10 Spicy Facts About Vernors, Michigan’s Favorite Beverage

10 Spicy Facts About Vernors, Michigan’s Favorite Beverage

Whether you call that carbonated beverage we all drink “soda” or “pop,” one thing we can all agree on is that Vernors ginger ale is a hometown favorite. This distinctive beverage with a bite has been well loved by those here in the Awesome Mitten for over 150 years. While you may know it’s familiar taste, here are 10 facts that you may not know about Michigan’s oldest and favorite beverage.

Vernors pharmacy original location on Woodward
Vernors pharmacy original location on Woodward. Photo courtesy of Kevin Wunderlich.

1. Vernors claims to be the oldest soda in the United States.

While some may have been in production prior to Vernors, none of them had stood the test of time. James Vernor first served his soda in 1866 at his Detroit pharmacy on the corner of Woodard and Clifford. (That location is now a Warby Parker eyeglass store. However, they still serve Vernors there!) In 2016, Detroit residents and many more celebrated the 150th anniversary of this fizzy beverage often recognized as our unofficial state beverage.

2. If you drink Vernors to get rid of a stomach ache, you’re using it for its intended purpose.

James Vernor originally created his ginger ale as a way to sooth digestion issues. He was working on a tonic of ginger and other flavors to alleviate gastric discomfort. Today people drink it cold or warm to relieve overall feelings of illness.

Photo of Vernors creator, James Vernor
Photo of Vernors creator, James Vernor. Photo courtesy of Keith Wunderlich.

3. James Vernor was more than a soda maker.

James Vernor fought in the Civil War for four years. It was during this time it is fabled that he created his “deliciously different” beverage. But creating his iconic ginger ale isn’t where his story stops. James Vernor was Michigan’s first licensed pharmacist in the state of Michigan. He created the pharmacy board due to his concerns over inconsistent dosage of medications. Later, he was elected to the Detroit City Council, where he was instrumental in the improvement of Detroit sewer and water systems.

4. Vernors has an official gnome mascot, whose name was originally Jerome.

In the 1970s the company held a contest to allow customers to name their mascot, a gnome. The name Jerome was chosen, but somehow over the years his name was changed to Woody. A hypothesis is that the name was changed to reflect that the ginger ale was originally aged in wood barrels for up to 4 years. That distinction is no longer on packaging, but Woody is still there with a friendly smile.

Vernors Mural in Flint on side of Greater Flint Arts Council
This Vernors Mural is located in Flint, on the side of Greater Flint Arts Council building. Photo Courtesy of Margaret Clegg

5. You used to be able to buy Vernors by the keg.

While the original home of Michigan’s favorite ginger ale was the shop on Woodward, manufacturing of Vernors was later done at a large plant on the river. The Vernors bottling plant once stood where Hart Plaza is now. Detroit residents could drive up to the factory and pick up a keg for parties and functions.

6. A Boston Cooler is synonymous with the name Vernors.

That hasn’t always been the case. A Boston Cooler originally was any soda mixed with ice cream. While I prefer to have my ginger ale poured over my ice cream, that would technically be a float. By definition a Boston Cooler is Vernors mixed with ice cream, like a milkshake. The origin of the name Boston Cooler is debatable, and it has nothing to do with Massachusetts. Some believe it’s named after Boston Boulevard in Detroit, but that street didn’t exist prior to the naming of this frosty treat.

Vernors Boston Cooler
Vernors has became synonymous with the Boston Cooler. Photo courtesy of Margaret Clegg

7. Vernors Soda Shoppes existed outside of the greater Detroit area.

The Halo Burger on Saginaw in downtown Flint was one such location. The signature “V” can still be seen in the ironwork inside the store. Boston Coolers are still on the menu, and Vernors is still a selection on the soda dispenser.

