Every other Friday, we reach into our deep freezer and reheat an episode to serve up to you. We're calling these our Reheats. If you have a show you want reheated, send us an email or voice memo at email@example.com , and include your name, your location, which episode, and why.
Ben Abbott wants to pair his meals with drinks, but as a Mormon, he doesn't drink alcohol. So Dan journeys to Galco’s Soda Pop Stop, an offbeat soda shop in Los Angeles, to find Ben some beverages. Plus, linguist John McWhorter explains why some people say soda, coke, or pop.
This episode originally aired on January 21, 2015, and again on March 25, 2019. It was produced by Dan Pashman, Anne Saini, Ngofeen Mputubwele, Gianna Palmer, and Jared O’Connell. The Sporkful team now includes Dan Pashman, Emma Morgenstern, Andres O'Hara, Nora Ritchie, and Jared O'Connell.
Interstitial music in this episode by Black Label Music:
- “Mother Tucker” by Steve Pierson
- “Child Knows Best” by Jack Ventimiglia
- “Pumpkin Face” by Jack Ventimiglia
- "Soul Good" by Lance Conrad
Photo courtesy of Dan Pashman.
Dan Pashman: Hi Sporkful listeners, today’s Reheat is an episode from way back in 2015, and it is a carbonated beverage extravaganza. For any of you doing dry January, or if you’re sober or sober-curious, this episode is especially for you. That being said, if you just want to nerd out with the biggest soda nerd I've ever met, this one's also for you. This Reheat was requested by listener Allyn in Kansas. Remember, if you have an episode you’d like us to pull out of the deep freezer for a Reheat, send me a message firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks and enjoy.
CLIP (BEN ABBOTT): Hi Dan, this is Ben calling from Caineville, Utah and I would really like your help with something. I'm a lover of food and I love going out to restaurants and I love cooking food, but I'm Mormon and I don't drink alcohol — which means that I feel like I'm not really taken seriously as lover of food. Because when you go to the restaurants there's the nice drinks to have with dinner, which are the adult drinks, which are the alcoholic drinks. And then then there are the little kid drinks to have with dinner. And so I feel like I am being sort of shunted away off to the kids table. And so I'm wondering if you have any advice as far as good tasty adult drinks that aren't alcoholic but that can pair well with different foods. I'd really appreciate your help and I hope to hear back from you soon. Thanks very much. Bye.
Dan Pashman: This is The Sporkful, it’s not for foodies it’s for eaters, I’m Dan Pashman. Each week on our show we obsess about food to learn more about people. And Ben in Utah, that is a great question. Today on the show, we’re going on a mission to find you an answer. But to do that, we’re taking a roadtrip to a very special store — Galco’s Soda Pop Stop in Los Angeles. They stock 750 kinds of soda, including some I had never seen anywhere.
John Nese: Well, this one is made with pecans rather than peanuts. I remember when we got the Americana huckleberry in ... Espresso, they say espresso cola ...
Dan Pashman: This is the owner of Galco’s, John Nese, walking me through the store.
John Nese: Mr. Q Cucumber was the soda of the year and it's already here.
Dan Pashman: According to who?
John Nese: According to Beverage World magazine 2010.
Dan Pashman: I had never met anyone as passionate about soda as John Nese. But can he help Ben in Utah find a non-alcoholic drink worthy of pairing with a good meal? Coming up, we’ll find out. And we’ll take some detours along the way. Stick around.
John Nese: Okay, so we have a basket.
Dan Pashman: Galco’s Soda Pop Stop began as an Italian grocery in 1897. John Nese's father joined as a partner in 1940. He eventually bought the place from the Galco family. John’s parents worked there well into their 90s. They celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary at the store. As a boy, John bagged groceries there. He did it for one reason.
John Nese: When I was a little kid we never had sodas, you know we didn't have sodas. We never had a soda in the refrigerator a home. I went to work as a little kid with my father, so I can have a soda. Let me take you over ...
Dan Pashman: Now John’s 76. He’s been working at the store most of his life. When he took over for his parents, he made a change. No more groceries. He put the focus on his passion — soda. For a couple reasons, first, the neighborhood was changing. There weren’t so many Italians looking for groceries. And also, big chain stores were moving in, forcing out the mom and pops and the chains didn’t carry any of the sodas John loves.
