Verners Ginger Ale
Homer Soda Company
Verners Ginger Ale in the glass-bottle
Available for wholesale distribution and private events (weddings, office parties, BBQ, the list is endless!)
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Although Vernors is the oldest surviving ginger ale sold in the United States, there were a number of brands of ginger ale and ginger beer sold in commerce prior to 1866.
According to company legend, prior to the start of the American Civil War, while a clerk at the Higby & Sterns drugstore in Detroit, James Vernor experimented with flavors in an attempt to duplicate a popular ginger ale imported from Dublin, Ireland. When Vernor was called off to serve in the war, he stored the syrup base of 19 ingredients, including ginger, vanilla and other natural flavorings, in an oak cask. Vernor joined the 4th Michigan Cavalry on 14 August 1862 as a hospital steward, was promoted to second lieutenant on 20 September 1864, and was discharged on 1 July 1865. After returning from battle four years later, he opened the keg and found the drink inside had been changed by the aging process in the wood. It was like nothing else he had ever tasted, and he purportedly declared it “Deliciously different,” which remains the drink’s motto to this day. In a 1936 interview, however, his son, James Vernor Jr., suggested that the formula was not developed until after the war. This was confirmed in a 1962 interview with former company president, James Vernor Davis.
Vernor opened a drugstore of his own on Woodward Avenue, at the corner of Clifford Streetand sold his ginger ale at its soda fountain. According to the 1911 trademark application on “Vernor’s” as a name for ginger ale and extract, Vernors entered commerce in 1880. City by city, Vernor sold bottling franchises, with operators of those franchises required to strictly adhere to the recipe. In 1896, Vernor closed his drugstore and opened a soda fountain closer to the city center, on Woodward Avenue south of Jefferson Avenue, near the ferry docks on the Detroit River to concentrate on the ginger ale business alone. Initially, Vernors was only sold via soda fountain franchises The early Vernors soda fountains featured ornate plaster, lighting and ironwork featuring a “V” design, examples of which still exist, such as at the Halo Burger restaurant in Flint, Michigan. Later Vernors was bottled for home consumption.
James Vernor died October 29, 1927 and was succeeded by his son, James Vernor Jr. Expansion continued throughout Prohibition. In 1962, Vernors introduced Vernors 1-Calorie, now called Diet Vernors. In 1966, the Vernor family sold out to the first of a succession of owners. The company was next acquired by American Consumer Products and then by United Brands before being purchased byA&W Beverages in 1987. A&W was later purchased by Cadbury Schweppes.
Just prior to the onset of World War II, James Vernor II presided over the construction of a 230,000 sq ft (21,000 m2) bottling plant and headquarters, encompassing an entire city block on Woodward Avenue, one block from the Detroit River. In the late 1950s, when the City of Detroit proposed construction of Cobo Hall and other riverfront projects, a land-swap was negotiated, and Vernors moved its bottling plant and headquarters to the location of the old civic exhibition hall at 4501 Woodward Avenue, incorporating many of the popular features of the old plant. Tours of the Vernors plant old and new were major tourist attractions. The flagship Detroit bottling plant was shut down by United Brands in 1985, with the local rights to bottle Vernors granted to Pepsi-Cola. The Woodward Avenue plant was later demolished.
A number of slogans have been associated with Vernors over the years. Advertising in the early 1900s used the slogan “Detroit’s Drink”. According to its trademark application, it began using the slogan “Deliciously Different” in 1921. The labels formerly read “Aged 4 years in wood”, which was changed some years ago to “Flavor aged in oak barrels”, again in 1996 to “Barrel Aged, Bold Taste” and currently notes “Barrel Aged 3 Years • Bold Taste”. The apostrophe in the name “Vernor’s” was dropped in the late 1950s. For a time in the mid-1980s Vernors used the slogan “It’s what we drink around here” in its advertising campaigns. The gnome mascot, named “Woody”, was used from the turn of the century until 1987, when it was dropped by A&W Brands in favor of new packaging, but had returned to the packaging by the 2000s.
Flavor and Characteristics
Vernors is a golden ginger ale with a robust flavor, more like a ginger beer, that historically was flavored and colored with caramel. This style was common before Prohibition when “dry” pale ginger ale, typified by Canada Dry, became popular as an alcoholic mixer.
LA Metropolitan News Editor Roger Grace describes the original flavor as “mellow yet perky with the mellowness attributed to the aging in oak barrels, and the perkiness to the use of more ginger and sugar than “dry” ginger ales. Many people believe that the taste of Vernors has changed significantly in recent years. Grace describes the current flavor as an “emaciated version of a product that once was” and “sweetened carbonated water with ginger flavoring”. Theories as to the reason for the claimed change in flavor include that the secret formula has been changed to use new products not originally available to Vernor, such as high fructose corn syrup; that it seems to have less carbonation than formerly; and that Vernors is no longer aged four years, but three in oak barrels.