t understand. Two people living in the same house for 16 years- one views something as a nostalgic treat the other as something retrieved from a superfund site.

    Sorry for the extremely long post.

    And God bless Texas!