The Best Ginger Ale In The USA
Occasionally I like to write about subjects other than the usual fare of UNC, UNC sports, bbq, hot dogs and travel. This is one of those occasions.
Recently a friend asked me if I knew anything about Carver's ginger ale. I replied in the negative because I have never been much of a ginger ale drinker except when I was a child, my mother used to have me drink ginger ale to "settle my stomach" when I was sick. I don't know whether ginger ale has any medicinal properties or not but I would drink it and shortly thereafter, I would feel better. Some people used to use coca-cola in the same manner.
I was curious as to why my friend had asked about Carver's ginger ale and I asked him to tell me more. The more he told me, the more interested I became in the subject.
So I set out to become an instant expert on the subject of ginger ale. Maybe that is a slight overstatement but I did learn far more about the beverage in general and Carver's ginger ale in particular than I ever knew before.
Carver's ginger ale has been produced in Montross, Virginia, a small town in the Northern Neck area of the Commonwealth since 1926. Most locals have known about Carver's for some time, otherwise they couldn't still be in business but somehow the beverage and knowledge of the drink had eluded me until now.
Dave, my ex-boss and day trip traveling companion and I decided to visit Montross which is a short distance from Richmond to see what we could find out. It is a pleasant trip because no interstates are involved.
We love to take these trips with no advance planning. We both spent our careers as slaves to planning and it is such a pleasure t do things spontaneously and without thought to objectives and goals. Those of you who are still working know what I mean and those of you whose working days are behind you can remember what it was like. I don't know what to say to those who have not yet entered the work force.
We entered the town of Montross with no idea where the bottler of Carver's would be located but we decided it would be fun to just drive around and try to locate the building where Carver's was produced without asking anyone for directions. We were lucky that we located the building in less than 5 minutes We reasoned that Carver's had probably been bought out by a larger bottler and as we entered the town of Montross, we saw the Coca-Cola Bottling facility. We knew that even if we were wrong in our thinking, they would be able to direct us to the Carver location.
We were right and today, Carver's ginger ale is produced in the Coca-Cola facility in Montross. The Carver family has not severed all ties with the drink and a descendant of the originator of the drink still maintains an office in the Coca-Cola building. I was unable to meet with him due to a lack of planning, but I did talk with him by telephone and we agreed to have a face to face meeting in the near future.
I was totally unaware of the fact that ginger ale was the Number 1 soft drink flavor in this country for over 70 years, peaking around the time of the Civil War. Early ginger ales would not be recognizable to modern palates. By most accounts, few bottlers made ginger ale worth drinking by today's standards. The most common sin was the overuse of capsicum (red hot pepper) to achieve the bite that the genuine ginger provided. We can assume that the cheaper, lower quality bottlers employed capsicum to avoid the use of ginger. Creating quality ginger ale was difficult and few mastered the skill.
I asked the people in the Coca-Cola building where they sold the ginger ale and they replied "All over the country." I then realized that I should have asked where they distributed the drink because in the age of the internet, most things are sold all over the world. They informed me that the drink has historically been distributed in Virginia but distribution has recently been expanded to Maryland and North Carolina. They have stopped selling the drink on a retail basis at the bottling plant because the demand and labor costs associated with retailing the product there have proved to be too much to bear. Ukrops, the leading supermarket chain in the Richmond area, has handled Carver's since 1994 but Mrs. RamFanatic does all the grocery shopping so I was unaware of this.
Which brings us to this point. Even though the Cincinnati Inquirer says Carver's is the best ginger ale in the country based on a survey conducted by the newspaper, what does Carver's taste like? The only way I know to explain it is to say that it is smooth. Several of my friends have used this same word to describe their reaction to the taste. It is more expensive than other ginger ales and there is a second brand bottled at the plant in Montross named Northern Neck Ginger Ale which is what I call the "blue collar" ginger ale. I call it this because it is produced only in large plastic bottles and cans. Carver's is bottled in a clear glass long necked bottle with a rather elaborate enameled label on the bottle. It's the kind of bottle that I can visualize on the table at the finest restaurants and country clubs for the beauty of the bottle alone. It reeks with class and I'm sure that ginger ale lovers the country over have attached a certain amount of snob appeal to the product. It comes in a neat 4 pack, thank you very much.
The people in Montross told me a funny story about a representative from the David Letterman Show coming to Montross recently and wanted to do a segment for the show inside the bottling area. The people at the plant would not allow him in and townspeople explained to me "all he wanted to do was to laugh at us." I agree. Send the big city dude back to New York empty handed. In one last swipe at the Carver people and Montross, he stood across from the Coca-Cola bottling plant drinking a Pepsi and talking about how good it was. The segment was aired on January 31st I am told.
For those who might like to know more about Carver's, they have a web site and the address is www.realgingerale.com You may suspect that this article is a commercial from the Carver folks but I can assure you it is not. I bought my 4 pack at a Kroger's and quickly gave them out to friends whom I thought might like to try it. One person to whom I gave a bottle told me he was going to save his until he had guests over so he could share it with them. Hey, it's a little pricey but it's not that expensive!