June 20, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

What is the best kosher soda in the world? That is a hard question about a soft drink. If you are struggling to find the answer, then just call the doctor: Dr. Brown’s.

For many decades, Dr. Brown’s soda was the beverage of choice at kosher delis throughout the United States. Dr. Brown’s may not have been the star of the show but, in the kosher deli experience, Dr. Brown’s was a key supporting actor on par with pickles, coleslaw and Russian dressing. In fact, most self-respecting delis offered few carbonated options other than Dr. Brown’s because a meal without the good doctor would feel incomplete. A similarly incomplete experience at a classic kosher deli would be (i) chicken soup without kreplach, (ii) a sandwich without fries and (iii) a ceiling without salami hanging from it.

Dr. Brown’s soda was created in 1869, a year in which many historically significant events occurred. For example, in 1869 Leo Tolstoy’s novel “War and Peace” was published in Russia in complete book form. Speaking of “War and Peace,” in 1869 outlaw Jesse James committed his first confirmed bank heist (war) and Mahatma Gandhi was born (peace).

There is some controversy regarding the Dr. Brown’s moniker. Some experts contend that the name was simply a clever marketing ploy to create the illusion of medicinal benefits. From a marketing perspective, many Jewish mothers also would have purchased Dr. Brown’s if it was named after a lawyer, i.e., Mr. Brown, Esquire’s.

Other experts believe that Dr. Brown’s soda was devised by an actual New York physician as a remedy for certain ailments. It was not a cure for cancer but apparently it helped settle stomachs and nerves, particularly in its original “Cel-Ray” flavor, which featured celery tonic. Celery is probably one of the least likely vegetables to be turned into a soda flavor, right behind artichoke, radicchio and zucchini.

According to some historians, Dr. Brown’s “Cel-Ray” soda was originally labeled as “Celery Tonic” but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration took issue with the “tonic” reference, thus prompting the name change. According to other historians, Cel-Ray soda became so popular among Jews that it was bestowed with a tongue-in-cheek nickname: “Jewish Champagne.” Along similar lines, herring is known as “Jewish Caviar” and chopped liver is considered “Jewish Pâté.”

In addition to “Cel-Ray,” Dr. Brown’s offers the following five other phenomenal flavors: cream soda, black cherry soda, orange soda, ginger ale and root beer. Each can comes in a different color and features an illustration of a classic New York location such as the Central Park Carousel, Statue of Liberty, Astor Hotel and Brooklyn Bridge. One of the others illustrations, found on cans for Dr. Brown’s root beer, is of a classic (unnamed) New York ice cream parlor. The root beer/ice cream connection probably is no coincidence given the popularity of root beer floats. Of course, to appeal to Jewish customers, the illustrations on the Dr. Brown’s soda cans should have included the storefronts of the legendary Guss’ Pickles, Schmulka Bernstein’s, Ratner’s and Yonah Schimmel’s Knishes.

Dr. Brown’s is the type of soda that is meant to be consumed directly from the can. Even though it may be found today in two-liter bottles, nothing can replace the feeling of ice cold metal can. Combine that feeling with the can’s retro decor and the soda’s unique, unmistakable taste, and you are instantly transported back to a time when everything seemed a lot simpler. In this way, Dr. Brown’s, unlike any other soda, is a veritable link between generations, having a more impactful nostalgic effect than Entenmann’s Donuts or Stella D’Oro cookies.

Like a fine wine, you can actually pair Dr. Brown’s soda with your meal. Dr. Brown’s Ginger Ale, like Chardonnay, pairs well with poultry, whereas Dr. Brown’s Black Cherry, like Shiraz, matches exquisitely with red meat. This is one reason why nothing washes down a corned beef or pastrami sandwich like Dr. Brown’s Black Cherry. For the record, Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray pairs well with any meal as long as one or more of the diners is a bubbie or zaide.

It is somewhat surprising that Dr. Brown’s does not offer a lemon-lime or grape flavor, which likely would be very popular among Jews. Other Jew-friendly soda flavors would include pomegranate (especially for Rosh Hashanah) and Etrog (for Sukkot). It also is surprising that most Dr. Brown’s sodas are caffeine-free because during a deli-induced food-coma, a caffeine jolt would be a welcome spark, especially if dessert has not yet been served.

Final thought: Dr. Brown’s cream soda does not actually have cream in it. In other words, cream soda is about as milchig as horseradish is fleishig.

By Jon Kranz

 

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