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Southern ginger: Blenheim, the small ginger ale company with a big following

Updated on June 27, 2013
Bottle of Blenheim by star5112 on Flickr
Bottle of Blenheim by star5112 on Flickr

For starting off so small, Blenheim Ginger Ale has a huge following. Despite being made in a small factory in the middle of nowhere, South Carolina, Blenheim Ginger Ale has attracted the attention of people all over the world for its distinctive flavor.

Why in Blenheim?

If it weren't for Blenheim Ginger Ale, there would be little reason for people to take notice of Blenheim, South Carolina, a relatively small town. Although Blenheim Ginger Ale has since moved its bottling operations to Hamer, South Carolina, it all started in Blenheim in 1903.

Blenheim, South Carolina, is home to a natural mineral springs. The water from Blenheim Springs is particularly strong, with a distinctive mineral taste not unlike metal. During the Revolutionary War, a soldier lost his shoe in the mud while running from enemy lines. When he returned, he noticed the water around his shoe, and he discovered the mineral springs in 1781. People began to flock to the springs, and bottling plants soon set up in the area.

A local doctor, Dr. C. R. May, saw several patients with stomach issues. He decided to make a tonic with water from the Blenheim Springs, mixing it with Jamaica ginger to mask the metallic taste of the water. Like many other sodas, this brew became popular in its own right, eventually becoming today’s Blenheim Ginger Ale.

Old Blenheim sign by afiler on Flickr
Old Blenheim sign by afiler on Flickr

Blenheim's distinctive flavor

In its humble beginnings, Blenheim only sold one variety of ginger ale, an original pale ale. Since then, however, the product line has grown. Blenheim Ginger Ale comes in three varieties: #3 Hot, #5 Not as Hot, and #9 Diet. All of Blenheim’s ginger ale is sold in clear glass bottles, with each bottle is capped in a particular color.

#3 Hot has a red cap, and it’s the spiciest ginger ale of the bunch. Sip too much at once, and the gingery, peppery heat hits you in the nose, exploding in your nasal cavity like horseradish or wasabi. Combined with the carbonation, it's explosive. Blenheim’s #3 Hot is surprising and not unlike a ginger beer.

#5 Not so Hot is, like it says on the tin, not quite as spicy as the #3 Hot. It still has a strong ginger taste and the mineral aftertaste.

#9 Diet tastes similar to the #5 Not so Hot, but instead of being sweetened with sugar, it’s sweetened with aspartame. There’s currently no diet version of the spicy ginger ale, but for health-conscious ginger ale fans, the #9 Diet isn’t a bad option. It's still mineral-flavored, with a ginger hit as you swig it down.

Since Blenheim Ginger Ale is still made with the mineral spring water, all of Blenheim’s ginger ales have a decidedly mineral aftertaste. Not unpleasant, it adds a different dimension to the ginger and sugar, resulting in a taste that’s wholly Blenheim’s.

SodaTasting reviews Blenheim #3 Hot

For the love of Blenheim

People don’t half-like Blenheim Ginger Ale. People who enjoy the brew tend to become evangelizers, creating website shrines and espousing their favorite soda on message boards and forums. The fervor reached a fever pitch when Blenheim Ginger Ale was relatively scarce, and people struggled to find and trade bottles.

Penn Jillette, smart-aleck magician from the Penn & Teller duo, is a huge fan of Blenheim Ginger Ale. In 2009, he was featured in a cover story in Wired Magazine. For his photo shoot, he opted to wear a Blenheim shirt. In the article itself, the writer describes him as sipping a Blenheim Ginger Ale, “his new cult-fav drink.”

Case of Blenheim by jm3 on Flickr
Case of Blenheim by jm3 on Flickr

Where to find Blenheim Ginger Ale

For a while, Blenheim had ceased production. The ginger ale was available only in selection places in the South, and even then, the usual sources dried up.

Blenheim later moved and reopened production, and now Blenheim can be found all over the States. Their website features a store locator pinpointing places where you can buy bottles of its gingery brew, and bottles are available on Amazon. Recently added is an online store where you can buy directly from Blenheim itself. If you’re a mega-fan, they also offer shirts for sale.

The Blenheim operations center can be found on the grounds of South of the Border, one of the biggest tourist attractions on the North and South Carolina border.

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