EASTON (CBS) – It happens here in Easton, the hometown of 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey goalie Jim Craig of “Miracle on Ice” fame. It’s also where Ames Shovel Works made many of the tools used to build the Union Pacific Railroad. It’s that history that inspired the name of a local brewery called Shovel Town.
But a bubbly craft beverage of a different sort has been made here since 1878. Simpson Spring is one of the first producers of soda in the world.
“We are actually the oldest bottling plant in the country that has never moved,” explained Matt Bertarelli, whose family is the third to run this Easton landmark since it was founded.
The original owner of the land, which is home to a geothermal spring, was blacksmith Samuel Simpson. He sold the land to Fred Howard, a chemist who was one of the first producers of carbonated soda drinks.
“You’ll see a lot of root beer companies that started in the 1800’s, [but] doing things like orange and raspberry soda were a totally new thing,” Bertarelli said.
The building is filled with history, from Howard’s notes containing his original recipes to a log of all the early investors in the company. There are century-old bottles and even an early vending machine.
According to Bertarelli, this small plant in the woods off Route 138, even bottled for Coca-Cola for a short time during the 1950’s.
When we visited, Bertarelli was triple-filtering real ginger for ginger ale. It’s a process that takes weeks. The result is a syrup that is mixed with the pure spring water and carbonation to form the sweet, familiar drink.
You can’t have soda without water and that’s where the spring comes in. A shrine-like room surrounds the well in the center of the building. It’s carefully tiled and filled with gently filtered sunlight from the vintage Tiffany stained glass windows.
The water pumped from the spring feeds the soda operation as well as their large bottles of spring water. Customers can also bring their own containers and fill them from the spring for just 50-cents a gallon.
Bertarelli says this is no ordinary water. “There is no aftertaste and it has a soft taste in your mouth,” he told WBZ-TV. “Sometimes when you have other water, you taste a little bit of metallic flavor.”
There’s also a bit of folklore surrounding the spring. “The Indians believed that it had healing powers for the lungs and kidney,” he said.
Simpson Spring sodas were once shipped around New England. The owner of Macy’s original department store was apparently a huge fan of the coffee-flavored soda and had it shipped to his store in New York City.
Now Simpson Spring is a local operation where people come to sample the vintage flavors like Sarsaparilla, Cream Soda, Lime Rickey and White Birch, which according to Bertarelli, tastes like a pink Canada Mint.