Thursday, October 20, 2005
Is Vernors Still Aged Four Years In Wood? No Answer.
By ROGER M. GRACE
Vernors just doesn’t taste the way it used to.
It hasn’t tasted the same for perhaps 20 years.
The soft drink that used to be called “Vernor’s Ginger Ale” was mellow, yet perky.
As to the mellowness...labels explained: “Aged 4 years in wood.” As recounted here last week, that’s how long James Vernor’s extract sat in a wood barrel while Vernor was off fighting in the Civil War.
The perkiness was attributable, at least in large measure, to the use of more ginger and sugar in that “golden” ginger ale than in the “dry” varieties that came into vogue during Prohibition as mixers.
And perhaps other ingredients that were constituents of the traditional Vernor’s formula were essential to the flavor. One of those ingredients was vanilla. Is vanilla still used? The answer isn’t known. The listed ingredients are simply these: “carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup and/or sugar, natural and artificial flavors, caramel color, citric acid, sodium benzoate (a preservative).”
What is unmistakable is that the drink now labelled, simply, “Vernors,” is an emaciated version of a product that once was, as its slogan went, “deliciously different.”
Some years back, the labels were amended to read, “Flavor aged in Oak Barrels.” Missing was a reference to four years. It was around that time that the product noticeably plummeted in quality. It became sweetened carbonated water with ginger flavoring.
Since February, 1996, Vernors has used the slogan, “Barrel Aged, Bold Taste!”
Now missing is any reference to the aging taking place in wood. Is Vernors, like Tobasco Sauce, now aged in plastic? Or is it aged in some other material?
Presumably, if Vernors were still aged for four years, the labels would say so, and if it were still aged in wood, that, too, would be stated.
But why speculate? Why not simply pose the question to the manufacturer of Vernors? I’ve tried that, without success. I’ve been making inquiries by e-mail, phone and fax since late last month, contacting Cadbury Schweppes in London and subsidiaries here.
The information is “not very easily accessible,” Cristina Alfaro, public relations manager for Cadbury Schweppes Americas Beverages, told me on Tuesday.
One major change in Vernors is the switch from sugar to high fructose corn syrup—a substance about which there are growing health concerns. The Vernors labels say “high fructose corn syrup and/or sugar.” However, according to John Nese, president of Galco Old World Grocery in Highland Park—a soft drink emporium—“it’s up to the bottler” to decide which sweetner to use. And “HFCS” is far cheaper than sugar.
The bottler for Central and Southern California, as well as Southern Nevada, is Huskins & Associates, Inc., located in Huntington Beach. Its president, Joe Huskins, told me he uses high fructose corn syrup.
The extract is produced in St. Louis, Missouri and shipped to regional bottlers.
“We add the sweetner and the carbonated water,” Huskins said.
(While noting that Vernors is “not available in all areas” of the country, he said that in this region, Vernors outsells Schweppes.)
Does the substitution of HFCS make a difference in taste? A great deal.
Soft drinks with sugar taste better.
Nese noted that he procures Coca-Cola and Pepsi from Mexico where sugar is still used. It costs more, he said, but it’s worth it.
Kosher Coke is made for Passover and sold in limited areas, Nese mentioned. MetNews staff writer Ken Ofgang told me he’s tried it and “[i]t tastes like the old Coke that we drank when we were kids.”
An outstanding ginger ale has the brand name “Outrageous.” Made in California, it’s sweetened with sugar, and sold in health food stores.
Nese said he hasn’t heard of it. We made a deal. I’ll come in some time and bring him a bottle of Outrageous Ginger Ale and he’ll give me a bottle of Blenheim’s HOT HOT Ginger Ale, also made with sugar.
Canada Dry, the nation’s largest selling ginger ale, as well as Schweppes Ginger Ale, also contain HFCS (as do most of the major brands of soft drinks). But do Canada Dry, Schweppes, and Vernors ginger ales contain ginger? Some health food websites declare there’s no longer ginger in ginger ale.
All three of those seemingly competing brands belong to Cadbury Schweppes. The consumer relations department of its U.S. subsidiary Dr Pepper/Seven Up, Inc. supplied this information:
“The ‘natural flavors’ listed on the ingredient statement contains flavor from many types of real ginger roots. The ginger flavor in ginger ale is extracted from the ginger roots and then blended with other citrus flavors to produce the unique flavor in ginger ale. Since the ginger flavor is combined with natural flavors, we chose to label the combination ‘natural flavors’ on the ingredient statement.”
Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company
UPDATE: Alfaro said, by e-mail, five days after this column appeared, that Vernors is “aged for three years in Oak Barrels.”
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