Why: When you think of 19th-century pharmacists, your mind naturally lights upon Charles Alderton and John Pemberton, who extracted their first prune-flavored Dr Peppers and cocaine-based Coca-Colas in their respective apothecaries in the 1880s. But both pioneers envied the success experienced by a Brooklyn druggist named Dr. Brown (first name unknown). In 1869, Brown hit upon a new way to pacify children. He combined sugar, seltzer, and celery seeds into a new Cel-Ray Tonic, which fast became the most popular drink in the city of Brooklyn’s delicatessens. With his drink dubbed “Jewish champagne,” Dr. Brown invented other varieties, at least two of which—the cream soda and the black cherry—are regularly noted as the finest of their flavors. Well, make that three, since no one would dare challenge Dr. Brown’s on the celery-soda field of battle.
Impact: Fourteen decades later, Dr. Brown’s still clusters around Jews. Now a product of PepsiCo, it is widely available throughout New York and surroundings, and all over South Florida. Elsewhere, you’ll have to seek out a fine delicatessen; if your deli doesn’t serve Dr. Brown’s, you might need a new one. Dr. Brown’s isn’t cheap: a single can will run you $1.50 or more. So you can get a six-pack of A&Ws for the price of one Dr. Brown’s Root Beer. One sip, though, and you’ll grab that solitary Doc’s in a New York minute.
Personal Connection: In the roleplaying gaming world, the Wild West was the RPGA’s Polyhedron newszine of the late 1980s, where an upstart game designer like myself could get away with anything. So, in 1988, Polyhedron published my adventure “Dr. Brown’s Miracle Juice” for the western game Boot Hill. This concerned hapless cowpokes with names like Riverboat Spinks MacGruder and Lightnin’ Jed Hawthorne (whose credo was “I never draw on a man what’s lookin’ at me”), charged with transporting a wagon of nitroglycerine disguised in crates of Dr. Brown’s Original Cream, Original Root Beer, and Original Cel-Ray. This would’ve been a fine plan except that the populace was loco as a polecat for Dr. Brown’s. Predictable hijinks ensued. Someday I’ll run this again, with bottles of Doc’s for all the players. Who wants the Cel-Ray?
Other Contenders: Vernors‘ deliciously different, throat-scorching ginger ale; Sprecher Root Beer, Wisconsin’s finest brew; the green apple variant of Jones Soda, which gets props for its inventive and occasionally terrible recipes; the holiday fave Martinelli’s Gold Medal Sparkling Cider; orangeade all grown up, San Pellegrino Aranciata; Canfield’s Diet Chocolate Fudge, the only diet soda I can stomach; the Japanese drink Ramune, which comes in a bottle with a marble in the neck; the New York egg cream, which no one seems to mind is neither egg nor cream.