Drop by Ingebretsen’s Kaffe Bar at Norway House and you’ll see a colorful array of 8 different flavors of Spring Grove Soda Pop on the counter. Some people have an instant-nostalgia reaction upon seeing them, often exclaiming, “I didn’t know they still made that!” Yes, it’s still made. As a matter of fact, Spring Grove Soda Pop has been produced continually since 1895.
Others are surprised to learn that there is such a thing as small, locally made soda pop, but wonder what the Norwegian connection is. The connection is that Spring Grove is the site of the first Norwegian settlement in Minnesota. The residents keep that heritage alive through festivals, a folk school, and in simple, daily ways including stamping Mange Tusen Takk! (Norwegian for “many thousand thanks”) on the bottles of Spring Grove Soda Pop.
Bob and Dawn Hansen are the current owners of the company. They bought the business at a good time. In the same way the craft beer movement is growing, people are increasingly enjoying craft sodas. Bob laughs as he says, “We’re upscale now!” Upscale, but not pretentious. The Hansens have some absolutes so as to ensure quality, such as using only glass bottles and pure cane sugar. However, they are not above working with the Midwest’s most ubiquitous vegetable, rhubarb, from which they created a best-selling flavor.
Originally commissioned by the Lanesboro Rhubarb Festival committee, the rhubarb soda was bottled and sold exclusively at the festival. Bob, however, saw an opportunity for a drink that might have wider appeal. He continued to taste, tweek, and try different formulas. “My test for a flavor is to ask myself, ‘would I want another one?’” says Bob. Adding strawberry flavor gave the right level of sweetness and sales testify that people definitely “want another one.” There is enough of a demand that the flavor, now christened “Rhuberry,” has gone from being a seasonal drink to one that is now offered year round.
When asked if he had any plans to keep a more recent Norwegian tradition and develop a Christmas soda, Bob slyly replies, “What, like a lutefisk flavor?” Well, one hopes not. While Bob doesn’t have immediate plans for a new holiday soda, there are plenty of good flavors available already.
The Ingebretsen’s Kaffee Bar has just started carrying Spring Grove Soda Pop’s cream soda. Those who know about cream soda, love it. Those who don’t, are completely mystified by the name. How is this brown, translucent beverage related to a dairy product? The name, origins, and required ingredients of cream soda is debatable. The Spring Grove Soda Pop version does not have any cream in it. It does have vanilla flavoring and theirs is particularly smooth. When the first case arrived at the Kaffee Bar, the staff had a tasting. Drew, without having any idea of Bob Hansen’s criteria for a good soda, said, “Good enough you’ll want two!”
Bob and Dawn Hansen pride themselves on the quality of their ingredients and on the true taste of the syrups used to flavor the soda. Bob suggests that to make the most of your Spring Grove Soda, wait a minute before taking a sip. He says, “Pop the top. See that little cloud. Smell that.” That little cloud will give you the fragrance of the syrup and gives you a preview of just how good the flavor will be.
Sodas are definitely a family drink, but Spring Grove Soda Pop also plays nicely with more adult ingredients. Bob admits that he’d be hard pressed to drink the Lemon Sour straight, though many customers do. He prefers to mix his with a bit of whiskey at the end of the day. Another relaxing combination is the Black Cherry Soda Pop with Captain Morgan Spiced Rum for an easy cocktail.
So, enjoy a Spring Grove Soda Pop at the Kaffe Bar now, then buy one to take home and enjoy later. Hoist your drink high and say Mange Tusen Takk to the Hansens for keeping a tasty tradition alive.
– Carstens Smith