Blenheim Ginger Ale is distinguished by its colorful roots and local history
Hot. Spicy. Fiery kick. Peppery.
These words are most commonly associated with Tabasco, habanero peppers and curry, not a chilled clear glass bottle of ginger ale. But at Blenheim Ginger ale Co., these words describe what the owners consider the finest example of ginger ale in the world.
The company produces three distinct ginger ale styles on the grounds of the prominent South of the Border tourist complex just off Interstate 95 in Hamer. Each style is distinguished by a unique flavor that has attracted followers since the amber soda was first mass produced in 1903 using mineral water from a natural spring in Marlboro County.
Early consumers in the late 1800s at first complained about the strong taste of mineral water that was provided to Dr. C. R. May’s patients as a way to calm stomach ailments. Listening to his patients, Dr. May-who later partnered with is friend, A.J. Matheson- blended Jamaican ginger with the spring water to mask the mineral taste. Blenheim Ginger Ale was born.
According to local folklore, the natural spring was discovered in 1781 by James Spears, an American revolutionary soldier. While trying to evade British troops, James lost his shoe in a water hole. When he returned to find his shoe, he discovered the mineral-rich water. Word spread, and soon folks arrived from far and wide to taste the water for themselves.
As word of the unique-tasting ginger ale spread, it came to the attention of TV journalist Charles Kuralt. His feature story on the company increased nationwide awareness of the specialty soda. In ensuing years, though, its popularity waned and sales slumped. Determined not to see South Carolina’s famous spicy beverage vanish, the Alan Schafer family bought the struggling company in 1993.
“I was drinking Blenheim Ginger Ale when I was a kid, about 75 years ago, and I didn’t want to see it go down the drain,” Alan explained at the time.
The family renovated the existing facility, yet quickly realized they should build a modern facility to meet the growing demand for the soda. As owners, of the South of the Border property, which which had ample room to expand, they built a new manufacturing plant.
The company relocated approximately 25 miles east to Hamer in neighboring Dillon County from its original home in Blenheim in Marlboro County. In December 2008, the structure that housed the original bottling plant burned down.
Asked how they produced the popular beverage, Alan would only say, “We start with top-quality ingredients and a secret recipe, add sparkling pure water and bottle it only in specially imported glass bottles to maintain that distinctive Blenheim Ginger Ale spicy ginger flavor.”
Blenheim Ginger Ale is credited as the oldest continuous independent soda bottler in the world.