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Oral Histories

The SFA oral history program documents life stories from the American South. Collecting these stories, we honor the people whose labor defines the region. If you would like to contribute to SFA’s oral history collections, please send your ideas for oral history along with your CV or Resume and a portfolio of prior oral history work to annemarie@southernfoodways.org.

ORAL HISTORY

Fielding A. Rogers, Executive Vice-President


Ale-8-One Bottling Company

Fred Sauceman: Explain the tests that are going on here in the lab.

Fielding A. Rogers, Executive Vice-President: As we’re producing Ale-8, we run many quality control checks to make sure that we have a consistent and uniform product. Several checks that we run, one is the carbonation. We make sure that the Ale-8 is carbonated correctly, and that it’s going to have the right amount of fizz to it. Another check is to make sure that there’s the right Brix in the finished product. That guarantees that the machine is proportioning the right amount of water to Ale-8 syrup. And then we run a TA meter which checks to make sure there’s the right level of acidity in the Ale-8, which ensures a long shelf life.

What do you mean by Brix?

Brix is a measure of dissolved solids in a solution, and that basically tells us that there’s the right amount of sugar in the Ale-8. And, making sure the right amount of sugar or sweetness is in the Ale-8 will also make sure that the machine is proportioning it correctly.

Explain how the name originated.

The name originated in 1926. Trader George Lee Wainscott had come up with a flavor that he liked and is what we know now as Ale-8-One, but he didn’t know a name for it. He had a contest at a county fair in 1926 for everyone to submit what they thought would be a good name for the new product. The winning entry was from a young girl—I think she was 14, but there are different accounts of the age—who submitted “a late one” as the latest thing in soft drinks, and he punned that down to the play on words, Ale, dash, eight, dash, one. And that’s what it’s stayed ever since. The company itself was founded in 1902, and then in 1926, Ale-8-One, our main product, was launched, and it’s focused around Ale-8 ever since.

Describe the original product.

The product was called Wainscott’s flavors. There were several different flavors of those, and Roxa-Kola, a cola soft drink, was named after Mr. Wainscott’s wife. And those were phased out in the years after Ale-8-One was created, because Ale-8-One sales outgrew the other products.

For someone who has never tasted the product, how do you describe the taste of Ale-8-One?

Usually I describe it as like a ginger ale but with a lot more flavor. Some people say it has a kind of a fruity twist, but it certainly has a lot more bite than just a ginger ale. It’s got caffeine in it, which gives it a bit more flavor, and it has different carbonation levels, which I think gives it a lot more taste than normal ginger ale.

Didn’t I read on the Web site that the flavor originated in Northern Europe?

Mr. Wainscott designed his flavor from studies in Northern Europe for different soft drinks, ginger-based soft drinks. That was what he wanted to create, and then he tweaked those formulas to Ale-8, which is the same formula we’re using today, since 1926, since Mr. Wainscott’s original formula.

Tell me how it’s sold.

Our primary package is the glass bottle. We have returnable glass bottles available in our core area around Winchester, Kentucky, and beyond that we have non-returnable glass bottles sold throughout the rest of the world, if you count Internet shipping sales. We also sell 12-ounce cans and 20-ounce plastic bottles. We also have fountain accounts in restaurants, fast food chains, for bag-in-a-box syrup we dispense through soda fountains.

Why have you stayed with the returnable bottles?

Customer demand. The returnable bottles still make up about a quarter of our sales through this plant. The customers really like the bottle. There’s a 30-cent deposit on the bottle, and it’s really just kind of an icon associated with Ale-8. A lot of people will swear that the returnable’s the best-tasting Ale-8. It’s really, the returnable bottle and the non-returnable bottle, are made by the same company with the same glass, filled with the same machinery, so I think they taste just the same. But it’s really, really popular still.

And you still pack them in wooden crates?

Yes, we still use wooden shells to pack the 12-ounce returnable bottle.

What are some things people do with the drink? Is it ever used as a mixer, for example? Is it used in recipes?

