Probably the most famous Kentucky beverage the world round is bourbon. The most popular in Kentucky is one rather less, well known. Walk into any gas station, through the aisles of chips, candy, novelty lighters, and over to the misted glass cases, and you'll see a row or two of green, glass bottles. These green glass bottles contain a nectar that any Kentuckian would know by sight and by taste at any time. They appear at every barbecue, every public event, and every cooler between May and October. Its siren song rings out every time one of the twist off caps, releases the pent up excitement of the person holding the bottle.
ALE8 1, or "A Late One", is a soda pop sold almost exclusively in Kentucky, and a mainstay of Kentucky culture. The label on the side of the bottle reads, "Best of the Bluegrass in Green Glass." And it's the truth, the people that don't enjoy a cold Ale8 in the oppressive Kentucky heat are few and far between. Between the often triple digit temperatures, humidity levels that border on turning the air to liquid, and a pollen and dust count that constitute the same level of danger as a Beijing smog cloud, people take every chance they can to escape, finding relief inside the signature green glass bottles.
Ale8, you'll never hear anyone call it Ale8 1, started out in 1926, in Winchester, Kentucky, and has become one of the inseparable parts of summer for anyone from the area. The best approximation to what it tastes like is a mix between a very crisp ginger ale, and some sort of citrus soda, it is most certainly my favorite soda pop, although my description can't do it justice. The first sip of Ale8 after the heat is one f Outside of Kentucky it's rarely seen. Some places in Tennessee, a couple in Indiana, that's about it. One of my friends who moved away from Kentucky several years ago, stocks up every time he comes up, picking up several cases of the stuff and hauling it back down across Tennessee, into Georgia, and down to Atlanta, like some sort of modern day moonshine masquerade.
Ale8 is one of those interesting cultural blips that'd you'd only really know about if you'd spent a bit of time in Kentucky. And one that I hope doesn't become a success outside of Kentucky. Selfishly, I want it to stay the way that it is not only in my memory, but as a symbol of hope that some things can't just be recreated everywhere.
Recently Ale8 came out with a cherry flavor. I've been heart broken in a certain way. Betrayed almost. For it's entire existence there was always one flavor of Ale8. It was, what it was, and you could take it or leave it as you liked it but it would remain the same. That was part of the attraction for me, the sprinkle of innocence that bubbled up between the carbonation. That Ale8 not only was fine being what it was, but didn't try to imitate or change to be something else. It feels as if, in expanding, in becoming more diverse, Ale8 has taken a major step towards becoming just like every other soda. Any flavor you like, any type you like, any way you like. Now some people might see this as an overreaction, a hysterical, "It's not what it used to be." with a little Kentucky twist on it. Yet there's something to the idea that novelty is no guarantee of innovation. Newer does not always mean better.
There's an important part of life, which is not getting what you want. So much of what we consume, see, listen to, and come into contact with nowadays, is an endless loop of popular opinion. What are we doing? Whatever happens to be popular. Why? Because It's popular. Why is it Popular? Because everyone says it is. People like authenticity more than they like variety. You can have as many flavors as you like, but if you're pretending to be Coca-Cola you'll lose. By trying to broaden the appeal of your product, you detract from the very thing that made it desireable and unique in the first place. The more you try to rise, the more you'll fall. Sometimes products, ideas, notions, just have natural limits. Some things just aren't for everyone. And you can take it or leave it.