Vanishing Vernors: Fans of 'cult' ginger ale upset it's still not available

·3 min read

Devoted fans of Vernors Ginger Ale in Southwestern Ontario are upset the soft drink remains unavailable amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Vernors is a Detroit institution and it's been adopted by many people on this side of the border as well.

It has been off the market, at least in Canada, since the early days of the pandemic, leaving those who enjoy it in the lurch.

"There is a completely unique flavour. It's a little bit spicy. It's a great drink," said Bill Stephenson.

Stephenson, who grew up in Windsor and lives in Richmond Hill, said he's been drinking Vernors since he was six.

His kids love it too, and Stephenson said an ice cream float with Vernors is "glorious."

Courtesy Bill Stephenson
Courtesy Bill Stephenson

Vanishing Vernors

Vernors dates back to the 19th century. According to the company, pharmacist James Vernor put his "secret mixture" in an oak cask before he was called off to the Civil War in 1862.

Four years later, he came home to find the drink had been "transformed."

In Canada, Vernors is made by Keurig Dr. Pepper and it's bottled in Mississauga, Ont.

As has been the case with some other niche food products during the pandemic, the manufacturers opted to halt production in order to ensure its more popular products were still available.

"Up until the COVID, we've been able to buy it. No problem getting it anywhere. Loblaws, Longo's," Stephenson said.

In the spring, a spokesperson for the brand estimated it would be back in stores in the fall.

Production, however, remains paused "as our bottler works tirelessly to meet consumer demand changes since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic," said Cynthia Shanks, director of communications and sustainability with Keurig Canada.

Stephenson said the company should sell the product to someone who is "interested in distributing it."

"They have the syrup. They have the gas. They have the bottles for all the other soft drinks that people drink, but Vernors drinkers are like a cult," he said.

"You know, Windsor people, we're Vernors people, and Windsor is a completely unique part of the world, certainly unique to Canada, and that's their drink."

Courtesy Wendy Bloomfield
Courtesy Wendy Bloomfield

Wendy Bloomfield of Chatham-Kent says her mother uses it in the sauce for a cherished recipe.

And no, she said, other ginger ales don't cut it.

"My mom makes this special meatball recipe. It's called Vernors Meatballs, and everybody wants her Vernors meatballs," she said.

The search for Vernors

While supply of Vernors may have fizzled out, many are still looking.

Kayla Laird of London, Ont., said she saw a post online advertising a 12-pack for $142.

Laird describes herself as Vernors "obsessed" and said she hasn't drank another soda since trying it in her early 20s. And right now, she's pregnant and craving it.

"All I do is think about how much I would love one," she said.

"In my first pregnancy, it definitely helped with my morning sickness and, you know, being limited on what you can drink while you're pregnant, it definitely filled a really good void, and now it not being available, it's upsetting."

Laird has been trying to track some down — she even posted on Facebook in hopes of locating a supply.

Someone in Strathroy offered her nine cans, and she and her husband went to pick them up.

It was everything she remembered, Laird said. And worth every minute of the two-hour drive there and back.

"I'm so happy to have a small stockpile now," she said.