Monday, June 28, 2010

Forget the Henny, Pass me a Blenny

Yeah, that's right a Blenny, that's what ardent drinkers and connoisseurs of Blenheim's ginger ale call the bubbly, spicy beverage.  I discovered Blenheim's at a stand selling nostalgic glass bottle sodas and paper wrapped candy during a trip to the Farmer's Market a few weeks ago and grabbed a couple of bottles to give it a try. 

Given the sellers reaction and desire to tell me all about the ginger ale: where its produced, how he buys it, how he drank it as a child, I had to do a little research to find out about the drink and its history.
Apparently Bleinheim's has a small cult following in the south.  It's produced in Hamer, South Carolina and has been around since 1903 when Dr. C.R. May encouraged patients with stomach troubles to drink water from the Blenheim natural springs.  Many patients complained that the spring water wasn't very palatable, so he added Jamaican ginger* to help them drink it down.  This was the start.  In 1920 a bottling facility close to the springs transformed this drink from word of mouth concoction to a polished product for sale.  Today, this bottling facility is a museum and a larger, nearby plant meets the commercial demands for Blenheim's Ginger Ale.

Now that you've had your history lesson, on to taste! I bought two varieties of Blenheim's: hot and not as hot.  There is also a diet version (ick! somethings need not be diet) and a ginger beer (saving this one for another day).  Seeing that I already now what ginger ale tastes like, I tried the hot first.  When it hits your tongue, it tastes like normal ginger ale, but by the time it hits the back of your throat you get a kick of what I hypothesize to be more ginger and a touch of cayenne red pepper, then you cough out of shock and heat.  After you cough, you take another swig because it so freaking good.

I then tried the not as hot ginger ale, which was still more flavorful, spicy, and refreshing (a lot more bubbles!) than any other ginger ale I've had.  You'll be ashamed that you ever drank Canada Dry.  For both varieties, I think that the use of fresh Jamaican ginger sets Blenheim's apart from other brands.  There is more ginger flavor and less high fructose corn syrup-y fakeness.  So for everyone who asks "Where's the ginger in the the ginger ale?" its all bottled in a Blenny.

If you don't have access to the Raleigh Farmer's Market, guess what? You can buy Blenheim's online! So give it a try, and find out what ginger ale can taste like when made in small batches, locally.  To encourage your trial of Blenheim's check out the cocktail recipe below. You could substitute normal ginger ale, but the drink will taste different given Blenheim's unique, ginger-y taste.

A Super Southern, Jack and Ginger
8 ounces of Bleinheims, the hot variety if you like kick, not as hot variety if you're chicken
2 ounces of Jack
Splash of Sour Mix
Lime Garnish

Mix and serve over ice in a short glass.  Great way to make it through those summer days!

*Jamaican ginger was been identified as a "patent medicine" in the early 1900s, meaning it claimed medical benefits, but was more likely a fun way to bypass early prohibition laws.  I love my south.  But, in all seriousness, Jamaican ginger was also used legitimately used for a host of gastro intestinal problems as well as to disguise the horrid taste of medicine back in the day.


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