Wolcott Historical Society News - March 2021
By Florence Goodman
I'm a firm believer that things happen for a reason and this month's article confirmed that thought! Last month we received an email on our website from a woman who was wondering if X-TRA drinks were available in Boston in 1968. She and her friends had been watching a TV series "Outlander" based on a book series written by Diane Gabaldon and saw a woman drinking a bottle of X-TRA soda in one of the episodes. She started researching the soda and it brought her to our Historical Society website. She could not understand though how a soda made in Wolcott could end up in Boston and thought it might be an error in the show taping. I wasn't surprised when I read her email because a few weeks prior to this Roberta Leonard had sent me a text with pictures showing someone drinking X-TRA soda; and she had the same question. This led me to Al Podzunas because I knew that his family had owned the company at one time and I had wanted to get his story, which turned out to be very interesting.
Mr. and Mrs. Morris Relyea started X-TRA Beverage Inc. in the 1940s in a small bottling plant located at 216 Munson Road in Wolcott. They had a wide variety of flavors such as strawberry, lime, cherry, orange, cola, root and birch beer. Their glass bottles were uniquely shaped and today are sought after. The wooden cases of soda were available to the public at the plant, but most of it was delivered by truck to residents' homes in Wolcott, Waterbury and Bristol. There was also another company of the same name located in Springfield, Massachusetts, but I do not know who owned it or how long it was in business, but their bottles and soda were identical to the ones found in Wolcott. I can understand how this soda could have made its way to Boston from the Springfield area in the year 1968.
Water is the main ingredient in producing soda as well as for sterilizing those glass bottles and when the well was dug at the bottling plant on Munson Road they hit an aquifer, which produced 365 gallons of water/ hour! This was unheard of, but a real plus for this small soda company and during the flood of 1955 people from surrounding towns who needed drinking water were allowed to fill containers with well water at no charge.
In the 1970s Peter Relyea took over the business from his dad. He along with his son, Peter produced the soda, ran the store and made deliveries. There were six routes throughout the area that his son handled. They ran the business until 1979 when it was sold to Al Podzunas Sr. Mr. Podzunas, also known as Albie, ran the company with the help of his wife, Margaret and his sons, Al and Bobby. Mr. Podzunas was a toolmaker by trade and could repair the old machinery when needed. His wife would help with loading the cases of soda while Bobby ran the store in the daytime and did deliveries and although Al Jr. had another job, he worked at the business on weekends.
When Mr. Relyea sold the business he left his recipe book on how he made the soda, which used pure cane sugar and well water to produce the brine. Once the brine was made extracts, caramel and different colorings were added depending on the flavor they wanted to make. Next, dry ice (CO2) was added. The ice was stored in large tanks and when added to the brine infused the carbonation to the liquid. They would use 1.5 ounces of brine and then fill it with seltzer and rotate it to activate the CO2 in the water. The machinery for the soda making process was gravity fed so all the soda was made upstairs in the building and it worked its ways down to ground level where the uniquely shaped 12 ounce, glass bottles were filled, capped and loaded into wooden cases. The whole process was 100% recyclable because once you purchased a case of soda ($3.85 delivered) you would replace it each time with a new case. The used bottles were brought back to the factory to be sterilized and refilled with new soda. You could mix and match flavors of your choice as well.
When soda machines became popular, probably in the late 1940s, they were filled with eight ounce soda bottles. Since X-TRA soda was an oddly shaped twelve-ounce bottle, it could not fit in these machines. In the late1970s Mr. Relyea purchased Paul's Soda Company in Waterbury in order to use their eight-ounce bottles in the hope of getting their soda into the soda machines, but it was Al Podzunas that finally achieved that goal. The bottle label may have said Paul's, but it was X-TRA soda inside. X-TRA soda came in 36 different flavors and was found throughout the Wolcott/Bristol/Waterbury areas, but as time passed the competition became tough. When Diamond ginger ale went out of business, X-TRA beverages started making orange dry, lime ricky and half and half for local bars hoping to improve profits. There was a store on Lakewood Road called the "Pop Shop" and although they sold their soda at a similar price their location and variety of soda and flavors was taking business from the X-TRA business. Then around 1985 when plastic liter and 2-liter bottles became popular this was the downfall of the glass bottle business. As Al explained to me, retooling would have been a major expense, which may still not have produced the profit needed to continue the business so the X-TRA Beverage Company on Munson Road in Wolcott closed its doors in 1985.
For those of you who have never experienced the taste of that great soda, you don't know what you were missing because it sure tasted great!! The Wolcott Historical Society is lucky to at least have a case of X-TRA soda at our museum, but it's EMPTY, I'm sorry to say. A special thank you to Al Podzunas Jr. for sharing with me this great history of his family's business. Today Dave Goldberg owns the building at 216 Munson Road that once housed the X-TRA Beverage Company.
(Information for this article was taken from a phone interview with Al Podzunas, Jr.; information from wolcotthistory.org on X-TRA soda; and a photo from Roberta Leomard from Outlanders TV series)
Snapshot of woman, from the series Outlander, holding an X-TRA soda bottle. (Photo by Roberta Leonard)
Today, the property at 216 Munson Road where X-TRA Beverage was produced is owned by Dave Goldberg.
A wooden X-TRA soda case found at the Center School History Museum. On each side of the case are two bottles with slightly different labels. The soda ingredients were listed on the crown cap.
One of the posters advertising X-TRA soda found on the Wolcott Historical Society website.
To view past installments of the Historical Society News, click here.