Remember that moment in “The Wizard of Oz” when Dorothy opens her eyes in Munchkinland, and all of a sudden the world’s in Technicolor?
That’s what it feels like to step into Spring Lake Park’s Blue Sun Soda Shop.
The shelves are stocked with orderly rows of craft soda representing every hue imaginable, arranged by flavor: root beer, cream soda, grape, melon, strawberry, blueberry, lemon, lime, lemon-lime, orange, orange cream.
There’s a “Sodas of the World” wall with bottles that hail from Bermuda, Australia, and Peru. The “Wacky & Strange” section offers chocolate covered bacon, teriyaki beef jerky, and blue cheese dressing-flavored sodas.
“We have over 1,300 flavors,” says owner Mark Lazarchic. “Most people can’t believe that many flavors even exist. We sell huckleberry cream soda—where else are you going to find that? We have 110 types of root beer that all taste different.”
Blue Sun Soda Shop is open daily, but there’s an extra reason to visit this Saturday, August 3: the family-friendly Minnesota Soda Festival. Expect live entertainment, street performers, bouncy castles, carnival games, food trucks, and lots and lots of soda. Over 100 craft sodas will be available to sample, including flavors from Jones Soda Co., Stillwater’s Lift Bridge Brewing Co., and Spring Grove Soda Pop.
Admission is free, and a ticket redeemable for 20 one-ounce tastings will set you back $5. A limited number of VIP tickets are available, which include unlimited soda tastings as well as a commemorative cup, t-shirt, and meal voucher that can be redeemed at any of the food trucks at the event.
“Mom and Dad can grab the two kids and 20 bucks and have a good day,” Lazarchic says. “How much is Valley Fair gonna set you back?”
Attendees will also have a chance to check out a piece of soda history: In addition to the retail side of the business, Blue Sun Soda Shop is the bottling facility for brands including Whistler Classic Soda, North Star Craft Soda, Billy’s Bubble Pop, and W. T. Heck Soda. Sodas are crafted just like they were in the old days, on a Crown, Cork, and Seal Dixie Model F bottling line dating back to 1952.
Before settling into its current home at Blue Sun Soda Shop, the bottling line produced soda all across the U.S., with stints in Washington, Illinois, Connecticut, and Wisconsin. It can produce three pallets of soda per day—which sounds impressive, until you consider that modern machines can crank out 10 to 20 per day. And perhaps understandably for machinery that’s pushing 70, the bottling line can be temperamental.
“It gets an attitude,” explains Lazarchic. “You go back there and yell at it for awhile, that seems to fix it.” He also notes that since there are only three remaining Dixie Model F botting lines in the country, parts are difficult to source.
Given the drawbacks, why bother bottling soda on antique machinery?
“I like it better. It’s fun to look at,” he says with a shrug. “I just love watching that machine work.”
And it is a sight to behold: Instead of sleek stainless steel, it’s painted the pastel turquoise that graced many a 1950s kitchen. It’s a throwback to an era when sodas were made to be savored in 8-ounce returnable bottles instead of gulped down in 40-ounce Styrofoam cups. There’s something special about that.
Aesthetics and nostalgia aside, another benefit of the bottling line’s age is that it’s completely mechanical—without computers to complicate matters, it can be easier to fix.
“It’s a workhorse,” Lazarchic says with a touch of admiration. “It just cranks.”
Can’t make this weekend’s festival? Stop by the shop any time and sneak a peek at the bottling line through a window in the retro soda fountain. Guided group tours of the bottling facility are available by reservation for $5 per person with a 10 person/$50 minimum and include a bottle of Whistler soda.
Minnesota Soda Festival
Blue Sun Soda Shop
Saturday, August 3, 2019
10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Blue Sun Soda Shop
1625 County Highway 10, Spring Lake Park