by Marnely Murray
Whether it’s the tiny effervescent bubbles that tingle your tongue or the feeling of being refreshed that you get once you take a sip, seltzer has become our go-to drink. Home carbonation machines such as the Soda Stream have made it quick and simple for us to create our own syrups, carbonate our own bever- ages, and sip on seltzer right at home.
What you might not know is that the country’s largest independent soft-drink bottler and fifth-generation family-owned business is the one that bottled that Polar Seltzer you’re sipping poolside on a hot summer day, mixing cocktails with at dinner parties, and hoarding limited flavor editions of. Its humble beginnings start with J.G. Bierberbach, who had moved from Germany to New York City at the request of the Shafer Brewing Company, as they needed help brewing the first Pilsner beer in the United States. J.G. Bierberbach Company began in 1882 in Worchester and set the foundation for what was to become Polar.
In and around the same area in New England, businessman Dennis M. Crowley then founded D.M. Crowley & Co. in 1901. His top selling product was Crowley’s Ball Brook Straight Whiskey. He proceeded to acquire the J.G. Bierberbach Company and the Leicester Polar Spring Company. Of course, Prohibition hit the United States in the 1920s, forcing Crowley to shut down his whiskey empire and focus on the soft drinks. Going back to his purchase of the Leicester Polar Spring Company, which included the rights to use a pure spring located in Spencer, Crowley concentrated on developing the brand and producing the first flavors: Golden Ginger Ale and Pale Dry Ginger Ale. Between the 40s and 70s, in the hands of third generation Crowleys, the company was renamed Polar Corp. to concentrate on the rebrand of the seltzers.
The 1980s strolled by and the fourth generation took over, making acquisitions of national brands such as 7Up, Sunkist, and A&W. This was the generation that brought most change and growth to Polar, as they went through the process of purchasing their biggest competitor.
Now in its 133rd year in business, the fifth generation is in place. Lisbet Crowley is the brand activation manager for Polar Beverages and discussed how Polar is adapting to the times: “When Polar develops new flavors, we research it all, including what our fans are suggesting on social media sites as well as the current culinary trends prominent in restaurants across the country.” She tells us that the fan favorite flavor has been grapefruit seltzer for the past couple of years. The rise in the trend of grapefruit flavor notes in mixology has aided in its popularity, and bartenders are creating impressive recipes using this local brand.
“When you read a Polar Seltzer label and it states 100 percent natural flavors, be assured that they are 100 percent natural essential oils that are combined in proprietary ways to achieve our most popular flavors,” Crowley reminded us. These essential oils come from either the skin of the fruits (such as oils from the rinds of fresh oranges) or from the fruit pulp it- self (such as sweet strawberries). This summer, they’ve combined specific essential oils to create their limited edition 2015 Summer line that includes: guava mandarin, blueberry lemonade, strawberry watermelon, tropical mai tai, and pomegranate sangria. The limited editions are revealed twice a year, during the summer and winter seasons of New England.
Around the United States, fans of the brand anxiously await the reveal, trying to guess the new flavors.
A local Massachusetts brand that’s made its way to the top, Polar Seltzer has become a household name in homes not only in New England, but around the country. Top restaurants and bars use Polar Seltzer as a key ingredient to obtaining great results, in both cocktails and desserts. Visit polarseltzer.com/recipes for creative ways to use seltzer this summer.
Find this bubbly beverage around the Island at grocery stores and in restaurants, where local chefs are using Polar in their menus.