Blenheim Ginger Ale - Gastro Obscura
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Blenheim Ginger Ale

The story of South Carolina's sweet-hot soda begins with a chance discovery during the Revolutionary War.

According to the legend, it all began when a patriot soldier lost his shoe while fleeing Tory troops during the American Revolutionary War. After returning to the area, in Blenheim, South Carolina, to retrieve it, Spears discovered a spring. The water had a striking mineral flavor that eventually led doctors to start prescribing it as a stomach soother in the late 19th century. There was just one problem: It didn’t taste great.

When patients started complaining, Dr. Charles R. May decided to give the beverage a boost with Jamaican ginger and sugar. In 1903, May began producing his sweet, spiced soda on a larger scale out of the Blenheim Bottling Company, a facility built right next to the spring. In the century since, the ginger ale has become a regional favorite, especially due to its unique spiciness. The sinus-clearing soda has a fiery-sweet flavor that, according to the company, “goes down as smoothly as a firecracker exploding in your throat.” It packs such heat that some fans suspect another spice, such as cayenne, might be at work. But this has never been confirmed.

A drinkable firecracker might not sound enticing, but Blenheim has developed a cult following. In addition to drinkers who enjoy its spicy sweetness unadulterated, the ginger ale is especially beloved by mixologists who swear by its ability to enhance everything from straight bourbon to a Dark ’n’ Stormy. Unfortunately, the original Blenheim Bottling facility burned down, but that was not the end of the ginger ale. Now under new ownership and produced from a facility at an amusement park in Hamer, South Carolina, it comes in three varieties: No. 3, the original recipe; No. 5, a milder version; and No. 9, a diet version.

Need to Know

Check Blenheim's website to locate stores that sell the ginger ales and ships their products nationwide. When shopping, mind the bottle cap: Red means hot, gold means less hot, and white means diet. You can also buy Blenheim online.

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