The Untold Truth Of Vernors Ginger Ale

Having a favorite soda brand might be based on your palate or simply where you live and where you were raised. For anyone who grew up in the state of Michigan, or even the Midwest, for that matter, drinking Vernors Ginger Ale is a tradition and represents this region. Many can remember their grandparents serving them Vernors when they had an upset stomach, cooking with the soda, or even making a special dessert, known as the Boston Cooler. Historian Keith Wunderlich told The Detroit News, "The story is much deeper than just about a drink. It's about something that really impacted a city and the culture of the people who lived in that city." 

Vernors Ginger Ale was created by a Detroit-based pharmacist, James Vernor, who owned and operated a pharmacy and soda fountain where he served this refreshing, gingery fizzy drink (via the Detroit Historical Society). He was also quite active in the city's politics. The ginger ale may have homegrown roots, but it's still a popular brand that is now available in many states and is considered one of the oldest soft drinks in the United States (via the Detroit Historical Society).

Differing origin stories

James Vernor was a pharmacist who wanted to create tonics to soothe digestion and stomach issues. He spent time experimenting with spices and vanilla and using ginger as a calming agent in his effort to make a medicinal tonic (via the Detroit Historical Society). There are various versions of how the recipe came to be, but the common story is that when he returned from fighting in the Civil War, he opened the oak barrel where he had stored the mixture and discovered a sweet and spicy ginger flavor that was helped by the oak wood (via the Detroit Historical Society).

But another story, according to a family member, is that Vernor developed the recipe after he came home from the war. According to the Dr. Pepper Museum, this version is considered more accurate, with patent documents stating that the recipe was patented in 1880 instead of 1866.

In the beginning, the soda was only available at Vernor's pharmacy and soda fountain until he designed filtration systems and equipment for other soda fountains to serve the ginger ale in the same way to maintain flavor and consistency (via Canada Dry Mott's).

James Vernor was more than a pharmacist

Today, James Vernor may be the most known for his "Deliciously Different" Ginger Ale and for opening a soda plant in Detroit so that his soda could be made on a bigger scale while keeping it local (via the Detroit Historical Society). But what most don't know is just how active he was in the local politics of Detroit. 

According to the Detroit Historical Society, for 25 years, Vernor served on the Detroit Common Council, where he was involved in plenty of developments, changes, and controversies. The biggest one involved Vernor opposing a plan for public transportation, which helped him lose his council seat. During his time in city politics, he also helped to create and open a water filtration plant in Detroit using the same concepts and ideas that he had applied to his own filtration system for bottling his fizzy drink.

Vernors Ginger Ale is part of Michigan identity and tradition

Vernors is a soft drink that brings up a lot of positive memories for anyone who grew up in Detroit or throughout Michigan, regardless of what decade it is. As historian Keith Wunderlich said in an interview for The Detroit News, "It's hard to tell the story of someone who grew up in Detroit in the 1940s and '50s that doesn't somehow involve Vernors."

Eric Schwartz, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Michigan, told The Detroit News, "Vernors has an appeal of nostalgia and that, as an emotion, can lead to loyalty," and noted that the brand has "stayed so local and yet has lasted so long." Schwartz explains this may be in part because: "Niche brands are hard to sustain ... [but] people have memories of the grandparents serving them ginger ale to settle their upset stomach, and that tradition continues, from speaking to people who have grown up here."

A senior curator of the Detroit Historical Society, Joel Stone, concurred when he stated in an interview for the Detroit Free Press: "Vernors is so unique. Putting it in romantic terms, Vernors ties back to good things people remember about their childhood. Times were simpler then. If you were a good boy on a hot summer Saturday and you got the grass cut, you got to have a cold Vernors."

Vernors Ginger Ale can be used in cooking

Like many drinks that may be rooted in an area, Vernors Ginger Ale isn't just for drinking. Aretha Franklin, known as the Queen of Soul, helped give Vernors publicity when she shared a recipe on national TV with hosts Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan. Franklin highlighted that she used the Detroit-based classic for her glazed ham recipe, which she called "Re Re's Christmas New Bethel Ham" (via WXYZ).

According to the Detroit Historical Society, Vernors Ginger Ale is also used in a delicious dessert beverage, known as the Boston Cooler. This drinkable dessert combines Vernors with vanilla ice cream. Although some people have come up with various reasons why it's called this, "Boston Cooler" is a general term that was common in the beginning of the 1900s for drinks that paired soda and ice cream. In 1967, though, Vernors copyrighted the name Boston Cooler.

Vernors is now owned by the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group

The Vernor family maintained the company for around 100 years before choosing to sell it in 1966 to an investment group (via the Detroit Historical Society). The company had remained privately owned until then. Vernors has been owned by several different multinational corporations, including American Consumer Products and United Brands. In 1987, the soda brand A&W Beverages Inc., most well-known for A&W root beer, purchased the company (via Canada Dry Mott's), and then, in 1993, Cadbury-Schweppes took ownership (via the Detroit Historical Society).

According to The Detroit News, Vernors is currently owned by the soda company Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, which is based in Texas and is a subsidiary of Keurig Dr. Pepper. Dr. Pepper Snapple is among biggest beverage brands in the country (via the Detroit Historical Society). According to the Dr. Pepper Snapple website, the company owns around 50 drink brands, including Mott's juice, Sunkist soda, Schweppes, and 7Up.