Vernors "V' in Iron Railing at Halo Burger
The Vernors “V’ is still visible in the wrought iron railing inside Flint’s downtown Halo Burger. Photo courtesy of Margaret Clegg

8. Management dropped the apostrophe from its name in the 1950s.

Some of you might be having a nervous twitch because I’ve been spelling Vernors without an apostrophe. Relax. That’s not all that’s changed. Vernors is no longer owned by the the namesake family, nor is it made in Detroit. Shortly after the company’s 100th anniversary, it was sold to a larger distributor. It’s changed hands many times and is now owned by Dr. Pepper. It is still bottled in Holland, Michigan (and in other cities) but it’s no longer aged in wooden barrels.

9. Vernors is used for more than just drinking.

Aretha Franklin is famous for her Christmas ham, made with a glaze of this effervescent soda. Vernors can also be used in baking. Did you know that you can make any cake using a boxed cake mix and a 12 oz can of pop? I’ve made Whoopie Pies using this trick! I even add an extra pinch of ginger to the batter for an extra tasty zip. Added benefit, it keeps the recipe egg-free for those who have an egg allergy or food sensitivity.

Gingerbread Whoopie Pies made with Vernors
Gingerbread Whoopie Pies made with Vernors. Photo courtesy of Margaret Clegg

10. Purchases here in Michigan still account for 80% of sales.

While it is possible to purchase Vernors outside of Michigan, it’s still an Awesome Mitten favorite. In 2015, Michiganders bought 7 million cases of this distinctively different soda. It’s so popular in fact that there’s a collector’s club for Vernors’ enthusiasts. You can visit their website to see pictures of great memorabilia as well as become a member.

What’s your favorite Vernors memory? Do you have a unique recipe that incorporates this delicious beverage? Leave us a note in the comments!

  • Constance J. Britton

    I attended high school in Detroit in the mid-1960s. Often after school, I would meet my father at the church where he was minister at the corner of Woodward and Forest, right across from the Vernors plant. I would go over to the soda fountain in the plant for a Boston cooler, hot Vernors, or Vernors and chocolate milk…one of my favorites. And, my mother would give us Vernors when we were sick, which, unfortunately, often has a Pavlovian response on me.

    • Are you of the mind that a Boston Cooler must be blended, or do you prefer yours more like a float? I still haven’t tried Vernors and chocolate milk yet!

  • Mary Griffith

    Travel to Michigan twice a year to see family and restock Vernors in individual bottles. They sell it here in the south in 2 liter bottles only. My grandkids are addicted now and only Michigan Vernors will do.

  • Russell Stephen Rein

    Vernor’s had a bottling plant in Tampa, FL. In front of the plant it had the largest moveable billboard in the South.

  • Marcia Lengnick

    I grew up in PA with Canada Dry ginger ale and never really liked the taste of Vernors. My Dad was a big fan however and I would always take him Vernors when we went home in the Summer. In 1993 I had open heart surgery at ST. Joes in A2. The first drink I had after surgery, cup held by the nurse, tasted SOOO good. I remember saying, “What Is That?”
    “Vernor’s”, said the nurse!!

  • Tom McGarry

    Since I now live in Iowa, trips to Michigan revolve around my depleting Vernors stash which I just checked after reading this article. Looks like another road trip is not to far off. I really don’t know what I would do without it.

  • Joyce Hoffman Tugan

    After moving to Alaska in 2011, we were thrilled to find a couple of stores selling Vernors on the Kenai Peninsula!! What a special Treat!!

  • Bob Best

    Being from Michigan, I loved Vernors. After moving to Texas in 2004, am still surprised that they bottle it in Plano, Texas but cannot find it in any of the stores around the Houston area! Sad.

  • Phyllis Kaull

    I am a southern gal and had never heard of Vernors until I moved to Michigan in 1978. When I came down with a stomach bug , I was given Vernors to drink. I told my friend to bring me some “real ginger ale”. I had to get use to the taste as it is so different from what I was accustomed to . It didn’t take long for me to love the flavor of Vernors and when I moved back south I was sad that I couldn’t find any . After a few years of living back in South Carolina , I came upon some Vernors in one of our grocers. It may not be easy to find down here, but it’s still my preferred brand of ginger ale .

  • Robert

    We were born and raised in Michigan.We came to Alaska in May , 1974. We were disappointed that we couldn’t get Vernors here. However, we can now. Wonderful drink !!! LOVE, that Vernors !