What's the Story of Ginger Ale?

Can of CBD ginger ale on wooden indoor table beside plant and several books

If you really want to start an argument between historians of food and beverage ask them who invented ginger ale. What you’ll discover is that they each tend to have their own pet theory about how long this now-iconic beverage has been around and what enterprising individual was the one who thought it up.

Those of us at Colorado's Best Drinks are proud to have crafted our own one-of-a-kind Ginger Ale flavor, along with eight other delicious sCBD beverages. While we'd love to take the credit for the ginger ale flavor itself, the truth is ginger ale is a 19th-century invention. Or is it a 20th-century invention? It's hard to tell because exactly when it appeared and whose idea it was is where the disagreements start. So, if we are to get to the bottom of this question we’re going to have to go...

Back to the Beginning

Humans have been using ginger as a medicine, and to add spice to their food and beverages, for at least 2,500 years. Not surprisingly, the first people to do so were the Chinese and the Indians, and indeed ginger remains a culinary staple for both cultures to this day. But besides this vague historical awareness that it was used to spice up beverages long ago, the story of ginger is pretty unremarkable until we get all the way to the mid-18th century.

By that time centuries of trade with the Far East had brought silks, noodles, gunpowder and, yes, ginger West where it found favor in Britain. In the mid-18th century, the Brits of Yorkshire began brewing ginger beer which became an instant hit and was soon being exported to Ireland and the colonies in North America. (Ginger beer remained immensely popular for more than a century, although it is primarily known now as an ingredient in Moscow Mule cocktails.)

Near the end of the 18th century, some clever folks had figured out how to infuse water with carbon dioxide, thereby creating the first seltzers. By the early 19th century some equally clever folks created flavored syrups and began combining these with seltzer water to create the first sodas. And this is where things get a bit murky.

Who Actually Invented Ginger Ale?

Everyone can agree on a few things: CBD sparkling soda is delicious (wink, wink), ginger beer was a precursor of ginger ale, and the first fountain sodas were produced in the early 19th century. As far as the story of ginger ale goes, however, that is where the agreement ends.

You see, there are those who propose that the first commercially available ginger ale was produced and sold in 1818 by a resident of Baltimore, Maryland named J. De Gruchy. There is, however, precious hard evidence to support this claim, and many find it questionable at best. But we’ll leave it on the table for now.

A competing claim comes from Detroit, Michigan where it is said that one James Vernor invented, and was the first to commercially market, ginger ale in 1866. This is a more credible claim since the history of Vernor’s Ginger Ale is well-documented. In fact, it is still being produced and is quite popular in the Upper Midwest, as well as in Florida, where many Midwesterners go to retire.

But wait! Not everyone is willing to cede the invention of ginger ale to the venerable Mr. Vernor. You see, in the 1850s an Irish pharmacist named Thomas Joseph Cantrell is said to have produced and marketed his own brand of ginger ale in Belfast, Northern Ireland, a full decade before Mr. Vernor. Cantrell’s ginger ale bore little resemblance to our ginger ale flavored sparkling CBD soda. It was generally dark in color, had a very strong flavor and was much sweeter than what contemporary taste buds are used to.

It’s this disconnect between what Cantrell was producing and what people - including our CBD beverage company - now consider ginger ale that causes many to dismiss his claim of having invented ginger ale. Instead, they see his product as a kind of stepping stone, or bridge, between ginger beer and ginger ale. So, while Cantrell’s product was sold for years using the marketing slogan “The Original Makers of Ginger Ale” not everyone was, or is, buying that.

Yet Another Competing Claim

To at least some extent who you believe invented ginger ale depends on how you define ginger ale. Some credit the mysterious J. De Gruchy. Plenty of other people (especially in Northern Ireland) support the notion that Thomas Cantrell’s dark, brooding, syrupy sweet concoction was the first ginger ale. While there are plenty of others who credit a Canadian chemist named John J. McLaughlin with inventing it. Why? Because his ginger ale, patented in 1907, was the first that tasted more or less like what we recognize today as ginger ale. In fact, you can still buy his product. It’s sold internationally under the name “Canada Dry Ginger Ale”.

Ginger Ale is Here to Stay

While well-meaning folks can disagree over who invented ginger ale, one thing is for certain: this distinctive soft drink is not about to fall out of favor any time soon. It is estimated that the global ginger ale market is now just over $5 billion per year and growing.

A multitude of manufacturers have thrown their hat into the ginger ale ring. Colorado's Best Drinks has a Sparkling CBD Ginger Ale flavor you're sure to love - along with eight other delicious CBD drinks available in our Sparkling Shop. We think you’ll find our CBD beverages version of this timeless classic to be a worthy entry into the pantheon of notably ginger ales.