Growing up in Detroit meant that if you felt queasy, someone ran off to the store to get Vernors. 7-Up was a pale substitute, in every way including color. Vernors was NOT ginger ale, thank you very much; everyone knew that ginger ale was Canada Dry. Vernors was like a Gran Marnier; sure, technically speaking, it belonged to a certain family of beverages (ginger sodas for Vernors, orange liqueur for Gran Marnier), but what made it outstanding was not that it was the epitome of that family.
It was a creature related, and yet entirely unto itself.
But she softened for Vernors. Everybody did.
(Not everybody softened for the remedy we learned from Wilma Jean, our neighbor across the way at House #1. "Coke syrup, honey," I heard her drawl as I rested against my mom on a concrete stoop outside on a hot summer night. "She needs Coke syrup." What in the world was that? I could tell my mom didn't even know...Wilma Jean walked back home to get some of her own supply, and my mother didn't know the answer to my questions. "Does she mean the pop? Is it cough syrup that tastes like Coke? How would cough syrup help a queasy tummy?" She didn't know. Wilma Jean returned with a small bottle, a cross between a bitters bottle and a medicine bottle. To my amazement, my mother let me try some -- after reading the label. It was...Coke syrup. Had I had some seltzer, or a soda fountain, I could have made soda pop.
It didn't help, even though it scored on the exotic quotient. But I digress...)
I have learned that some people drank Vernors hot, sometimes only and specifically in cases of illness. Otherwise, they consumed it like the rest of us: cold. Though, truth be told, I sometimes drank mine tepid, when extreme temperatures in either direction could spell a rumbly turned into a rumble.
|other graphics on 6-packs encouraged you to bake your ham with a Vernor's glaze|
In the same way you will hear perfume folk bemoan modern versions of old formulas, anyone who knows their Vernors will talk about the Real Vernors. The Late, Lamented Vernors. Old Vernors, the way they used to make it. They may tell the tale of the near death of the brand, it being purchased by a bigger company, leading to its final death. The graphics and the mascot remained, but...it was never, ever the same.
The new owner fiddled while the gnome wept.
Detroit's an interesting place. There are two foodstuffs invented in Detroit, the Boston Cooler, and the Coney Island, which are unique--and which have nothing to do with their geographical namesakes. The Boston Cooler is basically an ice cream soda, using vanilla ice cream and...did you guess?...Vernors. The Coney Island is a hot dog with chili sauce over top. Chili *sauce,* not chili...while it has almost discernible ground meat in it, it is more liquified than what you would typically conjure when thinking "chili." With our without onions, your coney.
You can imagine the looks of curiosity, disbelief, befuddlement, near anger, derision, then humor that passed across my Brooklyn-born beau's face when I introduced him to a Coney Island. A situation that kind of piled on when I asked him if I wanted to go to American or Lafayette to try one. "Which one is closer?" he asked.
Today I tasted Goose Island spicy ginger soda. In spite of what it doesn't have, I wilted. It is, in perfume parlance, a flanker, the eau legere of Vernors.
To translate for the not-perfume-smitten, its like a less intense Vernors, but with the spirit of the original. A lighter version of the original juice. Unlike the New Vernors, which you might as well ditch for Canada Dry.
We talk scent and memory plenty of times. We've talked about Francis Kurkdjian and his bubbles. Today, I mashed 'em up. What if those bubbles, like some perfumes, immediately whisked you through a life-flashing-before-your-eyes series of vignettes, of memories you could smell and taste?
I would pay online auction mania prices for the chance to taste Real Vernors again.
No longer do I whimper for Vernors when I am sick. But in over a decade of raising kids, it has never ceased to be my first instinct to reach for some Vernors when they were ailing.
The old Vernors was aged for four years in oak barrels. In a little bit of auld lang syne, I'm going to raise my glass tonight. With something aged for 12 years, I think. A substitute cup of kindness, as it were.
Unless I choose to pilfer my kid's
∞Vernors sign from the Dewey from Detroit blog
∞Vernor's six-pack from the Vernor's Club on Flickr
∞"The Vernor's Story" poster from Beverage Underground
∞Photo of Lafayette and American Coney Island from Fancy Mag (and a good narrative of the scene, too, though it doesn't mention how each joint would have a guy in an apron out front waving you in, battling with the other guy for your business)
∞Wilma Jean not the real name, though not far off the mark in a family full of double names, up from Kentucky to work in the auto factory, a case of Detroit taking on other geographies for real