That sweet fizzy stuff that we grew up drinking has a variety of names across the country. Out here in the western hinterlands it is pop, out east it is soda. State College seems to be the demilitarized zone where the two are used interchangeably.
People talk, and you hear things. One of the best historical bits I’ve heard in a while was about the existence of the Seminole bottling works, passed along to me by Amy Salvatori Toth last year. I took a closer look at the display case just outside the library’s Heritage Room and there sat a bottle with the company logo on it.
I was telling a friend about how breweries adapted to Prohibition the other evening. Some, like the one which operated from today’s Smucker’s peanut butter plant in New Bethlehem, folded up their business and went away. Others retooled and rebranded.
Anheuser-Busch turned from brewing beer to selling baker’s yeast in five-pound blocks. That seems like a lot of yeast, but large families in those days could not afford the luxury of store-bought bread. And there are still recipes around for making wine and beer using bread yeast.
I don’t know the entire backstory on Seminole’s bottling works. If it began as a small-scale brewery, it probably had a short life before switching over to making pop. Or it could have been a simple matter of a local product being more affordable than a bottle of that newfangled Coca-Cola from the city.
Of course, a dedicated frugalite could also pick up a Hires root beer kit and make his own pop. These kits were available from the early 1900s until sometime in the 1980s, and their demise was a source of great joy to my mother.
If you have been reading this column for a few years, you probably know the story of my dad’s mad-scientist mindset. Suffice it to say that if you bottle homemade root beer before the yeast is done working its magic, the resulting explosion is spectacular. You get extra points if your root beer explodes in the basement every evening just as the family is sitting down to supper.
With that little warning dancing around in my head, I approached the making of old-fashion ginger beer with a little caution. Yes, I inherited the mad-scientist gene from Dad and I also had an oversupply of fresh ginger about a month ago. At least the ginger-growing project was a success.
The key is using a two-liter plastic pop bottle while fermenting this ginger ale alternative. All you have to do is loosen the cap and let some of the excess carbon dioxide escape. That one crucial step, plus a small amount of attention to detail, keeps my ceiling ginger beer-free.
Hires also marketed a packet of root beer extract that supposedly made five gallons of sugary delight. I tried one of those back in my newlywed granola-munching youth, but the results were something less than satisfactory. The best part of the experiment was that nothing exploded because the product was merely dull and flat.
My then-husband had majored in biology in college, so he approached ginger beer with a degree of enthusiasm which I could not share. The trauma of cleaning up homemade root beer still lingered, you see.
Wives will totally understand my attitude.
But Dave’s didn’t explode because he used a large glass jug and a balloon to trap the expanding carbon dioxide. I breathed a sigh of relief when that experiment was done. I had visions of explaining to the property management company how we came to make what amounted to an all-natural bomb in the basement.
So, maybe fed-up wives had something to do with the founding of the Seminole bottling works. Can’t you just hear that conversation?
”Look, Mister X, you gotta do something. Our husbands are driving us nuts with their homebrew experiments. We’re all ready to leave home and take our children with us.”
Think about that for a minute.
Commercially bottled pop may have saved the very fabric of the American way of life. The husbands found other projects outside the house, the wives looked less big-eyed and snorty, and peace reigned in the valley.