This month, VinePair is exploring how drinks pros are taking on old trends with modern innovations. In Old Skills, New Tricks, we examine contemporary approaches to classic cocktails and clever techniques behind the bar — plus convention-breaking practices in wine, beer, whiskey, and more.
As summer heats up, so, too, does the market for frozen beverages. While frosé and Pinot freezio had their moments in the spotlight in recent years, consumers’ thirst for ice-cold beverages has resulted in the explosion of a new category: boozy ice pops.
The alcoholic ice pop has seen a sudden yet widespread embrace among American retailers and consumers — Slim Chillers Skinny Freezers in 2018, Costco’s own Kirkland-brand ready-to-freeze vodka cocktails in 2019, and many that followed have become a ubiquitous summer delicacy. Drizly orders of alcoholic freezer pops increased 54 percent this summer compared to the same period last year. And, with the likes of Bud Light, Truly, and Cutwater releasing their own lines of frozen beverages, the market for boozy popsicles is bound to continue its growth.
While the category’s recent success can be attributed to rising temperatures, there’s another factor influencing this growth: nostalgia. Tasting these treats takes us back to childhood: visits to ice cream trucks; backyard parties; and melted red stains on sticky faces. Such pleasant memories can be credited to one 11-year-old, Frank Epperson, who invented the Popsicle by accident.
As the story goes, in 1905, after leaving a water and soda powder mixture outside in freezing temperatures, 11-year-old Epperson woke up the following morning to find that his drink had solidified on the stirring stick. As the story goes, rather than discarding the soda icicle, Epperson saw potential in the accidental invention. He devoured it and quickly dubbed the dessert “Epsicle.”
Years later, in 1923, Epperson began selling his treats at a Bay Area amusement park called Neptune Beach, where he experienced so much success that he applied for and was granted a patent for the “frozen confection of attractive appearance” the following year.
Epperson continued making and selling Epsicles for years, until he had children of his own, who nicknamed their pop’s invention “the Popsicle.” The epithet stuck, and the Epsicle’s name was eventually changed to the one consumers recognize today.
Later, in the ‘20s, Epperson sold the rights to the brand to the Joe Lowe Co. — a decision he apparently regretted. The company was later bought by consumer goods giant Unilever, which still owns the brand today — and sells over 2 billion Popsicles every year.
Despite Epperson’s decision to sell the brand all those years ago, Popsicle still credits him with the storied sweet’s invention. That means that next time you bite into a frozen confection — boozy or otherwise — you can thank a young boy’s ingenuity over 100 years ago for that childhood memory, or adulthood treat.