John Nese: Our business is primarily done with little independent bottlers. We're not mainstream. You're not gonna find a Coca-cola in this establishment — or a Pepsi.
Dan Pashman: One of the things that I love about walking through these aisles is the labels.
John Nese: Oh yeah!
Dan Pashman: These labels are so beautiful and there's such variation in there. What do you think makes for a great soda bottle label?
John Nese: Um, something that'll stand out and people will recognize. For example, you know Moxie? I think Moxie, just because of the color in the label, be the orange or the dark — it's either black or dark blue. I mean, that thing just pops out.
Dan Pashman: And you got some — I mean, Moxie established 1884 ...
John Nese: Correct.
Dan Pashman: You got new grape soda over here since 1921 [John Nese: 21... ] Oso butter scotch rootbeer, since 1946 they're been around. I mean, this is some real ... This is like a soda museum.
John Nese: Well, I hope it's not a museum. The people coming here to taste them ...
Dan Pashman: Well, it's an active participation museum.
John Nese: Okay. That's it. It's an interactive museum.
Dan Pashman: Interactive. Right, right. And when you're deciding what to stock, is that pretty much: John tastes it. If he likes it, we're gonna stock it.
John Nese: If I like it, we're gonna stock it.
Dan Pashman: Right. [LAUGHS]
John Nese: Yeah, that works pretty well.
Dan Pashman: Yeah.
John Nese: Like the Red Ribbons — those come out of Pittsburgh and they go back to 1904 and they're still operating. They are on a pinpoint carbonator … which mean they use dry ice. That's a real old way of making sodas, but they're true to their roots. Look at … And then ...
Dan Pashman: What? Wait, I want to hear more about that. What does dry ice do in terms of making soda?
John Nese: When you use dry ice, they dry ice breaks down. It gives off the CO2. You get a — and you get a real fine carbonation. Not only that, but when you use CEO2 from dry ice, it doesn't go flat in an hour. It'll actually stay carbonated for 3 or 4 or 5 hours.
Dan Pashman: Really?
John Nese: Yeah!
Dan Pashman: Can I try that one?
John Nese: Yeah, we can try it.
Dan Pashman: You know what we should do? We should get a shopping cart.
John Nese: We can do that.
Dan Pashman: Let's get a shopping cart so that I can buy some soda while we're walking.
John Nese: Okay. Yeah, like they have different flavors but this is ...
Dan Pashman: Galco’s looks like a pretty standard small grocery store, maybe five or six aisles. But instead of food, it’s just shelves and shelves of soda.
John Nese: Then we're gonna try this one right here.
Dan Pashman: All right, which one are we ... Yeah, lighter flavors first. Okay, great. Here we go, this is sweet blossom rose petal soda. This is bottled in Romania or bottled by a Romanian guy.
John Nese: Bottled here but Illy's from Romania.
Dan Pashman: Oh my god. That's so good.
John Nese: Isn't it good? It's something you wouldn't expect from a soda. It's not perfumy at all.
Dan Pashman: Right, right.
John Nese: And very delicate. And it's very good they way it comes out. You ready for the cucumber?
Dan Pashman: Yeah, let's do cucumber.
John Nese: Okay. Okay. Now, this is the cucumber.
Dan Pashman: Oh wow. I mean, that's ... That's cucumber.
John Nese: That's cucumber. It's made from real cucumbers.
Dan Pashman: I like the cucumber. I think that the rose is the one that I would just drink all the time. The cucumber, I feel like — it's just so funny, like, cucumber has become this really trendy thing to mix [John Nese: Yes. ] with gin and vodka. And it's like buy this soda and pour liquor into it.
Dan Pashman: And that's true. You can do that if you like. And a lot of people, that's exactly what they do with it.
Dan Pashman: Now this is the one that has been carbonated using dry ice.
John Nese: Yes.
Dan Pashman: And you say that makes for — the carbonation lasts longer and — I can see those bubbles.
John Nese: See the bubbles in it? The little fine bubbles?
