When I was in college, Dr Pepper ruled our campus (and so did Drayton McLane, but that's a story for another day). No, seriously. It became the official soft drink of Baylor back in 1997. And along with it came Dr Pepper Hour, formerly Coke Hour.
Baylor University isn't just renowned for being the largest Baptist university in the world (along with all the questionable behaviors and eccentricities that accompany that title). It's also known for its weekly Dr Pepper Hour, where the president of the university (hey, that's Ken Starr now! wonder how he's holding up....) enjoys Dr Pepper floats with students for an hour or two at the Student Union Building.
Just to dispel any misunderstandings that this is a hip, happening event, let me be clear: Crystal bowls filled with ice cream and Dr Pepper are served in the ultra-WASPy Barfield Drawing Room where you can drink your float while sitting uncomfortably in a wingback chair that's been there since the 1950s or attempt to mingle with stiff personalities like the aforementioned President Starr, who probably doesn't give two shits about the thesis some 19-year-old kid is writing for the Honors College.
The only good thing to come out of this? Hot Dr Pepper.
I first tasted this beverage at a winter Dr Pepper Hour and fell in love.
Hot Dr Pepper is exactly what it sounds like: heated up Dr Pepper, served in a mug. You can garnish with a lemon slice, which I strongly recommend. The plummy taste of the soda takes on a mead-like quality when heated and the beverage tastes oddly alcoholic, like a hot toddy sans the hooch. Of course, this might be one of the many reasons the drink is so popular at alcohol-free Baylor University.
Another reason, of course, is that it gets as cold as a witch's tit on the Central Texas plains during winter, and hot Dr Pepper is easier to make in a dorm room than even coffee or hot chocolate. Especially when you haven't ventured out to the Walmart in a week and you're living out of the vending machine in the basement...
According to Dr Pepper's official website, hot Dr Pepper has been around much longer than Dr Pepper Hour:
Hot Dr Pepper was developed many years ago as a refreshing winter drink. Heat Dr Pepper in a saucepan to 180 degrees, place a thin slice of lemon in the bottom of a coffee mug or insulated cup and pour the heated Dr Pepper over the lemon.
But this wasn't good enough. I wanted more information on how this winter treat originally came about, so I called the Dr Pepper Museum in Waco and spoke with Mary Beth Tate, collections manager for the museum.
"Dr Pepper is the only major soft drink that's had a successful hot campaign," she told me.
"They first came out with it in the early 1960s. The mascot for it was a little devil, and there's a story goes along with it: a route salesman suggested it because it was so cold while delivering Dr Pepper in the winter months. Like a lot of legends, we don't really know if it's true."
Anecdotal evidence, like these comments on a Boing Boing post from 2007, hot Dr Pepper confirms that it was mostly a Dr Pepper invention, although it seems to have been around as a classic Texas treat since at least the 1950s, being served at events such as Little League games in the winter months.
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And the many vintage ads for hot Dr Pepper seem to indicate that the Dr Pepper company itself invented the beverage as a cold weather application for its soda, which I imagine most consumers weren't terribly interested in during the winter. During this time, the advertising slogan for Dr Pepper was "I like it! It's different!" And the hot Dr Pepper campaign fit into this nicely, according to Tate: "The slogan was 'It's devilishly different.'" An edgy ad campaign from a Texas company back then, to be sure.
Advertisements and commercials for the drink reached their peak in the mid-1960s, and it seems as though hot Dr Pepper has been on a bit of a downhill slide since then, as most people I've mentioned it to have never heard of it.
Tate, who admitted that she was perhaps too close to the issue to say whether or not it had slid in popularity over the years, said that it was certainly still popular in Waco. "I'm so used to it being around," she said. "We serve it during the winter at our soda fountain and it's still a holiday favorite in predominately Southern families."
So let's revive an old classic this winter. Heat up some Dr Pepper on the stove, pour it in a mug over a lemon slice and enjoy. And since I'm not at Baylor anymore, I can tell you this: It also tastes great with a shot of bourbon.