A Cooler Coke: Ironbeer

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Each Tuesday and Thursday for the next few weeks, we'll be taking a look at alternatives to cokes for the sticky Houston summer that lies ahead.

I was prepared not to like Ironbeer from the start.

I don't like the packaging. It looks too reminiscent of Dr Pepper and, therefore, like a knockoff.

I don't like things with "beer" in the flavor if it isn't actual beer. That includes you, root beer. You taste like medicine and summer camp (not the fun summer camp; the grueling YMCA summer camp that your parents send you to if they don't want to tolerate you during the month of July).

I don't like the constant touting of the "Original 1917 Flavor!" and the "MORE THAN 80 YEARS" all over the can. I get it; you're old. What else do you have going for you?

But Ironbeer completely surprised me.

Although I've seen it described as a "fruitier Dr Pepper," I can't say I agree with that assessment. Dr Pepper is already fruity enough; any fruitier and it would start to taste like carbonated Hawaiian Punch. No thank you.

Ironbeer tastes like a perfect mix between Coca-Cola and Sunkist. It tastes like filling up your cup at CiCi's as a kid with a "suicide" concoction but stopping after just getting the coke and the orange drink in your cup, and realizing you've hit upon perfection. It's shockingly good.

Other than being quite tasty, Ironbeer has a fascinating history. Created in -- you guessed it -- 1917 in Havana, it was the national soft drink of Cuba for years. That is until Fidel Castro came to power and ruined basically everything for the country, including its beloved Ironbeer. Absolutely everything that was privately held, including soft drink companies, became the property of the Cuban government in 1960 and the families who ran the Ironbeer company were exiled to the United States.

Luckily, the brand continued a new life abroad, being produced in Miami to the delight of Cuban expatriates and Floridians alike. But even then, they weren't completely out of the woods. In 1997, our sister paper -- the Miami New Times -- discussed how a botched contract with juice giant Tropicana completely bankrupted the small Ironbeer company. The company eventually recovered and through years of hard work eventually tripled its revenues from where they'd been prior to declaring bankruptcy.

All's well that ends well, especially when it comes with a delicious can of coke to boot.

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