For soda connoisseurs, Galco’s is the holy grail: imagine a small grocery store (with a sandwich stand in the back), only there’s beer where the broccoli should be, and soda bottles dominate every aisle. This may be the biggest soda store in the country; there’s Pop’s on Route 66 in Oklahoma, but their selection and breadth don’t come close to this Highland Park gem. Owner John Nese is on the floor, stocking sodas and chatting up flavors with customers. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of sodas and independent bottlers across the country, and he’s even convinced certain bottlers to revive old flavors, according to popular demand.
The assortment of sodas is staggering, and some bottlers offer several flavors that are quite enticing. Hotlips, a chain of Portland, Oregon pizzerias, began making small-batch sodas in 2005 with local ingredients, and their Boysenberry, Pear, and Cherry Sodas—with fruit pulp floating at the bottom of the bottles—are popular choices. Manhattan Special in Brooklyn, New York crafts a pure Espresso Coffee Soda that rivals the excellent Coffee Soda from our favorite Simpson Spring in Easton, Massachusetts. Global Beverage in Pompano Beach, Florida markets sodas made with flowers (lavender, rose, jasmine, elderflower), and their Mr. Q. Cumber—yep, a cucumber soda—won the 2010 Gold Medal for Best New Carbonated Soft Drink from Beverage World Magazine.
A few highlights from our custom case: Spruce Beer from Empire Bottling, Bristol, RI (smells like a Christmas tree, tastes sweet like root beer); Ouzon Soda from Opa! Originals, Rochester, NY (lightly sweet soda with aromatic anise flavoring); Vintage Soda Canadian Cola, DD Beverages, Latimer Lake, BC (a delicious cola made with maple syrup and nutmeg); Plantation Style Mint Julep, Natrona Bottling, Natrona, PA (a very subtle mint soda that looks suspiciously like mouthwash); Strawberry Rhubarb, Jackson Hole Soda, Jackson Hole, WY (one of the smoothest, most natural tasting berry sodas we’ve tried); and Jamaica’s Finest Ginger Beer, Natrona Bottling (a real throat-burner that rivals South Carolina’s Blenheim Hot Ginger Ale).
Galco’s is especially a boon for fans of rare sodas. To wit, if the soda is still being produced, Galco’s has it. From regional favorites like Cheerwine and Moxie, to exotics like Juniper Berry and Fentimans Botanically Brewed Beverages from the U.K., John Nese stocks all and ships sodas (in custom shipping boxes) all over the country. Galco’s is open Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., and Sunday 9 a.m to 4 p.m.