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This post may be considered a prequel to the previous post on making ginger ale as it will explore the earliest origins of what became one of the most popular drinks of the 20th century.

In the 18th century Ginger Beer was, “among the most popular drinks in the United Kingdom of Great Britain. This Ginger Beer was put up in stone bottles, and in order to mature it, several weeks’ storage was required before it could be sold for consumption”.

About 1850 a beverage was introduced which by reducing the aging process produced a clear beverage [ginger beer was cloudy] that still offered, “the pungent…taste and warmth-giving to the stomach”. Many found the clear product more pleasing in appearance but the flavor was less stable, a condition that would be remedied with perfecting the carbonation process. It was during this early period that bottlers began boosting the spicy flavor of their products for storage by adding, “chillipods”.

Supposedly the first Ginger Ale was exhibited at an exhibition in London in 1851. It was alcoholic and not particularly well received until through the addition of chili peppers to boost the flavor and ridding it of albuminous matter which fermented in storage and sometimes caused a gelatinous consistency , a clear and flavorful beverage emerged. The alcohol content was then, “trace”, and ginger ale, now billed as highly temperate, began a journey toward unbelievable popularity in 1852.

It wasn’t imported into the U.S. until 1866, but within the year it was being manufactured in New York by Henry Downs. – “American Bottler”. Vol. 30. April 15, 1910.

In 1845, that gelatinous consistency was further described as, “a thick, slimy consistence”, in drinks that were given an effervescent quality by injecting carbonic acid, the common process for the time. The thickening of contents was common regardless of which bottler produced them and occurred when flavored with lemon instead of ginger. – “The Annals and Magazine of Natural History”. Vol. 17. Jan. 1846.

A hundred years ago ginger ale was described as having a hold on the American people which far surpassed any other, “of the so-called soft drinks”, one which had been established as a, “stand-by”, and was bottled by every maker of such beverages. The addition of chili peppers had become a hotly contested issue by the turn of the 20th century prompting hearings to determine whether their use was required in labeling.

“But ginger ale, to be worthy of the name, must have certain qualities which are indispensable. First, it must be absolutely pure. By that, we mean that it must be exactly what its name implies. It must be made of ginger, not a mixture of capsicum or any other harmful substances as a substitute. Made in this way it is the ‘Prince of Beverages,’ always assuming that it is bottled with pure water.”

In other words, the classic warmth of ginger was being replaced with much cheaper but just as warm peppers. Lack of honesty in labeling is nothing new. Pepper soda doesn’t sound as appetizing as ginger ale and bottlers who chose to use only genuine ginger wanted their products distinguished from those with adulterants. Makers of pure ginger ale billed it as drinkable in any quantity, by those of any age, and at any time of day with no injurious effects.

Definitions of various terms regarding ginger ale were published in “Brewers Journal” in July 1922 under the title, “The Ginger Ale Controversy Settled”.

“Ginger Ale Flavor, Ginger Ale Concentrate, is the flavoring product in which ginger is the essential constituent, with or without other aromatic and pungent ingredients, citrus oils, and fruit juices.

Ginger Ale is the carbonated beverage prepared from Ginger Ale Flavor, sugar (sucrose) syrup, harmless organic acid, potable water and caramel color….

Ginger Ale with Capsicum Flavor is the water-soluble product obtained from ginger and capsicum, with or without other flavoring substances. The predominating flavor of the product is that of ginger.”

Manufacturers who used capsicum and color to make ginger ale were instructed to post those ingredients on the labels, “with as large type as ‘Ginger Ale’”.

Let’s conclude with some of the ways Ginger Ale and Ginger Syrup were used throughout the 20th century.

GINGER ALE RECIPES were published throughout the 20th century. The following were taken from “The Northwestern Druggist”. Aug. 1922.

Ginger Drake
1 oz. pineapple syrup, 1 oz. lime syrup, 5 oz. carbonated water, 3 oz. domestic ginger ale. Mix the syrups, add the carbonated water, and then float the ginger ale on top of this.

Ginger Soda
2 oz. ginger ale, 1 oz. lemon syrup, 1 oz. orange syrup, slice of orange, slice of lemon, 8 oz. carbonated water. Mix the syrups, then add the carbonated water and ginger ale and mix again. Decorate with slices of orange and lemon.

Orange-Ginger
1 oz. orange syrup, 4 oz. ginger ale, 3 oz. carbon ated water, sprig of mint. Mix the syrup with the carbonated water and ginger ale, add the sprig of mint, and serve.
Canada Dry Ginger Ale advertised three different ways to use ginger ale in “Life” magazine in April 1958, the first of which was mixing ginger ale and cold milk in a 1 to 1 ratio. The next was to heat 2 cups of ginger ale to boiling and stir in fruit flavored gelatin, mix, and refrigerate to produce, “Bright ginger flavor and livelier carbonation” in gelatin. Lastly, ginger ale was poured into a tall glass and topped with ice cream to make a float.

Using ginger ale in gelatin wasn’t new though as recipes had been published for some 30 years or more by the time Canada Dry’s advertisement appeared in print.

In 1919, Helen Moore included a whole chapter on drinks made with ginger ale and the remainder of the book was also liberally filled with drinks and punches in which ginger ale or ginger syrup was, if not the star, a major player in their production. Among them were what I described in a previous post as one of our favorites – white grape juice and ginger ale over ice. “Put one pint of white grape juice, and one quart of ginger ale on ice until very cold. Mix together when ready to serve”.

Interesting mixtures included ginger and cider, pineapple, eggnog, lemon and sarsaparilla, grape and pineapple, etc. – “Uncle Sam’s Water Wagon”.

For a bracing winter beverage the “Confectioners’ and Baker’s Gazette” recommended combining 1 oz. of ginger syrup with ¼ of a large lemon, and filling the mug with hot water. – Jan. 10, 1915.

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