Keeping a Town’s Legacy Alive

Ashley Broin, vice president of sales for Purple Cane Road Root Beer, pours the smooth and creamy root beer directly from the barrel. Facing page: A young customer enjoys a cold Purple Cane Road Root Beer at the Omaha Farmers Market.

Ashley Broin, vice president of sales for Purple Cane Road Root Beer, pours the smooth and creamy root beer directly from the barrel. Facing page: A young customer enjoys a cold Purple Cane Road Root Beer at the Omaha Farmers Market.

Purple Cane Road Root Beer Quenches Nostalgia’s Thirst
By Theresa Farrage
Photography by Alison Bickel

Summertime in America wouldn’t be complete without the sweet, old-fashioned taste of root beer, especially when it comes with two scoops of vanilla bean ice cream. This classic soda founta in concoction is just one of the many ways that Ashley Broin, vice president of sales for Purple Cane Road Root Beer, enjoys her favorite frothy beverage.
 
Ashley discovered Purple Cane Road Root Beer years ago at a craft show in Omaha, and she would buy it occasionally. The taste is what initially attracted Ashley to the root beer, which she says is smooth and creamy without the bite of typical root beers. It also has less carbonization and a hint of vanilla.
 
The creamy vanilla taste also enthralled Ashley’s family, and they quickly became regular Purple Cane Road Root Beer drinkers. When Ashley’s mother attended a spring craft show at the CenturyLink Center back in 2006, she chatted with George McVicker, the owner of the business at the time. He founded Purple Cane Road Root Beer in 2000, and his grandfather built the church that is featured on the bottle’s front label.
 
According to Ashley, George casually mentioned to her mother that he was selling the business to his pastor in Iowa. “My mom made the offhand comment that if that fell through to give her a call,” Ashley says. “Well, the sale fell through, and my parents bought the business.”
 
Ashley questioned her family’s decision to buy a root beer business since they had no previous experience making or selling it and they were pursuing other professional endeavors at the time. When the business was purchased in 2007, Ashley’s dad was a retired U.S. Marine colonel and Ashley was pursuing her law degree, which she obtained in 2008. She often reflected back then: “This is going to be an adventure. Did my parents really just do that?”

She says that she never thought her family would own a root beer business. “We liked to try microbrewed root beers from around the country, but I never thought that would evolve into owning our own brand.”

Purple Cane Road Root Beer has stood the test of time, and has even outlived the town for which it is named. According to Ashley, George, the founder, grew up in Purple Cane, Nebraska, which used to be a settlement just west of North Bend. In the town’s heyday, there was a general store, post office, church and cemetery. Today, the cemetery is all that remains in a town that was named for the purple cane flowers that grew there. Little is known as to why it didn’t thrive. The town may have disappeared, but the root beer lives on. Operating as a small family business for over six years in La Vista, the family still bottles, labels, corks and caps their root beer, which is currently brewed in an offsite microbrewery. The family is in the process of purchasing their own brewing equipment.

According to Ashley, the secret to brewing great root beer lies in creating the right combination of the specific extract that is used to form the base layer; the type of sugar utilized; the amount of carbonation; and ensuring that additional flavorings enhance the base flavoring of the extract. “In our case, we use vanilla in our root beer, creating a very creamy and smooth root beer,” Ashley says. “Every brewer makes their root beer to their taste, and then hopes that leads to wide acceptance. There are a lot of root beers on the market, from large corporations to small micro- and nano-brewed  (those produced in a brewery with a brew system often less than four U.S. beer barrels) root beers, each pursuing a particular taste. We feel our root beer captures the best of the old-fashioned root beer from the turn of the last century through the ’50s.”

Purple Cane Road Root Beer’s recipe hasn’t changed since the business was purchased in 2007. It is often a staple at the downtown Omaha Farmers Market. “The farmers market has provided us exposure to many people who may not have come into contact with our product. We have also met several people who have lived in or knew people who lived in Purple Cane,” Ashley  says. Root beer enthusiasts can purchase Purple Cane Road Root Beer in either a gold-capped and hand-labeled 750-mililiter cobalt blue wine bottle ($6 each) or in a keg.

Besides the root beer business, both Ashley and her dad work at Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue. They also own a bison ranch in Kansas, which Ashley’s brother and sister-in-law currently operate. “We actually work this [root beer] business as an after-hours business; we maintain our full-time employment,” Ashley says. She hopes to one day be able to devote more time to developing Purple Cane Road Root Beer’s brand and expanding the business.

 TownsLegacyAlive#3

Where to find Purple Cane Road Root Beer Purple Cane Road Root Beer is located at 13595 Giles Road, Suite C, La Vista, NE. The  business doesn’t have regular hours, so you’ll need to make an appointment by calling 402.895.2774.

 Other places to buy Purple Cane Road Root Beer:
• Hy-Vee (Shadow Lake), and a few other Omaha Hy-Vee stores on a seasonal basis

• Kuper Farms (Norfolk)
• Nebraska at the Market
• Omaha FarmersMarket
• Omaha Visitors Center
• Summer Kitchen Cafe & Bakery
• Tomāto Tomäto
• Trees, Shrubs and More

Also, look for Purple Cane Road Root Beer on tap at Billy Blue’s Alumni Grill at Creighton University and Nebraska at the Market.

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