Jewish World Review
http://www.jewishworldreview.com | (KRT) DUBLIN, Texas This surely is the best place to celebrate the confluence of two qualities that Texans hold dear:
Sweet and stubborn.
Sweet, because this is where they have made Dr Pepper for 112 years, with cane sugar and in bottles that you have to return.
Stubborn, because when the rest of the soda pop world abandoned both of those fundamental precepts, Dublin refused.
A few thousand people gathered here over the weekend, happily drenching their souls in free Dr Pepper and paying tribute to a man who felt the winds of change blowing - and slammed the window shut.
"This is Mecca for Dr Pepper lovers," says Jeff Pendleton, advertising director for the local bottling company, which throws the party every year. Boldly mixing religious metaphors, he adds, "We're here to spread the gospel of Dr Pepper."
The festivities, to tell the truth, were pleasant but unremarkable: craft booths and games for charity, entertainment for little kids, bands of varying quality on stage. You could stroll around a friendly small town or you could run the 10K race benefiting the Lions Club.
Folks lined up to watch Dr Peppers roll off the assembly line and to inspect Dr Pepper memorabilia - tours that cost a couple of bucks the rest of the year.
Angela Pack, who will be a senior at Huckabay High School, near Stephenville, Texas, was chosen from among 14 contestants as the new Pretty Peggy Pepper.
What's special is why folks flock to Dublin, a town of about 4,000 people 125 miles southwest of Dallas in an area packed with dairy farms.
In 1891, a Dublin merchant named Sam Houston Prim drank a fruity soda that pharmacists at the Old Corner Drug Store in Waco, Texas, had first concocted in 1885.
He liked it well enough to negotiate distribution rights for 45 miles in every direction from Dublin and began the first Dr Pepper bottling plant outside Waco.
When Prim died in 1946, he left the business to his daughter, Grace Lyon. She was aided by Bill Kloster, who had started as a bottle sorter at age 14 and bubbled up to be general manager. Lyon died without heirs in 1991 and willed the bottling plant to Kloster.
"The only time he ever left this place was to fight the Nazis," Pendleton says.
Over the last few decades, soft drink makers switched from sugar to corn sweeteners to save money. Aluminum and plastic containers that went straight to recycling bins and trash cans were cheaper and easier for manufacturers, a switch that turned returnable bottles into collectors' relics.
But not in Dublin.
"My grandfather used to say, `I'm a hardheaded fellow,'" says Mark Kloster, who took over the business with his father and brother after Bill Kloster died in 1999.
"Everything changed, but he was skeptical. Putting out the best product was more important. And sugar was better."
Eventually Dublin became the only place in America putting real sugar in its Dr Pepper - and probably any other soft drink. For "peppers," as fans of the sweet nectar call themselves, this is Wrigley Field and Williamsburg, Va., and the original Sonny Bryan's rolled into one.
"People want a little nostalgia, and that's what we provide," Kloster says.
About 60,000 tourists a year find their way to Dublin to tour the century-old plant, where noisy, rickety machines from the mid-20th century wash and refill bottles.
Some of Kloster's massive Dr Pepper memorabilia collection is on display in a small museum, where the gift shop sells Dr Pepper beef jerky and Dr Pepper cookbooks, among other oddities.
The Klosters ship their product around the world. Devotees regularly detour through Dublin to stock up.
"This is the only place where `bootlegging' isn't a bad word," Pendleton says.
Through a special arrangement allowing a slight infringement on franchise territory rights, the Central Market stores in Dallas, Plano, Texas, and Fort Worth, Texas, sell the sugary stuff - and customers happily pay a hefty premium for it.
Can you really tell the difference?
"Oh, yes," says Milly Walker, the outgoing director of the Dublin museum and a former archivist at the much larger Dr Pepper Museum in Waco.
"The chemists say it's the same thing, but we know better," she says.
"It's sweet, but it's got a little bite to it that's really special. And you can cook better with our Dr Pepper. If you cook with regular Dr Pepper, the corn syrup caramelizes quicker and it tastes burnt."
Kloster says his grandfather used to summon the family for taste tests in unmarked cups "and tell us to find the real Dr Pepper."
If he guessed wrong, Kloster says, "I didn't have to write `Dr Pepper is my favorite drink' 100 times or anything, but we learned."
To mark the bottling plant's 100th birthday in 1991, Bill Kloster threw a party for the town, and the company made Dr Pepper Days an annual affair.
"I started coming to this shindig as a little girl," says Mica McNutt, 18. "I met the Pretty Peggy Pepper and I really looked up to her."
Last year, McNutt won the pageant, which is named for a young woman in patriotic garb featured in World War II advertisements. Her prizes included a $500 scholarship, appearance fees to represent Dr Pepper at fairs and parades - and two free cases a month.
"Dr Pepper is in my veins," she says.
That is pretty much a requirement in Dublin. "We had a restaurant that had a big Dr Pepper cooler and they just stored things in it," says Deanna Turley, a longtime resident. "But they just served Coke. They said, `We just don't like Dr Pepper.' Well, they're closed now."
Did something bad happen? "It was just the karma," she says.
To peppers around the world, the corn-free variety is known as "Dublin Dr Pepper." But it's not that simple.
Last year, with its supply of returnable bottles shrinking, the bottling plant instituted a tough new policy: No more deposits. You have to bring in a case of empties before you are allowed to buy another.
"We lost so many bottles to collectors, we had to do it," says Anita Bryant, who divides her workweek between the museum and the bottling plant.
"People are hitting the flea markets and eBay to get bottles. It sounds tough. But if we lose our bottles, we're out of business."
That is not quite true. The Klosters, who have only enough returnable bottles to keep the line running one day a week, continually scour old warehouses and seek new sources.
But they also sell Dublin Dr Pepper in cans and nonreturnable bottles.
All of those - including the stock sold in Dallas - are actually made in Temple, Texas, with the Dublin recipe.
"We're still the original," Pendleton says. "There's nothing like it."
Nobody here doubts that Dublin and Dr Pepper will be forever linked, but they could go one better.
The town actually changes its name to Dr Pepper, Texas, for the week of the celebration. And the bottling company springs for four road signs on the highways.
"We want to change it forever, and we're working on it," Pendleton says.
"It would be great for tourism. There's a few people in town who have to pass on first, but I think it could happen."
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