I'll Bite

A taste of Kentucky is coming to the Carolinas

I wish I could say we’re about to get a bigger allotment of Van Winkle bourbons (darn, missed out in the ABC drawing again). But there’s another Kentucky tradition that’s about to appear in the Charlotte area:

Say hello to Ale-8-One sodas, the crispy/citrusy Kentucky favorite.

In a world where you can mail-order Maine lobster rolls or send Eastern North Carolina barbecue to friends almost anywhere, regional sodas are still one of those things that food travelers keep on their lists. Yes, you can find some rarities in Cracker Barrel gift shops. But finding things like Dr. Enuf in Tennessee or Moxie in the Northeast are part of roaming around a new part of the country.

When I’ve been on road trips in Kentucky, I love to spot a green glass bottle of Ale-8 (most people just call it that and drop the “One”). It’s not as sweet as Sprite or 7-Up, with a refreshing hit of ginger. On a recent trip that took me through almost a dozen distilleries in just a few days, a bottle of Ale-8 was often tucked into my cup holder to keep me going on the frantic drive between tasting rooms.

Created in 1926 and originally based on G.L. Wainscott’s interest in ginger beers he had tried in Europe, the name was the winner of a contest. Originally submitted as “A Late One,” slang for the latest thing in soft drinks, Wainscott used that to come up with “Ale-Eight-One.” The company that makes it is still considered the country’s oldest family-owned and -operated craft soda company.

Ale-8 is supposed to be in all the Harris Teeter stores in Charlotte by Dec. 14, with an expected retail price of $6.49 for a six-pack. While it’s been available in places that border on Kentucky, such as Cincinnati, and in Cracker Barrels, North Carolina will be the first state in a planned expansion in the South.

You might also see it turning up at local restaurants. The company plans to ask some places to create signature Ale-8 cocktails. Here’s hoping they use Kentucky bourbon.

Kathleen Purvis: 704-358-5236, @kathleenpurvis