Root beer tasting set at Village Candy store in Sewickley

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When Doug Alpern opened Village Candy in 2006, his store, a former Sewickley flower shop, already had a cooler case.

"So, as an afterthought, I decided to sell soda," he said.

But not just any sodas.

The former floral case now is filled with dozens of varieties of bottled soft drinks, usually called "pop" by most Pittsburgh natives. Their numbers include about 40 brands of root beer.

On Saturday Mr. Alpern's old-time sweet shop will be the site of a third-annual root beer tasting.

Like beers and wines, root beers can vary greatly in taste and aroma, he said. The amounts and kinds of sweeteners -- corn syrup or sugar, for example -- the type and level of carbonation and the variety of spices and flavorings all affect their flavor and smell.

Plans for Saturday's event call for side-by-side sips of about 10 brands.

"We'll have a few favorites from years past," he said. "And there will be some new ones."

All the soft drinks Mr. Alpern sells are in glass bottles -- aluminum or plastic can affect taste, he said. Most are made by small companies scattered around the country, and very few are available elsewhere. "Small soda makers tend to be regional businesses," Mr. Alpern said. "Bottled drinks are very expensive to ship."

Most of his beverages range in price from $1.55 to $2.95 each, although one root beer brewed in Bavaria for Virgil's costs $8.25.

This year's root beer choices for the tasting will include Red Ribbon, which is made by Natrona Bottling Co. in Harrison. Others to be sampled are Olde Rhode Island Molasses Root Beer and the typographically unfriendly "Bawls G33K B33R," a high-caffeine beverage.

Other events at Village Candy have included ginger beer and chocolate tastings.

A visit to the store -- or just a look through its windows -- offers a trip back to childhood for both baby boomers and Generation Xers. Vintage candies for sale range from 1950s favorites such as candy buttons and satellite wafers to such 1980s offerings as Fun Dip and Razzles.

Mr. Alpern said one of his customers has fond memories of buying Sky Bars, a chocolate candy that dates back to 1938. Each multisectioned bar offers four different fillings.

"When he didn't have much money, buying it was like getting more than one candy bar," he said.

The root beer tasting will be held from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Village Candy, 344 Beaver St., Sewickley. Participants interested in the free public event are asked to e-mail the store at to register.

The phone number for the store is 412-741-1490. The Web site is

Len Barcousky can be reached at or 724-772-0184.


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