This old cool drink bottle emerged intact from the household rubbish dump behind our house. This week’s photo challenge invites us to share a photo that includes a name. The message on this bottle reads: “THIS BOTTLE IS THE PROPERTY OF THOS CREARER PMB AND IS NEVER SOLD”.

Crerar’s cool drinks, including its famous ginger beer, were manufactured in Pietermaritzburg (Pmb), the capital of what was then Natal province (now KwaZulu-Natal). These cool drinks made an important contribution to many tearooms and to many family gatherings. I remember Crerar’s cool drinks from my childhood, and I also remember the factory – the old triangular-shaped building is still standing, but is now used as a workshop.

Despite its previous near legendary status, the now defunct company has all but vanished from the records. I have found some anecdotes online, with nostalgia-laced memories not only of the fiery ginger beer, but also of the lemonade, clear cream soda and naartjie-flavoured cool drinks. I have also found that a few Crerar’s ginger beer bottles and  soda syphons are for sale on online auctions.

I came across this comment on the Wikipedia reference desk archive:

When I was growing up there was this brilliant cooldrink called “Crerar’s” that was sold in Pietermaritzburg only. I swear it put all other international cooldrinks to shame, and everyone agreed. The legend goes that the only person who knew the secret ingredient was Mrs Crerar, the owner of the company, after her husband died. She would enter her factory with a bottle of the stuff and tell her workers to add a small quantity to each vat. She was told many times to take her product national if not further but she never listened. I wonder if Crerar’s is still being sold? Would be interesting to know.

Sandman30s 11:52, 9 November 2006 (UTC).

In a history of the (originally Scottish) Crerar family, (see here) there is only a brief mention of the once thriving business: “From 1901 Alexander Crerar produced the best ginger beer in South Africa from his factory in Pietermaritzburg”.


Using the name on the bottle I tracked down, on a website dedicated to the “1820 Settlers”, the marriage certificate of Thomas Crerar (presumably a son of 1820 Settler Alexander Crerar). His profession is described as “Aerated Water Manufacturer”. He married Lillian Wissing in 1923, and she must be the owner who kept the famous cool drinks’ ingredients secret.

And thanks to the virtual branch of the Genealogical Society of South Africa (eGSSA), a photograph of the headstone of the Crerar’s grave is available online. Parents of Myles and Gordon, Thomas Crerar (1885-1957) and Lillian Crerar (1899-1994) were buried at the Mountain Rise cemetery in Pietermaritzburg.

I am pleased to have a memento in the form of the found bottle, and I really like its gentle curves. It is sometimes used as a vase, and I photographed it holds a cutting of the indigenous Crocosmia aurea, also known as Falling Stars.

So the name of Crerer’s cool drinks lives on, recorded on a few old bottles and in the fond memories of those who were lucky enough to savour this special and locally made soda.

If anyone reading this has any memories or information related to Crerar’s cool drinks, please do post a comment. Thank you.

Posted by Carol


 Weekly Photo Challenge: Names Click on the link to find other photographs featuring this theme.


Wikipedia Reference Desk item.

Crerars of Perthshire, Scotland: Crerar Compendium.

Marriage certificate.

Photograph of grave headstone. eGSSA – the virtual branch of the Genealogical Society of South Africa.