Richmond Times-Dispatch

Lifelong fan of Northern Neck Ginger Ale leading the charge to bring it back

- BY ROB HEDELT

When it comes to Northern Neck Ginger Ale, Stephanie Johnson’s devotion is unshakable.

“I grew up with it and it has always been a part of my life,” said the 35-year-old from King George County. “When you were eating crabs, when you got together with family for the holidays and even when you were sick at home as a child, there was always Northern Neck Ginger Ale.”

But not anymore. Coca-Cola stopped production of the soft drink in July. Still, Johnson is working to bring back the ginger ale of her memories, and she’s not the only one with fond memories of the drink created in 1926 by the Northern Neck CocaCola Bottling Co. in Montross.

She’s created a public group on Facebook called “Save Northern Neck Ginger Ale” where she and others are doing what they can to get it manufactur­ed again.

One comment shared frequently on the page comes from Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, who after hearing about Coke’s decision to permanentl­y sideline the drink had this to say on Twitter: “Not so fast—I grew up with Northern Neck Ginger Ale and am among the many fans who would hate to see it fizzle out. We have reached out to @ CocaCola and are doing everything we can to keep this popular Virginia staple on our shelves. Stay tuned...”

The group is also trying to get people to sign on to one of several change.org petitions calling for Coca-Cola to begin making it again. There are also references to the failed effort last year of Westmorela­nd County state legislator Margaret Ransone to get it designed as the state’s official soft drink.

While the drink was made for decades at the bottling plant in Montross, in Westmorela­nd County. It’s become one of the many “zombie brands” being discontinu­ed by Coca-Cola that has been bottled at a plant in Sandston.

Coca-Cola called the brand purge a global portfolio refresh, prioritizi­ng category-leading brands with the greatest potential for growth. Also discontinu­ed in that move: Zico coconut water, Coca-Cola

Life, Diet Coke Feisty Cherry and Delaware Punch.

It’s made Johnson downright aggravated. “I don’t think Coca-Cola understand­s how important this drink is for so many of us,” said Johnson, who’s down to one case and plans to only pop the last few cans for very special occasions. “Every time I have one, I feel calm. Its taste is phenomenal, and it’s fizzy to the point where nothing else compares.”

She knows that folks who haven’t tried the soft drink might think she’s a bit over the top about all this.

“But other long-time lovers of Northern Neck Ginger Ale, which includes everyone in my family, they get it,” she said. “We always thought they should have taken the drink national instead of just offering it mainly in Virginia.”

On the Facebook page, there are many offering as much praise as Johnson, like Carole Dervin, who said she was born and grew up in the Northern Neck and now lives in Louisiana.

“When there is any travel … cases of

Northern Neck Ginger Ale are transporte­d!” said Dervin, noting that three hometown favorites were always asked to be brought back by people visiting the area: “Country ham, Duke’s Mayonnaise and Northern Neck Ginger Ale.”

Reacting to news that the brand was being discontinu­ed, Nancy Wilson, formerly of Warsaw, said “This is terrible news. It’s the best ginger ale ever!”

Johnson said she and others who follow the site — one post has gotten some 15,000 responses — enjoy sharing how much the soft drink has been a pivotal part of their lives.

But she knows it will take more than just nostalgia to persuade Coca-Cola or any other company to bring back the drink.

“I’m putting together a package that shows people’s interest and desire to buy it again that I want to give to Coca-Cola,” Johnson said.

She may also try to get it to Northam, who might have better access to the corporate giant. “He might well have a better chance of getting their attention,” she said.

 ?? MIKE MORONES / THE FREE LANCE–STAR ?? Stephanie Johnson holds a can of Northern Neck Ginger Ale fromher dwindling supply. The King George County residentwa­nts to persuade Coca-Cola to revive her favorite drink.
MIKE MORONES / THE FREE LANCE–STAR Stephanie Johnson holds a can of Northern Neck Ginger Ale fromher dwindling supply. The King George County residentwa­nts to persuade Coca-Cola to revive her favorite drink.

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