You may have noticed that we have a bit of an obsession with regional foods around here. First, we were going on and on about New Mexico’s green chile dependency. Today, we’re looking at you Michigan — and we want to talk about your intense love for Vernors Ginger Ale.
Invented by James Vernor (a Detroit pharmacist), Vernors is America’s oldest surviving ginger ale, first being sold sometime around 1880. It also might be Michigan’s favorite soda. According to company legend:
Without the Civil War, There Would Be No Vernors. Before the conflict began, James Vernor, a Detroit pharmacist, had concocted a new drink. When Vernor was called off to war in 1862, he stored the secret mixture in an oak cask in his pharmacy. After returning from battle four years later, he opened his secret keg and found the drink inside had been transformed.
This romantic story is definitely of dubious origin, with some suggesting that James Vernor’s son himself disputed the tale. The Vernor family sold the company in 1966, which is now owned by the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group. But hometown loyalty and heroism remain — the soda continues to be one of the most popular choices throughout the Michigan area.
So what does it taste like? Vernors is a very sweet, pale golden ginger ale, but what makes it special to us are the bubbles. This stuff is highly, highly carbonated. The effervescence of this soda is frequently underestimated until you take a sip and it makes you sneeze. Many devotees maintain that it is a foolproof cure for both stomach aches and hangovers.
When I asked a few of my favorite Michigan expatriates what the world needed to know about Vernors, the answer was nearly unanimous: I had to mention both Halo Burger and the Boston Cooler. The Boston Cooler is an ice cream soda variation — think root beer float, but with ginger ale instead. We, um, happen to be partial to these with a shot of bourbon (so predictable, we know.) Halo Burger (please be advised that their website will sing you a song when you click that), a Flint, Michigan burger chain not only serves Vernors on tap, but they also make an extra special Boston Cooler that our ex-pats describe as “more like a milkshake than a float.” Their menu also lists a burger with sliced green olives on top, so you can be sure I’ll be grilling my Flint ex-pats on that topic very soon.
Though largely available in Michigan and surrounding areas, if you need a taste of the bubbly ginger ale, you can order Vernors online. In New York, Vernors has been known to pop into the case at Brooklyn’s Court Street Grocers.