Bangor company reinvents an old classic and brings it back to glory

editorial image

Maybe it’s my palate but some things just don’t taste the same as they used to.

Veda bread isn’t as malty and sticky. The exception being a veda loaf from Ann’s Pantry in Larne. Milk chocolate isn’t as creamy, wagon wheels are definitely smaller and some versions of walnut whips don’t even have a nut on top anymore. When I was younger I loved the taste of ginger ale – the fizzy spice made me feel very grown up when I was drinking it. These days ginger ale has lost a bit of its lustre – more sickly sweet than piquant. The good news though is that the company behind Papa’s Minerals in Bangor, have reinvented this classic mixer and brought it back to its original glory. Having always assumed this drink was a Canadian invention, it was a surprise to discover it was created in Belfast nearly 180 years ago.

A chemist shop in the city, as well as making tablets, also manufactured soft drinks and introduced the first fizzy ginger ale. However Dr Thomas Cantrell, once an assistant in the firm, is said to have been behind its creation. When he left the company he joined forces with Henry Cochrane to from the well known soft drinks firm Cantrell and Cochrane. One of their employees, a WA Ross had a dispute with the company and left to set up his own drinks factory. He patented the ginger ale making apparatus, making him the official creator of the iconic drink.

A few years later a Canadian pharmacist, John McLaughlin, devised a paler ginger ale when he was working in Belfast and brought it back to Canada with him. The story is enough to tie you up in knots but without doubt it was invented in Belfast and Papa’s Minerals, under the name Longbridge Drinks have restored the celebrated beverage to the city it originally came from. The name Longbridge comes from the structure built across the River Lagan linking Belfast city on one side with its river and lough, to County Down on the other. The bridge was almost a mile in length and was the longest on the British Isles. It lasted from 1688 to 1841 when it was replaced by the new Queens Bridge. Longbridge ginger ale is a drink that revives the history of trade from the city.

As well as being a refreshing drink on its own ginger ale is traditionally served with whiskey or, in recent times, with good gin. The first recipe this week uses the ginger ale in a cake which is then topped with a whiskey and ginger syrup. The icing uses burnt white chocolate – this sounds strange but has a lovely caramel flavour that works beautifully with the spice in the cake and the syrup.

My other recipe is a savoury one using the ginger ale in a batter for prawns that are served in a lettuce cup – crispy, spicy and delicious.