Pop’s Pops: Pepsi’s Craft Soda Roundup


Gone are the simple days. The days when pa would drive us in the Packard down to the druggist, throw us a nickel for the soda jerk. But while we no longer live in the 50’s, nostalgia never dies, even if our nostalgia is for times when we were just a twinkle in pa’s eye. Join me, as I roundup a four-pack of Pepsi’s new craft sodas, each of which promise to take you back to the good ‘ol days.

As mounting evidence indicates that sugary drinks are basically some of the least healthy products you can consume, Americans are steering away from the soda fountain in favor of more natural beverages, like sports drinks, bottled water, and, of course, craft beer. Seeing an opportunity to appeal to (who other than) millennials, Pepsi has revealed a smattering of craft-inspired sodas, like Pepsi 1893, Stubborn Soda, Caleb’s Kola and Mountain Dew DEWShine. When we wrote a name review for DEWShine, the faux-vintage naming and branding strategy for soda was still in its nascent stages, but with more fizzy throwbacks being thrown at us, it’s now obvious that this naming trend has been shaken well before opening.

‘1893’ and ‘Caleb’s Kola’ harken back to Pepsi’s roots, when North Carolina druggist Caleb Bradham introduced the soft drink’s predecessor, known in 1893 as ‘Brad’s drink,’ which was made from sugar, water, caramel, lemon oil, nutmeg, and other natural additives. It seems that all these products seek to pay homage to the early days of soda, with cane sugar, natural flavors, and vintage packaging. The days before it was even cool to be cool. 1893 and Caleb’s Kola deliver well on the sort of understated, authentic feel that attracts many of us to craft beer while Stubborn Soda and DEWShine take a more rebellious and provocative approach. Of the four, I find Stubborn Soda the craftiest of the craft soda names. It playfully suggests that the soda’s always been made the way it’s made, that it’s not changing anytime soon. And to further the craft-factor, Stubborn Soda is dispensed from a fountain that uses levers instead of buttons, for a “tap-like pouring ritual.” Stay tuned for the IPA flavor.

Perhaps these craft-inspired soda names are symptomatic of a larger branding trend – that a brand’s perceived authenticity is more important to us than what’s actually inside the package. After all, isn’t it all just sugary, carbonated water? How different can Caleb’s Kola taste from Pepsi? Whether it’s sold in a glass bottle or poured from a tap, we want to feel close to the product, like it could have been handmade down the street, not mass-produced in far away factory. Pepsi is playing up the actual factual roots of their company to arrive at simple, unpretentious, maybe even somewhat edgy names that are taking soda branding in an interesting new direction. So, I say we pop a bottle and watch what happens.