Dan Pashman: Okay, so now I'm tasting — this is Red Ribbon Soda Works Almond Cream Soda. Red Ribbon established 1904. Okay, here we go ... Oh man. You can totally tell the difference.
John Nese: You can. You can tell it, the fine carbonation. And most people today don't even know about that. They don't even know they're still — that sodas are still made that way. There's very few bottlers. It's is a very expensive way of making sodas.
Dan Pashman: Can you describe the spectrum of carbonation from the smallest — how much variety is there from one end of the spectrum to the other.
John Nese: You remember, today, most sodas are very high carbonated. Because, one, it saves syrup. And two, plastic and aluminum cans leak. They have about a three month shelf life and then they're gone and that's the way they're made. This one right here will stay that way. They way it goes in is the way it comes out.
[GLASS BOTTLES CLANKING]
Dan Pashman: At this point, John and I had covered a lot of ground in the store but we hadn't even gotten to the root beer. Now, you might think, if you've had one root beer, eh, you've had them all. Right? But John stocks 86 different root beers. He says each one is distinct. And they’ve changed over time.
John Nese: Today, root beers are very creamy. You know, root beers where never creamy before. They were always very light and delicate. And as we've gotten away from using bark oils and things like that, they become sweeter and creamier.
Dan Pashman: So root beer actually really is any soda made from the root of a plant.
John Nese: Roots, barks, and herbs. That's what it is.
Dan Pashman: Roots, barks, and herbs. Okay.
John Nese: Yeah. And it could be anything. It cold have birch beer in it. It could have sarsaparilla in it. Originally, a lot of root beers had sassafras in them.
Dan Pashman: All right, so now this — O-So Butterscotch Root Beer since 1946.
John Nese: He feels that everybody should have a choice and he makes like probably four different root beers.
Dan Pashman: Oh, this one is ridiculous. I mean, I'm a butterscotch guy.
John Nese: Oh, okay. So there you go! That's why he does them the way he does them.
Dan Pashman: Wow, this is literally like someone melted butterscotch candy and poured it into root beer.
John Nese: That's it. The number one question I get is: What is your best root beer? And I say, well, after you taste them all, let me know.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
John Nese: Because you can't! I mean, I made that mistake one time of telling a lady that I thought a root beer was good. She came back two weeks later and told me it was the worst rootbeer she's every tasted. And just like what happened to you, right now. You like butter scotch. You tasted it and bang. That's it. So when you're giving somebody, who's using really really good ingredients, you will know. You will taste the flavor. It'll go pop! And that's the way Coca-Cola used to be.
Dan Pashman: Right. [LAUGHS]
John Nese: Not anymore, but that's the way they used to be.
Dan Pashman: Speaking of the way things used to be and they way things are, there is something nostalgic about soda. Like it's sort of like — people talk about comfort food.
John Nese: Yes.
Dan Pashman: It's sort of like a comfort drink.
John Nese: Well, it is. And everybody that you talk to, and most of the people that come in here, especially old timers, they can tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing when they had their first soda. And you can't do that with a lot of other things, but you know where your first soda was. Oh, boy.
Dan Pashman: One controversial issue in the soda community ...
John Nese: Yes.
Dan Pashman: I noticed that you go by the name Galco's Soda Pop stop.
John Nese: Stop, yes.
Dan Pashman: Normally, do you call it soda? Do you call it pop? Or you call it soda pop?
John Nese: It depends what part of the country you come from. If in the midwest, it's pop. Out here, it's soda pop.
Dan Pashman: And so that's your preference?
John Nese: And it could be a tonic in New England. It could be ... yeah. That's what most people out here would call it. They would call it a soda pop — or a soda, something like that.
Dan Pashman: Do you have a personal preference?
John Nese: No. No, as long as I can taste it, it doesn't matter. I don't care what you call it.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS] Yeah.
Dan Pashman: That’s John Nese from Galco’s Soda Pop Stop in L.A. People come from all over the world to shop at Galco’s, but if you can’t make to Galco’s, most of John’s sodas are available through his website, SodaPopStop.com. Thanks to that website, I got a Red Ribbon Almond Cream soda in my fridge right now.
Dan Pashman: John’s pretty magnanimous about the terminology, but as you may know, people get very worked up about whether it should be called soda, or pop, or soda pop. Coming up, I’ll consult a linguist.
