The one and only celery soda

For me Cel-Ray actually seems more plausible than some of the other regional North American soft drinks I’ve heard about. I remember a college friend once returning from Montreal with some sort of pine-based soda, which did seem like a bit too much (but no doubt has its fans).

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The soda’s origins are foggy. It’s not clear whether an actual Dr. Brown existed, but most accounts point to beginnings on the Lower East Side around 1870, when the drink was marketed as a health tonic. Dr. Brown’s has no official website, and may be the only brand of celery-flavored soda. It’s canned at a plant on Long Island called Pepsi-Cola of New York, though Dr. Brown’s is owned by Canada Dry.

To find out more, I call the bottling plant and reach Rosalie Mileo, the customer service manager for Dr. Brown’s. I ask her to tell me about the company. “There is no Dr. Brown’s,” she says. “It’s just a name.”

Whatever the ontology of the company, she does concede that Cel-Ray lags considerably in popularity behind the other Dr. Brown’s sodas, which include black cherry, cream soda, root beer, diet cream soda, and diet black cherry. A diet version of Cel-Ray was produced until several years ago, Mileo tells me, and Cel-Ray is most in demand in New York and in Florida, “because lots of retired New Yorkers live there,” she adds.

“Are there plans to stop manufacturing Cel-Ray any time soon?” I ask.

“There are no plans to stop manufacturing Cel-Ray any time soon,” she echoes.

“Can you tell me anything else about Cel-Ray?” I ask.

“It’s not popular,” she replies firmly.


from “An Acquired Taste,” by Molly Young, Nextbook, 14 January 2009 :: via NYTimes Ideas Blog

Originally published at culture-making.com.

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