A flavored, sweetened, carbonated beverage, of the class known variously as soda, pop, tonic, and fizz.
Like all of its kin, Dr Pepper is typically drunk cold, often poured over ice. It shouldn't be. Coldness and carbonation, while undeniably refreshing, have a numbing effect on the taste buds, and ice melts and dilutes. This is fine for typical, simply-flavored drinks, whose chief (and often sole) merit is quick refreshment. But Dr Pepper is far from typical.
It was by pure chance that I made this startling discovery a few months ago. I had left a can, with a smidgen of the beverage at the bottom, sitting on my desk for a few days. When I finally got around to clearing my workspace, I realized that the can could not be recycled unless empty, and I didn't feel like finding a sink to pour it out. So I drank it: warm, flat, nearly week-old Dr Pepper.
It was delicious. The ambient de-carbonation of my leftover drink had brought out all sorts of subtle nuances of flavor, usually masked by the bubbles and cold temperature. Vanilla, citrus, and woodsy overtones of the sort expected in better-quality wines. Nobody drinks good wine (red wine, that is) cold, nor do they put bubbles in it. Doing so would cheat the drinker out of full enjoyment of the wine's flavor. And no equally complex drink deserves such treatment. Infusion into cold soda water makes the bitter taste of cola tolerable. But such treatment worsens Dr Pepper's flavor.
The inventors of Dr Pepper put a marvelous flavor in an entirely inappropriate medium. I'd argue that the concoction was so good that it succeeded despite being made into pop.
Taste Dr Pepper as it should be. Let it sit out for a few days and go flat. Then sip it slowly. Prepare to be surprised.
Now for the facts.
Dr Pepper is the oldest major soda/pop beverage in the United States. It was invented by pharmacist Charles Alderton in Waco, Texas in 1885, predating Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola, and 7-up, among others.
There was, apparently, an actual human Dr. Pepper who became the namesake for the drink. But the doctor in question wasn't the same one traditionally credited. There are numerous historical records of a Dr. Charles T. Pepper in Rural Retreat, Virginia. Wade Morrison, owner of the pharmacy where Alderton worked, had formerly been employed by a Dr. Pepper in Virginia, presumably the well-documented Charles. Supposedly, Morrison was in love with Pepper's daughter and named the drink after his employer so he would let him marry her.
The trouble is that this doctor's daughter was only eight at the time, which is more than a bit young even by the standards of rural Virginia. And there's no evidence that Charles Pepper ever employed Morrison.
But census records indicate that Morrison had worked as a pharmacy clerk in another Virginia town named Christianburg. His neighbor was another Dr. Pepper who had a sixteen year-old daughter. So the gist of the story appears to be true, but the details weren't.
The apparent grammatical mishap in the beverage's name (no period after the "Dr") is actually the result of a change in the Dr Pepper logo's font in the 1950's - with the period, the logo now appeared to advertise "Di: Pepper" which obviously didn't make a bit of sense. So it was dropped.
The world's oldest Dr Pepper plant is in Dublin, Texas; it has been in continuous operation since 1891. On the centennial of the plant's founding, the town's inhabitants elected to change the municipality's name to "Dr. Pepper, Texas" for a week each year.
Had it not been a trademark, Dr Pepper would've been part of the title of one of the most famous rock and roll albums ever. The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band was originally Dr. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band until the band got word that there was a trademarked beverage by that name overseas.
Dr Pepper and 7-Up are now owned by the same company, a subsidiary of Cadbury, and licensed for distribution by many others.
The U.S. version of the drink contains the following, according to its label.The company says it's kosher.
Carbonated Water; Imperial Pure Cane Sugar (on the original recipe, otherwise "High Fructose Corn Syrup and/or Sugar"); Caramel Color; Phosphoric Acid; Artificial and Natural Flavors; Sodium Benzoate (Preservative); Caffeine.
The Canadian, UK and Australian recipes are similar, though the ingredients are listed differently, presumably due to different legal standards. Modern Dr Pepper contains asparatame; in the 1960's it contained artificial sweeteners sodium cyclamate and sodium saccharine, which were later banned.
Although the company keeps its recipe a closely guarded trade secret, an anonymous "insider source" claimed it included denatured rum, imitation vanilla, almond extract, oil of orange, and lactic acid. Company representatives vehemently insist it contains "neither rum nor vanilla," however. It was originally supposed to evoke 23 different fruit flavors, though no-one knows what those 23 are.
It appears unanimous that Dr Pepper contains no prune juice.
As mentioned previously, the "original" Dr Pepper is made with cane sugar. Most who taste it claim it's better than the corn syrup variety, but it's hard to find - you have to go to the original plant in Dublin, Texas, or to a store that sells it within a 50-mile radius of that plant. No other American plant is even allowed to use real sugar.
Dublin also has a Dr Pepper museum, if getting the original drink isn't enough incentive to visit there. If you're really serious about your Dr Pepper and live far away, though, you can have the Imperial Cane Sugar variety shipped from Dublin to your location. It won't be cheap, and shipping may cost you more than the product itself, but it is the real stuff, and you can get it from "Old Doc's Soda Shop" at http://www.olddocs.com/.
There's also a recipe for "hot" Dr Pepper - heat regular Dr Pepper in a saucepan until the carbonation starts bubbling out (it'll look like it's boiling violently), and pour it over a slice of lemon. I suppose the idea is the same as that for lemon tea, though those who've tried it claim it's not nearly as good with the modern, corn syrup variety Dr Pepper.
There's a caffeine-free version made as well, but it doesn't seem to be very popular, as many regional bottlers decline even to produce it. And it's continually declining in popularity - at last count, it's only available in 17 of 50 states.
There are more than 50 known attempts at imitating the drink, the most famous being the Coca-Cola company's "Mr. Pibb."
For recipes involving the beverage, there's the cookbook Cooking With Dr Pepper, available free for the asking to anyone who writes or phones the company. There are three books on record as dealing primarily with the topic of Dr Pepper:
- The Legend of Dr Pepper/Seven-Up, by Jeffrey L. Rodengen (1995, Write Stuff Syndicate)
- Dr Pepper, King of Beverages, by Harry E. Ellis (1979, Dr Pepper Co.)
- The Dr Pepper Centennial book, by Harry E. Ellis.
Numerous websites contribute to what seems to be a global following. They're indexed at Christopher Flaherty's alt.fan.dr-pepper FAQ, which is posted regularly to the newsgroup by that name and also available (and regularly updated) at http://www.pipeline.com/~chrisf/dpfaq.html
The FAQ also has a lot of excellent information, and this writeup is summarized from it.