Dan Pashman: And as for Ben in Utah, who wanted non-alcoholic drink pairings? I’ll get him on the phone with John the soda expert. Stick around.
Dan Pashman: Welcome back to The Sporkful, I’m Dan Pashman. I am very excited to announce that we’re launching a brand new podcast on January 22nd. It's a limited run podcast that you're gonna be able to find right here in The Sporkful feed.
Dan Pashman: It’s called Deep Dish with Sohla and Ham – hosted by chefs and YouTube stars and friends of the show, Sohla and Ham El-Waylly. They’re married and they pretty much spend everyday nerding out on food together. And you're gonna get to hear them do that on a podcast. Each episode of Deep Dish takes one dish and does a deep dive into the history. And at the end, Sohla and Ham go into the kitchen and cook up something inspired by that dish. The first episode starts off with two dead bodies and a trunk full of tamales. It's a good one. You don't want miss it. Deep Dish launches January 22nd, right here in The Sporkful feed. Thanks.
Dan Pashman: Okay, back to the show. As you may have noticed listening to this episode, I call it soda. I grew up in New Jersey. But if you grew up somewhere else in the U.S., you may use different terms for your carbonated beverages.
John McWhorter: Soda is what you say if you're from the north east, if you are from California. And interestingly, if you're from a certain patch in the midwest, Chicago, Missouri — my is from St. Louis, she say soda — but in general, if you are from the rest of midwest or the northwest, then you are a pop person. And if you're from the south, then you say coke. Those at the three big contenders.
Dan Pashman: This is Professor John McWhorter. He teaches linguistics at Columbia University. And he hosts Slate’s language podcast Lexicon Valley. As he said, soda, pop, and coke are the terms most Americans use. But where do they come from? Well, if you go back to the beginning, soda comes from the sodium that was often added to reduce acidity. Pop comes from the sound it makes when you open it.
John McWhorter: Soda pop is actually a rather archaic term and it's where soda and pop come from. The way it actually goes is this. This is something that's more fun than it's gonna sound like.
Dan Pashman: Yeah. [LAUGHS]
John McWhorter: Basically, soda pop would originally have been pronounced soda pop. That's how these words that are two words begin. So for example, Juicy Fruit gum. I was watching an episode of Sgt. Bilco, from the '50s the other day, and Bilco called it "Juicy Fruit" because it was newer. Now, we say "Juicy Fruit". The accent always shifts as something gets older. So originally, it would have been, "Have a soda pop." Now, for some people, naturally, that would have been shortened to pop, "Have a pop." But then as it becomes soda pop, instead of soda pop — and if you shorten it, you're probably gonna say soda. So in some places the scale tipped one way and some places it tipped the other. Soda pop is something I don't think anybody outside of a marketer would say now. But soda pop had two children — soda and pop.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
John McWhorter: And so that's where we are now.
Dan Pashman: But now in a lot of parts of the South, they call all types of soda "coke". Like you could order it in a restaurant and you could say, "I'll take a coke," and the server would say, "What kind?", and you would say Sprite.
John McWhorter: Mm-hmm.
Dan Pashman: Which ... [LAUGHS] Which to me makes very little sense.
John McWhorter: Completely counterintuitive to us.
Dan Pashman: Right, but do we know how that came to be in the south?
John McWhorter: Yeah, it's interesting. With Coke, you're seeing another one of these common language change processes where something that's specific ends up having a more generic meaning. And coke starts out as a specific kind of soda. It's very popular and so after a while, a natural drift would be to start thinking of all sodas as cokes.
Dan Pashman: Is there a reason why that has happened in the South in particular? Do we know? Does it have to with the fact that Coke is based in the South or — do we know why that is?
John McWhorter: You know, maybe it might have something to do with Coca-Cola's roots in Atlanta. But it may just be and people hate this kind of non explanation. It may just be serendipity. You would predict probably that there would be somebody somewhere in the country who would be calling all soda coke. The fact that it's in the South, maybe that's connected to it in Atlanta, but it could just be that that happened to be where it took hold for no particular reason.
Dan Pashman: With regard to Coke — this is more of a grammar question for you.
