It’s not often that you find yourself running into a glass bottle of Coke anymore. In Kentucky, certainly not—because you’ll run into Ale-8.
After being in Kentucky for, I don’t know, three hours, I came across my first one inside a cooler fridge at Wallace Station Deli, one of Kentucky chef Ouita Michel’s restaurants. I asked the cashier, “What’s that?’ while pointing to the green longneck bottle with the old-school logo. She looked at me like I’d just fallen off the turnip truck. “That’s Ale-8.” I said I’d take it.
Ale-8-One—called Ale-8 for short—is a gingery, citrusy little number that tastes like a crisper, more mellowed (read: less spicy) take on ginger beer, and it’s the only Kentucky-invented soft drink still being produced. The first batches were bottled in 1926, making it over 90 years old.
It was first introduced at a county fair (where the original version of its name, “A late one,” was submitted by an attendee) by soda maker and founder of Ale-8-One Bottling Company, G.L. Wainscott. Now almost a century later, the company is still family-owned and operated in Winchester, Kentucky, led by Wainscott’s great-great nephew, fourth-generationer Fielding Rogers. In fact, Rogers still mixes every batch of the secret formula by hand, following his great-great uncle’s notes in a locked room atop of a spiral staircase in the factory.
It’s one of those phenomena that once you’ve seen one, you start seeing them everywhere. My first was at a tucked-away restaurant on the side of a quiet country road near Midway, Kentucky. Later that night, I was at a rooftop bar in downtown Lexington, and there it was—this time in a swirling machine mixing up frozen bourbon slushies with Maker’s Mark and Ale-8 at Belle’s Cocktail House. Similarly, a cocktail made with Maker’s and Ale-8 is known as a “Kentucky Gentleman.”
While most stay true to the classic, Ale-8-One Bottling Company also offers Diet Ale-8, Caffeine-Free Ale-8, and a specialty Cherry Ale-8 (can you say perfect for ice cream float?). You can find it throughout Kentucky, as well as in all 600-plus Cracker Barrel restaurants. It’s also carried in select locations throughout the Southeast, including Fresh Market and Kroger.
If you can get your hands on them before they’re gone, that is. This Prohibition-era soft drink knows how to be sneaky.
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