Avery’s Beverages – Still Making Soda the Old Fashioned Way

Photos and  profile by CARYN B. DAVIS

108-averysodaCarbonated water was introduced to the world by British chemist, Joseph Priestly who invented the first drinkable glass in the late 1700s by mixing both natural and mineral water with carbon dioxide. This non-alcoholic beverage was dubbed “soda water.” As it became more widely known, flavorings were added such as birch bark, sarsaparilla, ginger, vanilla, and orange, which remain favorite choices to this day.

Other innovations during this time included the development of two different apparatuses that enabled imitation mineral water and carbonated water to be prepared in large quantities. These inventions made it possible for soda water to be mass produced.

Soda water found its way across the Atlantic to Yale University chemist, Benjamin Silliman, who began selling the bubbly beverage in 1807 in New Haven, Connecticut. As it grew in popularity, soda fountains were subsequently manufactured and emerged in pharmacies across the country. (Drinking natural and artificially flavored mineral water was thought to be a cure-all for various ailments). It was in a Philadelphia pharmacy that ice cream and soda were merged together to create the first ice-cream soda.

The 1800s saw the birth of Hires Root Beer, Dr. Pepper, Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola, and the automation of glass bottles made by machine rather than by hand. With this new technology, the production of soda quadrupled. (The bottle would eventually be replaced by the aluminum can in 1957.)

As the soda fountain expanded beyond the pharmacy to dime stores, train stations, department stores, lunch counters, and ice cream shops, an American institution was born. These gathering places offered the lonely, companionship; teenagers, independence; workers, a hot meal; neighbors, a public meeting space in which to socialize and trade news; and single men and women, the hope of finding love. This fad continued until the 1950s when Walgreens Pharmacy implemented the first self-service drug store with all others soon following. Additionally, with the arrival of the sprawling suburbs, automobiles became a necessity, and people began frequenting drive-in restaurants and roadside diners instead.

Television advertising after World War II helped the soft drink industry grow into the $60 billion dollar industry it is today. Hip, fun loving men and women and celebrities lent their image to bottles of Coke and Pepsi. Even though water and tea rank first and second respectively as the world’s most popular beverages, each year Americans consume 50 billion liters of soda, and each year soda companies bend to the trends by adding more caffeine free, sugar fee, diet, and low calorie drinks to the marketplace.

In 1904, Sherman F. Avery started making soda in a red barn on his father’s poultry farm in New Britain, Connecticut. He created his own flavors like Cream, Birch Beer, Root Beer, and Ginger Ale and made deliveries to local stores and homes via horse and carriage until 1914 when he purchased his first truck. He also bottled Coca Cola and Pepsi and offered those brands to his existing customer base.

“Mr. Avery was an independent guy, and Coca Cola wanted to tell him how to run his business more than he liked. So eventually he ditched Coca Cola and picked up a Pepsi franchise, which he bottled through World War II. He sold the Pepsi franchise after that,” says Rob Metz, who purchased Avery’s Beverages 15 years ago.

Today, Avery’s Beverages are still made on site in the same red barn, using the same ingredients they have used since their inception. They are one of the oldest soda bottling companies in New England and still deliver their product in glass bottles and wooden crates to homes, restaurants, pizza and coffee shops, ice cream and candy stores, and other businesses in Connecticut and beyond.

Avery’s Beverages makes its soda by combining pure cane sugar with well water and various flavorings. They mix the sugar inside a big tank until it turns into simple syrup and then add in the flavor. It only takes a couple of ounces of syrup to sweeten each bottle produced.

098-averysodaAfter the bottles are washed and sterilized, they are placed in a 1950s bottling machine where they are filled with carbonated water. The syrup clings to the bottom of the bottle and remains separated from the water until they are vigorously inverted three times each by hand. A label that tells the consumer which flavor is inside is carefully placed on the outside of the glass.

“Right now we probably produce a half million bottles per year. On a good day we make between 100-150 cases,” says Metz. “But over the last 110 years, we’ve probably sold at least 50 million bottles.”

Avery’s Beverages maintains a supply of old fashioned reusable bottles that are thicker and heavier than the ones manufactured today. When bottling companies were changing from glass to aluminum or going out of business, they had the foresight to purchase every bottle they could get their hands on.

They boast over 40 flavors, but some are offered only seasonally such as Watermelon, Kiwi, Peach, and Strawberry; while others like Birch Beer and Cream (their top two flavors), they are never without. Root Beer, Orange, Black Cherry, Ginger Ale, and Sarsaparilla are all constant staples.

“For every flavor, there are people who love that flavor and have to have it,” Metz says.

Other flavors like their line of Totally Gross Sodas were invented by kids visiting the factory while attending a birthday party, or as part of a school group, Girl Scout, or Boy Scout troop. Each child gets to take home three bottles of their own handmade blend. While Swamp Juice, Toxic Slime, Dog Drool Soda, Bug Barf, Kitty Piddle, and Monster Mucus may sound disgusting, they are not. For example, Toxic Slime’s electric blue color may look revolting, but it’s really a delightful combination of blue raspberry, orange, and lemon. Bug Barf’s yellow greenish tint may appear unappetizing, but its kiwi pineapple tang is actually delicious. Dog Drool’s pink and whitish hue may seem as if “Rover’s saliva glands are working overtime,” but its orange lemon flavor tantalizes the taste buds.

047-averysoda-crop“Totally Gross Sodas came out of our Make Your Own Soda Program. Kids come in, and they get to take over the soda factory for an hour and make their own concoctions. We have six stock flavors, but we always get one kid who wants to use a little of each,” Metz explains. “We did a taste test; and when we found it tasted good, we marketed it. We solicited the names from the kids. The first three flavors we launched were Swamp Juice, Dog Drool, and Toxic Slime. They were hugely popular. We ship trailer loads across the country.”

Avery’s Beverages also produces private label soda for stores and restaurants and custom labels for weddings, birthdays, schools, sports teams, fundraisers, and corporate functions. Periodically, they create specialty flavors and limited edition sodas and donate a portion of the proceeds to various local charities. Funds from Drink Pink helped in the fight against breast cancer. Woof Water: Hydration for Hounds and Humans benefits Our Companions Domestic Animal Sanctuary. During the Christmas season money earned from Jingle Juice and Elf Elixir is given to Toys for Tots.
“When things happen in pop culture we make a special soda to commemorate it. When Osama bin Laden died, we did a soda called So Long Osama and donated the money to a variety of veterans’ organizations. During the election when Barack Obama ran against John McCain, we made Barack O’Berry and John McCream,” says Metz who generously gave some of the proceeds from those sales to Foodshare, a non-profit organization working to end hunger in our communities.

One reason Avery’s Beverages has managed to stay in business so long, aside from the fact that they make a great product, is the nostalgia associated with it. It is not uncommon for grandparents to bring their grandchildren to Avery’s, or for parents who visited the soda factory as children to return now with their own children. It becomes a generational experience. Picking out which flavors to purchase is an activity people can do together as a family. The bottles are stacked up from floor to ceiling all over the barn, and customers are invited to pick out their favorite flavors by the bottle or case. Mixing and matching is strongly encouraged.

“Boutique soda is having a revival right now. It’s a combination of things. You have the local movement where people want to know where their food is coming from. The other thing people want is something that goes back to their childhood. Something they have fond memories of. So they are rediscovering these things from their childhood or finding things in their own backyard they really want to embrace. We have a good following of folks because we have something that has been around been since they were kids. It’s kind of a cool thing,” Metz says.

For more information log onto www.averysoda.com