Never Heard of the Slightly Boozy Old-time Drink Cronk? You Will

By: Jeremy Glass  | 
In the old days, cronk was brewed with sassafras, both a form of narcotic and a potential carcinogen, which has now been replaced with sarsaparilla root for the modern version of cronk. Add in chamomile, cinnamon, ginger, green tea, molasses and hops and you have, well, cronk. Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)/HowStuffWorks

Chances are you've never heard of cronk. And if you have heard the word before, there's an even bigger chance you think it's an illegal street drug or a sexy club dance.

Wrong on both counts.


Hailing from Syracuse, New York, and with ads going back to the year 1846, cronk was a "small beer" (i.e., a beer brewed to contain between 0.5 percent and 2.8 percent ABV [alcohol by volume]), made with sassafras, sarsaparilla, ginger, green tea and molasses. So, why aren't we all sucking down bottles of cronk and partying like it's 1899? First, we need to learn about the history of this long-defunct drink.

Researcher and instructor at UCalgary, Paul Fairie, one day came upon newspaper clippings from the 1930s advertising cronk (also known as Dr. Cronk) and quickly became obsessed with the drink.

Cronk was marketed back in the day as a medicinal beverage that "blends the rare qualities of luxury and health," says Fairie in a Twitter interview. Like snake oil or opium, cronk was a product of patent medicine; one of many "medicinal" tonics purported to cure anything and everything, but with zero evidence.

"Cronk seems to have been a mildly alcoholic drink popular from about 1840 to maybe 1910, largely in the U.S. and parts of Canada," says Fairie, suggesting the drink likely tasted like a gingery kind-of-not-sweet root beer.

After disappearing sometime in the 1910s — likely due to a series of economic depressions — cronk remained largely unheard of until Fairie's tweet garnered 11,000 retweets and 1.4 million views. Now, a Calgary-based brewery called Cold Garden plans to brew the long-lost beverage after 120 years of its being out of production.

"I think it's going to taste like a spicy root beer," head brewer at Cold Garden, Blake Belding, told The Guardian. "I've never really used molasses and there's a lot of ginger in there, so it'll kick."

Want to make cronk at home? Check out this recipe and get cooking.