John McWhorter: Mm-hmm.
Dan Pashman: But when the word coke is used to describe soda generically not the brand Coca-Cola, should it be capitalized?
John McWhorter: [LAUGHS] That's interesting. I've never thought about it and of course, standards and preferences will differ. My preference would be that the capitalized version is restricted to actual Coca-cola. And that then you use lowercase for this generic soda term.
Dan Pashman: And what about tonic?
John McWhorter: To be honest, actually, there's no one region where tonic is said. Just randomly that's something that some people say in some places. There is another term for soda that you and I probably have never heard use live but is pretty common, which "belly wash". And there's a slightly humorous tinge to term, but it's also pretty generic. So that's one term that you can definitely see.
Dan Pashman: Is there a specific type of soda pop that triggered that name? Was there ever a soda that was marketed as, "It'll clean out your insides," like ...
John McWhorter: No. [LAUGHS] But if you look at the dialect atlases and the quotes about belly wash then you could see that there is a certain notion that this stuff isn't very good for you and so it'll wash out your belly and maybe, you know, have some sort of affect on the other end.
Dan Pashman: Right. [LAUGHS]
John McWhorter: And after a while, people are actually just calling it belly wash casually.
Dan Pashman: Professor John McWhorter teaches linguistics at Columbia University and hosts the podcast Lexicon Valley. His books include Why English Won't - and Can't Sit Still (Like, Literally).
Dan Pashman: Thanks so much, John.
John McWhorter: Thank you, Dan.
Dan Pashman: Now it’s time to bring it all back to where we began — to Ben, our listener in Utah. I hope Ben felt inspired by all the wonderful sodas John Nese told us about at Galco’s. But Ben said he wanted pairings. So joining me now from Cayesville, Utah is Ben Abbott.
Dan Pashman: Hey, Ben.
Ben Abbott: Hi, Dan.
Dan Pashman: And joining me on the line from Galco's Soda Pop Stop in Los Angeles is the one and only John Nese. Hey John.
John Nese: Hi. How are you?
Dan Pashman: Great. John, meet Ben. Ben, meet John.
Ben Abbott: Hi, John. Nice to meet you.
John Nese: Very nice to meet you too.
Dan Pashman: So John, you know, I had a great time hanging out with you at your store. Listeners already heard about all the wonderful things you have going on at Galco's. But I want you to try help me help Ben. Okay?
John Nese: Okay.
Dan Pashman: I've asked Ben to think of three specific and different dishes that are things he might like to eat and he's gonna go through each one to you and I would love it if you could recommend one or two varieties of soda that you carry in the store that you think would pair with the dishes that Ben's talking about. Can you help us with that?
John Nese: Well, I'm going to try.
Dan Pashman: Well, Ben, what is the first food you would like John to pair for you?
Ben Abbott: All right, John, the first one that I thought of was — I wanted to go Italian. So what about a fettuccine alfredo?
John Nese: Well, of course, you'd want to get a Vignette there. Non-alcoholic, but they use the grape juice of the varietal. For example, they use a pinot noir grape and then they cut it with 50 percent water, so it comes out like a sparkling pinot noir. But there's absolutely no alcohol in it. You're not getting the fermentation, all you're getting is the flavor of the grape. And with these three grapes, they have a drier finish, so they go very well with any food you select. And they are absolutely — I mean, these people are right on the niche for restaurant pairings.
Dan Pashman: That sounds great. Ben, what do you think of that?
Ben Abbott: I mean, that sounds awesome because that's my biggest complaint — is that it's — you know, the non-alcoholic things are sugary, sweet, syrupy, fizzy kids drinks. I mean, don't get me wrong. I mean, I love me some root beer, but as far as like pairing with a meal, that sounds — that sounds like a whole new world that I'd be excited to explore.
Dan Pashman: Great. John, what was the name of that brand again?
John Nese: The name of that brand is Vignette — V-I-G-N-E-T-T-E Wine Country Sodas. And they come out of — I believe they're out of Berkley.
Dan Pashman: All right, that sounds great. Ben, what's the next dish you want John to pair for you?
Ben Abbott: I started with Italian and I'm from California and so the next one I want to ask about is Mexican food — enchiladas with a side of beans and rice.
