Blenheim Ginger Ale is not for everybody. If you come across a six-pack at the Fresh Market or at the Swamp Rabbit Café & Grocery, or in an old RC cooler at Mast General Store, pay careful attention to the color of the cap—it makes all the difference in the world. Blenheim comes in three varieties, each designated by cap color. The white cap is “#9 Diet,” the gold cap is “#5 Not As Hot,” and the red cap is “Old #3 Hot.” The diet is best left untouched, and while the #5 packs a powerful wallop of ginger, it doesn’t hold a candle to the Old #3, a drink that beverage connoisseurs, innovative bartenders, and sweet-toothed masochists worship and adore.
Unlike most ginger ales, Blenheim’s Old #3 cannot be described as refreshing. It’s not thirst-quenching nor is it a cold soda that you hand a child on a hot day. That is, unless, you are punishing said child. No, Old #3, despite being non-alcoholic, is a
decidedly adult beverage. It’s nothing short of gold-hued liquid fire. Drinking Old #3 is an experience. It’s like making out with a cactus. Or gargling with fire ants. But after the initial surge of heat that clears your sinuses and turns the back of your throat raw, there is a mineral-heavy sweetness. While it doesn’t exactly cool things off, it produces a depth of flavor not generally associated with soft drinks.
There has to be something more than ginger in this powerful concoction. Red pepper? Cayenne? Those who know aren’t talking. Like Coca-Cola and Kentucky Fried Chicken, two other Southern-born delicacies, the recipe for Old #3 is a closely-guarded secret, most likely locked away in a vault somewhere South of the Border. Meaning, that’s where Blenheim Ginger Ale is bottled, at the South of the Border tourist “destination” next to I-95 in Hamer, South Carolina. Blenheim Bottling Company was founded in Blenheim, South Carolina, in 1903 by Dr. C.R. May who blended mineral-heavy water from the Blenheim Mineral Springs with Jamaican ginger to produce a curative tonic (this was the “Not So Hot” version). The bottling continued in Blenheim for more than eight decades until 1993 when the company was purchased by Alan Schafer, the man who opened South of the Border in 1949. Schafer immediately moved the production to a facility next to his tourist trap, where today the demand for Old #3 steadily outpaces the other two varieties.
With its surprising heat and sticky sweetness, Blenheim’s Old #3 is arguably best enjoyed as a mixer. It makes a wonderfully wicked Dark and Stormy and adds a sweet yet fiery kick to tequila- and whisky-based cocktails. But use Old #3 with caution: at 41 grams of sugar per serving, if the heat doesn’t get you, the carbs will.
SOB (SOUTH OF THE BORDER)
1.5 oz. Anejo Tequila
4 oz. Blenheim Old #3 Hot
1/2 oz. fresh lime juice
Add ingredients to an old- fashioned glass filled with ice.
Stir gently as to not disturb the bubbles. Garnish with lime wedge.
DARK & STORMY
1.5 oz. Gosling’s Black Seal Rum
4–5 oz. Blenheim Old #3 Hot
1/2 oz. fresh lime juice (optional)
Add rum to a tall glass filled with ice. Fill with Old #3 Hot. A bit of fresh lime juice may be added to lessen the bite of the Old #3.