There’s one all-purpose, go-to beverage for the holidays – one that kids can drink, adults can mix with liquor, and both can use later for an upset stomach. It’s not eggnog or hot chocolate, but Canada Dry ginger ale!
The drink was invented in 1904 by Ontario pharmacist and chemist John J. McLaughlin (brother of Robert Samuel McLaughlin, whose McLaughlin Motor Car Company later became General Motors of Canada). McLaughlin’s ginger ale was intentionally formulated as a soda water for mixing with fruit juice and flavoured extracts, but it wasn’t perfect. The colour of the ginger ale was too dark and the taste too sweet for McLaughlin, who wanted it to be on par with “dry” and clear sparkling French champagnes. After some time experimenting in the lab, he found the perfect balance, and Canada Dry Pale Ginger Ale, with real ginger, was patented in Toronto in 1907.
In that decade, McLaughlin’s ginger ale was sold in corner drug stores and soda fountains, the primary outlets for carbonated beverages. When McLaughlin increased production by developing a mass bottling system for his ale, its popularity soared. Wherever people congregated – at beaches, ball parks, and supper clubs – McLauglin’s ginger ale could be found.
But it was the Roaring Twenties that launched Canada Dry to stardom. At a time when the beverage market was filled with relatively tasteless carbonated soda waters, Canada Dry became the perfect mixer, effectively masking the Prohibition era’s harsh homebrew taste with the ginger ale’s crisp and pleasant flavour. It became the generation’s drink of choice, especially for the new moneyed young. Even at the high price of 35 cents for a 12-ounce bottle, it sold well.
In addition to being a popular mixer, McLaughlin’s ginger ale enjoyed a second career as a legitimate remedy. Becaues of its ginger content, it was used to treat nausea, inflammation and upset stomach, but its claim to fame was still as a mixer.
The 1930s ushered in the era of the radio, and every company with a popular product leaped to sponsor a show. Wheaties had “The Lone Ranger,” Blue Coal had “The Shadow” and in 1932, Canada Dry enlisted a greenhorn named Jack Benny for “The Canada Dry Program.” Benny regularly quipped that pitching the beverage throughout the show was a “waste of time.” “You drink it, you like it and don’t want to hear about it,” he said. Canada Dry dropped him the next year. Later, Benny, with his own show, became one of the most popular names in radio history.
Today, Canada Dry is no longer Canadian-owned and operated. In 1986 it was purchased by Cadbury Schweppes, and in 2008 by the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group in the United States. (The confusion between the name, “Canada Dry” and its non-Canadian producers gained media attention in 2003 when parts of the U.S. misguidedly staged a boycott after Canada’s refusal to participate in the Iraqi invasion).
Despite the nationality of its ownership, Canada Dry ginger ale is truly international. It’s mixed with local flavours to produce a blend that’s unique to each country: Jamaicans drink “Shandy Graft,” a mix of ginger ale and Red Stripe Beer, while Peruvians drink “Chilcano,” a mix of Peruvian Pisco brandy, ginger ale, honey and lemon. So, what do Canadians drink? If Canada Dry is part of your holiday mix, share your recipe. For those out of ideas, try this martini recipe direct from Canada Dry – just make sure to leave your sleigh keys with a designated driver this holiday!
- 90 mL (3 ounces) grape vodka
- 7 mL (1/4 ounce) blue curacao
- 7 mL (1/4 ounce) Rose’s grenadine
- Splash Canada Dry Tonic Water
Shake all ingredients together with ice. Strain into a martini glass. Enjoy!