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Akron's getting its fizz on with old and new craft sodas
Norka is back in the beverage aisle along with a new locally brewed root beer
by WKSU's VIVIAN GOODMAN
This story is part of a special series.


Reporter
Vivian Goodman
 
Back in the day, at West Point Market's original store, Akron's Norka soda was prominently advertised. Now it's back on the shelves along with other nostalgic sodas.
Courtesy of VIVIAN GOODMAN
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What’s new in the carbonated soft drink business is what’s old.

Vintage sodas are coming back. Also, new craft sodas made in old-fashioned ways are gaining ground. 

In today’s Quick Bite, WKSU’s Vivian Goodman takes us down the beverage aisle.

LISTEN: Thirsting for nostalgia and authenticity in the soda aisle

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Change is underway in the soda aisle. The average American consumes 40 gallons of soda per year, but that’s a third less than a decade ago. 

Industry analysts point to the obesity epidemic and a growing health consciousness. But the decline in consumption is also the result of a new emphasis on buying local and the popularity of small batch, hand-crafted, artisan products.

Old favorites return
At Akron’s West Point Market, Rick Vernon closely observes the trends.

Smaller, regional independent bottling companies, forced out of the market decades ago by the major soda companies, are making a comeback. 

“Nehi, Moxie, A & W Root Beer, Cheerwine, my particular favorite from down South, there’s been a lot of exposure for these sodas on the internet. We get lots of requests for certain sodas from Texas, New York -- and we can generally bring them in.

He says customers who move to Northeast Ohio from other regions still want their regional soda. But they may call for it in different ways. 

“Soda is more Midwestern, maybe. I think pop is more Southern. But I always called it soda.”  

And he’s always preferred the old-fashioned brands. 

“Mustangs, cars, houses -- I like the way things were made back in the old days. Everything now is either made in China or mass-produced. That’s why I think we appreciate the local product and the way it’s made and the ingredients.”  

Thirsty for nostalgia and authenticity
The new fans of old sodas are young and old. 

“Baby boomers who remember it, remember the flavor especially. And of course the younger generation, 20-to-30-somethings, they come in looking for something new, something authentic, something the way it used to be made.”   

Growing up in his family’s high-end grocery business, Vernon became a connoisseur of quality soda. 

“We used to buy them by the palette from a bottler in California about 15 years ago, and that’s how we got in on the craft-soda game. They really weren’t available regionally, but now more and more you can get craft sodas locally.”   


Craft sodas with a kick
You can even get tipsy on craft soda. 

Vernon just got in a case of root beer that’s 5.9 percent alcohol, made by small Town Brewery in LaCrosse, Wisc.. 

“'Not Your Father’s Root Beer,' and it’s wonderful stuff. It tastes exactly like root beer. You can’t really tell there’s alcohol content in it. That’s why you need to be a little careful, and don’t let the kids get into it.”  

Some craft sodas are even locally brewed, like Akron’s own Thirsty Dog Root Beer. 

“Now this particular one is made with wintergreen, vanilla bean and pure cane sugar. It’s got a nice herbal flavor to it, too, that complements the vanilla.” 

Just like in olden days
West Point keeps the root beer on tap to sell in growlers -- large bottles that can be filled from the tap and capped.

“So it is draft root beer, the real deal, the way it used to be made during the Civil War.”   

Thirsty Dog’s primary business is beer, but it’s not unusual these days for breweries to make soda. They had to back in the bad old days of Prohibition. 

“And then when Prohibition was repealed, boom, they switched right back to beer, which I thought was a good move. But they do have a tradition of brewing soda along with the beer.”  

The comeback of Norka
Thirsty Dog Root Beer is holding its own in competition with 15 other root beer brands in his beverage aisle. But Vernon says the biggest thing to hit West Point’s shelves this year is Norka. 

“Bringing back an iconic Akron brand. Of course Norka’s Akron spelled backwards. I think most people know that.” 

Norka originated in Akron in 1924, but production ceased in 1962.

Local entrepreneur Mike Considine revived the soda this year in four flavors: cherry-strawberry, ginger ale, orange and root beer, all caffeine-free and made with cane sugar. 

“Root beer I think is the most popular; orange is No. 2.”   

Most craft soda sold at West Point Market is $1.99 a bottle. 

“Customers will spend more on the craft sodas, but they drink less of it. When they have a craft soda, they really enjoy it and they’ll have just one or for a special occasion.” 

(Click image for larger view.)

Norka is back after a 53-year drought. The original plant at 608 Spicer Street in Akron stopped making the beverage in 1962.
West Point Market owner Rick Vernon says the big soda companies are rapidly changing to attract more health-conscious consumers. Most of the new drinks, like Coca Cola Life, use cane sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup, and green labelling.
Coca Cola Life includes the sweetener stevia along with cane sugar. An 8-ounce bottle has 60 calories, about a third less than regular coke.
West Point Market's Rick Vernon remembered Norka fondly. He's glad it has returned with the original formula and packaging.
West Point Market plans to have Norka on tap soon at its cafe.
The Natrona Bottling Co., based in Natrona Pa., has been making soda since 1904.
Squirt is owned by the Dr. Pepper/Snapple Group. Squirt made in Mexico has 160 calories per 12 ounce bottle.
Mexican Coca Cola is sometimes called Mexicoke. Thick glass bottles exported to the U.S. contain cane sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup.
Bundaberg craft-brewed soda comes from Queensland, Australia, in a dozen flavors.
Fentiman's was founded 110 years ago in Cleckheaton, England, and was originally sold in hand-made stone jars.
Cheerwine originated in Salisbury, N.C., in 1917 and remains a family business.
Frostie Root Beer originated in Catonsville, Md., in 1939.
LeBron James helped Coca Cola develop his signature drink.

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