Blenheim ginger ale has its origins in the Marlboro County village of Blenheim. During the late 1890s, Dr. C. R. May began adding Jamaican ginger to the mineral water gathered from a local artesian spring. At the time, wealthy planters were building summer homes in the area. He prescribed the concoction as a palatable digestive aid. In the early 1900s May joined forces with A. J. Matheson to bottle the non-alcoholic ale. Though the company developed a number of different flavor combinations over the years-including a pineapple-orange soda-the spicy, ginger-flavored soft drink known as Old Number Three has remained the primary product.
Until 1993, Blenheim Bottling Company avoided any attempts at modernization. Each bottle was taken off the production line and hand shaken to mix the granulated sugar into the ale. That laborious process ended when the Alan Schafer, proprietor of the South of the Border entertainment complex located just south of the North Carolina state line, bought out the bottler and built a modern plant. The old plant closed and production moved to a new home alongside Pedro’s Pleasure Palace and other attractions of South of the Border.
Despite a marketing push that began in the late 1990s and continues today, Blenheim ginger ale is not widely distributed outside the Carolinas. The spicy ale has, however, developed a cult following among food and wine aficionados. In a February 25, 1998 New York Times article, journalists Bill Grimes described the taste in this way: “The first swallow brings on a four-sneeze fit. The second one clears out the sinuses and leaves the tongue and throat throbbing with prickly heat.”
Craft, Robert. “Some Like It Hot.” Carolina Lifestyle (August 1982).
Grimes, William. “A Southern Ginger Ale With Sting in Its Tail.” New York Times, February 25, 1998.
White, Forest. “Hot Stuff: Hale to the Ale in Blenheim Town.” Charleston, S.C., Post and Courier, September 22, 1993.
John T. Edge