Made in Texas: Famous Brands

Some of the most universally popular companies saw their beginnings right here in the Lone Star State. From the brewery that makes Shiner Bock to the original Blue Bell Ice Cream factory, we visit the homes of beloved brands to witness Texas ingenuity up close.

Stuff: We buy it, wear it, drink it, eat it, and decorate our homes with it. We love stuff so much, we form bonds with companies that are particularly good at making it. Few things inspire as much affection as a trusted company name, and Texas is full of brands loved the world over. We ventured to some of these homegrown headquarters for the history and the swag.

Be a Pepper in Waco

A small-town pharmacist in 1885 creates a soda that reminds him of the fruit-syrup smells in his drugstore. Well over a century later, his recipe is the cornerstone of a billion-dollar company.

That’s the unlikely tale of Dr Pepper, whose origin in Morrison’s Old Corner Drug Store in Waco is a testament to 20th-century entrepreneurship. The drink, with its inimitable taste and a history of sloganeering, is renowned around the globe and legendary in Texas.

Visitors at Waco’s Dr Pepper Museum learn the history behind the legend one piece of memorabilia at a time. Founded in 1988, the museum contains 100,000 artifacts dedicated not only to Dr Pepper but to the soft drink industry in general.

We spent hours exploring its three floors, which constitute the company’s original bottling plant. Vintage signs, posters, and machines adorn the halls, dispensing tantalizing morsels of history. We learned that the company dropped the period from “Dr.” in the 1950s for typographical reasons and to distance itself from the medical profession.

Finally, we retired to the gift shop, where the real draw was the soda fountain, which uses an old-school soda jerk who mixes the drink right before your eyes. The taste was unparalleled—vim, vigor, vitality indeed.

The Scoop on Blue Bell

Blue Bell Creameries, maker of ice cream since 1911, inspires a fierce kind of fandom.

When the company’s monthly newsletter reveals the latest rotational flavors, customers wait for their favorites to be named. Blue Bell distributes in only 23 states, mostly in the South, and is one of the highest-selling ice cream brands in the nation. But with top-selling flavors like Homemade Vanilla, Dutch Chocolate, and Cookies ’n Cream, it might rank first in customer loyalty.

So it’s no surprise that company headquarters at “the Little Creamery in Brenham” teems with visitors Monday through Friday, when tours of the factory open to the public.

The 45-minute tour led us through the facility, as guides sprinkled facts about the company’s history and operations. We learned how Blue Bell started as a butter manufacturer in 1907; how its name came from the Texas bluebell wildflower, which thrives in the summer; and how handlers keep the finished ice cream below 20 degrees to ensure high quality.

The tour ends with a free scoop, and my choice was the Magic Cookie Bar, one of the newest Blue Bell flavors. It’s a transcendent mix of caramel sauce loaded with graham cracker crust crumbs, roasted pecan pieces, chunks of dark chocolate, and toasted coconut flakes. I wanted it never to end.

Shiner Like a Diamond

Five days a week, cars full of people make it out to Shiner, Texas, a small town of 2,069 sitting nearly halfway between Austin and Houston.

Their destination? Spoetzl Brewery, a handsome-looking, multi-level operation that pumps out millions of gallons of cold Shiner Bock to a thirsty, thankful world. The place is named for Kosmos Spoetzl, a Bavarian who bought the existing brewery in 1909 and introduced his hoppy malted-barley brew.

Free tours are offered Monday through Friday, five times a day in the summer and three times a day the rest of the year. We picked a Friday morning and met in the gift shop, where an employee handed each of us four wooden chips, to be traded in for samples at tour’s end.

The tour winds through giant rooms full of tanks, pipes, and kettles, with fascination at every turn. And we learned that there have been only five brewmasters in Shiner’s 105-year history. We learned that the place survived Prohibition by producing “near beer,” an alcohol-free substitute.

Afterward came the free sample; I went with Shiner White Wing, a Belgian white ale with orange-peel freshness, while my friends chose Ruby Redbird, a seasonal favorite that will soon be available year-round.

It’s sure to be a popular move, coming from a good place.

FUN FACT
Dr Pepper’s logo gets a face-lift roughly once a decade, making it easy for collectors to date memorabilia. Its slogans, too, have changed to suit the times: “King of Beverages” (1889–1914), “Vim, Vigor, Vitality” (early 1900s), “The Friendly Pepper-Upper” (1950s), “America’s Most Misunderstood Soft Drink” (1960s), “I’m a Pepper!” (1970s), and “Just What the Doctor Ordered” (1990s–present).

 

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