3465 Delaware Ave., Kenmore NY 14217
Web: Premier Gourmet
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Drinks Favorites Loganberry
You love loganberry. We love loganberry. So it's with some dismay that we share the following news: Aunt Rosie's Loganberry, a local favorite for over 20 years, appears to be fading away. As we prepared to write an update to our past loganberry roundup, we noticed that Aunt Rosie's had become difficult to find on local store shelves, its two-liter bottles now universally replaced by a competing product in Western New York supermarkets. The good news is that you can still find Aunt Rosie's locally, but our impression is that it's not long for this world.
As the story goes, Aunt Rosie's Loganberry was named for Rose Pastor, wife of Pepsi-Cola Buffalo Bottling Corporation owner Al Pastor, and went on sale in 1987. The drink has been sold continuously and near-exclusively in Western New York since then, continuing through the 2002-2003 sale of Pepsi-Cola Buffalo to the much larger Pepsi Bottling Group, the world's largest vendor of Pepsi beverages.
But today, Pepsi Bottling Group doesn't seem to care about Aunt Rosie's at all. Its web site doesn't even mention the Aunt Rosie's brand, and its Public Relations department wouldn't answer phone or e-mail requests for comment on the drink. We eventually had to go to the drink's local manufacturer, Cicero, New York-based Clinton's Ditch Cooperative Company, to get answers. A company representative told us that Aunt Rosie's is shipped solely into Buffalo - no other market - and exclusively to the still-operating Buffalo division of Pepsi Bottling Group. From that office, we confirmed that Pepsi has discontinued the once-popular two-liter bottles and one-gallon syrup jugs of the loganberry drink, leaving those markets to its competitors. All that's left of Aunt Rosie's are 12-packs of 12-ounce cans, which we subsequently found on a local store's bottom shelf, and - for a dwindling number of restaurants - five-gallon jugs of syrup. At least, for now.
Since we'd found plenty of Aunt Rosie's at Wegmans in the past, we contacted the supermarket's media affairs department to determine whether it was still stocking the brand in Buffalo, and if not, what had happened. Wegmans told us that it previously sold six-packs of 24-ounce bottles, 12-packs of 12-ounce cans, individual 2-liter bottles, and 1-gallon syrup jugs, but today, it stocks only the 12-packs; the others are no longer in its computers. The representative couldn't say whether the chain considered the 12,000 12-packs it sold in the last year to be "popular" or not, but did note that every local store save one had sold Aunt Rosie's in the last week.
If you're concerned that Aunt Rosie's is fading, bear in mind that there are other local loganberry options. Premier Gourmet continues to stock one of the two Canadian originators of loganberry syrup, Cronfelt's Crystal Beach Loganberry Beverage Syrup, which is sold in 33.8-ounce bottles only for at-home mixing, rather than direct-from-bottle consumption. A bottle of Cronfelt's contains simple instructions - one part syrup to four parts water - and also suggests the syrup can be used as a dessert topping. Notably, syrup from Cronfelt's long-time competitor and former partner Smeaders is not available any more, leaving Cronfelt's as the only locally available tie to the original beverage sold in Crystal Beach, Ontario.
Two more recent brands are also sold in Western New York. PJ's Crystal Beach Loganberry, originally created by former Tonawanda residents PJ and Carolyn Davis for their restaurant in Saratoga Springs, New York, today appears to be the most widely available version; it's sold by Sarasoda and bottled locally by Coca-Cola Bottling of Buffalo. Unlike the others, it is available in original, diet, and carbonated versions, and the diet one is presently the only loganberry drink shown on the Wegmans website.
Niagara Falls, NY's Johnnie Ryan Beverage Company, formerly responsible for producing the restaurant syrup version of PJ's, is now selling its own version: Johnnie Ryan Cane Sugar Loganberry. As the name suggests, Johnnie Ryan's version is made with sugar rather than corn syrup. We haven't seen it in stores, but it's available at Mighty Taco restaurants in cup-sized servings, where it displaced Aunt Rosie's to become the chain's sole loganberry drink on the menu.
Which loganberry beverage is the best? We did a direct taste test today with all five of the locally available options, as well as a similar alternative, lingonberry drink, which is sold by the glass and in concentrated syrup bottles at Ikea stores. Interestingly, Ikea's lingonberry mixing recipe is the same - one part syrup, four parts water - yet the result is noticeably thinner and more diluted than a Cronfelt's or Aunt Rosie's syrup mix. While similar in flavor and sweetness, lingonberry drink leans more towards the flavor of its cousin, the cranberry, only lighter. For whatever reason, loganberries - a cross of raspberries and blackberries - tend to produce better-tasting drinks; Ikea's lingonberry drink was roughly equivalent to the weakest of the loganberry drinks we tested. We'd still drink it.
The best of the bunch was Cronfelt's, which had the strongest fruit flavor - a little more than Aunt Rosie's - and a little less sweetness, despite the fact that it's made with real sugar rather than Rosie's corn syrup. Mixed as directed, Cronfelt's loganberry has almost the exact same slightly-short-of-syrup viscosity as a bottle of Aunt Rosie's, which distinguishes both of these brands from the others.
Aunt Rosie's was an extremely close second. It's a hint sweeter than Cronfelt's and similarly a tiny bit lower in fruit flavor, though these differences are so slight that you'd have to be comparing them directly - as we were - to notice. Resting on the fine edge of syrupy, this special consistency is a critical, positive distinction between this brand and its more recent competitors.
Tied for third were PJ's Original and Johnnie Ryan's Cane Sugar Loganberries. While PJ's is almost identical in sweetness to Aunt Rosie's, it's a little watery and doesn't have the right "body" for a loganberry drink - like a soda fountain that was running a little low on syrup. It's third in fruit flavor to Cronfelt's and Aunt Rosie's. By comparison, Johnnie Ryan's version is the sweetest of the group, with the strong, pure sugar taste you'd expect from its name, but it's even weaker in fruit flavor than PJ's, and like PJ's, a little too thin. With a slightly stronger balance of syrup and more loganberry flavor, Johnnie Ryan's version could become the best of this bunch.
The worst of the loganberry drinks was PJ's Diet Loganberry, which possessed an even more watery consistency than the original version - comparable in thickness to the diluted lingonberry drink noted above. What little fruit flavor it had was overwhelmed by the strong taste of artificial sweetener, here sucralose, a flavor that persists in your mouth when you're done with each sip. Neither of us - one a diet drink fan, the other not - would ever voluntarily drink it again.
But will we have a choice? Or are all of these brands doomed to extinction, their fans dwindling as memories of Crystal Beach continue to fade, and the children of the original loganberry drink vendors sell their businesses to companies with little interest in trying to popularize single-city products? Even if we prefer the Cronfelt's and Aunt Rosie's versions, we give Sarasoda a lot of credit for trying to expand the reach of loganberry to new territories and generations of fans - it has done more than any other company in the past five years. That said, it would be a shame if the only surviving versions fall short of the original recipe for lack of a little syrup; in our view, weak drinks are the easiest way to guarantee that potential fans won't "get" what makes classic loganberry so special. Unless something changes, and we hope that it does, a true loganberry fan's option seems to be simple: stockpile what Cronfelt's and Aunt Rosie's you can find, because they may not be around much longer.