John Nese: Well, when I think about Mexican food, I also think about the drinks that are native to the country, like the tamarindo. And there's that brand out there, Jarritos, and they're pretty common. And I will tell you, they're natural flavored sodas, the Jimicha, the tamarindo — those types of things are very good with any kind of Mexican food.
Dan Pashman: John's talking about tamarindo, which is a tamarind flavored soda that is — is it Mexican or Latin American? The brand is called Jarritos.
John Nese: Jarritos is a Mexican brand.
Dan Pashman: So, how does that sound?
Ben Abbott: That sounds great. It's funny, as soon as he said it, I was like, "Of course!"
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
John Nese: You know, they also have a brand there called Sidral Mundet. And Sidral Mundet, is an apple soda. And I've been by their plant and I've seen like seven of those big bin cars, rails cars lined up with apples — all apples. So I know they're using real apples in their apple soda. And those are — I mean, that's about as good as they get. That one and the Signor Real. That brand — that is probably the best sangria style soda I've ever tasted and it is delicious.
Dan Pashman: There you go, Ben. Sangria style soda.
Ben Abbott: Man.
Dan Pashman: What a world we live in.
Dan Pashman: All right, Ben, one more for us.
Ben Abbott: Okay. Man, I feel like the pressure's on now.
John Nese: Have a soda.
Ben Abbott: So I'm gonna do this one. So at Thanksgiving, my family makes a drink called Mormon champagne. And of course, since moving to Utah, and meeting a whole bunch of other Mormons, none of them have ever heard of this, so it may be kind of a misnomer.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
Ben Abbott: But we make our Mormon champagne by freezing grape juice in the ice cube trays and then putting a couple of cubes into a glass of ginger ale. And so as the ice — as the grape cube slowly melts, the grape juice mixes with the ginger ale and that taste of the slowly melting grape juice with the ginger ale, to me, is as Thanksgiving as turkey and stuffing as anything else. That, to me, is the taste of the holidays. What I wanted to ask John is if he has any recommendations that are either similar to that or maybe something in a completely different direction that I never would have considered that would go well with, I mean, yes, Thanksgiving, but just meat and potatoes type food.
Dan Pashman: John, what do you say?
John Nese: I'm saying, I have just what you're looking for and it's called Champayno. And they used to call it Champayne, but the French government kept sending them all these nasty letter, said they were gonna sue them, and they said they were too small to get sued, so they just changed the name to Champayno and now they don't have any problems.
Dan Pashman: How do you spell that, John?
John Nese: C-H-A-M-P-A-Y-N-O.
Dan Pashman: And who makes it?
John Nese: This is made by Natrona Bottling Company. And I will tell you, it is very, very limited. When they do it, it is wonderful.
Dan Pashman: And Natrona, they're in Pittsburgh?
John Nese: Yeah, they're outside of Pittsburgh. They're a little tiny bottler, like they go back to 1904.
Dan Pashman: And so, am I right to say, John, that it's roughly speaking like a non-alcoholic champagne?
John Nese: That's what they were playing on when they came out and they came out during WWII, because the sugar rations were cut to all the bottlers. And in order to stretch the sugar rations, they came out with a dry soda.
Dan Pashman: It sounds pretty cool, I gotta say.
John Nese: Well, they actually use a pinpoint carbonator, which is really different. You know, they use dry ice. They actually allow the dry ice to break down. I've been there. I've seen it.
Dan Pashman: Oh, are these the same people that I tried that — the almond soda with the ...
John Nese: That's it!
Dan Pashman: Oh my — oh, Ben, you gotta get this one.
Ben Abbott: [LAUGHS]
Dan Pashman: And Ben, with the dry ice carbonation, the bubbles are so much finer and more delicate. Like, I never realized how abrasive the carbonation in mass market sodas are until I had the one that John gave me that was made with the dry ice and it is — it's just sublime. You gotta check it out.
Dan Pashman: All right. Well, Ben Abbott in Caineville, Utah and John Nese from Galco's Soda Pop Stop in Los Angeles, thanks so much to both you guys.
John Nese: Oh! Well, thank you very much for inviting me to participate.
Ben Abbott: Thank you, Dan. And Thank you, John.