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Autocrat Eclipse

March 27, 2011

Regional foods rock. Taking a road trip across the great highways that crisscross this nation can be a stupefying expression of sameness. Each exit has the same gas station, fast food parlors, and shops. And it’s not even just on our highways and byways. For years the corner of Haight and Ashbury had a Gap and a Ben and Jerry’s.

So it is truly amazing in the America of today that there are still a few dedicated pockets of regional foodstuffs. These are treasures that have both withstood the influx of national brands while at the same time haven’t been tempted themselves to stray beyond their local roots. 

The thing I miss most about Miami is the Cuban food, and specifically the feel of the local Cuban cafeterias. Whenever I’m in Pennsylvania I try to get some scrapple with my eggs. A trip to Connecticut isn’t the same without stopping in the original New Haven Pepe’s for a coal-fired clam pizza.

My mother knows of my love for these things, so on my last trip to Providence she sent me home with the ingredients required to make the Official State Drink of Rhode Island: coffee milk.

This may be one of the regional foods you have to have grown up enjoying. I’m not sure I get it.

There are two major brands of coffee syrup today, Autocrat and Eclipse. Except both are manufactured by Autocrat, Inc. At one point they were rivals, until Autocrat purchased the brand and their secret formula. For the record, Eclipse has been around longer.

Both provide the same directions to make the drink: Two tablespoons of syrup to eight ounces of milk. And both have an identical ingredients list:

High Fructose Corn Syrup, Corn Syrup, Coffee Extract, Caramel Color and Potassium Sorbate.

Both also contain sulfites, and neither really tastes like coffee. Really. There are certainly differences between the two, and they are immediately apparent. Autocrat is a thinner syrup with an astringent smell while Eclipse is notably thicker and provides the nose with a dominant impression of burnt sugar.

If I were thinking about this as a coffee drink, I’d have to throw my support to Autocrat. But given that the point of this is an alternative to chocolate syrup, I’d have to prefer Eclipse’s round mellow flavor. Given its significantly greater viscosity, I also imagine that it would play better with vanilla ice cream as a topping than the Autocrat.

What kills me is that these syrups were launched in the late 1930s and early 1940s before HFCS was being pumped into every modern foodstuff. Except now these classics which are required for the official state drink of Rhode Island are little more than delivery devices for this inauspicious ingredient.

The irony isn’t lost on me that I’m mixing them into organic milk.

Perhaps I’m doing it wrong. Perhaps one must be on the sandy shores of Newport Beach after a long day in the sun to fully enjoy the coffee milk experience. I’m willing to keep an open mind. But for now, I’ve got to say that I’m joining the camp of those who say Del’s Lemonade should have been the Official State Drink.

But that will be for another day.

One Comment leave one →
  1. JoJo permalink
    March 27, 2011 10:54 pm

    Thanks for the reminder of home. I remember loving drinking Del’s during the summer as a kid….

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