Spring Grove’s Lemon Sour Soda Pop

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

110 years old and manufactured about three hours away from the Twin Cities in Spring Grove, the Spring Grove Soda Pop brand has a history that should catch the eye of any Minnesotan curious about locally made food. An excerpt from Soil, Timber, & A Spring — The Story of Spring Grove, Minnesota on the soda’s website tells the story in brief:

Spring Grove Pop has been refreshing palates in this city, and the surrounding area, for nearly 100 years. The Spring Grove Bottling Works is the city’s oldest business, and one dear to the hearts of many Spring Grove residents, some of whom can still remember dashing off to the Bottling Works to buy three bottles for a dime to take along on their school picnics.

A simple sniff of an open bottle indicates that this stuff is more potent than your typical beverage. Halfway between a lemon and a pine tree, the Lemon Sour packs an olfactory punch.

Mildly carbonated, the soda itself is bracing but not abrasive. There’s a distinctly natural lemon flavor (as opposed to 7-Up and other mass market lemon-esque sodas) and a bit of a sour afterbite — not as extreme as Schweppes Bitter Lemon, for example, but convincing nonetheless. This would handily cut through the greasy and / or sweet and / or carbon-charred miasma of your typical backyard cookout food.

The stuff is available sporadically throughout the state and the Twin Cities; Surdyk’s had it recently.

Vodka, it turns out, brings out the soda’s sweetness and lemon zip, making for a tremendously refreshing summer beverage.

Minnesota Knockout Drop

Mix two shots Spring Grove Lemon Sour with one shot vodka over ice in a glass.

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James Norton

James Norton is editor and co-founder of the Heavy Table. He is also the co-author of Lake Superior Flavors, the co-author of a book about Wisconsin’s master cheesemakers, and a regular on-air contributor to Minnesota Public Radio.

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22 Comments

  1. Jeanette 05/29/2009

    What disappoints me about this soda is that it contains both cane sugar AND high fructose corn syrup. No matter what side of the corn syrup debate you are on, I think the combination makes for much too sweet of a beverage. Perhaps they might consider a soda with just cane sugar?

  2. Author

    I didn’t find it to be overwhelmingly sweet. That said, I noticed the cane sugar + HFCS and also found it to be strange — from a marketing perspective, if nothing else, they’d be smart to dump the corn syrup and trumpet their renewed dedication to old-school soda.

  3. I consider myself a local food guy (although more in terms of ingredients than manufacturing, generally), and I’ve never even heard of this stuff. thanks for the tip. I hope to try some soon, maybe with some Shaker vodka.

  4. kassie 05/29/2009

    I’ve not really liked any of the flavors we have gotten from Spring Grove. They are all just sort of boring. I wanted to like them so much because they were local, but they just aren’t up to par with other good soda makers.

  5. dave43 05/29/2009

    Good find. I’ll look out for it. Haven’t seen Scweppes Bitter Lemon in a long time. If you ever see bitter lemon make sure you post it!

  6. Author

    Bitter Lemon was what I used to drink after mowing the lawn on humid, 90-degree Wisconsin summer afternoons. That stuff had an epic bite to it. Too epic for the majority of soda consumers, alas.

  7. Sarah 05/29/2009

    My fella’s family cultivated Spring Grove from a wee spot on the map to a, well, little bit bigger spot on the map, and whenever we visit the farm there is always an entire cupboard of it for the family to devour! Try the lemon soda with some whiskey (love the knockdrop recipe as well) and the strawberry with a scoop of French vanilla ice cream. Ahhh, the memories. Thanks for this post Jim, warmed my heart!

  8. Jeanette 05/29/2009

    Lee and Dave43 – I’ve picked it up at Midtown global market from grass roots gourmet

    http://www.midtownglobalmarket.org/?q=shopping/groceries/6758

  9. dave43 05/29/2009

    Another must try is Ting. A Jamaican grapefruit soda. After reading this I called up a Jamaican market off of lake st. I used to get it at but sadly the shipping costs are too high for them to get it. If anyone has another source let us know. Also try Antartica Guarana. It is a Brazilian soda that tastes of cherries and uses real sugar. It doesn’t have the sour taste in the sodas we are discussing but stands on it’s own. Brazillian connection in MTKA carries it.

  10. Ooh, I haven’t had Guarana in ages! I need to pick some up. Also curious about Spring Grove, but agree they’d be wise to dump the HFCS.

  11. Guarana is also served at Fogo de Chao downtown – I always get one!

  12. Author

    Somehow this has turned into a discussion of my favorite sodas — I’m a huge Ting fan. Last I checked, they served it at Marla’s Caribbean, which — if memory serves — is next door to a shop that I think may sell it. If nothing else, I bet Marla can hook you up with a supplier. Nothing goes with blackened what-have-you like Ting.

  13. Sarah 06/01/2009

    Guarana’s at ‘Delicious’- Brazilian Cafe in Minnetonka, off Excelsior.

  14. Rico 08/12/2009

    Scheppes Bitter Lemon is now available at Cub Foods, Inver Grove Heights, MN. It MAY be available at other Cub Foods in the area. August 12, 2009

  15. Author

    Man, that is good news. Thanks for the update.

  16. Just to set the record straight. The high fructose corn syrup that is on the label of the Spring Grove Soda is because it is in the syrup flavoring that is used. The amount is very minute but because it is high fructose corn syrup it has to be on the label. The main sweetener is pure cane sugar.

  17. I live clear up im northern wisconsin, and I enjoy the spring grove lemon sour with canadian club every saturday night. Nothing compares in my opinion. When I am passing thru town in my semi truck, I get it by the case. Nice people too.

  18. Scott 04/08/2010

    I grew up in LaCrescent, Minnesota and when I finished my paper route in 1964, I treated myself to a cold bottle of Spring Grove for a nickel. It was my reward for a job well done and I can close my eyes and relive the entire experience almost 50 years later. I loved the strawberry and the grape and as I grew older, I liked the cream soda and black cherry. The creamy orange has a Dreamsicle flavor to it and when I got to a legal drinking age, I remember the lemon sour being mixed with various liquors at parties. As I grew older and saw JONES go national, I always thought about Spring Grove and wondered why someone had not come along to take them to the corners of the country. I even made a trip down there once to get a couple of cases and I had the opportunity to speak with one of the Morken brothers who were familiar with visitors from “the Twin Cities” who had grown up in the area and loved to shower them with compliments and memories. The truth was that they had acquired a few beer brands to distribute and this was their source of profit and their future. They saw the bottling plant as a pain in the “you know what” . . . but when their Dad was still alive, he loved it and so did the generations of townsfolks and those of us from the area who had relocated. New ownership has tried to widen the distribution, but I think they must lack the funding or perhaps the know how to get it done. It is painful to watch all the micro-breweries enjoy such success and at the same time, the micro-pop-bottlers are fading when they should be a new and growing trend. I told my wife that if I pass before she does, I want Spring Grove Strawberry served at the lunch following my funeral.

  19. pamward 05/27/2010

    Your lemon soda is my favorite and your black cherry. Turely there all wonderful.

  20. Linda Nupson Nelson 02/20/2011

    This Spring Grove Pop was invented by a relative through marriage. It says – The business was started back in 1895 by a fellow by the name of G.G. Ristey. I think it is a very good tasting pop of all flavors. I’ve been drinking it for years. In fact, I have a case of it in my house I bought when last in Spring Grove. My favorite is Black Cherry.

  21. John K 08/13/2011

    The root beer is fantastic and do not give me that 1919 jazz .1919 is A and W on tap its good but is no Spring Grove . All the others are a waist of money . I have had them and what a waist it was .