Restaurant Notes extra: Summit City Soda bubbles amid craft pop craze

Fizz Fest on Saturday in downtown Fort Wayne will highlight vintage and regional pop sold by Summit City Soda. (Courtesy of Summit City Soda)
Whether it's from days of old or a flavor your tried while on vacation, Summit City Soda might have it. (Courtesy of Summit City Soda)
Summit City Soda sells vintage and regional pop online. (Courtesy of Summit City Soda)
All types of flavors will be for the tasting at Fizz Fest on Saturday. (Courtesy of Summit City Soda)

Roger Grabner, who grew up in Monroeville, remembers sitting on a stack of tires as a kid at his uncle’s Texaco station and drinking pop dispensed from a chest-type machine.

Back then, pop came in glass bottles and contained – gasp! – sugar. Grabner has developed a new Fort Wayne festival meant to draw people who yearn for the good old days before the sweet drinks became ubiquitous and contained high fructose corn sugar.

Fizz Fest 2018 – Summit City Craft Soda Festival & Winter Carnival should get residents out of their homes Saturday and inside the USF Performing Arts Center, 431 W. Berry St., in downtown Fort Wayne. The inaugural festival was announced last fall as this year’s winner of Downtown Improvement District’s New Winter-Spring Events Contest. The contest is designed to create downtown events during the traditional post-holiday non-festival months of February-April.

Grabner, who works as a software developer, created about five years ago to sell regional and vintage pop as a hobby.

Festivel-goers who are in their 50s and 60s will see vintage pop from their childhood; millennials might like the Asylum Premium Craft Zombie Sodas that have labels drawn by comic book artists; and children can drink the Totally Gross Soda collection from Avery’s Beverages of New Britain, Conn., with names such as Dog Drool (orange-lemon) and Kitty Piddle (orange-pineapple).

This is the third “craft” wave to hit America.

“It started with specialty coffee,” said Grabner, who lives in Fort Wayne. “Then it was craft beer and now it’s soda.”

The name FizzFest should alleviate any pop vs. soda rivalry. The drink is usually called pop if you’re a Midwesterner, soda if you’re from the East Coast, and Coke, regardless of the brand, if you live in the South, where Coca-Cola bottles in Atlanta.

“Craft soda typically uses glass vs. plastic bottles, and is made in small batches,” Grabner said.

Some of the recipes might be made using 1940s equipment using recipes rediscovered long after they were originally used, he said.

“It’s really treating it like a treat,” he said.

A Booneville bottler uses equipment from its start in 1889, Grabner said. C.A. Derr & Co. bills itself as the oldest and only continuous soda bottling plant in Indiana. The downside to many craft sodas is that if the old equipment breaks down at some of these small-scale bottlers, it might take awhile to get them back up and running while they await a part, Grabner said. And by being small-scale, making just 15 to 20 cases of a variety, fans might have to wait for the bottler to get back to that variety, like a coffee rinker has to wait for the next season of a specific bean, he said.

The festival will allow people to try regional and vintage varieties that come from the nearly 1,000 flavors that Grabner carries on his site. Some people come to the website to search for a pop they found while on vacation. His many varieties include Cheerwine, started in 1917 in Salisbury, N.C., during a sugar shortage, according to the company’s website. It has wild cherry flavoring. Another, Green River bottled in Chicago once was second only to Coca-Cola in sales.

Some pops got their start after Prohibition went into effect. One of those is Triple XXX Root Beer created by a Galveston, Texas, brewing company in 1916. The company created restaurants, called Thirst Stations, that once numbered around 100. A West Lafayette restaurant that lays claim to Indiana’s first and oldest drive-in is named for the Triple XXX Root Beer. Opened in 1929 as a Triple XXX Thirst Station, the renamed Triple XXX Family Restaurant is the last one still operating.

Locally, Berghoff Brewery switched to bottling pop during Prohibition to keep its employees working, Grabner said. Bergo was similar to root beer.

Neal Butler, who isn’t connected to the festival, carries about 35 types of craft pop at Pio Market, 1225 E. State Blvd., which he has owned for 35 years. He has four to five from Stewart’s, part of the Dr Pepper Snapple Group and gets a few from Huntington’s Antiqology.

“I think that people like a good pop,” Butler said. “Kids are kind of intrigued by the glass bottles.”

He’s currently out of Triple XXX Root Beer, which by the way got its name because of the old-fashioned grading system, so three X’s meant it was exceptional.


WHAT: Fizz Fest 2018 – Summit City Craft Soda Festival & Winter Carnival fearing vintage and regional pop as well as carnival games such as bottle ring toss.

WHEN: 10 a.m.-6 pm. Saturday; at 1 and 4 p.m. “Supergirl” and “The Flash” from the CW shows will appear.

WHERE: USF Performing Arts Center, 431 W. Berry St.

COST: $5 admission includes 10 tasting tickets; $20 for an unlimited tasting wristband

MORE: 260-494-6224