The local news section of a Calgary Herald newspaper from 1883 began with a one-word paragraph: “Cronk.”
Interspersed between articles were similarly terse and mysterious phrases: “Cronk is good.” “Buy Cronk.” ”Cronk is the drink.”
A Calgary brewery, inspired by the enigmatic ads, has resurrected Cronk. Cold Garden Beverage Co. began selling stubby bottles of the fizzy, herbal-tasting beverage in its tap room Wednesday morning and ran out that night. More should be available online soon.
“I think, overall, it’s a success,” said Trevor Cox, brewer at Cold Garden.
“I think it really tastes nice when it’s cold and carbonated.”
Paul Fairie, a community health researcher at the University of Calgary, makes an occasional pastime of perusing old digitized newspapers and he often posts on Twitter the oddities he comes across.
“Oh God. I’ve got to learn more about this,” Fairie recalled thinking when he encountered the Cronk ads in June.
Cronk went viral. People posted photos of antique bottles that once contained the drink. Someone unearthed a recipe that calls for sassafras, sarsaparilla, hops, chamomile, cinnamon, ginger, green tea and molasses.
The owners of Cold Garden decided to have a go at brewing Cronk.
“The fact that it hadn’t been produced in over 100 years made us kind of interested to see what it would taste like. We couldn’t really find anywhere where anyone had said they had tasted it,” Cox said.
“The only way to find out was to brew it ourselves.”
Getting all the ingredients was tough during the COVID-19 pandemic, but Silk Road Spice Merchant, a shop near the brewery, helped procure what was needed.
The only diversion from the original recipe was leaving out sassafras. That’s because it contains a substance believed to cause cancer and Health Canada has banned it from being used in food.
The brewery used mint, burdock root and other ingredients to mimic the flavour profile of sassafras.
The first attempt at Cronk was a foul-tasting flop.
The problem was the type of molasses.
“The black strap molasses was just way too thick and you could not get any of the other flavours. It was just basically molasses fermented,” said Cox.
“So we used a different type of molasses and the second batch turned out to be exactly what we think it should have tasted like.”
Cox said the concoction has the taste of an herbal liqueur, like Jaegermeister, that’s been diluted to four per cent alcohol content and carbonated.
“It’s meant to be a light beverage.”
Cold Garden brewed up 1,800, 375-millilitre bottles. There was a lineup soon after the brewery opened on Wednesday.
Proceeds are going to the Alex Community Health Centre and to Heritage Calgary.
Some bottles were set aside for Fairie, who was expecting Cronk to taste like “maybe a nice-sipping cough syrup.”
Fairie said Cronk provided a surprising and welcome break from the COVID-19 doldrums.
“I couldn’t have searched for a more bizarre kind of way to spend a month-and-a-half or two months of the pandemic — just finding some weird thing that’s a little bit harmless and a little bit fun to get yourself involved in.”
Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press
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