When is a soft drink no longer a soft drink? When it's not carbonated, by definition. Sugar, water, and flavoring, with bubbles, is soda. Sugar, water, and flavoring, served flat, is something else.
Hot Dr. Pepper is a drink that straddles the line between the two. When heat is applied to a cool can of soda, it transforms from a light, refreshing soft drink into a thick, sweet tea. Odd as hot soda might sound, it's really not all that different from, say, a glass of hot cider. Like that classic wintertime beverage, it warms the innards on a cold day, delivering a healthy dose of caffeine for good measure.
First promoted in the 1960s with advertisements like this one, Hot Dr. Pepper was developed as a corporate strategy to keep profits strong during the holiday season, when sales of cold pop plummet. It caught on mostly in the American South, cradle of fizzy innovation, where it lives on to this day in some little towns. In most of the country, Hot Dr. Pepper has long since faded into obscurity.
With all the other long-lost trends that have returned to the culinary mainstream lately, it's about time we gave Hot Dr. Pepper another chance. Served by itself, with lemon, it is a little sweet for my taste, though I wouldn't turn down a mugful now and then. With a splash of rum, though (making it a "Boomer," according to mid-century advertisements), it's not half bad on an icy afternoon.
You don't need a recipe to heat Dr. Pepper, but for, what it's worth, the Dr. Pepper website suggests heating the soda to 180 degrees in a stovetop saucepan, then pouring it over a thin slice of lemon (thin is keythe lemon can become overpowering quickly) before enjoying. If you can get your hands on glass-bottled, sugar-sweetened Dr. Pepper, you'll be glad you did.
I can't guarantee that you'll fall in love with Hot Dr. Pepper, but I'll tell you thisit's going to be better than you think. And it's the perfect way to add a retro touch to social gatherings this time of year.