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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!