‘Cronk is the drink!’ And Calgarians will soon be able to sip the sarsaparilla-based brew

It’s not easy making Cronk.

But one Calgary brewer has cracked the code on the vintage drink, and Calgarians will soon be able to sip the sarsaparilla-type treat.

Cronk came on the radar earlier this summer after a Calgary researcher tweeted out some vintage ads from the Calgary Herald, published in the early 1880s, and the discussion went viral.

  • WATCH | Find out how it’s made by Cold Garden in the video above

The Cold Garden Beverage Company — a Calgary micro-brewery known for producing beers with whimsical names like Red Smashed in Buffalo Jump and Cake Face — decided to replicate the vintage recipe. 

And this week, it’s finally being bottled.

According to Trevor Cox, brewer at the micro-brewery in Inglewood, whipping up a batch of the sarsaparilla-based, carbonated beverage is no simple feat. But that’s OK.

“As a brewing company, we wanted to do something different from beer,” he said. 

“It is different, and we thought it would be a little bit more of a challenge, too, which it has proven to be. It’s not a beer, so there’s lots of different variables in how the beverage actually turns out from brewing it to packaging it.” 

Cox said the current batch will produce about 1,800 bottles.

“There’s a lot of herbs in there, some chamomile — It’s kind of like a tea, with sarsaparilla and molasses,” he said. “The molasses is fermented out, and that’s how we get most of the alcohol into the drink. We’ve used a very standard yeast, and molasses, and there’s green tea in there as well.”

Each bottle of Cronk has four per cent alcohol. 

Trevor Cox, brewer at Cold Garden, shows off the brewing tank that holds a batch of the sarsaparilla-based, carbonated beverage known as Cronk. (James Young/CBC)

This is the second attempt the brewers have made.

“I didn’t think people were going to get as excited about it as they did,” head brewer and co-owner Blake Belding told The Homestretch.

“So as soon as we started endeavouring to do it, then the pressure of a lot of Cronk fans came down upon us. We got a little nervous and we sort of screwed up the first batch, which made things a little more difficult.”

What went wrong?

They used blackstrap molasses instead of fancy molasses, which is much sweeter.

“It turns out that blackstrap molasses does not taste very good when you ferment all the sugar out of it, so we had like 800 litres of a really bad-tasting Cronk, which is like the last thing we needed in the world right now,” Belding said. “And when we first brewed it, we said about two weeks. And then we tasted that first batch and we’re like, ‘I think we’re gonna need another two or three weeks.'”

Cox is much more pleased with the current batch.

“The first batch was very molasses-ey,” Cox said. “I don’t think you could get any of the herbs except for the molasses. So we took another stab at it and this one is by far the best I’ve ever tasted.”

It all started off with an ad from 1883 in the Calgary Herald, and with one tweet Cronk was reborn. 3:11

Of course, that’s part of the appeal — it’s a mystery drink.

“Maybe it’s more interesting than any beverage that’s out there currently because it is so old, and nobody really knows what it was supposed to taste like. We weren’t sure what it was supposed to taste like either when we were doing the first batch … but we think it tastes great, now.”

Belding found the recipe online, and saw the original post from Paul Fairie, a researcher and instructor in the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary. Fairie posted the old advertisement from the Sept. 28, 1883, edition of the Calgary Herald, promoting the mysterious drink with the slogan, “Cronk is the Drink!”

“I saw that there was a lot of hype behind it,” Belding told The Homestretch. “A lot of people were very excited, and I just kind of looked at it and thought to myself, like, damn, I wish I had the power to make this a reality. And then I quickly realized that I do have the power to make this a reality, so off we went.”

These images show ads for a drink known as Cronk from the Sept. 28, 1883, edition of the Calgary Herald. (Submitted by Paul Fairie)

The recipe was “very basic,” according to Cox.

“There’s not a lot of details on how it’s manufactured, and it looks like it was just written out on an old typewriter. So just going through the process of our experience with brewing beer, we just kind of took that and applied it to this Cronk beverage. I think we’ve done a pretty good job.”

And then there’s the sassafras. 

“We did a lot of research on the ingredients that were going into it and the challenge was trying to figure out how to replicate that recipe using ingredients from … a 150 years ago with stuff that was available for us today,” Belding said.

Turns out, sassafras is both a form of narcotic and potentially carcinogenic — it has been replaced with sarsaparilla root for the modern version of Cronk.

“Sassafras is not a legal ingredient to be included in any alcoholic beverages in Canada,” Cox said.

The process is similar to brewing beer, with extra time for adding in the herbs: chamomile, cinnamon, ginger and sarsaparilla root.

“I’d say one batch of beer here takes about five hours to brew, and the other process for the Cronk takes about seven hours,” he said.

Belding said Cronk will be available to the public on Wednesday.


With files from The Homestretch and James Young.

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