Famous Soda Pops I Have Known, Vol. XI: Blenheim Ginger Ale

Blenheim is a brand strongly connected to the Carolinas that has been in operation for more than a century. The soda is made with mineral water that was inadvertently discovered in the 18th Century, or so the legend goes. In 1781, James Spears, a Whig, was being chased by a group of Torys. When fleeing, he lost a shoe when he ran through a water hole. After eluding his pursuers, Spears came back looking for his shoe. When he found it, he tasted the water and discovered it had strong mineral content. News spread of his discovery and people began coming to the area, believing the mineral water to have a beneficial health effect.

In the late 1800s, Dr. C.R. May was one of many physicians who advised patients with stomach issues to drink the mineral water. When they complained of the strong, iron-like taste, the doctor added Jamaican ginger flavoring to make it more pleasant.

In 1903, Dr. May and A.J. Matheson formed the Blenheim Bottling Company right next to the spring and began bottling what is now sometimes called Blenheim Original Extra Pale Ginger Ale, a soda that was also sweetened in addition to the ginger component. The bottling company is now owned by the family who also owns the South of the Border tourist complex in South Carolina just south of the border with North Carolina.

The original spring still exists in Blenheim, South Carolina if one wants to taste the water unflavored.

Over the decades, Blenheim had developed several ginger ales with varying degrees of spiciness. There are currently three that are available. The bottle cap colors are used to distinguish the spiciness.

The gold cap indicates the mildest of the company’s ginger ales. They call it their “#5 Not as Hot.” The #5 is what was originally (and still sometimes is) called their Original Extra Pale. It has quite a ginger bite compared to many other ginger ales sold commercially, enough that most would be more than satisfied with the level of spiciness.

The red cap (Old #3 Hot) is—well, hot! Way too much ginger for my taste, but if you want to clear your sinuses, this is the one for you. I can pretty much guarantee you could only slowly sip this blazing-hot soda. The #3 has become the best-selling style.

The white cap (#9 Diet) is their sugar-free version. Some people claim it to be the best diet drink on the market because the off-taste of artificial sweeteners is hidden by the predominant ginger flavor. 

The glass bottles are beautifully designed and showcase the color variations in the actual liquids in the different types of Blenheim Ginger Ale. The company only sells their ginger ale in these 12-ounce glass bottles. They never package them in plastic or cans.

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