Kat Bergeron writes for The
Sun Herald in Biloxi, Mississippi.
They call it root beer, but Barq's is Barq's.
Being good Southerners, Bob McHugh and Pic Firmin washed down their muffulettas with bottles of Barq's root beer. The quaint Magnolia Cafe in St. Francisville served good Louisiana food, but that's not why the lunch was memorable.
Pic and Bob were into their usual cafe intellectual banter when Pic raised his Barq's bottle to read, "Drink Original Louisiana Barq's Root Beer. It's Good."
That's when he nearly choked on his history.
"How dare they do this to us," Pic recalls thinking at the time. "There's no such thing as 'Original Louisiana' Barq's except in the minds of deranged promoters of the Pelican State."
Barq's is pure Mississippi, pure Coast and pure Biloxi. Pic and Bob know this, both being former editors of The Sun Herald, which from time to time recounts the story of Edward C. Barq and his Biloxi-born soft drink.
Bob is retired but still enlightens us with columns, and Pic is munching on greener academic fields with a master's in history. It's easy to imagine their being incensed at the bottle.
"My first thought was, 'Is this legal?' " Bob admits.
The Louisiana wannabe doesn't even look like a proper Barq's bottle. Green glass? Red print?
Those of us who grew up with the original Barq's know its supposed to be in crystal-clear glass with blue lettering and decorated with a diamond pattern on the shoulder of the long neck. Although now disposable, modern Barq's bottles found on the Coast sport this familiar look.
Samples of the conflicting Louisiana and Mississippi bottles now grace my desk as reminders of changing times. Barq's has survived to become one of the nation's favorite root beers.
The original Ed Barq moved here in the late 1890s and bought Biloxi Artesian Bottling Works. He created many flavors, including a creme, but his trademark drink was a sort of root beer and sarsaparilla mixed into one.
Tradition says that Ed Barq insisted, "Barq's isn't root beer. It's Barq's," and that's why local bottles seldom had the words, "root beer."
"Barq's is Barq's," we'd chime when I was a kid.
Louisiana long has claimed to be the home of Barq's, and that story is connected to a foster son, Jesse Robinson, who had permission to open a company in New Orleans and produce the secret syrup there, also. This 1934 venture is the root of the erroneous Louisiana claim. Unfortunately, Biloxi's battle for recognition is won mostly on home turf.
In 1976, the Barq's family sold the company to two New Orleans entrepreneurs, but the secret syrup continued to be made in Biloxi. The necessary promotional, "Famous Olde Tyme Root Beer," began appearing on new aluminum cans as the drink's popularity spread.
Last year, Atlanta-based Coca-Cola entered the picture big time, and the syrup is no longer made here. As the Barq's metamorphosis continues, Biloxi sadly becomes a mere dot in the picture. Pic explains it best:
"The New South is putting a layer of film over the Old South, and the origins of all these wonderful things are getting clouded."
And thank you Stephen for sending me Kat's article.