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07 Nov

Published: Wednesday, February 25, 1998

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. John T. Edge, a food scholar with the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi,has compared it to ”a slap in the face from a spurned lover.” Blenheim Ginger Ale, the sweet-hot pride of South Carolina, pulls no punches, and its feisty approach has propelled it from modest regional fame to cult status.

The beverage was created in the 1890’s by a doctor named May in Blenheim, S.C., who added Jamaica ginger and sugar to the local spring water and dispensed it as a tonic for dyspepsia. In 1903, Dr. May and a partner created the Blenheim Bottling Company, which chugged along until 1993, when it was acquired by the company that owns the South of the Border amusement complex. In addition to moving the bottling plant to the amusement park, the new owners developed a milder formula, known as No. 5, which is a shade lighter than the original and has a brass-colored bottle cap rather than a raspberry one.

Pour Blenheim’s over ice, which helps cut the sweetness, or use it to kick-start a couple of cocktails. Mixed with Gosling’s Black Seal rum and a wedge of lime, it makes a wicked Dark and Stormy, and just a few ounces of Blenheim’s does wonders for a cheap bourbon. WILLIAM GRIMES

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