Dr Pepper with Imperial Sugar is the spiritual successor to a soft drink long held in high esteem by beverage enthusiasts, Dublin Dr Pepper. It's the result of an extended legal battle and extremely poor public relations by a corporate giant. But how does it taste?
For the uninitiated, Dublin Dr Pepper was a cane sugar-sweetened version of the established brand, produced by the Dublin Dr Pepper Bottling Company in Dublin, TX. While regular Dr Pepper featured the use of high fructose corn syrup — an ingredient most brands shifted to in the 1980s, this smaller Texas bottler insisted on sticking with the use of Imperial Sugar. Long a regional favorite, the advent of Internet purchase spread availability of the product outside of its established bottler territory (a legacy from an archaic 1980s piece of legislation that granted exclusivity to geographic locations — a vintage system that hasn't adapted well in the era of the Web). Dublin Dr Pepper became a well-known beacon of quality ingredients used in an popular brand.
The folks at Dr Pepper Snapple Group (DPSG), who own the brand, experimented with limited runs of sugar-sweetened Dr Pepper in 2010. They first started with Heritage Dr Pepper, which was actually bottled by Pepsi in plants that most likely already handled product for Pepsi Throwback and Mountain Dew Throwback. This release was followed up by a wider rollout of Dr Pepper "Made With Real Sugar", which featured 6 different collectible cans. This version was available in markets where Coke had the bottling rights to Dr Pepper. Availability of the "Real Sugar" version can still be found in different regions of the United States.
This all brings us to a legal battle that began in June 2011, when Dr Pepper Snapple Group sued the Dublin Dr Pepper Bottling Company. At issue? The sale of Dublin Dr Pepper outside of the bottler's defined territory, as well as the modification of branding that Dublin had made to the product, in effect prompting "trademark dilution" by marketing their version as "Dublin Dr Pepper."
In the end, Dublin Dr Pepper was killed, as DPSG reclaimed the territory rights to Dublin in early 2012. The Dublin Dr Pepper Bottling Company rebranded as the Dublin Bottling Works, making other sugar-sweetened beverages, but no longer producing Dr Pepper. It was a huge loss for an appreciated underdog, prompted by a large company that failed to accept that tradition, loyalty, and unique positioning are far more valuable than homogenized branding. The folks in Dublin were perfect brand ambassadors for Dr Pepper, but they were made out to be villains — and effectively pushed out of a business they had nurtured for decades. The Dr Pepper brand has had a mixed history of support from its numerous corporate parents over the years, but Dublin overcame those disadvantages with a quality product that customers enjoyed and repeatedly purchased (even though much of what was called "Dublin Dr Pepper" was actually produced in Temple, TX).
I mention all this history to put the product we're reviewing now — Dr Pepper with Imperial Sugar — into context. When DPSG reclaimed the territory from Dublin, they promised to still make a sugar-sweetened version of the drink available "in the six-county territory in Central Texas," effectively replacing the Dublin version with their own.
Thanks to BevReview reader Bob Manning, I was provided with a can of this replacement Dr Pepper. Looking at the bottler code (NTC07062), it appears that this was produced by Southwest Canners in Nacogdoches, TX — which also produces a lot of Coke-branded product (BevReview reader Terry Knab helped decipher this – thanks!)
The retro-style packaging harkens back to a look that the Dublin product often embraced, as well as the design used for the 2010 rollout of Heritage Dr Pepper. Unlike most Dr Pepper products, however, the primary background color is light green with yellow and dark red accents. The classic "10-2-4 Dr Pepper Time" numbering is seen in the logo, with a smaller inclusion of the Imperial Sugar branding spotted below it.
For the sake of this review, I sampled Dr Pepper with Imperial Sugar side-by-side against regular Dr Pepper sweetened with HFCS. Unfortunately, I did not have a bottle of Dublin Dr Pepper handy to compare as well. When opened, Imperial Sugar Pepper had a subtle cherry scent, while HFCS Pepper was flush with carbonation that tickled the nose, along with a standard Dr Pepper smell. Both drinks are brown in color, though as we've seen with other sugar-sweetened products, the carbonation bubbles on Imperial Sugar Dr Pepper were smaller and more compact vs. the HFCS version.
As expected, the biggest difference is the taste. You don't notice it as much in isolation, but HFCS Dr Pepper is very syrupy. It's heavy on carbonation, and has an overarching syrupy "feel" that starts midtaste and extends into the aftertaste. In contrast, Dr Pepper with Imperial Sugar lets the actual flavor profile come out. You've heard all about those 23 flavors in Dr Pepper, right? Wouldn't it be great to actually taste them? With Imperial Sugar Pepper, you do! Carbonation is subtle, which allows the cherry and other base flavors really shine without being buried in a "belch factor." Imperial is still a very sweet drink, but it's also clean. You don't feel like the flavor is mucked up with garbage as you drink it. Instead, the flavor is there from start to finish, wrapping with a great ending. This is an excellent product!
It's sad that we lost the heritage and localness of Dublin Dr Pepper, but I regrettably admit that Dr Pepper with Imperial Sugar is a very good replacement.
Dr Pepper with Imperial Sugar
Carbonated water, pure cane sugar, carmel color, phosphoric acid, natural and artificial flavors, sodium benzoate (preservative), caffeine
A 12 oz can contains 150 calories, 55 mg sodium, and 40 g carbs (40 g sugars). Caffeine content is 3.42 mg/oz.