Some of my favorite drinks have some funky additives and, oddly enough, a few have ended up changing over the years as the FDA outlawed them. Here’s a look at three.
My favorite drink gets its distinctive taste (and aftertaste) from gentian root. According to Pliny the Eldar, “gentian” is an eponym of Gentius (180-168 BC), King of Illyria, who supposedly discovered its healing properties. In addition to Moxie, it appears in a number of alcoholic beverages including bitters.
Absinthe has generally been illegal in the United States and Europe until recently. The problem arose from the chemical thujone which is present in wormwood, the chief ingredient in absinthe. In the early 1990s some countries in Europe allowed it to be produced again after research showed that absinthe contains less thujone than originally thought and, in some cases, can be made authentically without at thujone present at all (while still using wormwood). Thujone-free absinthe is now manufactured in the US as well. Ernest Hemingway invented a terrific drink called “Death in the Afternoon” that was a mix of absinthe and champagne. I had a glass at lunch at the Morgan Library and Museum back in August. Mmmmm….
Since I grew up in Buffalo, which is only a few hours by car from Detroit, I grew up drinking a lot of Vernors (note the apostrophe was officially dropped years ago). Vernor’s is not exactly a ginger ale, per sé. It’s much more “gingery” than ginger ale and is often likened more to a ginger beer. In addition, it’s extremely carbonated and sometimes causes people to sneeze and cough when the drink it (it tends to tickle my nosehair). My dad is a huge fan and passed on his love of Vernors to me. From 1866 to 1991 it was sweetened with stevia. In 1991 the FDA outlawed it unless it was labeled as a dietary supplement. Vernors is now sweetened with high fructose corn syrup. Of course, it is apparently OK for Coca-Cola to go ahead and develop their own stevia-based sweetener, called Rebiana. Coke doesn’t own Vernors. Cadbury Schweppes owns Vernors and Cadbury Schweppes is a non-US Coke competitor. Anybody smell bullshit? I swear that if you want the US government – any of the three branches regardless of party affiliation – to care about you, you need to incorporate yourself and be loaded with $$$$.