Ale-8-One

You might have noticed that I’ve enjoyed finding sodas that we don’t get locally for a very long time. Perhaps one very small downside to the internet is that research has become so much easier. It used to be a bit more fun to have to ask around to find out what the heck the thing you’d just found in the convenience store cooler was.

In 2006, the children and I went to Toronto to visit our good buddies Dave and Shaindle. We went up via Pittsburgh and Buffalo and came back down I-75 through Detroit and Cincinnati. We stopped for the night in a motel in Kentucky, a state I had not visited in more than twenty years, about four miles south of the Ohio River. The next morning, we gassed up and investigated the soft drinks to see what treats awaited us.

Ale-8-One is Kentucky’s soft drink, introduced in 1926 from what was said to be a secret recipe that G.L. Wainscott, already a successful soda distributor of two decades’ standing, obtained on vacation to Europe. His business, based in the town of Winchester, grew slowly over the years, and in the 1960s, he discontinued all his other brands, including the company’s flagship Roxa-Kola, in order to focus all his attention on Ale-8-One.

It’s a very interesting ginger ale. While my beloved Buffalo Rock stands out as being one of the strongest ginger beverages you can find, Ale-8-One is very mild, with a light, barely-there citrus taste. It’s mildly sweet and incredibly satisfying.

I brought back some cans of Ale-8-One on that trip, and supplemented them with stocks coming in via the children’s mother, who moved to Louisville around that time. There have been a few grumbling trips to that city over the last few years that I really wasn’t completely keen to make, but the reality that we can bring back some Ale-8-One has sweetened the pill a hair.

Several weeks ago, I spoke with my son’s mother on the phone and expressed some good-natured frustration that the darn kid was supposed to bring me back a twelve-pack when he came down for the summer. She said something about how I should have heard that they’re going to start selling Ale-8-One in Georgia and I paid it about as much heed as I would a similar report that they’re going to start selling bottled unicorn tears. It was a pretty unlikely story.

Shortly afterward, I got confirmation from Matt, who’s taken to passing the time in the town of Gainesville by reading the local news a lot more attentively than I read mine. He saw the remarkable news that a startup company called Southern Beverage Distributors has landed Ale-8-One in a handful of stores in Hall, Barrow and Gwinnett counties and immediately forwarded the news my way. It always helps to have a crowd of people looking out for this sort of news. I vaguely remembered having that conversation with some woman with whom I might have been married once about some soda or other, but, then again, I am easily distracted. They’re selling it in bottles, too. If it’s good in cans, it’s excellent in glass bottles, and even more amazing poured over ice cream. They call that a “Kentucky Cooler.”

A few weeks ago, I was up in Athens and so I looked over Southern Beverage’s list of locations, learning that a grocery store called Quality Foods in Winder was selling the ginger ale. I stopped in on my way back to town and got a real kick out of this place. In the Atlanta area, all the grocery stores look the same: they’re modern and spotless but also a bit antiseptic. Which is fine, I like antiseptic when buying groceries, despite an old habit of stopping by the filthiest convenience store in Tennessee for Double Cola, but nobody ever found any character in a modern Kroger.

This Quality Foods looks exactly like the old Big Star on South Cobb Drive where my family shopped for groceries in the late seventies. The layout is precisely the same, down to the customer service desk bizarrely placed somewhat above the action, so that if you have a question, the manager literally gets to talk down to you. It’s pleasantly strange, looking around a place that looks dated and downmarket and realizing that, once upon a time, all grocery stores used to look like this. The Quality Foods is probably cleaner than the Big Stars and Food Giants of days past, but it still has that old linoleum floor that never, ever really gets clean.

Southern Beverage Distributors is currently looking for new locations to carry Ale-8-One. I wish them the best of luck and an even broader portfolio. (Can you imagine how happy I’d be to have Ale-8-One, Buffalo Rock, Double Cola and Moxie all in one supermarket!? I wouldn’t know what to bring home.) But honestly, just between you and me, I kind of like having a beat up, cool old store in Winder to buy this stuff. I’ll be swinging back by in a week and a half for another pair of six-packs. (Of course, what I really need to do is find a reason to go through Kentucky that way and stop in Ale-8-One’s hometown of Winchester for lunch at Hall’s on the River. Maybe some other time.)

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