Decades have passed since David Oller last enjoyed a Triple AAA Root Beer, a popular local brew that disappeared 40 years ago.
Like most kids growing up in the 1950s, Oller did not get to enjoy soda pop at home; such drinks were rare special treats. For Oller , the end of each baseball game at Horace Mann Elementary came with the hope of going with the team to a Triple AAA Root Beer “Thirst Station” for a frosty mug.
“Triple AAA Root Beer was simply the best I ever had,” said Oller , now a resident in Albuquerque. “A&W was just not the same. I've tried a lot of different brands while traveling and nothing came close to Triple AAA.”
Triple AAA, produced in a plant at NW 13 and Oklahoma Avenue, got its start in the mid-1930s as a group of “thirst station” owners split up from Texas-based Triple XXX Root Beer. The company ceased production in 1974, though old bottles, signs and advertisements are still favorites among collectors.
Justin Thomas, owner of the Bricktown Candy Co., is banking on such fond memories in re-launching the brand with the assistance of descendants of those who created the recipe and oversaw the production of the secret formula.
Creating his own brand of root beer has been an ambition for Thomas since he opened the candy store at 100 E California Ave. in 2009. A visitor to the store suggested reviving Triple AAA Root Beer during one such conversation. After learning the recipe was created by the late Harley Rochau, Thomas searched for descendants with the same last name and came across Rochau's son, Ray, living in northeast Oklahoma. He was then introduced to Ray Rochau's cousin, Max Tuepker, whose father, Gilbert, controlled the laboratory where the recipes were produced.
“We all got together, talked about bringing back Triple AAA, and talked about how we could make that happen,” Thomas said. “And we looked at recipes to bring back not just the root beer but other flavors they had as well.”
The task wouldn't be easy. A key ingredient, sassafras oil, was banned in 1960 by the United States Food and Drug Administration after it was identified as a possible carcinogen.
Oller still remembers well when the sassafras was removed from the recipe.
“You could tell right away it had changed,” Oller said. “It just wasn't the same.”
Thomas worked with Rochau, Teupker and Oklahoma City-based Heubert Brewing to re-create the recipe — a task that Thomas admits included a few “guesses.”
Both Rochau and Tuepker say Thomas has succeeded in bringing back the root beer they loved as children.
“Justin has come up with a taste that is almost exactly what I remember it was,” Roachau said. “The bottles he just sent, it's almost to a T.”
Tuepker shared his first bottles of the revived Triple AAA Root Beer with his family on Easter Sunday — a fitting revival of one of his favorite childhood memories.
“Every Easter my dad would bring back a keg of root beer and set it up in the garage and it would be iced down,” Tuepker said.
“All the cousins, all the kids could have as much as we wanted. It was a big treat,” Tuepker said.
Oller remembers the Triple AAA Root Beer Thirst Stands were the “Sonics” of their era and spanned several states. The last surviving former Triple AAA stand with big barrel on the roof, at NW 13 and Broadway, was razed about a decade ago, and Thomas isn't looking to relaunch the thirst stations.
For now, Thomas' main ambition is to spread retail distribution of the root beer, and to see what follows.
“We're selling it here and at POPS and it's being made at Huebert Brewing in south Oklahoma City,” Thomas said.
“It's back, and like before, it's all locally made.”