Thursday, October 27, 2005
Vernors Is Not, Despite Claim, ‘The Original Ginger Soda’
By ROGER M. GRACE
Vernors undoubtedly is the earliest brand of ginger ale launched in the United States that’s still around. But it is not—contrary to the claim on every Vernors bottle and can—“The Original Ginger Soda.”
James Vernor started selling ginger ale in his drug store in 1866, and his product entered commerce in 1880. But there were ginger sodas prepared well before Vernor sold his first glass of one to a customer, and ginger sodas in bottles were on grocers’ shelves many years earlier than Vernor’s.
•The United States Board of Tax Appeals in 1928 decided the case of Delatour Beverage Corporation v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue. The opinion mentions: “Among the possessions of the predecessor company certain letters and labels were found, indicating that the Delatour brand of ginger ale was established in 1808.”
•The London Times on July 5, 1816 published an ad for “Butler’s Carbonated Sodiac Powders and Ginger-Beer Powders.” (Ginger beer is a “ginger soda,” one that has a much more pronounced ginger flavor than ginger ale.) The ad made clear that ginger soda was then available in bottles. It said: “These Powders produce, in one minute, the Soda-water and Ginger-beer in the highest state of perfection, and, from their portable form, obviate the numerous inconveniences and enormous expenses which attend these beverages when sold in a fluid state in bottles.”
•A Pennsylvania newspaper, the Gettysburg Compiler, on Dec. 4, 1822, reported: “A man by the name of James Brown, was lately fined 10 [pounds] in the Union Hall Court, London, for selling two bottles of ginger beer on Sunday.”
•Recipes for preparing ginger beer appeared in “The House Servant’s Directory” (1827—the first book by an African American put out by a major publisher); “The Frugal Housewife, Dedicated to Those Who Are Not Ashamed of Economy” (1829); “The New England Economical Housekeeper” (1845), and elsewhere.
•A term in common parlance in the United States in the early 1800s was “ginger pop”—that is, soda pop that was ginger flavored. An 1836 article in the New York Mirror told of a reader who had come in to cancel his subscription because of a rate hike from $4 to $5 a year, and who was quizzed as to whether he indulged himself in “ginger pop”—which the reader obligingly acknowledged consuming regularly and termed an “excellent drink.” The clerk upbraided him, in this doubtlessly mythical conversation, for squandering money on himself, yet spending “not one dollar on the innocent and tranquil amusements of your family” in the form of the daily newspaper. The man confessed his shame, handed over $5, vowed to be a lifetime subsrciber, and agreed to cut down on ginger pop. (“The Complete Cook” (1864) spelled out that “[t]he principal difference between ginger pop and ginger beer, is, that the former is bottled immediately, the other is first put in a barrel for a few days. It is also usual to boil the ingredients for ginger beer, which is not done for pop.”)
•A tongue-in-cheek “Lecture Against Temperance” appearing in the Madison (Wisc.) Express on March 19, 1846 said: “I don’t like grog; I’d rather drink buttermilk, or ginger-pop or soda-water. But I lickers for the good of my country; to set an example for patriotism and virtuous self-denial to the rising generation.”
•An ad in the Sept. 10, 1852 edition of the Alton (Ill.) Weekly Courier declared that “W.C. Titt respectfully begs leave to inform his friends, and the public in general, that he has commenced making some superior Ginger Beer, and Lemonade,” for sale in his shop on “Belle-Street, opposite Dr. Harris.” On that same day, an ad in that same newspaper said of George Thorp, proprietor of a “soda water and confectionary establishment” on “Third-street, directly opposite the Post Office”: “His Ginger Pop is the best in America.”
•Placerville’s Mountain Democrat carried this item on June 11, 1859: “GINGER POP.— Mr. Alfred Bell has our acknowledgment for the present of a dozen bottles of his ginger pop. It is a pleasant and refreshing beverage, and we take pleasure in recommending it to our friends.”
•An article in Syracuse, New York’s Central City Daily Courier on June 25, 1859 predicted that on the forthcoming Fourth of July, “small beer [root beer] and ginger pop will be in demand.”
•Importation into the United States of Cantrell & Cochrane’s Ginger Ale—manufactured in Ireland since 1852—began in 1866.
Some ginger sodas, by the way, like some root beers, did, in the early days, contain an inappreciable quantum of alcohol. By the time national Prohibition took effect, however, they were “Temperance beverages.”
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