10 Things You Didn’t Know About Vernors, Michigan’s Iconic Ginger Soda

There’s nothing quite like a Vernors ginger ale. Something about the sweet, spicy crisp taste pairs oh-so-well with vanilla ice cream… or whiskey. This Michigan original has a whole lot more to it than meets the eye — and the taste buds. So like everything you love, you should know a little bit about it.

Without further ado, here are 10 facts about Vernors you probably didn’t know.

Vernors
Detroit Historical Society

10. It was created by Detroit pharmacist James Vernor. Not only did he create the best damn ginger ale ever, but James Vernor was also Michigan’s very first licensed pharmacist—no joke, he held license No. 1—and a member of Detroit’s city council, where he served for more than 20 years.

His drug store on Woodward Avenue became the hot spot and where Vernors ginger soda really began. The drugstore’s soda fountain quickly became a beloved and crowded spot for soft drinks. As for Vernor’s legacy, the Vernor Highway in Detroit even bears his name.

9. It was born in Detroit, where it remains a favorite. While Vernors soda is popular throughout the Midwest—and somewhat hard to come by outside of the region—it is and will always be a proud “Michigan Original”.

How beloved is Vernors in the Wolverine State? Well, Michigan sales still account for a whopping 80 percent of the company’s business. In 2015, Michiganders snatched up 7 million cases of the stuff. Despite being a member of the Dr Pepper Snapple group, the brand will always be an original favorite for ginger soda.

8. It’s the oldest soda in the United States. Forget the other guys, Vernors has been around longer than any other soda in America, first sold in 1866!

7. The Boston Cooler isn’t named for Boston, Massachusetts. This sweet treat, made by blending Vernors with vanilla ice cream, is actually named for central Detroit’s famed Boston Boulevard. Back up, Beantown.

6. In fact, Vernors briefly made Vernors Ice Cream. For a few sweet years, Vernors teamed up with Sanders Fudge, another Detroit legend, to create Vernors flavored ice cream. Sadly, it exists only as a memory for a few lucky Michiganders.

5. Without the Civil War, Vernors wouldn’t exist. James Vernor himself was a veteran of the Fourth Michigan Cavalry, famed for capturing Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States during the Civil War. However, Vernor wasn’t present at the capture—he himself had already been taken by the other side.

4. Vernors’ impish, bearded, winking mascot, created by artist Noble Fellows, arguably needed a better name than Woody. During the 1970s, the company held a contest, offering a trip to Disney World for the contestant who came up with the winning name.

The choice? Jerome the Gnome. However, that didn’t stick, so Woody it is.

3. The origin of Vernors Ginger Ale is up for debate. As legend has it, Vernors’ one-of-a-kind taste was somewhat accidental. James Vernor is said to have left a ginger ale he was working on in an oak cask when he was called to war for four years. When he returned, voila!

The other, less interesting version says Vernor actually concocted his namesake drink after he’d returned from war. Either way, the oak is what gives us its inimitable, slightly spicy taste.

2. The 1980s were a strange time for the company. In an effort to expand, during the 1980s Vernors introduced a line of fruit-flavored sodas on the West Coast called California Natural.

They came in flavors like mandarin orange, grapefruit and apple-cranberry, and had a bad tendency to ferment on shelves and explode. Sometimes it’s best to stick with what you know. With such a strong original, any new drink would pale in comparison.

1. Once upon a time, Vernors came in kegs. That’s right. In the olden days, when the Vernors bottling plant stood on the Detroit River—where Hart Plaza stands today—residents could pick up kegs for parties and get-togethers.

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