Windsor

Vernors ginger ale turns 150 - and everyone's invited to the party

One of this region's most popular soft drinks turns 150 this year. Detroiters are planning a week-long party to celebrate Vernor's Ginger Ale - and everyone's invited.

Windsor Morning's Jonathan Pinto meets Vernors historian and collector Keith Wunderlich

Keith Wunderlich is a historian and collector of Vernors ginger ale memorabilia. He displays and stores his collection at his home in Troy, Mich. The iconic soft drink turns 150 years old this year. 1:06

I started drinking Vernors ginger ale as a teenager in Peterborough, Ont. There was a place downtown called The Ritz Market Deli — and they happened to sell Vernors.

I never saw it anywhere else, so I made sure to buy a can with my sandwich. Kevin, the owner of the deli, didn't always have it in stock — apparently it was hard to find. 

When I moved to Windsor, I was thrilled to find out that Vernors, which was invented in Detroit, is readily available.

Pharmacist James Vernor invented Vernors ginger ale in 1866. He was also a prominent Detroit politician after which Vernor Highway is named. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

Vernors turns 150 years old this year — and there's a week's worth of celebrations starting this Sunday. To find out more about this iconic drink and the party planned for it, I met up with Keith Wunderlich.

By day, he's the superintendent of a school board in Metro Detroit. By night, he's the guy who runs the Vernors Ginger Ale Collector's Club, which has about 70 members.

Keith Wunderlich is a school superintendent by day, Vernors historian and collector by night. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

I figured Keith would have a few cool items in his personal Vernors collection. Turns out "a few" was an understatement.

I met Keith at his house in Troy. Inside and out, it looks pretty normal — until you get to his basement.

Keith Wunderlich's collection includes multiple vending machines and this gnome. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

The place is packed with Vernors memorabilia. It's impeccably displayed with not a speck of dust in sight. 

There are thousands of items. 

Vernors advertisements from the past 150 years form a major part of Keith's collection.

Most interesting was the number of items with a Windsor connection. 

Turns out Windsor was one of many cities in Canada to have a Vernors bottling plant.

Many of the items in Keith's collection feature Windsor. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

Today, Vernors in Canada is produced at a plant in Mississauga, and is only sold in Ontario. Not surprisingly, the majority of it is sold in Windsor and Essex County.

A can of Vernors produced in Windsor. Today, all Vernors sold in Canada is produced at a plant in Mississauga. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

In Detroit, there were three successive plants along Woodward Avenue that made Vernors. One was located right on the river, south of Jefferson Avenue — where Hart Plaza is today.

That means at one point, our skylines used to be dominated by signs for beverages: Vernors in Detroit, and Canadian Club in Windsor.

A Vernors bottling plant used to sit on the shore of the Detroit River, directly across from Windsor. (Keith Wunderlich/Vernors Ginger Ale Collector's Club)

Rye and ginger ale — a match made in heaven.

Today, Vernors sold in Detroit is bottled across the state in Holland, Mich.

To hear more from Keith, including his thoughts on whether there's a difference in taste between Vernors made in Michigan and Vernors made in Ontario, tap on the audio player.

One of this region's most popular soft drinks turns 150 this year. Detroiters are planning at week-long party to celebrate Vernors Ginger Ale. Jonathan met up with Keith Wunderlich, who runs the Vernors Ginger Ale Collector's Club. 10:08

Want to join the Vernors 150 party?

A number of events are planned for Vernors Week, which starts June 5.

Restaurants across Detroit will feature Vernors-inspired food and drink. A special exhibit — featuring items from Keith's extensive collection — will be on display at the Detroit Historical Museum in Midtown Detroit. 

It all culminates with a day-long party on June 11, which features a "poker run," a documentary screening and even a world record attempt for most people drinking pop at the same time. 

For more details, click here.

About the Author

Jonathan Pinto is a reporter/editor at CBC Windsor, primarily assigned to Afternoon Drive, CBC Radio's regional afternoon show for southwestern Ontario. Email jonathan.pinto@cbc.ca.

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