When most people think of beverage dispensers, their minds tend to shoot right to the Super Bowl celebration ritual: A team of athletes douses an unsuspecting coach with neon-yellow liquid from an overturned Gatorade watercooler. But if that’s your only reference point, there’s so much more to appreciate about the beverage dispenser.
My introduction came in the ’90s — not inside of a gargantuan football stadium but under the canopy of my aunt’s pecan tree. Sure, she wasn’t technically my aunt — this woman had been best friends with my paternal grandmother for decades — but the frequency with which my parents, siblings, and I pulled up to her house for barbecues, Texas Christmases, lazy Saturdays, and the most formal of Easter Sundays assured me that biology had little place to say she and my other play cousins, aunts, and uncles weren’t family.
At each celebration or holiday, a key piece of kitchen hardware appeared: a large glass jar with an airtight plastic spigot fixed just above the jar’s flat bottom. It was filled with either sun tea, lemonade, or whatever Technicolor Kool-Aid concoction the kids made for the day, and like clockwork, wherever it was stationed became the center of the party.
My aunt sang the jar’s praises, but I didn’t understand why until later. When I did learn to look at it in a new light, I saw a humble and unassuming vessel that leaves ample room for customization. While beverage dispensers are typically large, made of glass, and cylindrical or rectangular with rounded edges, they come in a breadth of styles, materials, and sizes sure to evoke a bit of jealousy from even the most saintly among us. Whether you’re etching designs into the glass, adorning the sides with paintings of cartoonish summer fruit or blooming roses, covering them with bumper stickers the way so many people on TikTok have done with their Stanley cups, or buying one made from hammered copper, there’s an aesthetic option out there for you, from grocery store workhorses to the endless options available on Etsy from the now-defunct Anchor Hocking glass company or individual artisans with an appreciation for hydration.
Still, these jars aren’t just for the aesthetically driven. They are the oft-overlooked tool that makes it exponentially easier to keep everyone happy, hydrated, and, let’s be real, pleasantly buzzed. They’re also essential for distinguishing between drinks for the 18-plus crowd and the more family-friendly beverage options available. (Trust me, you don’t want people mistaking that pre-batched lemon drop for lemonade.) And opting for a transparent jar with a lid allows guests to see each vessel’s contents, encouraging them to remember the drink inside before asking you for the 40th time.
The dispensers are easy to transport and refill, leaving little room for the elements to unintentionally spice up your beverage of choice. And when they eventually run out, you get a chance to decide whether you want to keep the party going or tell people that they don’t have to go home but can’t stay in yours.
But for me, none of that compares with the value of simply having an artifact to remember my family members by, along with years of gatherings, celebrations, beginnings, ends, and in-betweens. I no longer live just 20 or 30 minutes away from my grandparents’ or my aunt’s home, and unfortunately, my aunt is the last of her generation in my family. But I’ll always look forward to breaking out my beverage cooler, plastered with painted cherries, and will eventually pass it on to one of my younger family members to keep the tradition going. That alone feels worthy of a supersize dunk-tank celebration. But we’ll still skip the neon-yellow liquid inside.