People are free to do with it what they like. I personally like to mix it with Maker’s Mark. I think it mixes well with Bourbon. I cook with it. Our family uses Ale-8 in our family chili recipe, and I think dad even used to put it in waffles and French toast batter. But you can put it in pretty much anything and it tastes good.

Tell me more about the chili.

We really take a normal chili recipe with ground sausage, ground beef, beans, and then any time we have cans with either beans or tomato paste, or tomato sauce, we just rinse the cans out with Ale-8 and then pour it in the chili pot and simmer it down.

What effect does that have on the taste of the chili?

It just gives it a different kind of flavor that you wouldn’t normally expect with chili. I think the ginger cooks in there really well. I think it’s really, really good.

You told me that soldiers are drinking it in Iraq?

We ship Ale-8 anywhere in the world via UPS. We have Internet sales on Ale-8-one.com, and people all over the world will order Ale-8, and right now we’re sending quite a few cases per month to troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Is there any other drink like it?

Not that I know of. I think it’s quite unique. I think it’s the best soft drink in the world, but I’m probably a little biased.

Go over the family relationships.

The product was invented by George Lee Wainscott in 1926. The company then transferred to his wife, who was my great-grandfather’s sister. So she left it to her brother, my great-grandfather, who left it to his son, and it’s been transferred down since then. And currently it’s owned by my father and my brother, sister, and me.

Give me an idea of how much product comes out of this facility.

We sell about a million and a half cases a year, 288-ounce cases.

What do people tell you about this product? Why are they committed to it, loyal to it?

I think it’s really just the actual flavor of the product. I think that’s what’s carried us through as long as we’ve been around, and that’s what makes it popular.

What have I not asked you that you’d like to talk about?

Well, we’ve recently come out with Diet Ale-8, in 2003. We’d gotten a lot of requests from a lot of people to bring out a diet version of Ale-8, and it wasn’t until 2003 that we’d found the artificial sweeteners that we thought would simulate the sugar sweetness most closely to regular Ale-8. And so we formulated a lot of different kinds of varieties of Diet Ale-8 and then finally picked one that we think was the best and the most like regular Ale-8 and then rolled that out in 2003, and that’s what we have today. Diet Ale-8’s our first new product in many, many years. And it’s gone over pretty well. I think it’s the best diet soft drink out there.

Again, go over the ways it can be purchased if you’re not in the distribution area.

We ship it via UPS anywhere in the world. Right now we’re working on distributors to get Ale-8 out in the grocery stores and convenience stores throughout the rest of the country. So right now we’re working with Coca-Cola Enterprises, Pepsi of Corbin, and several other independent distributors to open up new counties and new states to sell Ale-8.

So it’s possible that I could start seeing it in Tennessee?

It’s very possible. Yes.

And you can go on the web site and order it?

Yes. And anybody’s that’s wanting to be able to buy Ale-8 in their stores, I would suggest contact the store or contact your local Coke, Pepsi, or other soft drink distributor, and we can talk to them about opening up new markets.

You were talking in the plant about how clean the water is that you use. Take me through, briefly, the process you use to cleanse the water.

We take a lot of pride in the quality of the Ale-8 we produce, so we have a very, very strict quality control procedure on all of our products, and we do a lot of plant maintenance and a lot of quality control checks to make sure the Ale-8 is the best Ale-8 we can make, and part of that is starting with very pure water. We use a system that super-chlorinates the water to kill anything that might be in the city water that we get. Then we use a system to pull out, it creates a flock that settles through the water, pulling out any particles from the water, and then that’s fed through various different sizes of food-grade gravel and sand to pull out any particles that could be left, and then that’s fed through an activated carbon tower which pulls out any impurities. It gets rid of any chlorine and gets rid of any chemical tastes in the water. And then that’s fed through a filter element of very small size, I think one micron filter element. And then that’s cleansed and put into the actual filling machine to bottle our Ale-8s.

Back to the flavor: That is natural ginger?

It’s pure ginger extract that we get from one of our suppliers that is made specifically for us.

 

Date of interview:
2005-09-15 00:00

Interviewer:
Fred Sauceman, East Tennessee State University

Photographer:
Fred Sauceman, East Tennessee State University

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