I’m about to turn 68 in two weeks, so I always wax nostalgic around this time of year. I grew up in the 50’s when life was simpler, people were kinder, and possibilities were endless. As I look at our culture, our politics, and our deep divisions, it makes me want to go back to better times. But that is for another time and place. After all, this column should be beverage-centric.
I grew up with a soda deliveryman coming to my home, going into our garage, and stocking and refilling the wooden crates that housed 8 oz. glass bottles of Coke, 7UP and ginger ale. In addition, he provided entertainment, dropping off the spritzer bottles of seltzer that we loved to use as to spray each other. (It was either that or draw on the walls of the cave with bones. Those were our options).
The industry evolved dramatically with the advent of PET bottles, different size formats, a myriad of new categories, and then really took a turn with diet versions of our favorites. As a purist at heart, and a jogger by avocation, I didn’t feel the need to drink a diet beverage to keep me slim – so they didn’t become a part of my life. Yet, for many years they became the mainstay of the industry. There were many times I had to imbibe diet drinks when the regular brands weren’t being offered. Honestly, I never liked them, could immediately taste the sweetener, and stayed away.
When I got into the beverage industry, sampling drinks became a major component of the job. I tried thousands of brands in every category. Most never made it – justifiably so – but many created classics. Chief among the brands that I didn’t like were the diets. I could always taste those sweeteners. Everyone would tell me that they were just as good as the regular brands, but my palate knew better. I always stated that the Holy Grail for the industry would be to create low calorie, healthy beverages that also tasted great. We wanted a champion who would come along and mask that taste.
Then, an amazing thing happened. There were champions around who took on the challenge and created great brands. They made beverages that were terrific, tasty, healthy and pleasing to my palate. So often I reach for a beverage in my office, not even thinking whether they were low calorie, artificially sweetened. They just tasted so good. There are now dozens of brands that fit the bill.
The industry, over the past few years, has taken quantum leaps in creativity in formulation. Now the only criteria is taste, if there are other benefits, so much the better. We’re in a golden age for brands, much like the golden age I grew up in. I salute the innovators. But I do miss the spray guns.