'Cronk is the drink' old newspaper ads capture attention of Calgary researcher and twitterverse

What started as an amusing tweet by a Calgary researcher turned into a lively online debate about the nature and mysterious origins of a drink known only as Cronk.

Advertisements for the concoction were published in the Calgary Herald in 1883

These images show ads for a drink known as Cronk from a Sept. 28, 1883, edition of the Herald. (Submitted by Paul Fairie)

Paul Fairie, a researcher and instructor in the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary, enjoys looking through old newspaper articles. He spent much of his youth developing the habit in the libraries of Hamilton, Ont.

Fairie often comes across interesting and sometimes bizarre bits of history and enjoys tweeting about them using his handle @PauliSci

That's why on Monday when he tweeted out a series of photos about some bizarre ads for a mysterious drink called "Cronk" he thought nothing of it.

The ads are from the Sept. 28, 1883, edition of the Calgary Herald, which was only the fifth edition of the newspaper.

"We're in the middle of a pandemic … so nothing better to do than look at some old newspapers. I came across an old Calgary Herald from 1883 and I saw the headline that said 'Local News,' and I saw the first word was 'Cronk,'" Fairie said on the The Homestretch.

What caught his eye was the word itself, which he found amusing, as well as the way the ads were worded, which left a lot to the imagination. 

"I thought I gotta obviously read more so I flipped to the front page and it kept being these small stories about like hunting and so on and then had all these little ads for Cronk. So I became fascinated and had to share.

Throughout the day, the popularity of Fairie's tweet, and Cronk, grew, much to his surprise. Eventually, the word Cronk became the seventh trending item in Canada on Twitter. 

At first, just Calgarians were tweeting at Fairie, sharing more information that they had uncovered about Cronk. Then people from all over North America were replying to him with breadcrumbs of knowledge about the captivating drink.

What is Cronk?

"Cronk is the drink" is all the ads in the old Herald said, but Fairie says there's a debate around even the nature of the drink.

"It's a bit of a mystery … it seems to be a 19th century root beer drink that may or may not have been alcoholic," said Fairie.

"It's advertised as a temperance sarsaparilla drink."

He says one of his favourite Cronk tidbits that came in was about a court case involving Cronk.

"Someone sent me an old court case from Ontario in the 1880s. I was a big controversy as to whether or not Cronk had alcohol. I think someone sued the maker of Cronk because they didn't get drunk."

Since he spoke on The Homestretch about it Monday, someone did uncover what may be the original recipe for Cronk and shared it with Fairie.

"Dr. Cronk's Sarsaparilla Beer' recipe, published in the Hand Book of Practical Receipts, included things like sassafras, sarsaparilla, chamomile, cinnamon, ginger, green tea and molasses. At some point in the process, yeast is added and the drink is left to ferment. 

Who is Dr. Cronk?

One of the ads in the paper simply read "Dr. Cronk," and the mystery of Dr. Cronk has apparently also been solved thanks to the Internet.

"I got this PDF file from some local history group in New York State all about Warren Cronk, who was the Dr. Cronk in question, about the history of the drink.

It was basically like a franchise you could buy the recipe and sell it as Cronk."

Cronk demand

Fairie says that since his tweet, the demand for Cronk has increased steadily.

"Lot's of reaction came in from people all over the world … demanding Cronk," said Fairie.

"I saw someone on Twitter had tweeted one of the local breweries in Calgary to see if they could brew up a batch of Cronk."

He believes this turn of events could eventually lead to demand for the drink once more.

"An intellectual property lawyer from the U.S. did let me know that the Cronk trademark is perfectly available for anyone who wants to register it, if they want to get a little business going," said Fairie.

For now, we must live with the knowledge that we may never know what the original recipe tasted like.

With files from The Homestretch.


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