The growth of the locavore movement has consumers looking for food and drink that comes from as close to home as possible. This has been particularly noticeable in the area’s beer scene, but soft drinks, too, have their local partisans: those who prefer to drink soda made here, by people who live here. This is our list of soda that doesn’t have to cross state lines to get to you.
Avery’s Beverages | New Britain
The oldest soda company in the state in also perhaps the quirkiest. Founded in 1904 in New Britain, Avery’s still makes a range of traditional and old-fashioned soda flavors, like birch beer and sarsaparilla. General manager Rob Metz jokingly describes himself as “chief bottle washer,” and says much of the reason Avery’s has been around for so long, and continues to have appeal, is that people like the feeling the soda gives them. “They want things that remind them what it used to be like,” Metz says; what it used to be like when local businesses proliferated, before the mega-companies owned everything. Metz says that while Avery’s is available in states across the country, it tends to favor the mom-and-pop outfits. Look for them in independent businesses across the state. Even though Avery’s keeps the old methods alive, they are pretty hip to what’s happening in the contemporary world.
During the recent presidential campaign season, Avery’s released two sodas — Hillary’s Hooch (Classified flavor) and Trump Tonic (Make America Grape Again). In the past they have issued small batches of soda flavors referencing other current events, like the NFL’s New England Patriots Deflategate controversy and the death of Osama bin Laden. How do they decide what current events to make sodas about? “Whenever something hits the news cycle for so long that we get sick of hearing about it,” Metz says.
Wellington’s Old Style Root Beer at Brewport | Bridgeport
The focus at this sprawling Bridgeport brewpub is beer. However, brewmaster and co-owner Jeff Browning is extremely proud of the venue’s root beer, and with good reason. Inspired by the classic recipes of a bygone era, Browning has created a thick and frothy root beer that is hard to beat. “I developed a recipe in my teen years based on things that my father told me about soda from the ’50s,” Browning says. “He was a soda jerk in the ’50s at [one of] your typical drugstores that had a soda counter. He talked about the malted milkshakes and the richer sodas.” Inspired by those stories, Browning developed Wellington’s Old Style Root Beer with a recipe that utilized brewer’s malt in place of some of the sugar. This technique makes the “root beer fuller in your mouth,” and “adds a maltiness which is not a sweetness,” Browning says. “It’s a fuller, richer flavor.”
Currently, the root beer is only available at Brewport, but there are plans to distribute it in the future, though that would require different equipment, as root beer can’t be canned or bottled in the same machines as beer because it has a higher carbonation level, says Browning. The root beer’s popularity has led Browning to consider expanding the soda line. “One of the things we are working with is the potential of doing a cream soda,” he says.
In the meantime, guests can enjoy this classic root beer at Brewport, where it is also offered with two scoops of vanilla ice cream, making for a marvelous, and uniquely Connecticut, root beer float.
Hosmer Mountain Beverages | Willimantic
Bill Potvin and his three brothers have been involved with Hosmer Mountain Beverages in some way or another since 1957, when their father bought the company. Hosmer has been operating in the Willimantic area for more than 100 years, since 1912. With their distinctive labels, local spring water source and philosophy, Hosmer is proudly and thoroughly a product of northeastern Connecticut. Hosmer Mountain Bottling Co.’s original purpose in 1912 was delivering spring water to the many mills that populated the Willimantic area. Today, the mills are gone, but Hosmer Mountain still sells its spring water, along with a dazzling array of flavored sodas.
The Hosmer philosophy, or at least the one espoused by Bill Potvin, is hostile to what he sees as the corporate dominance of his industry. The company’s “Cola Red” and “Cola Blue” is a deliberate thumbing of the nose to Coca-Cola and Pepsi.
In 2012, when the Occupy movement took to parks and public squares across the country to protest the role of corporate power in American life, Potvin was a big supporter. The philosophy extends to Hosmer’s business practice, as the Potvin brothers have maintained a system of reusing, washing and sterilizing the glass bottles that the company distributes its soda in. The company self-distributes, so its soda is mostly available in eastern Connecticut, though Potvin says they have delivered farther afield. Bear’s Smokehouse BBQ recently started supplying its fountains with Hosmer syrup, bringing the distinctive soda to those outside northeastern Connecticut.
Foxon Park Beverages | East Haven
When it comes to Connecticut soda, or any beverages for that matter, no brand is more famous, respected and craved than Foxon Park. Unparalleled favorites like the birch beer, root beer and many others have long served as the perfect and oh-so-very-refreshing complement to New Haven-style pizza legends such as Pepe’s, Modern and Sally’s.
The highly carbonated story begins in 1922 when the company was founded in East Haven by Matteo Naclerio, an immigrant from Italy. Named for the street where the company is located, Foxon Park quickly became a force in the state’s then-very-competitive soda scene, with unusual drinks such as Iron Brew (a drink made famous in Scotland) and Gassosa (a lemon-flavored Italian soda), as well as the more standard cola flavors. Today, the company is still owned by the Naclerio family. “I’m a member of the fourth generation,” says Jessica Caporale, 35, whose father Anthony Naclerio and uncle Raymond Naclerio own the business.
Beyond Connecticut, the beverage is distributed in New York, California, Florida and Maryland. It is also shipped nationwide from Foxon Park’s online store. Though it has been more than 90 years since the business opened, the recipes have not changed and the dedication to quality remains the same. “We use real sugar, plus, maintain the same flavoring from the first generation,” Caporale says. It has proved a winning combination for almost a century.